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3. Playtesting the Initial Experience
Partly as a result of concerns about how people would react to the low-conflict design, we started inviting playtesters to come in regularly and give us feedback. In particular, we focused on the initial reaction people had to the game and how easy it was to learn how to play.
We tried to apply what we've learned from Microsoft about getting good feedback (primarily, shut up and let them play) and we collected detailed notes from every session. It's tough not to overreact to individual comments, and it's important to use playtesters for feedback on existing design, not for new design.
Some very clear feedback came from these sessions, and as a result we rewrote the tutorial several times, reworked the initial building sequence more than once, and made hundreds of small changes to controls, UI, and interaction with Keflings.
We also made a series of large changes and additions (such as the introductory cinematic the player sees before playing the game) to help the user understand the focus and scope of the game, rather than expecting it to be something it wasn't.
4. Design, Technology, and Production Experience
Our previous experience designing and building Xbox Live Arcade games heavily influenced the decisions the team made on this game. From design ("there's too much waiting around in Outpost Kaloki -- let's fix that") to technology ("our compressed file system code is working well -- let's use that again"), to production ("Band of Bugs had way too many features and modes, let's not do that again!") we tried to apply what we've learned in the last few years.
Of course, we keep making new games which are unlike our previous games, and a lot of new game mechanics have to be developed, but this is easier when we know what common pitfalls to avoid and have a lot of core technology on which to base the new stuff.
A whole lot of little things went right with implementing Microsoft's Xbox 360 Avatars, all adding up to an amazingly positive experience.
First, we were lucky to be in the right place at the right time for the new Xbox Live Avatars. We had a game based around an avatar character that (after some initial concerns about art style) ended up being a perfect fit for Microsoft's Avatar system.
Second, to combat the limited window of time we had to integrate Avatars, we worked out a detailed plan for how the implementation would work, including some contingency planning and prioritization of features in case anything needed to get cut.
We ended up following this plan fairly closely, and knowing what everyone needed to be working on at any given time was nice.
Third, the small team at NinjaBee doing the integration work had the right skill set, expertise, and passion for the project. They dug in fast, solved some very difficult problems, and put in the extra time required to make everything work right.
Fourth, the extra technical and marketing support we received from Microsoft (as a result of being part of the New Xbox Experience launch) was hugely valuable. Of course, this is part of why we jumped on the chance be part of the Avatar launch, but the attention the game got was beyond what we had originally hoped for.