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On top of this, they now had the added confidence to play with the other aspects in the game such as sucking in bonus fragments to gain special attack power, using the shield, and also collecting powerups.
Fixing this one problem had a knock-on effect which addressed a whole lot of others and it goes to show just how important controls are within a game. Let me tell you that when I presented my findings to the team on that day, it felt good.
This mechanic also tore down a huge flaw that all classic brick-breaking games suffer from: the last brick problem. Users were now able to direct the ball anywhere they wanted.
Some may say, "Ah, but it's a challenge to get that last brick." This is true, but "some" is the operative word here. The majority say, "Argh! I can't get that last (insert expletive here) brick!" And you have to ask, where is the fun in that?
There were quite a few more problems that arose during the development of Shatter, but the ones I have highlighted here not only caused us the most headaches but are also quite interesting in their own right.
After the end of all my user testing sessions, I administer a questionnaire and nestled amongst the questions is your classic "fun factor" question. The data below shows a combination from the last three user-testing sessions.
I would show the graph for the first two sessions, but it's far too depressing. As we approached and fixed the issues, the game improved drastically. Users were getting the hang of the game, they were able to pick up the joypad, jump in and play and, most importantly, they openly showed signs of enjoyment.
But it was only during the final sessions did we truly have something which was scoring consistently as fun to play. It was fun for us and, most importantly, it was fun for the users too.
I'm a big advocate of developers testing their games out on the general public. It is only through this approach can we truly determine whether unseen barriers to play exist.
I must stress though that there should be openness, strong communication, and a desire to identify and resolve issues with the game within the team. Taking "bad news" to people is always a daunting task. You know that the developers work themselves to the bone in order to get the game out on time and someone who just brings bad tidings is not going to be welcomed for long.
But if the team is open to feedback and can take on board the findings as a learning experience, then everything is fine and the game itself will benefit. This is where I feel extremely lucky at Sidhe, because each project team is always willing to listen and any negative findings are seen as a way of simply improving the game.
However, this experience has also taught me that we should never take anything for granted. When trying to evolve a tried-and-tested genre we could have simply assumed that people would "get it" because the general foundation was already there.
But just adding one new feature, such as the suck and blow, can make a huge impact on the game's enjoyment. It also showed me the extent to which problems are interlinked and that taking the time to analyze them and addressing the correct problems, can have a positive knock-on for the entire project.