Now that I've returned from Casual Connect London 2019, I can finally progress with pushing Mr Boom's Firework Factory to release. Casual Connect was extremely productive, and an extremely useful resource for getting the game polished and put in front of many eyes. There is a gallery for the photos of Casual Connect below:
The main things that happened were:
- Over 70 people played the game, with overwhelmingly positive feedback.
- The game is as hard as we'd intended, but I need to review the tutorial and usability to ensure people are getting stuck in a good way with the game's difficulty curve, and not with the controls and learning what they actually need to do
- I managed to grow my professional network, meeting many other indie developers
- One of the people I met has encouraged me to get proper voice acting done for Mr Boom, so the main 'antagonist' of the game will have a voice!
- Actively encouraging people to come and play the game worked very well. Where most people patiently sat and waited for people to come and play their game, I was not content with this, and would stride with purpose into the walkway and try to convince people that they needed to play my game. A casual introduction of "hi, how are you?" would start a conversation which usually ended with 15 minutes of play.
- Having a rolling video of the game helped massively, if one person was playing, or we were busy networking, a second person could simply watch the video. Similarly, if someone did not want to play the game, but wanted to know how it worked they could simply watch the rolling gameplay video.
- Recording various players on my phone as they played help two ways; firstly, it allowed us to analyse their body language and expressions afterwards to determine where they were pleased, happy, frustrated, or confused. Secondly, these may be useful later in footage to promote the game, at key moments where people cheer to themselves or curse the game as they lose or win a level.
- Having Trello on our mobile phones allowed us to quickly make a list of observations in the background as people played.
- The appeal of the game was very strong, many people played until they had other places to be (e.g. they had a set of games they wanted to try out, or had to go to a talk or meeting) with the average game session lasting 15-20 minutes.
- I purposefully chose to take equipment to casual connect which could not edit the code and perform fixes. This forced me to ensure that the game was stable enough on the equipment to not need hotfixes at the event. We didn't want to be the ones sat trying to edit our code at the event for all to see.
- Reaching out to previous winners gave a whole wealth of useful advice, which we used. Thanks very much to Robert Kujawa at Neurodio for his in-depth email responses which helped tailor my approach to the conference. They produced a guide, which is now available to everyone, based on the emails they sent me.
What didn't work?
- The tutorial was not strong enough to stand alone at the conference, Craig and I ended up becoming an interactive tutorial, with each player, explaining the controls and goals repeatedly. This soon became tiresome, but at the same time afforded the opportunity for the player to ask questions as they played.
- The hardware we had planned to use was not up to the task - the netbook I had ready to stream 1080P video was not up to the challenge on the day, luckily we had backup hardware.
- Recording people on our phones did not yield the excitement we had hoped to capture. While people got very excited to complete a level that had challenged them for ten minutes or more, they would react naturally and excitedly when we weren't recording, but if they were aware of the mobile phone recording their reactions would change, perhaps due to being uncomfortable with being recorded.
What did I learn?
- This may be directly related to the types of professionals at the event, but we were repeatedly asked when this would be available on mobile. Due to this, I intend to look into a mobile port soon after the steam release, either porting it myself or finding a third party able to port it, such as a publisher.
- Once you put a game in front of real people, outside your testing team, they will uncover bugs you never dreamed possible. Amongst the positive feedback were at least two crashes to desktop, two different forms of lockups, and some weird non-game-breaking visual bugs. For the non-game-breaking bugs, usually the player did not notice as they were too deep into the gameplay and concentrating on finishing the level.
The game needs more visual cues. For example ghosted crates on the exit, and above the machines, to give hints to what is going to happen next and what is expected of you:
I am now starting on the list of feedback obtained from Casual Connect, so there should be another blog entry of these fixes soon. Stay tuned!
If anyone has any comments or feedback as always please do leave comments below!