There’s been a bit of radio silence from Ghost Town Games over the past few weeks as we put together our build for the Norwich Gaming Festival last Saturday. Before we get into the details of how the expo went let’s travel back in time to that oh so ignorant land of two weeks ago…
This being our first game and this being our first time showing it to the public we were pretty terrified. Friends and family had played the build but never anyone who wasn’t obligated to tell us they enjoyed it.
We’d signed up to the event in March hoping it would give us a clear goal to work towards (Now that we were out in the wild we no longer had the luxury of producers forcing spreadsheets under our noses and telling us when we were slipping behind). Looking at the build at the time it seemed like we might have bitten off a little more than we could chew but hey we still had two weeks right?
Game development is a mythical hippo which feasts only on time (and occasionally watermelon ). Set yourself a list of goals, doesn’t matter how long the list is, one of those tasks is going to take you longer than you expected. Halfway into our milestone build we were nowhere near halfway through our tasks. Shoring up the game, implementing all those fundamental features was taking much longer than we had wanted and yet the deadline stood firm (we thought about emailing the expo and asking them to move the date, but we suspected they might refuse… the monsters!)
(Oh God it’s tense isn’t it? That moment in the story when everything seems stacked against our heroes, but you think… someone’s writing this blog… at least one of them must have survived to tell the tale… stop spoiling it for yourselves. Here’ s a pic to relieve some of the tension):
We played regular builds of the game, tweaking everything, making any adjustments we could to improve the user experience. We made lists of issues and ummed and aahed about what order to prioritise them. We poured over the build until it didn’t really seem to make any sort of sense at all. It became like one of those words you repeat in your head until it no longer has any meaning to you.
On the last night we were a mess. Any developer will have experienced that moment where a new bug appears in a system you haven’t touched for months and you suddenly doubt the structural integrity of your entire game. We were staring at the build at around midnight, looking at each other and asking ‘Yes, but is it any fun?’ We didn’t know any more. We were sanding with such fine grade sand paper that we no longer had any perspective on the overall….rocking horse (I’m not good with metaphors, we know this, lets move on)
So it was with weary eyes that we piled into the car at 6am and dragged our useless carcass of a build out for those Norfolk savages to chew on and pick from their teeth in disgust (sleep deprivation tends to make you a little over dramatic). Bit like this:
We shuffled into the hall, set up our laptop, plugged in our screen and hung up our posters. The doors opened at 10am. We braced for impact.
Our first customer was a small redheaded girl who eyed the game with great suspicion. She hesitated when we asked if she wanted to play but she finally sat down and took up one of the controllers. We garbled an explanation of the controls and sat back to watch our house of cards come tumbling down.
(Such drama. Such suspense. What’s going to happen?! It’s like rereading a Dan Brown novel…)
Wait what’s that? She’s smiling? Why is she smiling? Is she mocking us? Oh god now she’s laughing. Our pathetic attempt at games design is laughable to her. What a cruel, spiteful… No wait. No. I think she’s enjoying it. What’s wrong with her? Doesn’t she see how stretched that icon is in the top right of the screen? Doesn’t she notice that all the chopping boards are using the old GUI system? She must be a fool surely? but then more fools joined her. More poor simpletons ignorant to all the game’s flaws started picking up controllers and having a go.
Soon we had crowds of them, all playing through the build we’d been staring at for weeks. They were genuinely enjoying it. Shouting and laughing and, yes, occasionally breaking it in ways we hadn’t even imagined (who knew you could actually throw the fire extinguisher in the bin leaving you completely helpless if your kitchen burst into flames!) but it was great. We felt a huge weight lift off our shoulders. All the flaws started to fall away for us as well and we were able to join them in their enjoyment. Oh OK then one more.
It doesn’t always go that way. We’ve had times where we’ve shown the build and it’s crashed horribly, or where the players have been so confused that they too struggle to see why we’d spent our time working on such a mess. It wasn’t flawless by any means, and we had plenty of suggestions for improvements from these our first user testers, but it was a huge boost for us and allowed us to return to the game on Monday with renewed vigour.
The moral. Surely there must be a moral: If you can’t see the wood for the trees, try to get some more sleep, your brain might just be being a dick.
(Big thank you to all the organisers at Norwich Games Festival and to everyone who played the build. See you all next year!)