Refining Our Gameplay

A few weeks ago I made a post about the value of quality assurance testing. Even more valuable than feedback from our peers is feedback from our professors, who are the ones who will determine which teams go forward into next semester. In my eyes, the game development professors are similar to the executive producers or product owners I will be reporting to in the industry. For the Radiant Ronin, our professors’ feedback is the most important because they hold our fate in their hands. If we don’t please the professors, our game will not be going forward into the spring.

Last Thursday our usual professor was absent, so we had another game design professor stand in for him. This gave us an opportunity to show our game to Professor Boyd for the first time since Glynis and I met with him during our initial concepts stage. Unlike our usual professor, Professor Boyd had us stand in front of the class to give our updates in order to get us used to presenting so we will be prepared for the final presentation at the end of November. We showed the class the progress we had made with Kanji Samurai and also sought feedback as to how our UI should be displayed.

The main point Professor Boyd made was that our game didn’t reward the player well enough. After the player enters the Kanji correctly, the game simply moves on to prompt them for the next Kanji. There is nothing rewarding the player for tracing the Kanji correctly. One suggestion we received is to have the Kanji change from the connect-the-dots version that the player drew to a traditionally inked and brush stroke style once they get it correct. Or, as our professor put it, “Show them the badass finished ink Kanji!”

The next bit of advice we received was that our current build is too text heavy. Professor Boyd and our classmates suggested we change the text menu buttons into symbols. For example, we would change our submit button to a check-mark icon and our pronunciation button to a speaker. By making these visual changes, we can save ample space on the screen so the player is not overwhelmed by text.

Professor Boyd’s last bit of advice was to sound more excited about our concept. He said the goal of our final presentation is not only to convince the professors our game deserves to move forward into development for second semester, but also to get the members of teams who have since dropped out of the running excited to join our development team second semester. It was hard to sound excited at our 8am class, but I’m confident Glynis and I can pump up our enthusiasm for our formal presentation.

After class, Glynis and I went to our final discipline review with the Assistant Dean of the game development division, Amanda Crispel. She is a very insightful woman who has previous experience working on educational games and also has a young daughter who fits into the target market for Kanji Samurai. Therefore, her advice is priceless to us. When we introduced our game to her, she said that she liked the sound of it already. When we showed her the gameplay however, she had a lot of suggestions to make, most of which we are planning to implement.

First, she skipped our tutorial. I was a little bit upset about this, especially considering how much work we’d put into making the tutorial crystal clear. However, her reasons for doing so were very valid; the typical gamer may not have enough patience for our current tutorial. Amanda said there was too much text and it was too small for her to read. She suggested we try to get our hands on a tablet in order to have more screen space. I am currently waiting for a reply from another professor in regards to getting one, but in the meantime we have to rework our tutorial so it is less text-heavy and more interactive. We are in the process of changing our tutorial so players will be prompted to write each stroke of the Kanji one at a time, rather than replicating the entirety of the Kanji all at once. Amanda also said the first Kanji we are tasking players to learn, middle, is too complicated. She asked if there were any Kanji that are just a simple straight line so we could introduce players to the concept more gradually. Glynis said that the numbers 1, 2, and 3, in Kanji are simply lines, and number 4 has the curved corner we continuously have trouble conveying to players. Our new tutorial will consist of the following 4 characters.





She wasn’t able to beat our game, which is concerning considering the professors will be playing our games in order to pass us into second semester. If she can’t get past the tutorial, how can we expect her to pass us? She said we need a larger tolerance for error, and that we should clearly indicate to the player when they get a stroke wrong. Our programmer, Eric, has since changed our game’s feedback so players will be informed as soon as one of their strokes is incorrect in training mode. The line will turn red, as opposed to green, which indicates to the player they have drawn the stroke incorrectly. We are hoping that with our more succinct tutorial, players will learn the importance of stroke order by adding one additional stroke for each of the numbers 1, 2, and 3. Then when it comes time to write the number 4, players will learn that strokes with right cornered edges are made in one continuous stroke, rather than two separate strokes.

Perhaps the most important criticism we received from Amanda is that we haven’t given the Kanji any significant meaning. Currently, the game prompts players for one of the 4 Kanji they have learned in training mode by showing the English word. Amanda commented that we were taking player agency away by doing this, and a better method for learning would be to have players select which Kanji they intend to draw in response to enemy attacks. For example, the enemy would attack with fire and the player would have to counter with the water Kanji. We have since chosen new Kanji for our game based on this feedback. The new Kanji will be as follows:

Write the opposite of what Sensei tells you!
Directions (Peasant Village):
Hidari left
Migi right
Ue up
Shita down
Sensei writes left, you write right
Sensei writes right, you write left
Sensei writes up, you write down
Sensei writes down, you write up
Level 2 Elements (Forest):
Hi fire
Mizu water
Tsuchi earth
Ten heaven
Sensei writes Heaven, you write Earth
Sensei writes Earth, you write Heaven
Sensei writes Fire, you write Water
Sensei writes Water, you write Fire
Level 3 Astrology (Temple):
Sun Nichi
Moon Tsuki
East Higashi
West Nishi
Sensei writes Sun, you write Moon
Sensei writes Moon, you write Sun
Sensei writes East, you write West
Sensei writes West, you write East

We are going to do our best to implement these changes for next week. Code freeze is November 17th, so we have about two weeks to implement these suggestions before our formal presentation. It’s getting down to it now and as my father would say, “It’s time to put your nose to the grindstone!” I am fairly confident in our game and my team, but our future is not certain. We must do everything we can not only in our actual game but also in our presentation and promotional video to indicate to the professors why we as a team deserve to go forward.


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