Module: AG0982A - Creative Research

This blog documents my 3rd year research project at Abertay University. The focus of my research is on video game progression, tutorial design, and how to teach the player. My vision statement could be stated as such:

A game often needs to gradually introduce its mechanics and skills to the player. This needs to be done at such a pace that the player is neither anxious nor bored, and needs to be clear without sacrificing challenge. How can this balance be achieved? To investigate this, I've created a simple puzzle game, and released it to a sample of players. I can use data from their feedback to improve my game.

This issue came to my interest when I noticed that many games do a superb job of gradually teaching a player how to master a complicated system (such as Portal), while many other - often more complicated - games are lacking in comfortable and effective tutorship (such as Crusader Kings II), forcing players to resort to online wiki reading, and YouTube guides.

Thursday, 7 April 2016

Redesigning and Reordering Levels

In response to my survey data, I've decided to take a bold move and do a lot less hand-holding during the opening levels of my puzzle game. This means scrapping Levels 1 and 2, which were particularly un-puzzling and showed the least interest/difficulty to new players. Instead, I'm combining the tutorial value of both levels into a new Intro level. Note that this flies in the face of what I've been told about tutorship; teach your player one thing at a time, one level at a time. Take it slowly. Don't risk overwhelming your player. I'd like to see just how true this principle holds by discarding it for now.

The new Intro level essentially does what Levels 1 and 2 used to do separately:

The major risk here is overwhelming the player, but I'm hoping to see if spending less time boring the player with tutorial levels will improve the game's overall quality.

Following this, I've added a more complex puzzle involving a single gem

As with many of my other puzzles, the key to completing this puzzle is order. First, the central lock must be correctly primed to carry the red gem across the grid. Then, the very same slices that allowed this movement need to be relocated to actually move the gem. To complete this puzzle, (I think) the red gem always needs to make its way to the rightmost open slot on that central piece - the one between two other open slots.

After sufficiently challenging the player with one type of gem, I move onto a puzzle with two. For this, I'll use the pre-existing Level 3 "TwoGemsWithLocks".

This level scored the highest enjoyment on my previous iteration, and actually had a difficulty rivalling the final puzzle. But I'm not convinced that this is due to genuine complexity; the puzzle isn't all that complex. In fact, I'm wondering if it'll now be ranked as a less enjoyable and challenging puzzle, due to the player being exposed to more complex puzzles beforehand. Nonetheless, it contains two gems, so it seems fair to use it as the level that introduced multiple gems.

This is followed by last iteration's Level 5:

.. which introduces multiple gems in a more complex puzzle system.

I'm going to try following this with another new puzzle.

I'm not entirely confident that my players will find this puzzle the most difficult to solve, but I certainly did. It took a lot of trial and error before I finally worked out the correct strategy. Again, this puzzle is about correctly priming your puzzle pieces, drawing on skills practised in previous levels.

With these new 5 levels, I'm ready to collect data for my second iteration. Questions I'd like to answer include:

Does toning down the hand-holding improve the game's reception? We'll be able to see this impact in the interest curve that emerges, and, in particular, in whether or not that dip in challenge at Level 2 disappears. However, I should also be watching to see if the lack of careful tutoring harms the game's quality, as players may now be being introduced to concepts too quickly.

Do I now have an interest curve with a climax? This is the hope, since I've tried to order my puzzles according to their difficulty. But my last iteration had surprising data here; where I was sure that Level 5 was the hardest, Level 3 (which I thought was too easy) showed slightly more difficulty).

All of these changes can be evaluated as my players rate the overall quality of my game.

It's quite important that I find players who haven't played the game before, as I'm testing experience uptake in a puzzle game. Any previous players will have already been exposed to the game, and their results might not be very reliable.

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