In Part 1 of this chapter, we explored some ways of efficiently designing content for your game. We touched on playtesting a little, but there is still lots more to discuss regarding this very important matter.
Strategy 3: Playtest. Playtest. Playtest!
Now, at this point you likely have your levels fairly polished and bug-free. You’ve playtested them yourself, but this can only get you so far. As the creator, your ability to find alternative solutions or problems with your designs will be affected by ‘designer bias’. There are many kinds of designer bias (this topic could be a whole article in itself) but it boils down to this; you will expect players to play your level in a certain way – and they will always find ways to play it in a way you never imagined.
So, it’s time to get some playtesters! The GB Studio Discord Server is your best bet (there should almost be a channel devoted solely to this). It can be hard at times, to listen to what your playtesters have to say. Sometimes your ego will want to explain why you did things in a certain way, and why you can’t change your design. Be careful when dealing with your ego – it may be stopping you from improving your game. Ultimately, it’s the players who should be your focus.
If someone makes a comment or suggestion for change to which you find yourself resisting; take a moment. Walk away for a minute or even a day. Come back fresh and consider the constructive criticism carefully and objectively. Be open to change if necessary and be prepared to redo aspects of your designs.
There is no need to be upset or ashamed when someone thinks there is a problem with an aspect of your game. I have designed hundreds of levels across many genres of game, and not once have I finished a design on a first pass. This will almost certainly be the case for every one of the best level designers out there in professional games development too. So don’t worry, being told there are problems with your design is just part of the process.
Strategy 4: Screen-Sharing
While the GB Studio Discord server will allow players to comment on your game after they have played it, the best way to learn from playtesters is to actually watch them play firsthand. While it’s great to be able to invite a friend or family member to join you at your PC, not all of us will have the benefit of someone that is eager to help us close at hand. Luckily, there are ways around this.
A great way to watch someone play your game over long distances, is to use screen share software. You will be able to see precisely what your playtester is struggling with from moment to moment and in real time. It’s then up to you to say ‘Hey, they struggled with this for a reason, and it’s my job to understand why and solve the problem!’
Furthermore, this approach will allow you to see the players’ all important first attempt. This is the most valuable information you will ever get when it comes to figuring out what aspects of your level or world design need improvement because it sheds significant light on issues relating to readability, player progression and difficulty curves – so pay close attention during this time.
If you are graciously offering feedback for another developer, then other alternatives to screen sharing software include utilizing Twitch, or recording a playthrough and uploading it to YouTube temporarily, using video capture software.
Strategy 5: Time Away
Finally, I have found that taking a break in between finishing a level’s design and art finalization can be extremely effective at reducing designer bias. Playing your level a few days (or even a week or two) after designing it will allow you to forget the intended solution if the level is something like a puzzle, or your motor memory/skills will have diminished if the gameplay is an action game for example. As a result, you will more likely attempt the level as a non designer would, and can more easily see flaws in the design.
Your game will really turn out the better for it!
The methods suggested in this chapter allow for a smarter workflow when creating your game. As with many aspects of game development, these are just suggestions though. It is up to you to find out what level design strategies work for you personally and likewise, what specifically works for the current project you are currently developing. Finally, spending time on detailed artwork or complex code before the level design is finalized will almost always translate to time wasted in some way. What’s more, you will find you are less likely to make changes you know are for the better because you have spent a lot of time on finalizing a design and therefore don’t want to redo it as a result.
So take your time, take a break and don’t rush…
…unless, of course, you’re in the middle of a game jam!
In Chapter 5, we will discuss the very important topics of self-discipline and demotivation and explore some strategies that can assist with working through that inevitable problem.