Matthew Gatland

Jump and Shoot, part two

October 28, 2014

I showed Space Protector at Armageddon last weekend.

Space Protector booth at Armageddon

The booth and TV were provided for free by the NZGDA. All I had to do was turn up with laptop, controller and HDMI cable. It was a great chance to get the game in front of a lot of people.

About 150 people played.

Last time, many players didn’t realise that you could shoot. It was good to see that the new level design fixes that problem.

There is still a serious usabilty problem, though. This time, it’s around jumping.

The Twelve Percent

In Space Protector, you jump higher by holding down the jump button for longer.

About 12% of players didn’t work out how to do this. They got stuck in pits, frantically tapping the jump button. They’d try a double jump. They’d try a running jump. They’d try facing away from the wall and jumping backwards towards it.

In the worst scenario, they did a high jump but misunderstood what caused it. Later, they tried repeating the move and it didn’t work.

This made the controls feel random. Sometimes it worked, sometimes it didn’t. These players became frustrated and gave up.

“You can fly?”

Holding a button to jump higher was common in old platform games, but it’s not actually intuitive.

When one young player figured it out, he exclaimed: “Oh, you can fly?” It’s more like how a jetpack works than how jumping works.

I would like to fix the problem through level design, like I did with shooting, but it might not be possible. The level can show that you need to jump, but it can’t show that you need to hold down a button. Buttons are an out-of-game concept.

I could give up, and just change the controls to use double jump, but I don’t really want to. I like the game the way it is!

I might have to resort to a tutorial message. “Hold down the jump button to jump higher!” It’s lazy design, but it will work. I can probably make it so that only the 12% of players who need the message will see it.

Other stuff

Most people enjoyed the game. Experts raced through the levels, reading the situations and avoiding the traps. Beginners slowly stumbled through, dying a lot, but still having fun and enjoying it.

Level 2 has a particularly difficult room. Some young children gave up at this point, but most people found it hilarious – especially groups playing together – so I will keep it.

A few children looked like they’d never played an action game before. This was really cool, because they had no “gamer knowledge” and I could see if the game was understandable on its own.

Next time

Next time I’ll try to have more things ready to test. With 150 players, I could have tested a dozen different levels if I had them ready to go.

Ideally, I’d have a way to update the demo without having to quit to desktop and run console commands. (It looks unprofessional.) That would let me update levels as I found problems, and make several revisions over the weekend.