Playtesting.

I've playtested the new game (AKA "DUAL") three times, at various stages of prototype development.

1 / Paper Prototype

I built an interactive version of the game board in JavaScript, as managing the morphing shapes in paper wasn't really workable. Then I printed the other game components and instructed some other IxD students to play.

The tough thing with a paper prototype is that there are no explorable affordances. You can't pick up a piece and see what you can do with it, or try tapping things. This made the process a little contrived, as I had to explain the game more than I wanted.

Once the rules were grasped the students seemed to really engage with the cerebral challenge of thinking ahead in the sequence, so it felt like a promising start.

2 / In-development Web App

I had 4-5 students from other SVA programs play the game as a fully functioning web app, during a social event. It's fair to say the depth of thinking required for the game and a bustling informal setting aren't always compatible, but I observed that once people engaged focus they found the game really challenging and interesting. At least one person got stuck in, and asked to be informed when the game is released.

The biggest takeaway was that onboarding is critical. It took significant explanation from me before people ever crossed the line from perplexed to excited. I won't be there to hold hands in the real world, so the tutorial / onboarding needs to be excellent.

3 / Complete Web App

Most recently I attended NYU Game Center's Playtest Thursday – a weekly event where anyone can bring along a prototype game for feedback, which is a great resource for the community.

This was to be the first time people with no connection to me or the IxD program would see and play the game, which was a little nerve-racking.

Since the last round of testing I'd built an interactive tutorial, and was hopefully people would pickup the game via the tutorial rather than any support from me.

In total, six people tested the game. People were enthusiastic, but struggled with the aformentioned onboarding – it's nowhere near solid enough yet.

Specific feedback I captured:

  • Asynchronous play would give you time to really think (it's always been my hope to develop such a variation, but technical complexity set me on the 'pass-and-play' path first).

  • Should the game perhaps be a one-player puzzler? This suggestion was tempered by an acknowledgement that the defensive part of play makes it interesting, and this would be lost.

  • Is four steps too much, should it be two or three? This has come up before, and it's a difficult balance to strike – too many steps is too much to think about, too few is not challenging enough and dampens the potential for programmatic thinking.

  • Should there be a handicap for player one, as starting is an advantage? This is definitely an issue. Some potential solutions: limit the sequence steps for the first turn, limit the conditions / actions for the first turn, give black more corners on the initial grid setup, or most challenging – ensure via AI that it's not possible to win on the first turn.

  • You should be able to win with a diagonal, not just row or column. This would be easy to add, and seems to bring a touch more interest to the overall strategy.

  • The tutorial isn't clear enough, and doesn't set you up well for the game. This is in many ways the biggest challenge I have at this stage, as without grasping the game basics people won't want to play (and the enthusiasm I've seen only comes once a basic understanding is in place). I was told it was too wordy, the switch actions were unclear (as only two of four corners are included). But most fundamentally, I had to resort to explaining much of the game – so the whole piece needs rethinking. One suggestion was to let peope do the final step in a mock sequence, so the way all the parts fit together becomes clear. Much to consider for this.

  • The design of the row / column pieces may need to be clearer, as the rectangles look like shapes (but this may be clearer with better onboarding).

  • A final minor point: it would be nice if you could swap sequence items by dragging one over the other.