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A pixelart exploration game where you play a shape-shifting girl whose powers are destroying the world she is trying to save.
667 backers pledged £7,932 to help bring this project to life.

Mable & The Wood - October 2017 Update

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Hi everyone,

I hope you all had a thoroughly enjoyable September. As per usual I've been busy working on the game, with a bunch of design done for the new areas and a ton of great feedback from showcasing the game at an event here in Sheffield.

Here's a nice new GIF to start things off:

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The above area is just something I was testing, to see how hard I could push the difficulty when requiring you to change form without much of an area of safety in between.

And, since you're such lovely backers, here's another GIF of some of the areas in the game:

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Finally on the random pictures side of things, I've been working on sketching out some ideas for promotional artwork and backer wallpapers. So, here's a little work in progress sketch:

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I think they both need more of an aggressive pose towards one another. The original idea was to make it look like they were circling one another, but I couldn't figure out how to get the background to suggest that.

Sketching has kinda made me wish I had time to do a Mable comic to go with the game too...

...maybe after release...

Playtesting

This month was the first opportunity I got to really playtest the new open world version of the game. This was at en event thrown by Sumo Social, where they invited a handful of local devs to showcase their games in a pub.

There were over 300 people there on the night, so I got chance to see a lot of people play the game. I know I've said it before, but playtesting is invaluable. It's impossible to see your game from the outside, from the eyes of someone who hasn't put every piece of the world in place and coded every enemy behaviour. You can get pretty close, but even that can be miles off the mark.

If you're a dev yourself, particularly a solo dev or a small team with little experience, ANY kind of playtesting is great but there's a few things to bear in mind:

  • The environment matters - these folks were playing Mable in a pub. Many of them were drunk, distracted or definitely on something. Make sure this affects how you evaluate your observations.
  • Skill levels - some people might give up and walk away from your game. Still ask them what they thought, as this is a chance to find out if they play these kind of games. A handful of people walked away from Mable on the night and all but one of them was either not a gamer, or never played this kind of game. One of them was definitely on something. Don't tailor your game for people that don't want to play it anyway.
  • Taste - this is slightly different from the above. If everyone thinks your game is kinda ok, you're doing something wrong. Embrace the hate, because if you make something worth loving then there are going to be folks that hate it. Unless they hate it because it's fundamentally broken, then you probably need to fix it.
  • Pitch it - this is a great opportunity to pitch your game to random people and make your pitch better. Try telling someone why your game is cool, then tweak the description on the next person. You'll soon get a good idea of what really hooks folks in and gets them hyped about your game.

Anyway, for all you lovely non-dev folk out there, let's take a look at some of the things that I've updated after the playtesting!

Lesson #1: Be more obvious

Nobody seemed to realise that shrines save your progress when you light them. Just before the spider boss, there's this:

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The save before this is quite a way back. There's no guarantee that you've lit that one either. Lots of people did this:

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And then died.

So, I did this:

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You can still just about fly over it if you really try, but I also added a little text pop up so that you've hopefully got the hint by the time you get to the Spider boss.

Text box style is placeholder FYI
Text box style is placeholder FYI

Lesson #2: Your level design sucks

Lots of people died by flying into this block:

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I found this funny for a while, particularly as the save is just after this gap. Eventually I grew bored of watching the Mable die, although I would have probably enjoyed it longer if there was a death animation in the game.

I just moved the block slightly out of the way:

Please note that I am actively trying to die here
Please note that I am actively trying to die here

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If you die there then you're drunk. Go home.

Lesson #3: No, your level design really sucks

At the start of the game, there's spiky vines blocking your way to the mountain:

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But almost nobody knew that, because you have to fly up and to the left. Behind the UI and in the opposite direction to what you expect.

Most people just did this:

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So, when they killed the Spider Queen and used spider form to slice through a bunch of spiky vines, they had no idea that this new skill had opened up an entire new area for them.

I mean, it should have been pretty obvious that people wouldn't go up and to the left. Behind the UI.

Behind the UI!

I mean, at least the UI does this now:

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But, erm, that's not going to be enough to fix this problem.

I decided to go back to lesson number 1, be more obvious:

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Hopefully it's a bit more difficult to miss those vines. Particularly with all those shiny diamonds bouncing around.

Interlude - something that went right

I don't want to give the impression that things didn't go well. On the contrary, feedback was overwhelmingly awesome. Most of the level layout worked really well, seemed to be balanced nicely and folks were having fun exploring.

One thing that worked particularly neat was the way the levels tweak themselves based on certain variables. At the moment, I've just used this to make the game subtly guide you if you don't already know what you're looking for.

For example, if you take the secret route down into the caves, you can be vastly underpowered and even get stuck if you don't have the right forms.

*Minor spoiler warning*

If you play through the game and head into the caves after the mountain, you come across this scene:

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Notice the diamond? That's a subtle little hint that you can get under the elevator. This is a hint that everyone took.

Problem is, if you've taken the shortcut, you're going to die down there unless you really know what you're doing. So, I do a few things here. This is what this same scene looks like if you've not come down via the mountain:

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It's much less obvious that you can go down, and you just end up back at the village. If you go any other way apart from taking the shortcut, you'll reach this point eventually, but you'll have all the powers you need to deal with it.

In addition to this, there are also a few extra platforms for you to jump on, so you don't get stuck if you don't have spider form. If you do have spider form, those platforms aren't there.

This is just a very basic implementation of the same system that I'm going to be using to change the world depending on how you're playing, so you get the impression that your actions are causing the world to degrade faster.

*End of minor spoiler*

So, that seemed to work really well anyway :)

Anyway, back to the lessons learned from playtesting.

Lesson #4 - The stone giant is too hard

I could even beat the fight. That's probably not a good sign.

I've tweaked this a little bit, but I've not had chance to test it since the tweaks so it's probably still too hard. I can beat it now at least!

Lesson #5 - Spider form is a bit rubbish

There were 2 reasons that this stood out from the playtest:

1) People died a lot more as the spider, they just couldn't seem to get the hang of it. 

2) People just went straight back to using the fairy form, they genuinely looked underwhelmed by the spider form.

The problems almost entirely stem from the aiming system, which only allowed you to aim in 8 directions. It also required you to be pressing in a direction to fire, like so:

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It took a bit of work to get it working better, but you can now aim 360 degrees, stand still while aiming and if you press fire without a direction held it just shoots straight forward:

 

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It's amazing how much difference it makes to be honest. It's great fun to swing through the levels now and it feels like you're really in control of things!

The only downside to this is that it now officially makes keyboard only controls inferior, as that still only fires in the standard 8 directions. However, I plan to test having the option to use the mouse to aim.

If anyone knows of a game that does this well with keyboard controls, let me know!

More stuff from September

Aside from all of the above, I've also been working on the new areas. I've been mostly working on the level design, and I had intended to go through what goes into creating a new area. However, I'm going to do this next month instead, as I should have the first draft of a new area complete by then.

Here's a sneak peek at the connections between the new areas:

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I promise that it's a lot more exciting than it looks!

I've also been working on the art for some of the new areas. Here's the church/chapel/cathedral from the drowned village:

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That was a LOT of pixels. 

This place actually makes up an area of its own, as you can go inside and explore and possibly find your way to some other areas...

Next month

So, I seem to have written an overly long update yet again. I'll keep this bit short. This is the plan for next month:

  • Finish background art for catacombs
  • Finish first draft layout for new areas
  • Finish wallpaper/poster/promo-art

And that's it! 

As always, thanks for your ongoing support and I hope you're enjoying these updates. Let me know your thoughts in the comments, and don't forget to spread the word!

Cheers everyone :)

Andrew

Christopher, ichik, and 17 more people like this update.

Comments

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    1. Andrew Stewart Creator on

      @Zerotown: let’s just say that some of the playthroughs were a lot more interesting...

    2. Andrew Stewart Creator on

      @Frédéric Delorme: Ah Linux is a yes! I’m planning on releasing a short updated demo soon, so I’ll have a Linux build with that.

    3. Ami
      Superbacker
      on

      Very cool update, thank you for putting that all together!

    4. Frédéric Delorme on

      What a piece of text and pixel ! very interesting feedback from players and testers.
      That is what I call a positive post with a lot of information ! thanks Andrew !
      Maybe you already talk about it, but what about a Linux version ? (yes I know, I am a hype geek :)

    5. evktalo on

      This report from playtesting is so good to read it's not even funny. Before and after screenshots too. So many thanks for sharing these!

    6. Zwarteziel on

      Thank you for the update. Show-casing your game in a pub full of drunken strangers is quite a brave move in quality assurance. Respect is due! :) I imagine a game that relies on timing and reflexes can become quite frustrating for imbibed testers.

    7. Andrew Stewart Creator on

      Thanks everyone :)

      @chris - regarding the form select: it did previously slow down, but this caused more problems while playing as you didn’t have chance to select the best shape while having one eye on the action.

      There was a bit sigh of relief from core playtesters when I made time stand still!

    8. Chris Skuller
      Superbacker
      on

      Looks really good! I have a small worry though. I think that stopping the game entirely when you switch forms kills the momentum. Would it be possible to just have the game drop into an ultra slow mode? That way it doesn't feel like you are pulled out of the game so thoroughly?

    9. Daniel Miller
      Superbacker
      on

      Great update!

    10. Missing avatar

      Shawn Heatherly on

      Always happy when you share how a public test of the game went with random people, I think that's going to help things quite a bit.

    11. sigurd knarhøi johannsen on

      Thanks Andrew! A great update as always. :)
      Your 'lessons learned' are really valuable to me as an indiedev myself. Know that they're greatly appreciated! And your updates always gets me wanting to work harder on my own game.