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Old 06-18-2012, 04:56 AM
kerzain kerzain is offline
Join Date: Sep 2010
Posts: 70
Post The First 20-60 Minutes

This probably won’t be brief, but I'll try to stop myself from going on an extraordinarily confusing tangent.

This post was created with the purpose of addressing the first 20-60 minutes of gameplay directly. I will make future posts about what I think about the "Fun Factor", how it plays in the mid and late game, and how strong the draw is to return for repeat visits; but the specific purpose of this post is to address those first few moments of play, as experienced by players potentially new to Soldak games in general.

I’ll try my best in this and future feedback posts not to sound like an armchair game designer, presuming to know what's best for Drox Operative or any other game. I’ll give my honest opinion about what works for me (and what doesn’t), and if/when I make suggestions it is with the hope that they’ll merely be interpreted as ideas, rather than decrees. Though it would be terribly easy to throw every “amazing” idea I could possibly imagine for a space game against the wall just to see what sticks in these posts, my hope is to provide feedback and suggestions specifically for those areas that might have some reasonable chance of being improved, without the trying to impress a need for an entirely new UI/Database/Stat system redesign or something. Though there might be certain aspects of other games I’d love for all future games to employ, I’ll do my best to keep my suggestions within a certain realistic scope.

I want this to be more than a mere bullet list of fixes or changes I would like to see, and it’s my hope I can give a little more insight than a succinct list of perceived issues would provide.

But if you wish to see a very short TL;DR type list, it would probably go something like this:
  • Ship creation screens contain extraneous info not wholly relevant to players creating a new character/ship.
  • Edit/Condense/Prune/Combine Help Tips (with a couple specific examples).
  • Methods of creating and communicating initial goals to new players, including an alternative suggestion of incorporating and embedding of Youtube training videos for the game as opposed to exhaustive tutorials, as successfully done by other games on the market.

Some of this feedback might be a retread of feedback submitted by many other players, but like Steeven Peeler himself said in one of his latest tweets “I always forget how difficult it is to follow everything right after you release a game (or start pre-orders/beta in our case).” If he can’t follow it all, I don’t expect to be able to do so either.

So, with that in mind, here are some of my thoughts.

First Impressions:
Intro Movie: Deaf players won’t have any idea what is being said here. And, unless they’ve found the online manual they won’t know the setup and backstory being presented here.

Ship Creation:
When creating your ship the creation screen seems like it would be very confusing to new players who might misinterpret it as a standard 4x type experience, given the layout and much of the information displayed. There’s a boatload of information and backstory being presented here for each race, in addition to a “Danger Level” stat, and racial traits; but it seems like it would lead to a great deal of confusion among players who think they’re gaining certain benefits or penalties when they’re not.

Obviously the base bonus stats matter, in that they give the player some distinction above and beyond cosmetics, but aside from that it seems as though all the other information, (whether relating to racial traits, backstory, or Danger Level) serve no explicit purpose at this stage of the game. All of this info would be appropriate if players were actually controlling one of these factions, but they’re not, and since players don’t get to explicitly choose which factions show up in a game, there’s no reason for them to be presented with this information anywhere outside of the playspace.

Suggestion: Move the lore stuff/danger level/traits stuff to a general Background & Lore section somewhere else in the game, or to a place somewhere inside the playspace itself. I know that the bonuses and penalties each race has been assigned also show up in the Diplomacy screen, and that’s a good thing, maybe there can be info buttons here players can access and read for the race’s history. Given that we’re not actually playing the races, it seems like it isn’t until players start finding out who they’re up against that this information feels like it would be relevant.

Secondary Suggestion: Because players are really just Operatives in a (still secret? not sure) Guild, they’re not specifically restricted to working towards the goals of the race whose equipment they’re using. If the idea is to keep this background/lore info in the character creation screen then it I’d consider also adding some text that explicitly tells the player that they’re merely using equipment originating from that race, and they aren’t actually playing that race; they’re just mercenaries following the dollar.

New Players Starting Out: Gotta Keep Them Playing and Wanting More
If I were your average gamer, completely unfamiliar with Soldak’s games and the type of gameplay they have to offer, and I were to download a demo of this game from a typical service like Steam, I would probably be very confused about what what, precisely, I should be doing to win the game once I’m plopped into the universe. Sure, there’s narrated dialog during the intro movie that sets up the backstory of the universe and informs the player about the Operative’s key role in it, and the very first time you’re in the game world you’re immediately inundated with a dozen Help tips, but many of those are a little too informative for their own good; and even once the new player is done reading they'll probably still be left feeling a bit aimless.

Continued Next Post...

Last edited by kerzain : 06-18-2012 at 08:08 AM.
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Old 06-18-2012, 04:57 AM
kerzain kerzain is offline
Join Date: Sep 2010
Posts: 70

Help Tips:
I think it’s very important to keep brand new players from feeling the need to press that big huge “Don’t show me any more tips” button right off the bat, because buried in these tips could be some valuable information they’d suffer without. One way to do this would to be to make sure the only information they’re getting is of the absolute necessity.

Suggestion: I think it would be best to prune some of the immediate tips that show up, and edit a few of the remaining ones to be shorter where possible. Here are a couple examples: I don’t think players need to be told how tool tips work. Tool tips are pretty standard now days,and aren’t just exclusive to this game. Even if players weren’t already trained to look for tooltips by hovering their mouse cursor over objects, the fact that these tips even exist should present itself the moment players actually try to interact with anything in the game. In short, they’ll find them on their own, pretty quickly.

Another example is the Help Tip describing the different types of inventory slots. It describes how “there are five types” and goes on to differentiate Heavy Medium & Light slots, vs Inventory and Cargo bay slots.

I don’t think players need to be told about general inventory/bag type slots at the same time they’re learning about the differences between the three different sizes of component slots. I think most gamers would naturally figure that part out (stuff always goes in “bags”), and because of this I think the text is extraneous in this situation, serving only to further inundate players with information they might not need, encouraging them to skip the rest of the tips completely.

A final example would be the Help Tip that informs players (in detail that no normal player could probably ever remember after glancing at a tip just that one time) about the screens/windows they can access by clicking on the buttons at the bottom of the screen. This one shows up the first time the player needs to loot something sitting out in space. I think it needs to be one of the very first tips they’re told about, but edited down.

I don’t see a reason to list all the several different hotkey combinations they can use to access any of these screens. If players are just told about the buttons, and only about the buttons, they’ll click the buttons. Experienced gamers will obviously want to start mapping keys for these buttons, but they’ll probably have the wherewithal to go do that and won’t need a Help topic popping up to tell them this. For everybody else, the main focus of the Help tip should probably be to go explore the different screens, with special emphasis put on exploring the Quest screen, since there’s a quest waiting for them already. Besides, when gamers are told to click the buttons, every button will automatically present a tool-tip informing them that they can also use a hotkey if they choose to do so.

An alternative for the menu buttons/hotkey tip is to simply tell people to check the tooltips for these buttons for additional hotkey info, sort of killing two birds with one stone. You’d be informing players about the tooltips without needing to create an entirely separate topic about it. I think several of the tips can be edited, combined or adjusted (or simply removed) in just this fashion. This should help keep new players from feeling a bit overwhelmed by the text the first time they enter the game. Most people just want to dive in anyhow, and I have a feeling many of these end up being skipped anyhow.

Final Tip Suggestion: Consider adding a “Next Tip” “Previous Tip” type of system, so players can just sit down and take it all in at once if they’re in the mindset to do so (this is often how I do it anyway). A benefit to adding this system is that if players ever want to go back and reread a Help Tip they can do so much more easily.

Early Goals/Direction:
Okay, so the player has clicked through the first seven helps windows, and now they’re staring at their ship in the center of the screen. The good news is that already have a quest! Unfortunately, they’re only being told about it over in the chat box/newsfeed, but the quest notification is nothing more than a single line of text (sitting with a couple other default lines of text that appear at the start of the game). I’m willing to bet there’s a good chance that many new players won’t notice they’ve been given a quest to go find an AI race to go interact with. Now, naturally these players will probably start exploring, and stumble across that race on their own, but there will have been no good introduction to the quest system, since the current implementation simply send another line of text to the (probably busy by the point) chatbox telling them they’ve completed the quest.

There needs to be a new way of getting players to utilize the diplomacy and quest screens. This will help give them some much needed direction, because even once the race is found, many new players won’t have any idea they’re supposed to interact at the level required in order to succeed in this game.

Suggestion: First and foremost I think it needs to be made very clear to new players that their number one assignment at the moment their ship appears is to go explore and find a new race. This would also be a perfect time introduce them to the quest system, instructing them to open the quest window for information about the small line of quest text that just popped up in their newsfeed. The game should emphasize that quests serve as one of the major driving forces behind the game, and that their success or failure will largely depend on doing as many of these quests as they can, in an effort to win favor.

Secondly, the moment they find that first race I think that players need to be immediately brought to the diplomacy screen, and have a follow up tip presented that instructs them to click the button at the bottom of the screen to get back here at any time. Much like the emphasis put on the quest screen, players need to know to check in to this screen regularly and to constantly be checking in here for new quests to pursue, or for a general overview of who loves whom.

Experienced players probably won’t want to deal with this type of hand holding, but if you keep these events from interfering too much during the early game, but logical enough to duplicate actions an experienced player would probably do anyway (like opening the diplomacy screen to check for quests at whatnot at the first meetup), then this early process shouldn’t feel too invasive on repeat playthroughs.

I think the priority here should be to educate and inform players at a natural pace, without expecting them to remember every little details force-fed them by help tips before any of the action starts. Even if experienced players would balk at closing a quest screen that automatically pops up the moment they get and complete their first quest, I don’t think anybody is going to quit the game over it, however I do think players feeling aimless and lost are more likely to set the game aside and move on to something else.

The key here is that players need to feel like they have a specific goal or purpose (no matter how benign something like “Find your first race” might seem). Once they’ve completed that, they need to be told how to create goals for themselves, by getting more quests, or by seeking out additional races.

The Second Quest:
One of the biggest hurdles to the current questing system is that it can be very confusing for new players (and even some experienced Din’s & DoP players) to get a quest that must be solved by visit an as-of-yet undiscovered system. The game is large enough that it can literally take a couple hours for newer players to traverse the map and find their way from System A to System B to System C only to finally find the gate they need that will take them to System D. Plus, given the propensity for random wormholes and the like, new players are apt to feel lost and overwhelmed before they ever get anywhere close to finishing their quest.

Suggestion: My suggestion here would be to limit the first couple quests to the immediate and perhaps neighboring systems. Now, I understand that as a Drox Operative, we are put right into the middle of a living breathing galaxy functioning independently from whatever it is we decide to do at any one moment, and that the need for a Drox Operative in the same (or neighboring) system might not exist at that moment, but for the sake of a new player’s sanity/retention I say create that need for at least the first two or three quests. There’s that sense of discovery that works well in new games, and there’s that sense of simply feeling lost and aimless. It’s that latter feeling that needs to be avoided, even if people are simply confusing freedom of choice for “nothing to do”, which is all too common in some sandbox type games.

In Closing:

Finally, I stopped short of recommending a full on scripted tutorial (especially one that might take place independently of the game itself) only because of the propensity for many players to simply skip the tutorial and to move on. My favorite way to learn the game is to simply play it, but with a game like Drox Operative there’s a certain amount of handholding that absolutely must take place in order for an average unmotivated player to learn the ropes; and by unmotivated I mean some dude who will download the demo, get annoyed at his inability to figure out what he’s supposed to do, feel bored and then move on -- ignoring the minute details that are all right there beneath the surface.

I feel that if this game is going to have legs it needs to do a little more to appeal to these types of gamers other than flood their screen with Help Dialog boxes they have the option of simply switching off at the push of a button. I feel that for players manning brand new ships, in brand new scenario/maps/sectors (or those ships under level 5 or 6 or so), a certain amount of automated education is in order if the game is going to hold the attention of the uninitiated.

An Alternative to Scripted Tutorials: In fact, a great alternative to programming/scripting much of this type of stuff might be to display links (or a container plugin) to instructional Youtube videos inside the game itself. This is how several developers have gone about instructing new players about the game already, and it seems quite effective when done right. The creators of Sword of the Stars did with their games, and now Tribes Ascend is doing with theirs. The downside is that these types of videos aren’t exactly interactive (and for the best results I think introductory material typically should be, without beating someone over the head with it), but it could be less of a time & devresource-consuming way to simply get that information out there without making people feel like they have to read a huge manual, or suffer through seemingly unending tips and help dialog boxes in the game before getting started.

The Future: Now, there are many, many threads and suggestions about what else can be done to make the quests and maps and such more interesting in order to increase replayability and draw for experienced Dins and DoP players (and players in general of course). I myself have quite a few suggestions and observations in these regards too, but the purpose of this particular post was to address that first 20-60 minutes of gameplay directly. The game needs a way to hold a player’s attention just long enough to give them a little feeling of accomplishment and to give them the idea that they’re actually working towards something above and beyond a mere “Collect X number of Y” set of missions.

Although there are other areas of the game that require your attention, I think having a smooth introduction to the game should also have a place reserved on the to-do list.

Last edited by kerzain : 06-18-2012 at 08:15 AM.
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Old 06-18-2012, 05:29 AM
pnakotus pnakotus is offline
Join Date: Jan 2011
Posts: 148

The definitely needs to be more clarity at character creation around what you are actually choosing. The fluff about races is nearly irrelevant; you're choosing a look for your ship and 'what you spent your first level on'. You're not locked diplomatically, equipment wise, play style wise or in any other way; it's cosmetic. Given the hard equipment locks in the early game, I think it would be well to illustrate the stat differences with starting equipment; x guy with 5 in engineering might start with something that needs 5 engineering and illustrates the benefits of engineering, so that players aren't basically making a random choice and realising they can't use any items for 3-4 levels due to stat locks.
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Old 06-18-2012, 06:03 AM
gornova gornova is offline
Join Date: Oct 2008
Posts: 184

I totally agree with first and second quests.
My first quest was to go to another system and without a gate or a starlane (not show on map!!) was impossible to find how to get to another system!
Random Tower of games:
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Old 06-18-2012, 06:10 AM
Valgor Valgor is offline
Join Date: Feb 2010
Posts: 600

Yes, there should definitely be more map markers for quest contacts, systems the player needs to go to and the planets they're told to find,
in addition to on-screen pointers (or a compass) telling them the general direction, and not just within the current system.
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Old 06-18-2012, 06:11 AM
gornova gornova is offline
Join Date: Oct 2008
Posts: 184

Best is make it as option: anyone can turn it off no?
Random Tower of games:
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Old 06-18-2012, 10:41 AM
Mivo Mivo is offline
Join Date: Sep 2009
Posts: 22

I agree with the bit about the introduction part of the game (basically the first hour). If I had not been a little familiar with Soldak's games, and only downloaded a demo without being "hot" for the game, I think my interest would not have survived the first fifteen minutes.

I feel that what the game needs is a hand-holding "do this, now do that" kind of interactive tutorial where players are told what to do. Once a task is completed, the game should actively respond to this, i.e. a flashing arrow that indicates where to click next. Like a guided tour.

The ~first hour is the most crucial time and the one chance a game has to "grab" a player (arguably with many people it is probably closer to ten minutes).
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Old 06-18-2012, 11:22 AM
PixelLord's Avatar
PixelLord PixelLord is offline
Join Date: Jul 2009
Location: Dallas, TX
Posts: 635

I agree with pretty much all the comments and suggestions here. Great input! Thanks, it is all appreciated very much! I really like the YouTube Tutorial idea and "Guided Tour" just mentioned.

I'm working on a YouTube Tutorial, but my voice... sucks! Anyone know Morgan Freeman's cell phone number? (like we could afford him)
Stephen A. Hornback

Last edited by PixelLord : 06-18-2012 at 03:08 PM.
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Old 06-18-2012, 04:05 PM
Jinsai Jinsai is offline
Join Date: Dec 2010
Posts: 15
Default me 2

I agree with the points mentioned here. The big race descriptions at the beginning bury the lede by putting the stats at the bottom, and they add other info that is a bit confusing.

Also new players have NO idea what to do. Should be a clear path to the first race, which might be a friendly/destined to die/depart sub-race.

In-game stuff should walk players through the basics: here's how you navigate. Come find me, I'll give you something to take to someone else, then I'll give you an upgrade and tell you how to slot it. Then I'll send you to a gate to go on to the next thing.

YouTube videos are all well and good, but I don't want to go to a different site to learn how to play a game.
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Old 06-18-2012, 04:25 PM
Chumpy Chumpy is offline
Join Date: Jan 2011
Posts: 271

Information like "starlanes are at the edges of sectors" would be good to tell the player too. This isn't Din's Curse where there are hallways to follow.
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