New Experiences

Satya Nadella preaches “customer-obsession” to his employees. He proclaims, “the core of our business must be the curiosity and desire to meet a customer’s unarticulated and unmet needs with great technology.” The word “unarticulated” strikes a note with us while we’re deep in Far Away’s iterative design and playtesting phases. We receive a lot of feedback. All of it is recorded and considered. However, the data only goes so far. Feedback often misses the root problem and directly addressing it may work against the player experience.

Let’s set the disclaimer first: we welcome feedback and do not want to discourage any of it. Our games would be trash without input from players. Since we’ve previously discussed the importance of playtesting, let’s instead talk about the role of designer vision. Consider Pandemic Legacy: no one wants to destroy parts of their expensive game, until they realize and understand it’s necessary to raise the stakes for a uniquely-personalized immersive experience.

The recurring feedback for Far Away is about the creature AI (or lack thereof). If you haven’t already, please read last week’s blog or watch the livestream for a deeper discussion. Here, let’s consider a counterargument to the previously presented design solutions. One interpretation is players are unaccustomed to personally choosing their difficulty and don’t know how to react. The idea of completely controlling the main threat is essentially unseen outside of purist story games. Players are told they can do as they wish with the creatures (as long as it “makes sense”) and they need to adapt to the system.

This new frontier theory suggests players would be more comfortable over time. Perhaps with multiple games or in a more intimate setting away from observers, these players would grow to love the interpretable-behavior system.

Ehe existence of an observer changes the state. Do players feel the need to have the game force punishment because they think we’re judging them for taking an easy route? It’s curious: players willing move creatures to attack them and damage buildings before things get dire. When it comes to the killing blow, hesitation seeps into their hands. There’s no true difference between the first injury and the last; both are equally responsible for the loss.

Additionally, having a feedback mechanism invites feedback. We noticed this with Conspire. Playtesters insisted we provide stock-issue goals for players to use, instead of forcing people to write their own goals. Around 75% of playtest groups gave us that comment. We stuck to our guns. We knew the game needs player creativity to thrive and players are readily capable of such creativity. Literally no one has asked for pre-made goals since we released. People certainly still give us their thoughts for future releases, but no one questions the write-your-own-goals mechanic. Perhaps no one is actively searching for problems to report anymore.

I played Mysterium with a group last night. Not everyone guessed their clues and we technically lost. Everyone opted to go on to the final round anyway, just to see. Success in the final round wouldn’t really mean victory, would it? It feels different. Winning, losing, and “winning” all elicit different emotions. Everyone wants to win, but if a win means nothing, it doesn’t feel the same. It would be better to win by triumphing over adversity. But we took the option to “win”. We still want to play again. We still want to win. The option to ignore the mechanics and keep playing until the “win” didn’t take that desire from us.

Will Far Away players challenge themselves more and more with increasingly aggressive creatures? Will they strive to win under harder conditions? That’s one thing we’re pondering as funding draws closer.