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  • Lightfield: Lessons Learned And Questions Raised

    [08.28.18]
    - Simon Wallner
  • Here are a few of the things we learned in the past 9 months between our initial console launch and launching Lightfield HYPER Edition on Steam. But it is not only things we learned, but also questions that came up that we still can't answer.

    Background

    In September last year (2017) we released LIGHTFIELD on PlayStation 4 and Xbox One. We are a small 4-person team based in Vienna, Austria and this was our first game project as our company Lost in the Garden.

    We had a couple of years of relevant experience in games and related fields but we never did a project on this scale all on our own from concept to publishing. Production of Lightfield up until the release took about 2 years with a total budget of about 400k EUR. This was made possible by a development grant we received from the public funding body Vienna Business Agency and a large part of the budget was financed by our own time and labour.

    Following the collective wisdom, we initially targeted a Q1 for the first console launch and then having the second console launch about 3 months later. Our timing slipped a little and from many sides we heard the recommendation to make a simultaneous launch on PS4 and Xbox. Thus everything was pushed back and also implementing multiplayer took quite a bit longer than expected.

    We finally launched on PS4 and Xbox One simultaneously in late September. Launch performance was below our hopes and expectations, even though the volume of press coverage did not feel too bad. Since the launch we kept working on the title, adding online multiplayer matchmaking, improving performance and also some tweaks and fixes.

    Additionally we went through all the feedback and started working on a very significant content update that adds a full campaign mode and trick system among other things. This heavily extended version that we are now bringing to Steam on July 31 is called the "Lightfield HYPER Edition" and it will also come to consoles as a free patch.

    Lessons learned

    Overly Ambitious

    It's a classic! Not sure if this plagues indies more than other teams, but of course we wanted to innovate everywhere. We tried to avoid all the classical tropes, not to reproduce existing games and create something totally new...

    What we learned though was that this sounds all very good (innovation is good, right?) but the mistake we made was that we lost the focus on the actual players. Innovation does not always equate fun, and the innovation at the game side often takes some time to be learned and understood at the player side. But as a player, maybe I don't want to learn all that new stuff and maybe all I want is to simply enjoy something that I am already familiar with. If I enjoy the racing game genre, then really what I want is to enjoy a racing game when I pick one up.

    What we were lacking was the appreciation of all the context the players already learned and know by playing games for the past X years. The lesson learned here is that we should have used what is there and then build on top of it, instead of the more radical tabula rasa approach we thought was golden.

    Not Enough Game

    One concrete example of this is the way the game was set up initially. We had the ideal that everything was very free form, and free flowing. We wanted to avoid menus as much as possible and players could go in and out of modes all the time. We tried to avoid everything that looked like a proper structure, an approach that was more suitable to designing toys but less so for racing games. The idea was that if the core gameplay allows any play style, then the rest will follow.

    The problem was that this turned out to be ‘not enough game' in the end. Even though players ‘could' play any way they wanted, many players want to play games instead of playing with a toy.

    The game was lacking the structure most players are expecting. An issue of ‘what can I do here' and ‘what am I supposed to do next'. We we also missing structure for game sessions that are longer than one time trial lap. Providing small goals and closure for a game session.

    What we now have tried with the HYPER Edition was to add this much needed structure. But not turn the game 180 degrees around but to add it as an additional way of playing. We added a fully structured campaign mode that consists of a large numbers of smaller and larger challenges and we also added an explicit trick system. But if all this added structure isn't your thing, then you can still enjoy most of the game in its free flowing form.

    Testing at Events and Conferences is Bad

    Throughout the development we've traveled a lot and have been to most of the important events in the US, Europe and Asia. To some extent, we thought of those events as a very good testing opportunity for our game. Lots of visitors with varied backgrounds and people who don't always feel obliged to only say nice things about the game.

    We learned a lot there, but the mistake we made was that the setup only focused on the core mechanic of the game. Players liked the looks and how it played, so that blind spot of too little ‘game' and ‘structure' only grew.

    The lesson learned for us is to try to test the game in more realistic settings. This takes a lot of time (for the team and the testers) but it is essential to discover structural problems in the game.

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