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  • Lightfield: Lessons Learned And Questions Raised

    [08.28.18]
    - Simon Wallner

  • What is Your Game and How to Communicate it

    Finding out what the game actually was that we were working on was surprisingly difficult. We all started with a shared vision of what we wanted to achieve, but the more you work on it and the closer you get, the harder is it to answer the following questions: What is the game ‘actually' about, who's gonna play it, how and why? We often discussed how ‘hard-core' or ‘casual' the gameplay should be, but I'd argue now that these questions already miss the point.

    Having to communicate and explain your game to others can help to see this problem better and to get a glimpse of the outside-view of the game in contrast to your own, idealised internal view on the game.

    Up until now we still struggling with describing what Lightfield ‘is' in a concise way. Of course this is a naturally hard thing to do, because the games we want to make are non-trivial, new and innovative but something that we maybe should have put more energy in. Not only to have good sounding PR material but also to better understand the game you are making before you start reading the really outside view in reviews and comments about the game.

    Expectations Management and Reviews

    This nicely leads into the next area. Given that you have some understanding of your game, how can you prime players and reviewers that they look at it through the same lense as you?

    The reviews we received for Lightfield from larger and smaller sites (Famitsu, IGN, Destructoid, etc... ) were very mixed. We had some very positive reviews and almost all (good and bad) credited us for the innovative core gameplay but some also contained justified criticism that resulted in lower scores. I am not trying to find excuses for lower scores here (... but, but, our game is great!) but instead to highlight the lesson learned:

    What we saw in some reviews was that the review scores correlated with the lens the reviewer apparently used to look at the game. Looking through the ‘Wipeout clone' lens was not very exciting because the game is simply not Wipeout. Looking through the ‘innovative indie' lens proved much better, but then missed some of the structural deficits.

    This is of course an oversimplification but showed us the importance of managing expectations of the game properly. What are the games people will compare it to and what is their scale of measurement? What are players and reviewers expecting from a 20 dollar game compared to a 15 or 25 dollar game? Looking at the screenshots of the game, what will people expect? A Wipeout clone, something else...?

    Hidden Complexity

    To briefly also touch the technical side, the main problem we had (besides online multiplayer of course) was hidden complexity in the game. Hidden in the sense that we didn't realise that complexity was an issue until it was way too late.

    Our free flowing gameplay approach means that players can switch between most modes fluidly without going into any menus. It is not separate game modes but everything packed together in one where you could do everything. Combine that with our local multiplayer approach where players can join and leave pretty much any time (there is no separate local multiplayer mode) and you end up with a myriad of different edge cases and code paths with many ifs and elses.

    All that is really awesome when it works smoothly for the player but a real pain to maintain.

    Everyone was Genuinely Friendly

    Overall I have to say that we had a very good time developing Lightfield. Releasing on consoles is hard and complex, but the platform holders were really trying to help us as much along the way as possible.

    All the individual people that we were in contact were all really nice and genuinely friendly. And of course also all the other indie developers we met along the way. It it a really good community (locally in Austria and also world wide) and we always felt welcomed.

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