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  • Postmortem: Joshua Nuernberger's Gemini Rue

    [04.14.11]
    - Joshua Nuernberger

  • 4. Getting the Right Feedback

    Early on, I knew that playtesting would be critical as to how the game would turn out. For this reason, once I had a presentable version of the game finished, I set it down to whoever would play it: mostly family, friends, and co-workers. The on-hand testing made it much easier to gauge when players were having trouble with certain issues.

    Through unspoken and spoken feedback (such as facial expressions and QA), it revealed much more about what was wrong with the game than other forms of testing ever could. This led to a lot of cheesy expository being cut (especially during the intro, cutscenes, and especially the ending -- it was twice as philosophical and existential as it is now, trust me) some story shifts (Sayuri's identity as the escaped prisoner? Don't reveal it at once, move it to the Weather Tower!), and some alternate puzzles solutions (Kane? I need some help here...)

    One example is the hiding puzzle in Matthius' apartment -- before, the player could only hide behind the door as the thugs entered. However, most players would almost always try to hide everywhere but the door. Thanks to testing, the player can now either choose to hide outside on the fire escape or retreat all the way back into the hallway and watch the thugs exit (and then give Azriel that slight menacing double-look at the last second).

    Also, demoing Gemini Rue at both GDC and E3 each led to a source of invaluable feedback. I experienced firsthand how frustrating certain interface issues could be (The SHIFT key was previously the key for breathing during combat, until I realized how much people love tapping keyboards and how much Windows loves Sticky Keys) and how little quirks would go unreported in formal play-tests (people would unconsciously push "S" to get off a box, even when the "Box Mode" finished -- however, I just added that feature in anyway, and it still remains in the game).

    Finally, working with Wadjet Eye Games also provided the game with an army of beta testers. In only a couple of days, we had over five forum thread pages of bug reports by dozens of testers on our beta forum. The tiniest, most unnoticed issues were finally getting reported thanks to the scrutiny of a large-scale beta team: the fact that the player would not exit when you clicked on the edge of an "Exit" hotspot was (mostly) fixed, and even the menu screen was finally implemented. Working with three ranges of play-testers (internal friends, public demos, and the army of beta-testers) really gave the game three different degrees of inspection, which helped tremendously to polish the game in the long run.


    5. Getting Published

    At about the time I submitted to IGF (November 2009), I had been working on the game for nearly two years with myself and Nathan Allen Pinard, who was doing all the music and SFX. It had been my intention all along to release the game as freeware (I was just doing it for fun), but after putting so much work into the game, I decided to go commercial with it.

    This eventually led to the involvement of Wadjet Eye Games, which gave the game a huge boost in terms of both production and publicity. Working with Dave Gilbert, we added full voice acting to the entire game, something that would have been too large of a task for me to handle on my own. Also, as I mentioned before, his entire in-house army of beta-testers added a new level of polish to the game.

    On the marketing side, the game was sent out through a lot more distribution channels for the press, which wouldn't have been possible had I been working alone. Working with a publisher also gave me a stronger base on which to handle all the logistical aspects of a release, since I was working with an established studio.

    Finally, getting published by an indie still leaves you with indie cred, which is always what matters the most.

    What Went Wrong

    1. Title Rue

    Gemini Rue was originally titled "Boryokudan Rue." (Why I changed it is always the question that comes up the most in interviews.)  In fact, the game did not have any title at all for the first eight months it was in production secrecy. Only when I finally announced the game on the Adventure Game Studio forums did the need come up for a title.

    So, with the forum thread ready to be posted, all that was stopping me was a title for the game. I decided to take the name of the bad guys in the game, "Boryokudan", for the first part of the title. (In Japanese this literally means "Violence Group"; it's the official term for "yakuza", which is actually slang.) And since the game was pretty melancholy, I looked up a sad thesaurus and came up with the word, "Rue." Putting the two together, I now had the title, "Boryokudan Rue."

    However, when it actually came time to physically enunciate or spell that title (especially at GDC), it was clear there were problems. It even became a running gag at the time, where I printed out the pronunciation of the title on my business cards at GDC: "Boh - Lyo - Koo - Dan". Even though the title looked and sounded really cool, it wasn't really feasible as a conversation bit.

    When Wadjet Eye Games became involved with the project, they suggested the change to "Gemini Rue." This fixed the problem of the previous title, but then we had to go Orwellian on everyone and make sure that they were now on-board with the new title. However, most people who had heard of the game before could recognize it either through the visuals or through the new announcement, so all was not lost.

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