|Even success stories need fresh blood|
No, don't worry I'm not going to talk to you today about Activision's over released, often abused, stale and dated FPS franchise... I could... but I won't. Nope I'm here to talk briefly about one of the many duties I think we have as wargamers, and one I'm not sure many of us ever get the pleasure to fulfill. I'm talking about the vitally important role of the playtester. Now I'm sure many of you out there will have heard of these mythical creatures that selflessly playtest less than perfect product, and give hopefully useful feedback on the development of a game to the designer. I've always offered my considered thoughts whenever I've been called upon. I feel it's the other vitally important duty we all have as hobbyists in the hobby. The primary one being the introduction and recruitment of fresh blood to the hobby.
So why am I prattling on about playtesting today? Well I obviously can't talk to any of you about specifics, or even in vague terms... mainly because of NDA's, but also because I've given people my word, and that means something to me. What I can say to you though is that recently I've had the pleasure of feeding my thoughts back to designers on a good number of products, many of them wildly different from each other. Indeed the design processes often employed by different designers and companies themselves are exceedingly different, and almost as interesting as the games themselves. As I psychologist and a systems analyst I find that last point particularly interesting... but that's not what I'm here to talk about, although it is something I might try to return to at a later date.
Yesterday this here Blogger got himself up at 5:00am in the morning to trek to a secret location, probably guarded by robotic fishmen (not actually true, at least I don't think so. Although the mine field was real) to perform the second most solemn duty of a wargamer, the playtest. Now the day didn't get off to the greatest of starts, as the previous evening I'd only managed to get home and go to sleep at 1:00am... hang on, that's the same day... bugger... it's a long story, and one for another day to I feel. So on four hours sleep I made my way to Birmingham New Street, where every fething train to the secret location and many more were utterly badgered. Oh joy! However, it is a duty that must be performed, so I soldiered on to a nearby secret location where the trains were still running. I was now closer to performing my solemn duty.
|Bleep, blip, bleep, blip... God I loved 24.|
At this new secret location I spied two other lost and slightly angry looking souls... OK they looked like fellow nerds! Their nerdar was working as they too seemed to have spied me. I looked around to see if I could see any robotic fishmen with laser eyes, but I couldn't. Clearly I now had a combat ready unit, I approached and took charge of the situation, a minicab was called and we proceeded to make our way to the original rendezvous point. Miraculously we made it there well on time, despite the fickle mistress that is fate and the awfully decrepit British Rail Network trying their best to thwart us. Not today you won't, not today!!! So there we were at the secret underground bunker protected by robotic fishmen with laser eyes and explosive teeth, coffee in hand waiting for the other geeks to arrive. We got to chatting, as geeks in a room tend to do, it was then I had a bit of an epiphany in this conversation though it firmed up during the rest of the day... am I the right sort of person to do this task? In fact were any of us?
|If you haven't done so already, you need to go see the Avengers movie. It's brilliant!!!|
Let me explain further, I am by nature a highly analytical person. A math nerd if you will, but in the broader sense I like research of all types and I love picking apart systems, and rules are after all just systems. I think I'm bloody good at it too, in fact the exasperated looks on many an opponents face throughout the decades tells me I might be a little bit too good at it. So I'm the sort of person that you probably do want to ask opinion of. However, on the other-hand lots and lots of people ask my opinion on things, and is that healthy for the industry? Talking to my fellow geeks I found out that many people in the room had done this sort of thing multiple times before. So there was a lot of experience present and much of it was clearly as finely honed as my own. I have no doubt everyone in that room contributed greatly to the design process and their input was all incredibly valid... but...
|Area 51 is probably guarded by fishmen too!|
Is that's what's needed from this point forward? More of the same? I'm not so sure it is. You see recently for another project I got a room full of n00bs together and asked them to play another completely different game. The input from this group was entirely different and raised issues I hadn't even thought of, which isn't a surprise. Me with my vast gaming experience and hugely mathematical and gamey brain had been able to assimilate a very complex ruleset, understand it and process any convoluted descriptions and potential knowledge gaps to play the game. The n00bs showed me that actually things could be simpler, things could be better. In short they taught me something. As I say, I'm a researcher by heart and by trade so I know how vitally important it is to get a good broad sample, to ensure any conclusions you draw are valid...
So here it goes, the reason for this Sunday Sermon. I have two pleas really, one for us gamers and one for the Games Designers and Developers:
- To you gamers, if you have the time and you feel you have something to contribute then please make yourselves available to companies for games testing, the larger the pool the better. It might be a bit of hard work, but it's also quite exciting and hugely rewarding when you see the finished product, and know you contributed.
- To Games Designers and companies, don't just stick to the same old faces and crowd. I'm hugely flattered that people think highly enough of my opinions to seek it out, and I'll always give my thoughts when asked to do so... just please broaden the net for the sake of your own design processes and products.
I know the second one will be tough for many companies. Mainly because they are in a difficult spot in needing to maintain the secrecy and integrity of a product, which is also compounded by the fact that they're dealing with highly sensitive commercial information. Hence the NDA's, and those robotic fishmen with laser eyes, exploding teeth and cloaking devices. They need to trust those they are showing their newest baby off too, and that's a hard thing for anyone to do. So when they find some people they can trust on that score it must be very tempting to keep going back to them... all I'm saying is that the potential benefits of casting the net further afield would outweigh the potential risks for me.
|Beware the fishmen, they want our women!!!|
So what about this day of gaming at this secret bunker then? Well, despite being utterly knackered after what had been a very stressful and sometimes physically painful week, I think it was a highly worthwhile and productive experience. The game itself was a fantastically entertaining experience, and one I just can't wait to tell you all about. It really is potentially a big winner, and if I'm honest I wasn't expecting it. Yes it's that good. I also met an awful lot of really cool people and it was a pleasure to see and meet you all. So in in all it was a good day, even though I got home at 9:15pm and only managed to get to sleep around about 10:00pm, meaning in effect I pulled a 17 hour shift at my own expense on roughly four hours of sleep... we're mad us geeks... plus I'm not too sure whether it's sleep deprivation or not, but I think I may have been followed home by a robotic fishman with a laser eye, exploding teeth, cloaking device and atomic powered raygun of doom. Peace out!