Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Playtesting and Usability Improvements

We had our second playtest last Friday and got quite a bit of useful feedback from our testers. We had testers play both the C++ and Unity prototypes and take a survey on each, followed by a comparison survey to see which implementations people preferred.

Mothership View Improvements
We made a few updates to the mothership view to get it ready for the playtest. The UI got a minor update compacting it allowing the player to keep a more complete view of the battlefield as they assign orders. Distant ships also got an icon overlay so they can still be seen and identified from far away. We also implemented the shop that the Unity prototype had, so the player can now buy new ships and repair their motherhip between waves. After the playtest we learned that the Unity prototype had a more useful camera to navigate the battle, and that people like to be able to click on the ships themselves instead of only their icons on the side. We updated the C++ prototype to have similar camera controls, allowing panning around instead of locking it to the player mothership. Squadrons are now also clickable as we added picking functionality.

Drone View Improvements
A lot goes on in a Galactose battle, so any helpful information can improve the experience dramatically. We added health bars indicating what the player is shooting and how close it is to being destroyed. The target reticule has also been changed to go down the line of fire for the player ship so they can see just where their shots are going. Arrows have also been added in to show what direction the motherships are, helping the player orient themselves in space. Another helpful update is improved collision mesh detail. Each object can have a set of capsules defining its shape, so the motherships are a lot more difficult to accidentally crash into now.

The playtest results revealed a few other needed changes. The keyboard control in the Unity prototype received a lot of good feedback, so we've been working on implementing a hybrid version in C++. There were also a lot of complaints that when a missile warning appeared on screen it almost inevitably meant death for the player. To give players more time to dodge, the game as a whole actually slows down in a "bullet time" type effect. This allows the player to react and gives the game a more epic feel during a battle. We also pulled the boost control into the C++ prototype, which can act as a missile escape utility or for just getting around empty space more quickly. Lastly, we're experimenting with the roles of the weapons. It used to be very difficult to destroy anything with the lasers, so we effectively swapped the missile/laser damage and made missiles fire much more rapidly to keep them useful.

Other Changes
There's been quite a few other updates, some subtle, some behind the hood, but really the little things can make a big difference. Various UI bits have been cleaned up and are nicer looking and more functional. Different blend modes like additive have been implemented along with other special effects improvements, notably prettier shields and just generally better looking explosions. We added support for MSAA, an icon for the executable, and cleaned up the shaders. And finally, we added asteroids back in. Also we turned them into popcorn.

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