Monday, April 30, 2012

Three Cups of Playtest and a Dash of Progress

Our third playtest turned out pretty positive results again. We've gotten the process nearly down to a science and had our section of the lab set up in record time. Things started off slowly but picked up about an hour in, and by the end we had gotten more testers (or at least more responses) than ever before. People who had tested with us previously indicated that they were happy with how the game was progressing, and everyone else seemed to be enjoying their first experience with it. The tutorial functionality we added proved helpful although a little text heavy. There's still a few things we need to explain a little better though, as people still didn't quite understand missiles on the fighters. We believe that part of it is because missiles needed a target lock to fire, and when people tried it without one they started to believe that missiles just didn't work at all.

Not all of the feedback was what we had hoped for though. Previous tests showed that people wanted keyboard controls in addition to or instead of the mouse. We did implement a keyboard control scheme, although the majority of testers were not fond of it, so either we need to heavily tweak it or our game might not be as conducive to keyboard control as people had hoped. There were also clear difficulty issues. The first mission puts the player against an enemy squadron outnumbering them three to two, and several players were never able to pass this wave. Once they were however, some discovered very quick ways to win a battle, including one tester who essentially solved endless mode and was clearing each wave in about 60 seconds, never losing more than a few ships.

As mentioned above, we added tutorial functionality, which primarily serves as mission briefings and hints or tips during the game. In story mode such tutorials pop up during each mission explaining new gameplay features unlocked that round and the player's objective during the battle. This proved very helpful in getting the players to understand the game. We also made the teams more distinguishable, as the player's ships have a pink exhaust trail while dinner keeps the flame colors. During the playtest several people requested an option for inverted controls, so we added an options page. As of now control inversion is the only thing there, but there is more to come. The final change is one that has been long overdue: an overhaul of the order giving system in mothership mode. The huge bulky buttons have been replaced with icons, with tooltips for clarity. Icons showing each squadron's current orders are now displayed alongside their portrait, with similar tooltips.

Gameplay Updates
The last round of new features are in! We should be mostly feature complete now, so there probably won't be any major gameplay updates after this, but don't worry; we made these ones count. For starters, the last type of ship has been added. Scramblers are the third drone type and are purely a support class, not dealing any actual damage. Instead, their weapons temporarily disable targets, sending other drones berzerk and point defenses firing off shots randomly. The enemy also fights back more intelligently now, as the admiral of the opposing fleet issues some basic orders to its squadrons. For example, when its mothership loses shields, it tends to focus on eliminating the player's main cannons. Saving the best for last, we split the gameplay into two separate modes: Story and Endless. The story mode is a short campaign which also acts as a tutorial for new players. It begins with the player controlling a single squad and progresses until they control a mothership and a full fleet. Endless mode is a sort of all you can eat buffet of battles. It starts off by throwing the player right into the full game, two motherships with full fleets duking it out. Each time the player defeats a wave they have a chance to repair and recover and then it's on to the next fight.

Art & Graphics
Alissa and Madeleine have started the final phase of the ship models: texturing! Until now everything had programmer textures; passable, but not even comparable to what's to come. So far we have the turkey, broccoli, and cupcake models with more on the way. Our lighting model has also been updated to add in bump mapping and a specular map. As shown in the turkey example below, it really makes a big difference!


After Bump Mapping

Final (bump map + specular map)

The bump map added a lot of interesting surface detail to the turkey, but it brought the issue of shininess to the front, which we resolved with another texture which contains per-pixel specular lighting terms. The only problem now is that the "metal" tends to look like Tin, which seems an unlikely material for a gun barrel.

If anyone's interested, we used the GIMP normalmap plugin for our bump mapping, it's really handy!

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