I set up a short session to demo the game. I talked a little about my goals for the game, in short a video game that could be played on one’s own that would introduce newcomers to agile principles and practices. Then I demoed the game and we played it for a while together on a projector. All the while we conversed about the game.
For me the session was a huge success, thanks to the participants. I got the feedback that the problem I was trying to solve with the game was real and worth solving for the participants. By observing the gameplay of the prototype it also came very clear to me that the current prototype was nowhere near a solution to the problem.
The user interface seemed not intuitive enough. There was lots of text and the parser did not understand most of the commands the participants wanted to use. These UI / usability problems effectively nullified the potential positive impacts the game could have.
While some of this could be something that could be solved by polishing the Inform7 code, it seemed to me that an alternative approach could provide more value with less work.
I also got lots of propositions about improvements and added features. While the audience was much too small to draw any immediate actions from these, I was pleased to see that most of them were on the same lines of thought that I had for the future of the game.
So I concluded that the best thing I could do was to start designing a second prototype from scratch. I have some ideas for changes: use a richer and more contemporary UI, something like in Echo Bazaar. There’s no need to change the fictional content at this point as it is essentially untested. The player actions will have to be more direct and immediately visible, probably some kind of multiple choice would be the most obvious option.
Now it is time to go back to the design board. One other thing that I learnt from this first iteration of game design is that it is important to test the prototype as quickly as possible. I got myself fooled thinking that I wouldn’t be able to test the interactive fiction game until I had made a lot of development work with Inform7, Parchment and the game content.
Now I think that I probably would have been better of with doing a lower tech prototype first. That’s exactly what I’m going to do with this one. The reason why this decision is a bit difficult is that I’d love to use this project right now to get better in developing web software (for instance with Grails).