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Playtesters must be selected and used with great care. You cannot simply grab a few friends and ask them what they think of the game. You need playtesters who possess a deep familiarity with games, playtesters who can analyze and criticize your game with some basis of experience. Ideally the playtesters would themselves be game designers, for they would then share your appreciation for the trade-offs essential to good game design. You should also know the player well, both his personality and his game taste. You should never use more than five or six playtesters. A surplus of playtesters only insures that you will not be able to assess carefully the reaction of each playtester. A variety of other systems have been used for playtesting. Most rely on gathering large groups of "real people" and assessing their reactions to the game. I have little respect for such systems. Although they are scientific, objective, and democratic, they seldom yield useful design information, for consumers make lousy critics. The suggestions they make are inane and impractical; they don t know enough about computers or games to make practical suggestions. Such methods may well work with detergent and shaving cream, but I very much doubt that any great movie, book, or song was created through market research of this kind. I will concede that such methods can prove to be a useful way to guide the mass production of cheap games by designers of limited talents; this book is not directed to persons of such a mentality. The playtesters will need a preliminary manual for the game. It need not be a finished product any more than the game itself---just enough orientation information to get the playtester going with the game. Make sure that there is enough in the manual that the playtester doesn t waste time critiquing problems of the game that will be solved by the manual. Do not sit down with the playtester in advance and coach him through the game; you will only contaminate his objectivity. The playtester s first reaction to the game is your best feedback on the success of the manual . Let the playtester experiment with the game for perhaps a week before you meet with him. Do not ask the playtester to keep lengthy written records of play performance; he won t do it. Instead, include in the manual a few suggestions about potential problems that worry you. The most for which you should ask in writing is a simple record of game options selected and subsequent scores. Schedule along interview with the playtester after he has had enough time to digest the game. Come to the interview prepared with a set of standard questions that you ask all playtesters. Do not lead the playtester s answers and don t solicit praise. Your job is to find flaws; accolades come later. While it is more scientific to use a third person to conduct the interview (thereby assuring more honest answers), this imposes a middleman between you and your playtesters. I prefer to get the information directly from the playtester. I also prefer to take a very negative tack during the interview, encouraging the playtester to criticize the game along with me and to suggest means of improving it. Playtesters criticisms are difficult to evaluate. Most criticisms must be rejected for a variety of reasons. Some are incompatible with your goals; some are not achievable in the-memory space remaining. Some are reasonable, but would require major software surgery incommensurate with
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the gains offered. Do not hesitate to reject 90% of the suggestions made. The remaining 10% are right; waste no time implementing them. How do you tell the good 10% This is the stuff of wisdom; I certainly don t know. The final stage of the design cycle is devoted to polishing the game. The polishing stage is actually concurrent with the later stages of playtesting and may involve several iterations with the playtesters. This stage is critical; the designer has been working on the game for a long time by now and the luster of the new design has worn off. It is now only a big job that should have been finished months ago. The playtesters love it, the publisher loves it and wants it right now, and the designer is sick of it. The urge to dump the damn thing is overpowering. Resist this urge; press on relentlessly and polish, polish, polish. Keep testing the game, fine-tuning it, and adding tiny embellishments to it. Once it s out the door, it s gone forever. Every single game I have done has followed the same pattern: I polished the game until I was sick of it and never wanted to see it again. When at last I sent the game out, I rejoiced; I was free of that dog at last. Within a month I was regretting my impatience and wishing I could have a chance to clean up that one embarrassing bug that I had never noticed. Within three months my regret had turned into shame as I discovered or was told of many more bugs. I have programs out there whose patrimony I hope never becomes widely known. One of the last tasks you must perform before releasing the game is the preparation of a game manual. Manuals are frequently given short shrift by just about everybody associated with computer games. This is a serious mistake, for the manual is a vital element in the overall game package. A computer has many limitations; some can be overcome with a good manual. Much of the static information associated with a game can be presented in a manual. The manual is also an excellent place to add fantasy support elements such as pictures and background stories. Finally, a well-written manual will clear up many of the misunderstandings that often arise during a game. You must write your own manual for the game, no matter how poor a writer you are, and even if a professional writer will prepare the final manual. The attempt to write your own manual will increase your respect for the skills of the professional writer, making it more likely that you will have a productive relationship with the writer. Writing your own manual will also provide feedback on the cleanliness of the game design. Clumsy designs are hard to describe, while clean designs are easier to describe. Finally, your own manual will be a useful source document for the professional writer. You should be prepared for the writer to throw out your manual and start all over---a good writer would rather create a new manual than polish an amateur's crude efforts. You must cater to the writer s needs, answering all his questions as completely as possible. Only a close and supportive relationship between designer and writer can produce an excellent manual.
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