An alpha version (if I could call it that) of my little game Planet Lander has now been put out and it’s generated some response among my friends. At present there are only five levels, with some others coming, as I update and figure out an efficient level design system. The most common response to the game seems to be its difficulty.
Most people are saying it’s bonkers hard.
Here’s some of the Facebook comments I received:
While the comments were both complimentary and helpful (although I have to remind myself that these are my friends commenting), this is an issue. Difficulty is of course a problem that affects no other popular medium today, movies, books, TV and theatre do not require their audiences to be ‘good’ at watching or reading. Games have thrived, or died, on the successful implementation of good learning curves. World of Warcraft is a classic example of a game that managed to garner massive broad appeal, partly through its use of a gradual and extremely well balanced difficulty curve that kept both new and experienced players interested. To be able to hold the attention of not only those who were already interested in games, but also those who are new to the medium, and to then still hold that attention throughout the character lifespan of an MMORPG is nothing short of miraculous. EVE Online on the other hand, while still popular, is fairly niche and this could be in part due to its steep learning curve.
In the case of Planet Lander, there are two connected factors that have influenced responses from people playing the game. The first is that as the sole developer I am constantly playing it. Over time of course this makes me pretty damn good at it. If, during that time, I am still making design decisions and tweaking the movement and controls of the ship, and still adjusting the level design, I end up with something that feels balanced for me to play but not for anyone who’s never played it. Secondly, the game would have benefited immensely from broad design testing. By putting it in the hands of a broad spectrum of players I could have more quickly seen the flaws in its difficulty. Fortunately, for a game such as Planet Lander, difficulty with controlling the ship is reasonably easy to fix. Plus, as the game only has five levels, I simply need to add some more levels (which was originally planned anyway) and then shift the more difficult ones towards the end of the game. I may however still adjust the exisiting ones after some more focussed design testing. The responses I have had for the game have not come at too late a stage in its development, however I feel I should have done this a bit earlier with a prototype and before the implementation of the art assets rather than relying on my own sense of difficulty.
I am currently concentrating on a lot other tasks at the moment in my life, such as learning more about Unity and Unreal, so the process of fixing these changes to Planet Lander might be slower than they have been recently. I also need to figure out an efficient level design system so that I can not only create levels quickly, but also readjust them quickly for balance and difficulty.