Observations from a first play-test

Recently I got a friend to play Wonderville, and I got a whole bunch of interesting feedback and information from it. I thought I’d share a little note on something that struck me from the play-test and my thoughts around a few tweaks I’m going to be making.
My friend doesn’t play that many video games, and as they put it “not the new ones”. This is the perfect type of player you want when testing a game like Wonderville, or any game for that matter. If you bring someone without the years of ingrained knowledge about video game control schemes to a game you’ll get to see exactly how intuitive and easy to grasp yours is. Turns out Wonderville really wasn’t that straight-forward!

When you don’t have knowledge of standards to rely on when playing a game, you’ll go based on what feels natural, what you’ve been told, and what you’re seeing on-screen is communicating to you. When my friend sat down to start playing, they were greeted with the Pig character and the first bit of dialog telling you what type of room they’d like you to create. A while back, I had the idea to map dialog responses to the face buttons on the controller. Each response gets its own button; it looks pretty nice on screen, simplifies the process of replying (you press one button instead of selecting an option, and then pressing a button) and I thought it was pretty nifty. Problem is, it’s not obvious that this is what is expected of you when you’re in a dialog. Although the buttons are shown to you alongside the options, they take second-place to the dialog text, and subsequently become somewhat invisible. In the case of the Pig’s introduction; to proceed with the dialog you need to press the Y (top face) button to continue. Instinctively my friend pressed the A (bottom face) button and then got confused by why nothing happened. I had to explain and point out what they needed to do. Oh dear.

When they got to making furniture, it became even more apparent that input was a bit complicated. In the full title, one could set up tutorials to ease the player in to more complicated things like making objects, but honestly, I really don’t think tutorials are the answer, and they can get pretty darned annoying too! Players with little to no game experience should be able to sit down and get the hang of Wonderville without lengthy tutorials.

Here’s a list of controls for making things right now, you should be able to get an idea how overwhelming this is for a new or inexperienced player.

Placement Mode:

A: Places a piece
DPad: Controls your piece selection
L1 and R1: Change what category of pieces you’re looking at
Left stick: moves your piece
Right stick: moves the camera
Left trigger: Puts you in “rotate mode” whereby the left stick now rotates a piece, instead of moving it
Right Trigger: Hold down the right trigger, and this will allow you to move or rotate things on the third dimension.
Y : Undoes your last action
Start button: Takes you to a menu to select what mode you’re in

The process of making something takes a lot of getting used to. Although I thought it was pretty great to have all controls available to you at the same time, my playtester had a lot of moments where they had to stop, think, and remember what button or process they needed to go through to get what they wanted. (Or, in the worst cases, I needed to tell them!)

What’s even worse is that when you’re placing things in a room, the control scheme is completely different again!

It became very apparent after a little while that I needed to really fix how the game is controlled.

All this got me thinking about one of, if not, the biggest references for the game: Animal Crossing. I realised Animal crossing keeps things ridiculously simple. Most of your actions are done with one or two buttons, and none of the interface gives you anything more complicated than that. When you start playing you can immediate discover what these buttons do, and menus are never overwhelming. Granted Animal Crossing doesn’t have a tool for making things in 3D in it, but I think if they did, it would be as simple and easy to grasp as a two button input scheme. This simple input scheme makes is immediately accessible for everyone, and that’s what Wonderville needs to be.

Going forward I’m going to try and keep this mentality in mind, I want to re-work all interaction with the game to make it far simpler. Conversations will go back to being a list of options you pick from with one button to confirm; and the make-stuff tool will get reworked too. It’s going to be really challenging I think to make the process of building things simple and intuitive, and not have to give the player lots of different menus to navigate through, but I think it’s going to be great fun doing so and by-golly, it definitely needs to happen!

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