Creating Concealed Intent has largely been a solo endeavour. This is against all the advice the web has to offer. It appears to be generally accepted that it is best to get as much testing and prototype feedback as possible. Playing the Concealed Intent test builds, I can see the need a great deal of additional work. I had ideas for improvements, but I wasn’t sure the best way forward. I’m very close to the game so find it hard to imagine how other people would play it.
It needed another point of view. A fresh pair of eyes. Luckily a workmate turned out to enjoy playing strategy games and recently offered give it a go. This was the first great benefit of the testing process. I had to turn my raggedy game that played more like a set of unit tests into something that could be fun (or at least give the impression it could be fun with more work). The result could charitably be called a pre-alpha release. Many bugs were squashed and from a player’s point of view it improved quickly, but it was still clumsy to control and there wasn’t much to do.
Handing it over, I nervously anticipated the response. I hoped that they wouldn’t hate it, but at the same time would provide good criticism - a few congratulatory words would provide little guidance. I needn’t have worried. The basic form of the feedback was “has potential, but many issues” and then went into those issue in detail. Perfect! Many of the comments were expected: the GUI is hard to understand; and it is not intuitive what the controls do. Others I hadn’t considered before: it is hard to tell the game is 3D; there needs to be more stats on the ships; and more feedback as to what plans have been set. There were also some suggested improvements.
One of these suggestions in particular has caused me some thought. In Concealed Intent ships need to have lock on their targets before firing. Gaining lock on other ships and trying to evade your opponent’s lock is the core game mechanic. I had initially envisioned lock as slowly gained and lost. Kind of like a chess game when the players spend time correctly positioning their pieces to best advantage before launching a full assault. My play-tester suggested the complete opposite, that should be gained fast and lost fast. You would hunt for enemies, hit them hard and then try to disappear. There would be a much greater fog of war. Very interesting and it would fit well with some other ideas I have (hiding behind planets/moons and spurious fake enemy contacts).
I am now convinced that I need more testing. I’m aiming for another test release in the new year (I’m losing some development time due to moving country). This will again be played by a very small number of people. However, soon after that I aim to have a more solid and playable alpha. This will need more general feedback and thus more testers. I’m not yet sure how I will find them. Although I have been collecting Indie gift bundles as possible rewards for testers. Anyone interested?