A month ago My Little Humanity (what I got so far of it) was showcased at a local cultural expo. Lots of people, many games. My game was part of a selection of what it's called 'art games' by a gallery called 'Game On!'. This was my experience.
My game received the privilege of being funded by the Ministry of Culture of Argentina, and it was time to show something playable after 7 months of continuous development. I think I delayed playtesting too much the game and some people expected to play something kind of finished. And the fact is, that the game wasn't finished not because I hadn't planned the schedule, but because game’s scope changed dramatically.
The initial idea sometimes fell short
It's very common for indies that when you start a game you want to make it small, as easy as possible, and then you take forever to finish it, if you finish it at all. Why is that?
I only have my experience and my interpretation of other people's experiences, but I think it's because you reach a point where you actually see the game as you planned it in the beginning, you're finishing it and you can see more clearly that it's not what you expected to be, or the initial idea fell short for a commercial release, and you want to invest a little more (always a 'little') to reach something sellable or at least good enough to be a playable and interesting game. Otherwise you've lost all the time on a disposable game.
The new scope
So I finished the game as I wanted it to be in the beginning, and it's just that: a ship that sails through ideological seas. Nothing more than a concept that you don't even need to play the game to understand. And when you play the game it doesn't add more to it, it may even obfuscate what what you expected about the concept.
Along the process of taking the best ideas and getting rid of the bad ones, I had to change the scope of the game. As I said prior in other posts, the game links ideological thinking to the material changes (a kind of Historical Materialism principle) and it needs to mix two kind of mechanics:
The ideological: the one that I already have.
And the material ones: which is what most of the strategy games have. Resource management, upgrades, events triggered by limit situations, etc. It's a set of mechanics, not one.
So, when you change the ideology, you got a different kind of upgrades approach that makes the ship behave different for the passengers.
Why the new scope?
As I tested the game, I noticed that it needed to provide more feedback to the player, needed something more concrete to make the idea understandable. Otherwise you feel that you just change the ideology for no reason, where is the game? And during brainstorming I found a lot more interesting things to put on the game, that can make it more clear, and thus still sellable.
The feeling of failing
What I showcased last month was the game with only the ideological mechanic, and I couldn't show any other part of it as they were all unfinished. To be honest it was a plain "not good game" as people referred to it. And a big part of it was the problem with the interface. It was hard to understand (but I improved it a LOT from the last build). So I put more visual effects as feedback to make the player understand what's going on when she commits an action. I've always thought that you don't need to be so pop with the feedback because people would think you're treating them as idiots. But looks like it needs to be like that (with certain balance) to make the action-effect more transparent. I'm ready for a second test of that interface.
But I'm very enthusiastic
Even though the game was disappointing for most of the people, I feel that I just showed a little part that NEEDS to be linked to the other part, as a drawing needs the tinting, shades and colors. So I'm still working on the other mechanics. What I learned from the experience is that I need to test the game more often, I was too confident that it was easy to understand, but when you're not working inside a genre you need a lot more testing.
I'm full of ideas, and that's good...but I have to trim my scope somewhere. Right now I'm fully working on the resources part of the ship, and looking forward to another fest here in Buenos Aires.