Archive entry by Ste Pickford on Tue, 24 Mar 2009
Subject: Magnetic Billiards: Seriously Casual
We've been working hard lately on the tutorial / hint system in Magnetic Billiards.
John showed a screenshot yesterday of some great looking hint windows he's written, with funky hands pointing to different bits of the screen. These windows also have little buttons on them, to take you to a manual page, or tell the game never to show you this window ever again, etc.
Little things like button graphics are the sort of details it can be surprisingly difficult and time consuming to get right.
Yesterday's image shows the buttons as they are right now, which we think works really well in the game. The image above shows the buttons as they looked last week, which we thought was kind of OK at the time.
These little Victorian style frames had a fair bit of thought put into them, and actually took quite a while to draw and implement. We were reasonably happy with them at first, but only after living with them and playing the game for a while - actually using the buttons in the context they were designed for - did we start to realise that they weren't right. We rejigged them at the end of last week, and replaced them with something that's clearer and works better.
I've posted this as a little illustration of the sort of constant, iterative re-designing that needs to go on when developing original games if you want them to work well, and which we've only been able to do properly since going 'indie'.
So much of the western video game development method is completely hostile to this way of working. Too much of the development business is built upon the myth that you can specify and plan in advance everything that needs to be done - at the beginning of the project - then simply fill in the blanks and tick off each job as it's done. Contracts are built around that premise, and something as innocent and completely natural as this redesign of some UI elements would become a nightmare for many developers because a milestone might have been passed, and a contract payment made, against UI elements all being designed and implemented. A little redesign like this would require the negotiating extra time with the publisher, or a contract amendment, or the bumping of some other feature in its place. (Or, in many cases, someone on the dev team cares personally enough to do it in his spare time.)
You see so many finished games released with features (particularly UI and stuff) that just don't work, in such a way that it must be obvious to the devs themselves. Often the reason is that it was just too difficult (for business reasons) for the dev to change something rubbish that had already been signed off on by the publisher.
Indeed, this whole phase of UI design we're in at the moment is a direct result of user feedback we've had from the public alpha test version of the game. There's no way any of the work we're doing right now could have been planned in advance.
Thank goodness I'm still not trying to develop original video games for a regular publisher.