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Author Topic: How to start play testing?  (Read 4683 times)
Eric Pruitt

Posts: 3

« on: November 03, 2011, 06:27:00 PM »

Hello Everyone!

If you don't want to read the wall of text, here is the TL;DR version When and how do I start play testing?

This is my first post, I've been a lurker for a long time, but just now had a reason to start a topic. I expect my post count to stay low because I don't often reply to threads when someone else has already expressed my views.

I'm sure this has been asked before, but for some reason the search function will not work for me, so a link to an appropriate thread would be great if you don't feel like re posting information.

I'll include a link to a google doc at the end of my post. It is just an outline and a general setting idea. Basically I'm attempting to recreate cyberpunk/shadowrun to fit the needs of my group. I'm not including more of my rules for a few reason. First they are in a ton of different documents (roughly chapters) to help me stay organized. Also, I don't think this question is rules specific, but I may be wrong there. If that is the case then I'll post more rules as required.

My question is this: When in the design process should I start play testing, and how do I start play testing? I'm getting a decent amount of rules down on paper, but I don't feel like I should keep writing if they aren't going to work. Also, how do I do the play testing? Do I give my players the rules for whatever we are about to test and see if they understand it, or do I tell them how it is supposed to work and go from there?

I hope this makes sense, and thanks for any help you can provide.

Christoph Boeckle

Posts: 545

Yverdon, Switzerland

« Reply #1 on: November 04, 2011, 02:45:15 AM »

Hello there, and welcome to the Forge! Any real name we can call you by?

Ben Lehman (author of Polaris and Bliss Stage among others) posted his views on playtesting, which generated a bit of controversy, but as far as I'm concerned, I think his ideas make a lot of sense.
I think it's a good idea to have a solid rules-set laid out before finding a group for testing: you don't want to annoy people with wrecked rules, else they'll drop out on further testing. As Ben says, playtesting should be about seeing if the rules are fun, not if they are fail-safe nor if the probabilities are right.
First thing, try formulating clearly what the big picture goals of your game are on the one hand, and what people do moment by moment on the other hand (you don't necessarily need to get very technical yet, though you will later eventually). Be sure that these things work together! See this article by Vincent Baker for more detail. Somewhere in this process, you ought to be very clear what is supposed to draw people into playing (in terms of cool "colour" and what they can get out of the game, see what Ron Edwards said here in a very succinct manner, you can search for more detailed and applied discussions searching for the terms Color and Reward).
Once you get the basics down, you may then try to draw a map of how the rules components interact (be sure to count specific things prepared by the GM and particularly important kinds of "free play" on that map, since that definitely factors in on how the game is played.) For an example of this, you might want to check out what Steve Hickey did for Poison'd. This map highlights what features of the rules make play turn in virtuous circles, and more importantly how. If you see that some element of your rules gets isolated, be sure to address this according to the initial questions of how the scales work together, and what your game is about in the first place.
Finally, try playing some situations out in your head and see if you get stuck at some point.

I hope I'm not scaring you off with this abstract outline and link-dumping. I hope it gives you some ideas. Feel free to ask questions or come in with concrete examples taken from your game.

If for some reason you can't search the forums, try google with "site:http://www.indie-rpgs.com/forge/" in the keywords. Maybe you need a minimum number of posts before accessing the search features. The private messages and the signature at least are blocked until you have three messages.

Kyle Van Pelt

Posts: 22

« Reply #2 on: November 04, 2011, 07:39:14 AM »

Hey there.

Christoph put out a lot of good points, and those links will help you. My only recommendation at this stage is to have your play group view the rules and make suggestions, with the understanding that not only are the rules incomplete, but are open to mutation. Make sure you state that clearly, as well as what goals you have in mind for the brainstorm, since that's what's happening. It's not going to be a pure playtest when the rules aren't solid and laid out, so call it a development session or what have you. Try to get them involved in the process so that they understand what you're trying to accomplish, then bounce ideas off of them and see what sticks.

I know that working in a vacuum is trying, since during the stages of game development you not only need ideas, but encouragement and meaningful feedback. If you're doing this for your group, why not involve them in it? At the very least, you'll get a good idea of what they want out of the game, which will help you design it.

I don't know if this is an answer you wanted, but I hope it helps.

My Blog detailing my games Kamui and Destiny Quest Adventure Saga: Record of Heroes. Your eyes do not deceive you, it really is never updated.
David Berg

Posts: 997

« Reply #3 on: November 04, 2011, 05:35:12 PM »

I think it's hard to suggest an approach without knowing what your options are.  Do you have playtesters, or a plan for finding some?  If you have some, are they willing to try whatever you ask of them, or do they demand that they actually get to play a fun game?

If you like audio, here's a podcast about playtesting, where I ramble about various things I've seen and done, while John provides some concrete tips from his Usability Testing background.  My overall take is that some form of contact between your game and other people can help in some way at any stage of your design, as long as you know what you're looking for in that stage.

One specific thing that jumps out at me from your G-Doc is that you list 4 different types of resolution (Skill, Combat, Social, Hacking).  I'd suggest that, before you take these to a group, you think through what each player at the table will be doing when each of these is invoked.  If Hacking is a solo mechanic that takes a while for one player, you may want to test it with a single person, rather than inviting a whole group and then having them wait around during Hacking.

here's my blog, discussing Delve, my game in development
Eric Pruitt

Posts: 3

« Reply #4 on: November 10, 2011, 02:50:36 PM »

Thanks for all the suggestions. I really appreciate it. Sorry it has been a week since my last post. RL gets in the way of all the fun stuff. Oh and my real name is Eric so feel free to call me by that. :-D

 I'm going to start going through all the links that Cristoph provided, and I'll listen to that podcast while I'm doing that. Don't worry Cristoph, you didn't scare me away. I think that doing some of these abstract exercises will probably help me focus everything.

To answer David's question about play testers since I'm really just trying to make a game that makes my group happy they will be my play testers. They are willing to do whatever I ask them too, and my wife is very excited about the project so it is easy to do some one-on-one testing with her.

Once I go through all the links and listen to the podcast I'll post again with any questions I have.

Thanks again!

David Berg

Posts: 997

« Reply #5 on: November 13, 2011, 11:49:30 PM »

I'm really just trying to make a game that makes my group happy they will be my play testers. They are willing to do whatever I ask them too, and my wife is very excited about the project so it is easy to do some one-on-one testing with her.

That is awesome.  Not only have you identified a target audience, you already know them well!  Plus, when you're ready, you'll be able to test your game in exactly the context it's intended for!  I am jealous.

Some thoughts in light of this info:

I find it much easier to measure my efforts and progress against a well-articulated goal.  "What is my game trying to do?  What exactly do I aim to deliver to my audience?"

I didn't really get a sense of an overriding intent in your doc.  If you try to write one out, it might be helpful!  Short and simple is generally good, but if your concept is complicated, there's no shame in spending a few sentences on it.

Example: I want my game to deliver intense action of the variety found in tough-guy action movies, while driving home the paranoia and gadget fetishization that are the hallmarks of cyberpunk.  I want the players to mostly experience this in-character, but also to have the ability to author certain character-relevant details and situations into the setting.  The players' primary job is to make the group's vision of cyberpunk come to life.

The key here is that this applies to all the players, and to what unifies them. 

In contrast, what I'd try to avoid is a disunified pastiche of various player tastes and highlights of previous games.  "Rob likes action, James likes acting, Beth likes espionage, so my game will do all three" doesn't give you a useful orientation to check your design's overall progress against.  The risk is that you make awesome combat and spying systems without knowing how they fit into the whole, and then maybe they don't, or the whole gets short-changed.

Not that there's anything wrong with simply designing some subsystems to plop into an extant game!  But I get the impression that that isn't your goal here.

A final note: I think there's a lot of excellent resentment material in your doc, mainly class inequalities and unscrupulous corporations wielding immense power.  I'm already imagining the PCs as pissed off at an unjust world, whether they express it through punk-rock rage or world-weary cynicism.  The first thing I'd want to know is, is this the kind of game where I will: (a) have a real shot to take down the Man, (b) explore what it's like to get stomped on by the Man, or (c) something in between, where I can, like, make a dent in the inequalities of my neighborhood, all while the greater machine keeps grinding dreams to dust a few blocks over.  Or, if that's a stupid question, and I'm looking at it all wrong, and none of that's really as important as having a good combat, then that'd be good to know too!

Hope some of this was helpful,

here's my blog, discussing Delve, my game in development
Eric Pruitt

Posts: 3

« Reply #6 on: November 16, 2011, 05:29:25 PM »

Haha, you guys are so awesome! Honestly, I don't think I'm nearly as far along in my progress as I originally thought when I made my first post. The information provided by everyone has given me a lot to chew on.

Dave, I think the podcast was great, and it was very interesting listening to that while reading the article by Ben Lehman that Christoph posted. To try to answer some of the questions from your most recent post I think the idea for creating this game came from a frustration in our group with the futuristic systems we had been playing (Cyberpunk, Shadowrun, Cthulu Tech, Eclipse Phase...) There was always something about each game that turned someone in the group off.

I decided to create a game basically by doing exactly what you said not to do. I like overwhelming odds, dark horror, that sort of stuff. One player is all about realism (and sci fi is ok if he can understand how it "might" be possible) My wife just likes constant action, any downtime and she falls asleep or gets annoyed. Another player just wants to make a super hero/jedi in every system (lol) and the last player wants to RP his char out of every situation. I wanted to make a game that would make everyone happy.

I think I need to try to write a few sentences like your example (although that is really close to what I'm going for, lol)

To answer your question about what the players get to do...

You are right, there is a lot of resentment. If you aren't among the elite of society then life kinda sucks. I'm designing it around the idea that the characters will be able to make small dents, but bringing about any real change will be really hard. My game is actually called "The Game" and it stems from the idea that the corps understand that people will oppose them, and that they might fight little shadow wars, but at the end of the day it is all about the bottom line and no one is willing to make any moves big enough to really shake things up. As a result they refer to the people like PCs as just pawns in a game being played across the globe.

This weekend I will be meeting with the group to go over the rules I have written so far. After getting some feedback from them I'll probably post the rules that I have and a character sheet or whatever so everyone can get a better feel for what I'm doing. It is getting close to the end of the semester though so school might get in the way.

Anyway, thanks for all the great advice!

David Berg

Posts: 997

« Reply #7 on: November 19, 2011, 01:12:16 AM »

Whoa.  That is quite the batch of player attributes there. 

If I were designing for this group, I'd try to look for common ground.  What do they all like?  Are there any particular sorts of moments that pop up in play where everyone is keenly tuned in?

Also, if I were GMing, I'd want to make sure to get on the same page with the jedi player about what sorts of small dents are superheroic enough.  Carving out a tiny niche from corporate oppression against long odds can feel badass, but only if you knew from the outset that grander things (e.g. taking out the corporation) weren't options.  I find it also helps if the small dent accomplishes something of great personal significance -- saving the character's church or lover or pet from certain death or corruption or whatever.

Looking forward to seeing where you go with this!

here's my blog, discussing Delve, my game in development

Posts: 1049

Don't Panic!

« Reply #8 on: November 19, 2011, 08:12:27 AM »

  When it comes to game design, j like to focus on procedure. So, I'll walk you through my process and you can ask questions about anything you like, ok?
1) First, I like to come up with a setting idea. For instance the game I am working on now is Harry Potter-verse as seen through the eyes of adults.
2) I try and figure out what the LCs will be doing in this universe, in this case solving mysteries and facing dark wizards
3) Then I try and figure out what mechanics from games I have played accomplish this. For instance, I like the token system used by InSpectres for their mysteries.
4) Then I do a detailed goal.setting. At this point, my game is just a bunch of ideas. So this is where is stop.deskgning and figure out how I will know if my game is headed kn the right direction and if it ks done.
5) Then, I pick the most important mechanic and flesh it out. I figure out all the factors that feed into it. For my hp-esque game, it was thdfinal battle with the dark wizard.
6) Once that J's done, then I do some math. For me breaking down the stats and figuring out if any of them dominate play is a form of playtesting. During this phase things change quickly as I rweak numbers and rule and ranges of values. I wouldn't want to subject another person to this unless they loved discusssing stats, etc.
7) Play this mechanic in my head or with dice with me playing both sides. Again, tweaking the rules as I go.
8) Re-evaluate everything against my goals, then write it out in such a way that it can be consumed by other people.
9) Playtest one on one. This part is hard, because anyone who is willing to play part of the rules in a one on one mini-scenario with you is going to be someone who will tend to be nice to you. Fortunately, you should know them pretty well, so watch for social queues and evaluate their experience against your goals.
10) Make careful notes of what you have to explain and how you explain it. Much of the rules will need to be explained in order to be tested. The prrskn you are testing with may share some ashmptoons that you do as well. But, many things will have to be explained or clarified. This is gold, what you say to reach a mutual understanding should be in the final version of the rules (after it is edited, of course).
11) Flesh out the rest of the rules in a similar manor.
12) Finish character creation. At this point you should know what attributes you need for yiur rules and what ranges they can support. So chargen rules are a slam dunk.
13) Check everything against your goals and make.sure that everything you need to play is written down and start llaytesting.
14) Similarly, playtesters are typically enthusiastic about the project, so pay attention to when their are lulls in the game, when people get distracted and when people are doing that thing to hide their boredom/confusion/annoyance.
15) Also, anything you have to explain/clarify, make a note of what you said to scheive understanding and get that into the rules as well.
16) Repeat until you are finished. Remember, we set a goal, so we know.when we are done.

  Good luck mam!

Dave M
Author of Legends of Lanasia RPG (Still in beta)
My blog
Free Demo
Aisha Bennett

Posts: 5

« Reply #9 on: December 08, 2011, 10:45:05 PM »

Hey Dave

Thanks for such good information. It is really crisp and clear picture of game designing. I'm going through an associate of Arts (Game Designing) course. At first I chose this career because of my craze for video games. But then the most important thing was which course I should opt, that can provide me an easy and quick entry in this field. Then after a thorough search on web and discussions on forums, a site http://www.computergamedesign.org/ gave me the idea to opt for an associate degree. It's a 2-year program, and I'm actually enjoying it. But because I'm new here, finding it a bit confusing. Which thing to do first, how can it be better and how to work in a group? And really your post helped me to brief out everything. Hoping to get more information like this.

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