From the Desk of Senior Producer, Eric DeMilt

Written by Troy "Aether" Hewitt on August 08, 2011

Hi, I'm Eric DeMilt, Senior Producer at Carbine Studios.

Things are pretty exciting around the studio these days. We've got a lot going on and a million details to keep track of, but at the heart of it all we have a great team making a fun game.

I wanted to talk about some of the things we've been doing lately, and why we feel pretty confident as we get closer showing our game to the rest of the world.

One of the things we've been doing a lot of lately is usability testing. We're a feedback and iteration driven team. We design and prototype a feature, we test and evaluate it, take the feedback we collect and act on it. We spend a lot of time on internal review, self critique and gathering feedback and data on all aspects of the game. Recently we've expanded that feedback process to include people who haven't worked on the game.

We've set up a usability testing lab on site, where we can get groups of players in the game and have the dev team observe them from one of our conference rooms. We can watch both what's happening on the screen and the player's reaction to it.

We combine this direct observation with a short survey at the end of a play session and brief Q&A, and a lot of listening. Did this quest make sense? Is the story interesting? Could you find your way around? We've gotten some great information and some great reactions. It's been really rewarding to be able to see our game and its features through the eyes of new players.

All of this usability testing has been really eye opening. It has caused us to prioritize important fixes and make changes to things we simply didn't notice, or that had become dull annoyances to us. Dev teams can get used to things being broken after a while and begin to ignore them, real users don't! We believe extensive usability testing keeps us honest about the game we are making and keeps us focused on things that matter to real users. If you want a polished product you cannot get too focused on what's up next on the schedule and ignore things that need doing, right?

In addition to helping us identify important issues, these sessions also encouraged us to do more of the things that people liked. We'd sit in the conference room, agonizing as we watch a player struggle with a particularly hard puzzle, wondering if we'd just made the most frustrating piece of content ever. We'd cheer when they finally solved it, but would still wonder what we should change to make the puzzle easier. Later during the Q&A we discovered the player really enjoyed the difficulty, and felt a real sense of accomplishment when he solved it. This type of scenario played out in our testing so many times, rather than take it out or nerf it, we decided to do more.

One of the best parts of all the testing we've been doing lately is finally getting the opportunity to see the game we have been working on come together and watching people react to it the way we hoped they would! We've got a unique art style that has allowed us to build an epic world filled with technology and magic. We love it! We've worked hard to create a world we want to be in, and so far, the people who have seen it have really enjoyed it.

Observing people play the game you are making, especially long before it is done, is one of my favorite parts of game development. For years I've taken early game builds home to my kids and used them and their friends as guinea pigs - it's a lot of fun! You get genuine, unfiltered feedback from real players - Why can't I attack that? Why would I look in there? etc. And you get that feedback in time to make changes, not from the forums after your game is on the shelves. I've also always really enjoyed taking a game to shows and hearing first hand from players what we were doing right and what we needed to work on to make the game better. We're excited to do the same things here at Carbine - we want people in the game early, and often. The game gets better each time we iterate. The cool part about having a lab on site is that we can bring folks into the studio so the entire dev team can watch how they interact with the game, not just the lucky few who work the trade shows. We can get feedback to the team faster, iterate faster, and make a better game.

All that said, I'm really looking forward to sharing more information with you regarding the work we're doing here at Carbine, and to eventually get this in front of the public so we can start gathering feedback from potential players. Until then, we've got a game to make! Make sure to say hello if you get the chance to see us at gamescom or PAX!


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