Jeff Bell
This past week we completed the alpha version of our game. Overall, this was one of the most productive sprints we’ve had. We received very positive feedback from our playtesters which was a nice change of pace.

The Game

Our main goal was to be able to present a complete game for our Alpha playtest. This means presenting a game that has a start screen, menu, tutorial, and ending. While each of these is not necessarily polished to completion, we were able to present a full game that was beatable.

At the completion of each puzzle, a player can click on a magic token which brings them one step closer to opening the gate. Once all four tokens have been collected, the gate opens and the player can walk through to finish the game.

The Playtest

Given that the past few sprints have involved a lot of work on the four main puzzles, it was nice to work outside of them. We finally got to see them get some play after balancing them, and the response was very positive. We had very few complaints about the difficulty of the puzzles, and many commented that they were actually the smoothest part of the game. It was really good to hear that finally our work is paying off.

Many liked the charm of the game too. We provide the player with a very playful world which a lot of our playtesters responded to well. Silly things like a fruit that perpetually rolls down a slope or two fruit telling really bad puns to one another give the game a unique feel.

Not everything was smooth-sailing. The first thing the player sees when starting the game is a screen that tells them to “press P to begin”. This is fine for a keyboard and mouse game, but our playtesters were using an XBox controller. Whoops.

The Zen Juice title screen

It’s pretty wild how quickly you recognize stupid mistakes in your game when someone else plays it. As a developer it’s really easy to get stuck focusing on the one thing you are working on and whether or not it works. This makes it really easy to overlook more design-oriented aspects of the game, like some instructional text for example.

What’s Next?

While there was a lot of good that came out of this past sprint, there is still a ton of room for improvement. It’s nice to know that we have a starting and ending point that technically works. Making the game feel good from start to finish is the new goal. Cosmetic changes, rewording text, updating assets, and refactoring code is the name of the game now.

I am really happy with the scope of our game. For a 12-week project, I think we hit the nail on the head when it comes to how much time we had and how much work we could pull off. We only have a few weeks left and being able to focus only on improving the game, rather than making it, is a really nice place to be. We have one intermediate sprint then our Beta playtest which I will be writing about soon. Next week I will be presenting the game at a poster session for Bridging Disciplines. I should have plenty to talk about after that as well. Until then, happy hacking!