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It’s not easy having a good time

It’s been great to have had a little time to relax after the intensity of the Kickstarter campaign. To be honest with my other work I only managed to really start relaxing again this last weekend – that’s how crazy the experience has been.

But now my thoughts return to questions of game design. There is always a delicate balance between simplicity and depth – partly because we need to keep the cost of development to a reasonable level but also because we want the game to be as accessible as possible. The final arbiter has to be ‘fun’. However, even this isn’t always black and white.

What is fun?  How do you know if you have found it?

For us this is two part. First (and most important) is how do people react? Yes it’s as simple as that. Well not quite. People will tell you they enjoy something as they don’t want to make you feel bad – but it’s how they instinctively react which speaks volumes. The second part is experience. As designers we play thousands of games (I think I’ve played tens of thousands in my life) all of which influence your understanding of what can work – or not.

We knew we had something when we saw how people reacted when playing the demo of the game. They laughed. Just look at this video from GDC where I was showing off the game to friends in the industry…

But, occasionally people have asked us if the six main moves are ‘all there is’. This is quite a natural reaction given the way many games work and the fact that we have yet to implement our ‘Props’ and their quick-time dance moves. But it does raise an important question – how can we increase the range of player choice without limiting the playability on a phone screen?

We talked about how props would work during the Kickstarter campaign – they allow you to activate a special move when you create a dance, something like drawing a spiral on the screen. We also talked about why we would make these limited in number so that we create a sense of tension. However, I’ve increasingly been thinking about how to extend the dance moves to allow yet more variation.

At the moment the player swipes on the screen in a direction this will trigger an animation which makes the character, like Riff Raff dance. The specific dance move that we see will be based on the in the direction that the player starts to swipe. These animations are a sequence of moves which blend together to look like a person dancing but we only play them to a halfway stage until the player’s finger is released from the screen.  At that point we triggering the other half of the steps and complete the dance move. That works well but it means that we can only have a limited range of movements (6 directions) for the core dance animations and still be able to play on a phone sized screen.

I’ve been thinking it might be interesting to introduce ‘Half-Move’ steps. That means allowing players to start their swipe moving in one direction; but then switching direction when they complete their move. We would have to create two animations for this… a movement to a half-way position, then a second animation from that point to complete which variation they chose next before releasing their finger. This could have the benefit of increasing the range of dance steps and the how entertaining it is to watch back the recordings; without significantly increasing the complexity of playing.


But this comes at a cost. We would have to look at the best way to add those ‘Half-Move’ animation steps and how to adjust the user interface to accommodate this change of swipe direction. We would also have to integrate scoring systems and capture additional dance steps using motion capture, etc. – all of which takes time and requires more of our budget.

My job as a designer is to work out if the benefits would out-weigh the costs of the extra development work. Would it make dances significantly more interesting to watch; to copy and to create? To be blunt will it deliver enough extra enjoyment that leads to an increase the number of plays and how long people will play? and more than it will increase the costs of adding it as a feature? That’s the real question.

It’s also the reason why we are so glad to have all of you involved in this journey with us. We are going to ask the backer community their opinions and see what reaction we get before we start developing extra feature elements like this. And there is still time to get involved if you haven’t already – go look at the Store section of this site and buy something to help us keep raising money to do ever more with the game.

Oscar ClarkIt’s not easy having a good time
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