This week we just finished up our 20th playtest for Severed! As a studio one of the most important practices we’ve learned is: playtest your game early, and often. As a designer, you are constantly making assumptions about how people will play your game, and you quickly learn how wrong these assumptions usually are. For example, what may seem like an obvious path within a game can be vastly missed by the majority of players – It’s very easy to make a poor judgement call about how people view a scenario I’ve created.
Subsequently, we’ve also learned that it is difficult to create a natural playtesting environment if your entire studio is standing over a playtester’s shoulder like a bunch of weirdos… This can affect the playtester (positively or negatively) by changing the way they would “normally” play the game. For example, a skilled video game player might feel self conscious, resulting in them struggling during a demo, thereby giving us the impression we’ve made the game too difficult.
credit: koen deetman
One solution is to record the playtest for review at a later time. A drawback to this method is we don’t have the opportunity to ask the playtester about certain moments of their play session. “Did the trapdoor puzzle feel rewarding, or was it too easy?” Asking questions much later after a playtest sometimes leads to a playtester having trouble recollecting their experience.
Our solution is to record the playtest AND stream video of it across the office to the design team. This allows the team to have a live discussion during the playtest, pointing out possible improvements, or observing unforeseen challenges the player is experiencing.
Here is the setup:
First, Severed is recorded with an over the shoulder video camera with an HDMI out that contains the screen data. We lead this signal to the input of our Game Capture HD60 from Elgato. The HD60 is an affordable and versatile little capture device. The supplied software is simple to use and we’ve been happy with the quality of recorded video, even up to 1080p 60fps.
Now we get sneaky. The HD60 is connected by USB to a computer that records the playtest, but also simultaneously streams the computer’s desktop video via VLC Media Player to our local LAN via HTTP. We have tried a few different software solutions and currently use the powerful (and free!) VLC.
The way we setup VLC can be found in the below post, found here. Anyone in our office can easily pick up the HTTP stream feed by using their own copy of VLC on their respective computers. There is a slight lag since transcoding is taking place on the hosting computer, but we’ve had up to 6 computers watching without a problem. To improve performance one can reduce the desktop resolution of the hosting computer and also reduce the fps of the stream from within VLC.
There ya go! A little insight into our playtest sessions.