Archive for the ‘News’ Category

DrinkBox PlayTesting

Wednesday, February 24th, 2016

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.

pressure

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:

 

final_flow

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.

severed_HD60_sm

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.

vlc_showing_severed

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.

PlayTesting Supplement

Wednesday, February 24th, 2016

Hey all, here are the details to how we setup our playtesting. This How-To is going to be a bit brief on detail, but should give you a general idea.

======Host Side========

Start the Stream

vlc01

Select your Desktop as the Capture Device

vlc02

Not sure about this page, just click Next

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You want to select HTTP, then click “Add”

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Select your preferred coding, H.264 is pretty good

vlc05

Change frame rate to what will be required, we go with 30fps or 15fps.

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Select port, the default is 8080 which works for our purposes.

vlc07

Click Next

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Last find the local IP of the Host computer. An easy way is to go to your Windows Start button, put “cmd” in the search parameter. Then in the console window that pops up type “ipconfig” and the IP address will be listed there. It’ll usually be 192.168.1.?, but, depends on how your network is setup. In the example below it is 192.168.1.124

vlc11

============ Client Side=========

Click “Open Network Stream”

vlc09

Enter the IP address of the Host computer with the port. In this case the hosting computer’s IP is 192.168.1.149, port 8080. Click “Play” and you should be good to go.

vlc12

Ketchup Stains

Wednesday, January 27th, 2016

By Gary Corriveau, Lead Designer

As much as I love the whole process of making games, there are two phases during development which I love the most: Getting started and finishing up.

 

When embarking on a new project, quickly iterating on prototypes is the name of the game. Testing gameplay ideas, experimenting with art treatments, developing new characters and stories; quickly producing tests that allow the team to dip their toes in the ocean that they are about to dive into. This is fun stuff. The time between investment and reward is short and the possibilities for the future of the project are boundless.

ketchupstains

Another great time during the making of a game is the home stretch. This is where we’re at with Severed right now.

 

The final touches of the game are falling into place. We’re tuning numbers, tidying up animations, mixing the last of the sound effects and music; Polishing the game to it’s full potential. Make no mistake, it’s hard work! Not because of the hours put in or the nature of the work, but because you know you will have to stop at some point. Most of us have enough ‘final touch’ ideas to work on the game for an eternity. But we’re also anxious to get Severed in front of an audience with the hopes they will enjoy playing the game as much as we’ve enjoyed making it. That cognitive dissonance can be difficult at times, but the rewards are well worth it.

 

Here’s the thing with finishing a game: The last bit of polish impacts the game to a much greater degree than the many months of the work that led up to this point.

 

If you are trying to admire a beautiful painting, but someone has spilt a dab of ketchup across the canvas. What sticks in your mind the most? The artist’s work, or the ketchup? (Think Rembrandt, not a Jackson Pollock.) Removing those last placeholders and fixing those last bugs have a similar impact to cleaning the ketchup from that Rembrandt. You remove all the distractions and finally see the game for what it is; what the team has envisioned it to be.

Speechless

Tuesday, January 12th, 2016

We have some great fans. Going to expos like PSX and PAX are a ton of fun because people come up to us and say “Hey, thanks for making your game”. And that feels great. It feels really good that somebody actually enjoyed our hard work.

 

And then there are other times – times where somebody expresses their enjoyment of our games that leave us stunned with awe.

 

Please enjoy the following uber cool image and excellent blog post found here:

Guacamelee! Arcade Cabinet

Guacamelee! Arcade Cabinet

 

 

Happy Holidays from DrinkBox Studios!

Wednesday, December 30th, 2015

Ok Ok, we’re a bit late on this, but Happy Holidays from the team over at DrinkBox Studios (yes, we are working on Severed over the holidays) <3

Sasha

PlayStation Experience 2015

Monday, November 23rd, 2015

Next week Severed will be visiting San Francisco at the awesome 2015 PlayStation Experience along with a whole crew of other great games. If you live in the Bay Area, nay, the USA, you have no excuse to not come visit our booth #2042.

 

Last year’s PSX was a lot of fun – there is something special about going to an expo that is dedicated to a specific console. When you met someone you immediately had something in common because you knew they were a PlayStation fan.

 

Here is a time-lapse of our booth from last year: 

This year we’ll be giving away copies of Guacamelee! STCE upon completion of a special challenge, but those details will be at the booth. To entice you even more I’ve included some new screenshots from Severed:

 

Severed_1080p_Screen_A_50perc

 

Severed_1080p_Screen_B_50perc

 

Oh, and don’t forget to give us a high five.

Even More Guacamelee Fan Art

Wednesday, November 11th, 2015

Thanks to Inktober (and to a lesser extent, Inkvember) we’ve seen a spike in awesome Guacamelee! fan art. If you like a piece, click on it to see the artist’s page and tell them you like it!

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tumblr_nwh71a1euR1re2jw2o1_540tumblr_nweaugPinj1rmicmlo1_540tumblr_nw7qmz5vZo1tg4xe6o1_540 tumblr_nvvpet0i0u1qe6eszo1_540tumblr_nur1wnMii41uuqi4ho1_540tumblr_nuqh0gZzKI1ud5xs2o1_540guacamelee___juan_by_owenoak95-d8znk1ytostada_by_jdeberge-d96cetrpink_dont_stink_by_northtron-d98hk0b.pngguakamelee_juan_by_epicamiture2099-d9db7nxnext_gen_heroes_by_eddied0129-d9dqa7s__juan_el_luchador___by_fernandothehedgehog-d9g55n8.pngtumblr_nvmwl2BULX1qemngwo1_1280

Design Shift

Wednesday, October 28th, 2015

Hi, I’m Jason, Game Designer at DrinkBox Studios, specializing in Level Design. We’re all hard at work on our new game, Severed… and if you’re an eagle-eyed Back to the Future fan, you know that it’s coming out… someday.

 

From a Level Design standpoint, Severed is quite different from our previous titles, which were primarily Platformers. As a first-person action-adventure game, the player travels through, and interacts with the game world in a much different way than in, say, Guacamelee!. For the design team, this has not only created a few challenges for level design, but has also allowed us to learn some interesting new ways to approach level design and world building.

 

When designing a Platformer, you have to think about how the player will move through the environment from a gameplay perspective. The player has to get from point ‘A’ to point ‘B’, so you have to think about all of the gameplay opportunities that you can insert into the world to make that journey from ‘A’ to be ‘B’ as interesting as possible, and as difficult as you desire. The most important element of Platformer design is understanding, and leveraging the player character’s movement ability. If the player has the ability to jump, then make them jump! The more options the player has at their disposal, the more fun it is to move around the world.

 

LevelDesign_101

A (not at all exhaustive) overview of Level Design for Platformers

 

That takes us to Severed, which obviously, is not a Platformer, and therefore needs a different approach to level design.

 

Movement in Severed

View post on imgur.com

In Severed, the player doesn’t have as many movement options as in a game like Guacamelee!. Firstly, the player doesn’t move freely around the screen, the player instead moves through the world in steps. A movement action is a single “step”, a constant distance that separates all of the game’s rooms (also known as ‘nodes’). The design team quickly learned that instead of thinking of this as a limitation, it is instead a useful concept for creating levels in Severed. With this unit of measurement we can plan out levels much more carefully and create a finely tuned experience for the player. For example we know that the player will be exactly 3 steps away from a point of interest and the level designers can use that information to their advantage.

 

Severed_Editor_Nodes

Nodes connect to each other to create rooms in Severed

 

The world of Severed, as you have probably already seen, is beautiful, fascinating and sometimes terrifying. And being an action-adventure game, it’s very important that we allow the player to fully explore and take in this world we’ve created. There are many dangers in the world of Severed, but the player does not have to be afraid of moving around. The standard ‘step’ is not inherently dangerous… it can lead the player into danger, but the player doesn’t have to worry about falling into a pit or jumping over a flaming spike ball.

 

This has also affected the early concept and planning phases for level design. When designing a Platformer, I personally find it very useful to just roll up my sleeves and dive right in to the tools. However, Severed has required a great deal more planning before the actual creation of levels begins. It’s very, very difficult to simply jump in and begin creating. This is partially due to the way that the levels themselves are constructed but also due to the importance of what we want the player to see, and when we want them to see it. Something as simple as a path that approaches a deserted temple is carefully planned and structured to provide just the right feeling at that moment. This means that many of the levels in Severed went through multiple iterations of paper designs before any of the dev tools were used. Because of Severed’s node structure, I found that spreadsheets were incredibly useful in designing Severed’s levels.

 

excel_level_planning

Not how you typically use excel, but it worked great!

 

Severed is hardly devoid of level design gameplay. There are plenty of deadly enemies that inhabit the world. Deciding what enemies the player will face, and where they lie in wait is a very important element of the level design. And as with all other elements of the level design, everyone at DrinkBox has helped to inform these decisions. The enemy behaviors, combat difficulty tuning and reward systems have all factored into placing twisted creatures into the world of Severed.

 

So, what does all of this mean for the level designers on Severed? Well, for me, it has meant a shift away from pits, spikes, and Tule Trees, and shift towards building and fleshing out a world, one that is constantly telling a story. And don’t worry, there’s still plenty of opportunities to add traps, treasures, creatures and secrets! As a Level Designer you can’t always rely on your old methods… sometimes you do have to learn new tricks.

The Wanderer

Thursday, October 15th, 2015

Hey internet, this is Augusto.

These few weeks have been super busy over here, so this blog post will just be the Wanderer giving some scary motivation
.
wanderer
.
“Close twitter and go back to work”

 

Can I take a look at your log?

Wednesday, September 23rd, 2015

Chris and Dave here. This week we start our first internal playtesting for Severed! A DrinkBox mantra is to playtest early and often. Basically this means harassing family, friends, and amazing volunteers to play our game.

The average playtest is streamed to the entire studio so many members of the team will be able to watch in real time. Despite this, we feel very strongly about the benefit of logging playtest data – this is information recorded to the Vita in the form of a text file while somebody plays Severed. Log data is really good at giving the macro view of a playtest session, which can help us as a studio tune the game for maximum ultra uber fun.

tumblr_mf30nsQFl71rt8i4vo8_r1_250

So what does our log data look like? Initially, tens of thousands of lines of this – taken from a recent playtest by one of our artists:

data05

Raw playtest data

 

But after we import this into our analysis tool, it runs various statistics on the data and spits out something much more readable to give a high-level view of the play session:

data

The ‘level summary’ section of our processed logs

 

We have a target in mind for time required to complete each level in Severed to ensure people get a good value for their purchase. Immediately we see that this level took around 55 minutes to complete, which is actually on target. That’s great.

 

As I look closer at the data though, I see the majority of monster parts collected was Coral and Tentacles. Coral is an early level item which is appropriate for the Father level, but the Tentacles is not. Tentacles are used for later game upgrades, and therefore should be collected later in the game. This becomes a task for a Designer to investigate and balance out appropriately.

 

Further down the log data we look at player deaths – perhaps the most important piece of information. Recording deaths allows us to eliminate difficulty spikes, a great bane for many developers. You can see that node (B1, 12, 1) has 12 deaths, which is very high compared to the next highest at node (B1, 9, 1) with 3 deaths. For Severed, the disparity between these two difficulties is too spikey for our liking and we actively review the fight that takes place in (B1, 12, 1) to determine why our player died so often.

nodepic_sm

Node (B1, 12, 1)

Even if we’re seeing a lot of deaths here, the solution isn’t necessarily to just nerf this particular fight. Also in our handy-dandy log analysis is a summary of how each individual battle went, to give us more detail to diagnose the issue…

data03

On this attempt, despite parrying a lot, using a spell and holding out for two minutes, he still died, which is quite painful.

 

And we also produce a general breakdown for each enemy, which collects data across all of the battles in which that enemy appears and helps us try to guess how often they’re an issue:

data04

We have to get those Bad Barrys down.

 

We might notice by looking through here that Strongarm is one of the top enemies killing the player, and that it does higher damage on average than most; a possible red flag that it’s the culprit, at least in this battle’s particular mix of enemies.

We’re still developing these tools, and trying to get an accurate picture of what’s really going on through abstracted stats will always be tricky, but by coming at it from these diverse angles – plus reviewing the recorded video and, of course, talking to our intrepid playtester – we end up with a powerful set of tools for analyzing what’s working and what isn’t in Severed.