Friday, June 28, 2013

King's Ascent: Newgrounds Release Feedback

The last time I wrote a blog for King's Ascent, we had nearly completed the game. As I write this blog, the game has been released upon the world. It was successful, far beyond my personal expectations.

  • Over 25,000 plays in under a week.
  • 3.87/5 stars based on 1,190 votes
  • 22 pages of player reviews, as well as a handful of professional reviews

Now that the world has had a chance to react to our creation, we're able to take much better stock of features people enjoyed, and features people disliked.

The Good

  • Gameplay: For the most part the difficulty and difficulty curve were well-received. My intention in crafting the difficulty was that any platformer gamer who could run and jump simultaneously would eventually be able to win by learning a path through the levels, and it seems by the lack of complaints that most players were able to eventually win. We seemed to hit a sweet spot with the difficulty as well. It could have been more even, as the varying gameplay meant that different gamers found different levels more or less difficult, but overall 
  • Overarching Story: In general, people loved the fact that there was a story behind the game. They found this to be a novel break from other flash games, and they started heated arguments over the plot. The game involves a king who makes difficult decisions, such as saving his kingdom by sending a diversionary army off to die. His advisors plot to overthrow him and replace him with a more just ruler. We perhaps underestimated a player's tendency to empathize with the main character, because far more players to took the side of the King than we had expected. Some players even thought that we, the developers, were foolish for thinking that the King's decisions were wrong (even though it was the advisor characters who believed this, not us!)

The Bad

  • Clashing Art-styles: The beautiful work of our 3 artists didn't get the praise it deserved, as people spent their energy complaining about the lack of artistic unity rather than appreciating the work. 2D characters, 3D monsters, painterly backgrounds, and stained glass portraits of past events was just too many different styles for players.
  • Uninspired Dialog and Delivery: As much as people enjoyed the novelty of the detailed story, the actual dialog and voicework was less well-received. In production, I rushed us towards completing the voice work because I was worried that our actors would lose interest if we didn't record right away. However, it's clear that the game would have benefited greatly by a second look at the script dialog and better voice direction.


  • Integration is Important: Most of the problems with King's Ascent stem from the Frankenstein-like stitching together of elements in the game. The story was mashed into the gameplay, the artstyles stitched together, the dialog widgeted in. This created a whole that was less than it could have been. Spending more time to carefully integrate all of these elements would have made a more whole and complete vision of a game.
  • Playtest with Your Exact Audience: The class of gamer we had at Newgrounds was very savvy about avoiding lag by using the right browser and hardware. They also didn't have nearly as much trouble beating the game as we expected. Compared to the off-the-street gamers we had playtested with in-person, they were very different. Had we known this, we might have made some different choices in development.
  • Don't Playtest on Your Own Hardware: Another mistake we made was not playtesting on the internet sooner. By playtesting on our own machines in our development environment, we got good feedback about gameplay but missed out on seeing how different types of computer and browser environments affected performance.
  • The Best Advertising is Releasing the Game: We spent countless hours making Facebook groups, placing ads on webcomic sites, and promoting our game on forums. From all that work, we received maybe 100 plays. By releasing the game on Newgrounds, we had over 10,000 plays in less than a day.

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