Game Usability Testing for Indies: It’s Easier than you Might Think! (Part 2)

This is the second in a three-part series of articles detailing how we designed and deployed usability testing for our latest iOS game, A Clockwork Brain.

The research, design, and deployment of usability testing took one month from start to finish. Prior to this, none of us had any experience with designing formal usability testing. I, myself, have had some experience in questionnaire design and facilitation of experiments, based on previous work in university research.

The first article explained our choice of hardware and software and detailed the set-up costs. This article examines the game itself and explains its usability testing procedure.

The following topics will be discussed:

  • Knowing your game.
  • What kind of players we wanted to invite and how we recruited them.
  • Discovering what to test.
  • Designing the first (of the two) usability scenarios.
  • Using the iGEQ questionnaire and open-ended questions, during testing.

Let’s begin!

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Posted in A Clockwork Brain, Total Eclipse, Usability | 1 Comment

Game Usability Testing for Indies: It’s Easier than you Might Think! (Part 1)

As some of you may know, Total Eclipse is a small studio, with a core team of five. Even though we’re small, we consider usability testing very important.

In the past, for three of our largest productions we had a publishing agreement. The publisher had been in charge of doing usability & beta testing for our games, with camera recordings, questionnaires, targeted player groups, the whole lot. We used to get the videos and watch them as a team afterwards. I’ve got to tell you, especially during the usability, those videos were most of times heart-breaking and not in a good way. That taught us how important usability is and how crucial it is to test things outside our core team.

In our studio, we also tested our games with friends and family but in a much more informal setting – them playing, and us, behind their backs watching and keeping notes. However, for the last two years we’ve turned to self-publishing; we no longer have access to a publisher’s usability perks. As a result, for our latest iOS game, A Clockwork Brain, we decided to design the usability session from scratch. Continue reading

Posted in A Clockwork Brain, Total Eclipse, Usability | 4 Comments

10 Things I Learnt from Hiring the Wrong Person

Our latest endeavor at Total Eclipse is a puzzle game for iOS devices, titled A Clockwork Brain. It’s a spin-off from our very successful Hidden Object/Adventure series, The Clockwork Man and we’re about to release it in the coming weeks.

There came a point in the production of the game that we decided it was time to move from the prototype graphics we’d been using until then, to the final ones that we had envisioned.

That meant that we had to look for an artist, who would be working remotely, full time on the illustrations and UI elements that were needed for the game. Since this task
was to involve a freelancer, I decided to place an ad and wait for the right person to
come by. Continue reading

Posted in A Clockwork Brain, Art, Business, iOS | 5 Comments

Managing Assets – Part 2: Setting Naming Conventions

This is the second part of the “Managing Assets” series of posts and deals with asset naming. If you missed the first part, on asset quality, you can find it here.

Asset Management - Part 2: Setting Naming ConventionsAsset naming conventions reflect a really simple concept: How to name assets, or parts of assets. However, when it comes to adhering to those conventions, it’s anything but easy. Continue reading

Posted in Maya's Dress Up | 3 Comments

The Story Behind Storytelling – Part 1

The Clockwork Story: Genesis

The modern day has seen some dramatic changes in the field of writing. Less than a hundred years ago, a reader could expect a novel with paragraphs that went on for a page and exposition that carried on for an eternity. That was a time of tell, don’t show and visual writing was unheard of.

The Story Behind Storytelling - Part 1

A novel these days tends to be quick paced, consisting of three lines conjuring images to the mind. This has largely been the result of how pervasive movies have become. Eventually, the precepts of screen-writing seeped into novels and short stories, changing the nature of writing at its core.

My education was firmly rooted in classical literature. I’m a movie fanatic and love plays. Video games were a hobby and pastime that I really loved but I never thought about writing for them more than passively (usually when a game’s story was bad and I thought that there was no way I could do worse). Still, familiarity breeds curiosity and when the opportunity came about, I couldn’t turn it down. Continue reading

Posted in The Clockwork Man, The Clockwork Man 2, Total Eclipse | 5 Comments

Managing Assets – Part 1: Setting Asset Quality

Today I’m going to talk about the way we work with assets here at Total Eclipse. This first post on asset management will discuss quality, forward planning, and balance.

Managing Assets - Part 1: Setting Asset Quality

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Posted in Art, Maya's Dress Up | 5 Comments

The Clockwork Man – Steampunk goes Casual!

This article was originally posted at Gamezebo.com on Aug. 30th, 2010. We have since updated some of the images and text.

The birth of The Clockwork Man World

Think London, England, turn of the 19th century. You are walking down glistening wet streets dressed in your best Sunday dress (or gentlemen’s suit). Something momentarily blocks the sun; you glance up and see a commercial zeppelin flying above, probably bound for Heathrow. The world of The Clockwork Man is much like our own, and yet not. It is filled with wonders of Steampunk fiction, where the ingenuity of the industrial revolution blends with futuristic steam-powered machines. An amalgam of anachronistic technology, Victorian values, fashion and décor makes up this familiar and yet fictitious world that had never been attempted in a casual game before. Back in 2008, creating something like this was quite a challenge (and risk) for us in Total Eclipse.

Still from The Clockwork Man introductory scene

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Posted in Art, Business, Our games, The Clockwork Man, The Clockwork Man 2, Total Eclipse | 3 Comments

Sharing outfits between users in Maya’s Dress Up

Maya’s Dress Up is our most recent game, available on iOS devices. It’s a dressup/make over game where the player gets to style up Maya and her friends, using various clothes and accessories. Because we believed that players might like to publish their creations, we included sharing features, such as Publish on Facebook and Email to a Friend, ever since v.1.0.0. The player has been able to send an email to a friend, attaching a screenshot of an outfit she had created, along with a URL to the game’s website.

Outfit sharing in Maya's Dress Up

As part of our next game update, we wanted to let players import an outfit that a friend had sent them. In other words, if the receiving player had the game installed on her device, she could import the styling selections of her friend directly into the game.

The easiest and most obvious way to do that was to use Custom URL Schemes.

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Posted in Development, iOS, Maya's Dress Up, Our games | 1 Comment

Rapid game prototyping

It’s no secret that most game development studios, especially as they climb upwards (in budget, staff numbers, etc) tend to lose their will to risk. As game production costs rise, office space expands and rent goes up and staff expenditure skyrockets, companies stick to what worked before. That’s why you see so many AAA+ studios focusing on sequels.

It’s also no secret that most of us will be generally risk-averse, especially when times are tough and the economy is stingy. This pretty much describes our current situation here in Greece; the state of the economy is really awful. In my opinion, though, it is during times of recess that breakthroughs and new ventures can be made.
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Posted in Development, Game Design | 2 Comments

The App Store Experiment

About a month ago we launched Maya’s Dress Up, our first game for the iPhone & iPad.

Like everyone else who gets involved in application development for the iOS App Store we were very curious to see how it would perform.

To date we’ve had a bit more than 1,700 sales for both devices and we estimate it would take us at least 6x that amount before we recoup our original investment. At the same time we’ve already got planned a lot of updates and improvements for the game, which will hopefully help it perform even better in the coming months.

Monitoring the sales and ranks of both our applications on the App Store has been part of our every day routine, since they were released. It’s a nice thing to see when you get a spike (it’s true that on weekends sales go up!), but then you have to spend some time thinking what could have caused that spike.

Unfortunately Apple doesn’t provide any kind of insights as to what works and what doesn’t with one’s marketing efforts, something that people have been requesting for sometime now. In the end you’re left guessing…

The experiment

Although Greeks ourselves, we usually don’t pay much attention to the regional App Store, as we’d only had 9 sales from it in the first month. This Monday, however, I noticed a spike in sales for the iPhone edition, coming from Greece, in one of AppFigures‘ great reports.Maya's Dress Up climbs the charts in the Greek App Store

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Posted in App Stores, Business | Tagged , , , , | 2 Comments