Okay, I admit it!

Seeing how my entry was awarded the "Heath Robinson Prize for Most Unreliable Office Equipment", I think it's time for me to admit it publicly: my game is too hard. Wait, no, that's not true: my game is too frustrating. Yep, that's better :P . I tried to ignore it when my entry was awarded the "Paid For By the Caffeine Lobby" award, but I guess I can't hide it anymore...

If you want to play the game at a slower pace, you can either reduce the probability of a machine breaking up or increase the time in each level (actually, each level lasts longer than the previous one, but obviously not enough). To do this, you can change one of the following lines (or both)

Office.py, line 112: self.clock.start(3600 + 120*level_num)
That's the total time - increase 120 to something like 240 or more to get enough extra time per level

Todo.py, line 68:
if (random.randint(0,30) <= self.dificulty):
If you want the machines to fail less, increase that "30" - the larger the number, the easier the game.

In any case, remember that the game only has 10 levels, so don't make it too easy ;) .

I'll take this as a lesson for the next Pyweek - I should have had more extensive play-testing. To be 100% honest, I did reserve some time for this, but I decided at the last moment to use it to add the plants and lamps and give each level a little more color :P - I guess that, since I wasn't a coder on my first Pyweek entry (which details exactly this problem as the main concern) I didn't really learn this lesson, but I'll try to remember for the next time.

If it makes you feel any better, while playing (I think I made it up to level 6) I experienced that very same feeling of looking at the remaining time and thinking "oh, screw this, I won't make it on time", and if I didn't curse the repair guy for talking the long way to fix the phone it was only because I'm the one who told him to approach items from the right when possible...

I'll do my best to write a full post-mortem of the game once the competition is finished and I get to read the feedback from the rest of you. So far I've been impressed by several entries, and I hope I'll get to play all of them by saturday.

Good luck, everyone!

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I think the lesson to take from this is that it's better to err on the side of making a game too easy than too hard. As long as the game itself is inherently enjoyable, players won't mind if it's on the easy side, especially if it enables them to get through it and see all the content. (And if it's not inherenty enjoyable, making it harder is not going to improve matters.)

Also keep in mind that you're intimately familiar with your own game, so if you're finding it hard, most people are going to find it near-impossible!
I'd modify that by saying it's much more detrimental for a game to be punishing than for it to be merely hard.

The time limit is not punishing - it's an immutable fact of the game. Similarly the coffee dependency is just something you have to keep topped up.

The random breakage does seem punishing, because it randomly inserts a huge time penalty.

 The random to-do queue filling also seems punishing, when it repeatedly spawns tasks that are at opposite ends of the room.

Also I don't think all the later levels are actually completable unless you're phenomenally lucky with the breakage, and that's a big difference from merely hard.

It would be better if you could choose which item in the to-do queue to do next, especially so you could do something else while waiting for the repairman.
I agree with mauve here, but more important than deciding on what side to lean towards, the best to do is to have others test your game to find out whether your game is too easy or too hard. Easier said than done in Pyweek, I know, and I always make that same mistake due to lack of time (those who know my games know they end up too hard), but I believe it's good advice anyway.

I'd also like to add that the lesson worded as "hard" rather than "punishing" isn't so clear, in my opinion: while "too hard" means frustration, "too easy" means boredom. If a game takes too long to get to a part that's challenging enough to be fun, chances are they will stop playing the game before they get to that part and won't enjoy it. In Pyweek, I believe it's particularly worthwhile to try to engage the player from the beginning, because the player, as a judge, has to rate as many games as possible in the limited time available and probably doesn't have a lot of time to spend on a single game (I only do spend when it's particularly engaging). The best really is try not to err on either side, although, as I said, it's easier said than done.

Regarding the game, allowing the player to choose which item to do next might make the game too easy, as you would always choose items of the same type, but allowing the player to do the next item while waiting for the repair is probably a good idea. It's probably also a good idea to control the random breakage (for example, limit the breakage during a level).
@Tee: I think that the uncontrolled random breakage is the main concern - I was shooting at a "1 in 4" in the hardest levels, but a_ I accidentally changed a "40" for a "30", and b_ "1 in 4", while theoretically the same as "random generator set to 25%", is not the same (level 5, for instance, has a breaking chance of 16% per item, and everyone can see how maddening that is...). IMHO, had I chosen a certain number of machines and make them fail just once, it would have been enough.

About the punishing vs hard, unfortunately my game doesn't have enough elements, I think, to make that distinction clear. Since the point of the whole thing is just to make players walk aimlessly around the office as fast as possible, there are not enough gameplay elements to tinker with, but I do agree that the breaking thing is more on the side of punishment.

On a "funny" note, the original game is just as frustrating as mine, or even more! I don't know what was I thinking when I told myself "hey, do you remember that awful game no one ever heard about? Let's do that!" :P

Well, 1 hour to go. It seems that my original entry motto  ("If history has taught us anything, this game will have nice graphics and close to no gameplay") will turn out to be accurate :P

Good luck!
Regarding the game, allowing the player to choose which item to do next might make the game too easy

If all the tasks are present in the queue at the beginning of the day, that's probably true. However there are a number of things that could be done to make things more interesting.
  • Don't introduce all the tasks at once -- have new tasks appear at random times throughout the day.
  • Dependencies between tasks. Completion of one task can spawn further tasks that need to be done in a particular order, e.g. you receive a phone call from a customer that requires you to go and look something up on the computer and then call the customer back. Those tasks have to be done in order, but you can interleave them with other independent tasks.
  • There could be restrictions such as only being able to carry a limited number of documents at once.
  • Some machines, e.g. fax, copier, could take time to complete their function, during which you can go and do something else. You should also be able to perform another task while a machine is being repaired.
  • Some tasks could have a time limit -- e.g. if you don't answer the phone in time, the caller gets angry and gives up, losing you something (docked pay? increased chance of getting fired?)
  • You could even incorporate a bit of Diner Dash by having higher-ranking employees demand you bring them tea/coffee/water/whatever every now and then!