Postmortem - Doctor Chemical's Lab

Video of multiplayer mode in action.
Video of me playing survival mode for 4 minutes.

Things that went well

Things that went poorly

Next steps

superjoe on 2012/05/29 02:35 of Dr. Chemical's Lab
edited on 2012/06/01 14:48


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We did work well together and I look forward to the next pyweek. 

Considering how much art didn't get used I think next time I'll try to be a little less ahead of the programing. 
Hi superjoe,
the game looks nice and well done and it is clear that a lot of effort was made - so I guess it's frustrating if people just say "it's too difficult" and drop it.
I could have just told you "the game has a too steep learning curve" but I've decided to play the game again this morning and give you a more detailed answer.
There are a number of issues which make hard for the new player to learn how to play:
- First of all, the game is full of innovation - the only 2 things that are very clear when you start (without looking at the help) is that you don't want to accumulate too many atoms (like tetris) and that weapon 3 can help you by directly destroying them.
However, destroying them one atom at time is boring.
The other 2 weapons must be learned, and if you didn't check the help, it is not even clear that you have to *close the chains* and not just put same color near (like most of tetris games).
- If you go and have a quick look to the help menu, you're going to learn something but at the same time, be even more puzzled.
The help says right click will alt-fire. But guess what? There is no alternate fire! (not like a new user might expect).
Weapon 3 doesn't do anything with right click.
Weapon 2 shoot atoms back (maybe this is the only real alternate fire)
Weapon 1 says right click to bring it home - this is not a real fire, plus it *doesn't* bring you the hook back, it just detaches it.
So, right clicking in the game hoping for alternate fire is going to leave you puzzled.
- Back to the game, you're overwhelmed by the falling atoms. Usually there is not enough time to think a strategy. If you think, "ok, I'll pull that atom and close that chain", chances are that more atoms will drop in the middle and ruin your plan. And even if you manage to close a little chain, a lot more will have fallen meanwhile, giving you the impression that your actions are not going to bring you anywhere.
- The fact that during the game your character too gets swamped by the atoms doesn't help. You often find yourself not in the position to do what you'd like to and changing position is tricky as the atoms keep falling. By the time you get there, it's too late. Probably even moving around is a skill to master in this game.
- So you try to escape and jump around with the hook but guess what? - physics get crazy and you go outside the window never to return.
I think you mentioned in a thread or in the readme that physics goes crazy for a second or two, but what I experienced is that sometime the character just suddenly jumped out of the window never to be seen again. You could still somehow fire into the window, but in the end you had to restart the game.
- To recapitulate, when physics doesn't go crazy, you're swamped, atoms keep falling ruining any of the things are trying - your weapons are brand new and you're not even sure if they work right (where's that alt fire!?!) and even if they work you don't know how to use them.
When you successfully manage to close a chain it seems you're not doing enough in a sea of atoms with the tide rising and if this wasn't enough, at some point you realize that, even worse, You Don't Need to Do Anything!! 
Every now and then an atomic bomb falls and clears atoms, or the atoms close chains by themselves. These two events which are not under your control seem to prevent your death and be even more efficient than your own attempts.
I've tried to play the game without shooting anything and... I stayed alive for 1 minute and 40 seconds!
This is probably about the same time (or even longer) than the amount of time it takes to make the physics go crazy if you play too much with the grappling hook :)
*** And finally, the biggest problem of all: even if you decide that you DO want to learn and play this game..there is NO SCORE!!
So you have no way to measure your progress and considering how much is difficult to see the goodness of your actions (you're lost in the atoms and the game seems to automatically help you more than you can do) - then it is no wonder if people just stop to play.
There is no score in the window, and even when you die, it doesn't tell you how long you survived.
What's the point of playing a survival mode, where you are meant to die in the end, if you don't know how long you manage to stay alive?

I know that this post may seem harsh and maybe a little exaggerated but I think it gives a good overall picture on why a new player could be turned away from your game (at least from my point of view).
I hope these points will help you in modifying your game and give it more popularity in the future - it is certainly innovative and well done on the production part, so if the gameplay can be tuned to be more friendly it can become a very good game :)
Maybe some kind of tutorial to introduce the player to all the new things he has to learn could be useful :)
To summarize very very briefly the above:
- Improve the help with a clearer description of what each weapon do and how/when to use them.
  (and remove the pic saying right click is alt fire :P)
- The player must have time to get used to the weapons and be able to see that his actions are worthwile, so:
   a) greatly reduce the rate of falling atoms in the first minutes of the game: let the player play with few atoms around at first.
   b) reduce the rate of atomic bombs falling - they must NOT help the player more than he can do by himself.
- Put a score so that the player can measure his progress and be enticed to come back and do more.
Or maybe add some amount of electromagnetic attraction between the ends of chains, to help them link up?
BlueDragon - this is some well thought out, excellent feedback, and I am grateful for it. I'll respond to your points later today.
Thanks BlueDragon, I incorporated your feedback into the postmortem. I don't think it was exaggerated or hurtful at all - I think it was astute and helpful.