PostmortemThanks for the feedback, everyone! I think there are some lessons learned here. First, a couple things I think there are quick fixes for:
- Out of bounds bugs.
- "When swimming against current it's kind of random what direction key you must use" and "the controls sometimes seem to steer in the opposite direction" - I strongly suspect these players were using the manual camera mode, where the direction an arrow key takes you depends on which direction you're pointing the camera. I can easily imagine controlling both at the same time is hard for many players. It might be best to force automatic camera mode for some parts.
- "The whirlpool part was frustrating, especially because I didn't realize that you could get the fish food by swimming closer instead of trying to jump above the hole." - In this case putting the fish food around the first whirlpool instead of the last one would have let you experiment faster.
- "that puzzle level... I think you needed something that could be done and undone to make it more puzzly" - absolutely, this was planned, we just ran out of time here. I suspect most people had to skip this section, so maybe it should have been cut entirely.
"The boss level... was not challenging" vs "I couldn't figure out the octopus". I agree the boss could use some tweaking. Right now the tentacles are just there for decoration, but they could be actual hazards. There's no health meter or way to die, and this was done as a stopgap to deal with the lack of save function, but I kind of like it. I wonder if there's a good way to add a challenge without requiring a lose condition. Perhaps have a timer that closes drains you've opened after a time. Any other ideas are welcome.
It seems like most people didn't find a need to bother with the core water pressure mechanic, which I understand (although I'm surprised if you managed to beat the puzzle without paying attention to the pressure). I was worried this would happen and I tried hard to force players to watch the pressure level in the tutorial, but I didn't really succeed. There may be a way to salvage it, but ultimately I think this mechanic doesn't work 100%, and I would replace it with something slightly different. I don't have any great ideas, though.
I don't think we really made any mistakes in choosing this mechanic, it just never quite came together despite several iterations. It happens sometimes in PyWeek!
Now, about navigation. This is a very important topic for me. There were mixed responses in how difficult the game was when it came to finding your way. Ranging from "playing the game properly would require lots of notes and graph paper to plot out where you are", to "the game just solved itself". Overall, though, it does seem like a little more help not getting lost would have improved things.
To review, the game has six sections: a tutorial, four challenges that can be completed in any order, and a final boss challenge. They're all connected by a large room in the center of the map. I wonder whether people were having more trouble finding their way through each section, or finding their way between sections (e.g. knowing where to go next). But each section is fairly linear so I tend to suspect the latter. I'm glad I spent time getting the minimap and main map working, because I think they both help keeping track of how the different sections connect, but what more could be done? Two ideas I have are closing off paths to challenges that have been completed, and putting a label on the minimap showing what area you're currently in.
My big question is whether having one large connected world contributed to the disorientation. We could easily have made the game six separate levels that you select from a menu, but I really like making a single seamlessly-connected world whenever I can. It makes the game feel more complete somehow. None of the judges mentioned this aspect negatively or positively, so maybe it's just me. But I'm interested in what I can do to make it work.
What about appearance? One comment references Colossal Cave Adventure with "it's a maze of twisty little passages that all look alike". I'm guessing was meant negatively, so I wonder whether making the different sections have somewhat different appearances, say with different textures, would have helped. My first thought is that limited graphical range shouldn't necessarily be a problem for PyWeek. Nobody gets "lost" playing a game like Dynamite Valley or Deep Breath, even though every level has pretty much the same graphical assets. But maybe making a game where navigation is involved means also committing to more graphics.
I'd be happy to hear any further thoughts people had about this!
Big thanks to mauve for putting this on, and congratulations to the winners and everyone who entered!
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