Recently I have started showing Concealed Intent to people in person. Watching people play provides a huge amount of information far beyond their verbal suggestions. It also results in immediate feedback rather than waiting weeks for email responses. In person playthroughs are definitely the way to go in the early stages of game development. So far, it has been shown to a couple of game developers I met at GGJ14 and many people at a local IGDA meetup.
The feedback has been roughly as expected. No gushing, but nothing hugely negative either. There has been at least one “this is like ”Homeworld“:http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Homeworld” comment, which I count as a huge compliment. It has been some time since last hearing people say they don’t understand what is happening in the game. Hopefully the game has reached a reasonable level of complexity (I recently removed the “percentage chance of hitting” stat, now the change of hitting an enemy with your lasers is equal to your lock on them). Many ideas, changes and improvements have been suggested - some I agree with, some I don’t.
The most common subject of comments is now the GUI. Definitely much more work is required here. Below is the current state of the GUI, as designed completely by me.
The GUI has been made a little more user-friendly. Fonts and icons now resize themselves to match the screensize. No more squinting at a mass of tiny text. Hull integrity and noise are now shown graphically on the unit list. Colours can be changed in the options menu. Text has a black outline for readability and most items have tooltips. A grid can be displayed to aid understanding where objects are in space.
Still there is much to do. Firstly it is ugly, especially the icons. There are also regular requests for a stats display. Although, I can’t see where to put it. There are many options for improving it and I have many ideas of my own in addition to other’s ideas. The problem is I can’t imagine how they will work or look without just making the changes in the game itself. As a result forward progress is very slow.
Also at the IDGA meetup I spoke to a few artists and professional game developers. Originally my plan was to only hire artists once the game was largely complete and just live with placeholder art until that time. However, the amount of time spent on the GUI could be drastically reduced with a bit of decent artistic guidance. I now think it may be worth hiring an artist to design the GUI and then code to their result. Surely they can design better and faster than me! This will free up time for the backend coding tasks to which my skills best apply. Also, the time taken to create artwork needs to be considered. If some can be produced concurrently with the programming rather than sequentially, that can only speed final completion (and I will finish!). While the story is still a work-in-progress, it is still premature to create 3D models and backgrounds. However, the basic gameplay is settling down, so it may be well worthwhile getting someone professional to work on the GUI and menus.
I also talked to a few people about how to hire freelance artists and have a couple of contacts to follow-up. All the GUI tasks have been dropped from my to-do list and replaced by writing a GUI scope document and finding an artist. Also, there are a few minor engine tweaks, followed by the big tasks of starting to write an online game server and save/replay files.