“Mapping the Way to Release” [GCS — Zelda Classic]
This week for Game Creation Station, I want to talk about a good problem to have: a finished product that you are ready to get out there to the world.
This appealed to me as a good topic to write about because I am in the final touch-up stages with Episode I of The Legend of Zelda: Sword of Moria. Right now, I just need to add in a cutscene that will wrap up the current story arc in such a way as to let it stand as a stand-alone product until such time as an Episode II can be released. On the surface, you might think it’s a simple matter of just making sure there aren’t any bugs and then getting the game out to whatever venue you want to distribute it at. Yet, in my experience so far, this is far from the truth.
For starters, you definitely need to fully play test your own build of the game from start to finish, making sure that there aren’t any noticable bugs (particularly game-breaking ones), and certainly that the challenge isn’t so extreme that you, as the game’s creator, have trouble getting through to the end of the game. It’s one thing if a player has difficulty, but as the designer, you should know the ins and outs and be able to get through it. If you can’t, how can you expect the average player to conquer the game? But, it’s not just you who needs to test the game – you need to have some sort of bug testers that do it as well. The fact is, you should know exactly where to go and what to do, but you will want a beta tester who is blind-playing the game and will arrive at similar roadblocks and find similar bugs that the end-user may find themselves. Thus, they can work hard to break the game and help you fix exploits and things that they find, rather than pushing a broken, buggy game out on the public and possibly having your game’s reputation be permanently scarred (as has been the case with even some major AAA games here recently).
I’ll admit though that it isn’t easy to find good play testers these days. While there might not be a shortage of people who will want to try out the game and see how far they can get, finding people that actually have the time and patience to dedicate to such an endeavor is another story altogether! I’ve encountered this with some friends who, while they certainly meant well and truly wanted to help, it turned out didn’t have the time to properly dedicate to the endeavor. Of course, they are offered no benefit to doing this at the end of the day other than the ability to get to try it before it makes it to the public, so I don’t blame them in any way for it. It’s ultimately just something I’ve noticed can be an issue and felt was worth pointing out.
Once the testing phase is complete, though, you’ll be getting pretty close to releasing the product. The next issue would be figuring out how best to release it. Honestly, there’s just too much to factor in here for me to give any sort of comprehensive answer to you, but I can at least talk about my current plans for Sword of Moria. Initially, early demos were simply made available permanently on my personal site as well as sites I worked with that wanted to mirror the links. I spent time advertising the demos on Twitter and other services, and even made some gameplay videos to show off what was currently available. However, now that there is a lot more for me to showcase with the impending Episode I release, I’ve decided that I should take it to the mainstream and make it available on one of the largest fan communities for Zelda Classic out there: PureZC.
Now, understandably, there’s some apprehension on my part about clicking that submit button and tossing it up into the ether for everyone to try. As much as I love PureZC, there are a lot of critics on there that will nitpick and pull apart games that I think were actually very professional and well-done. But, really, I think that’s just part of the nature of sites like that. In reality, it’s a good way to get some unbiased feedback from players, and if they strongly dislike something, there’s always room to improve on it either in future releases of your product (in my case, if I do more Episodes of Sword of Moria), or in future projects that you work on. I’ve noticed at least with the PureZC community, lots of designers take the feedback from their first quests that they submit and take it to heart in designing future stories. Others, too, just don’t care what you think and make these sorts of games strictly for fun. For me, I guess I’m somewhere in the middle of all that…I want to listen to the feedback of fans and do the best I can, but I also want to keep the game very professional and near-canon as I can. Sword of Moria is meant to be an unofficial Zelda III, so I want to have a polished game that people will enjoy playing for a long time to come.
Once I get Episode I’s base content completed in the next couple of weeks, I’ll begin the phase of play testing the current build to ensure that there are no bugs. I’ll also start soliciting people to test it for me and play from start to finish and report any errors they find or suggest fixes or changes that they think should be made before the game is finalized and submitted to PureZC. Naturally, if you are reading this and interested, you can reach out to me about it.
I’ll talk more about the process in my next article, as well as share a larger project update with you in regards to Zelda: Sword of Moria. Whether or not I’ll have something much closer to be released or not by then remains to be seen, but I’m not going to rush this one at all. Game design takes time and dedication, and also a drive. I don’t like just feeling like I have to cobble something together and toss it out there, because doing that cheapens the product for me. I want to make sure that whatever I submit represents my vision, and I think that’s important.
Next week, Warren will be back to continue his Search for Dave. Have a great week, guys and girls!