Blog #3: Following the Fun
By Sai Timmermann, senior, IUPUI
We’re coming up on the last week of the Summer Innovation Program now, and although the choices we’ve made since our last post haven’t been nearly as dramatic as the choice we made to scrap our idea entirely at the beginning, in many ways they’ve been harder to make. Throwing away one idea for something more fun is easy; coming to terms with the flaws in your ideas is another ballpark entirely.
The biggest change we made was removing a mechanic where players had to tap the food that was cooking on the grill before it burned in order to serve it to the customers. We saw that our play testers felt distracted by the mechanic and wanted to devote their time to throwing knives. Many of the players ignored the food on the grill completely, only to be frustrated because they were losing the game. We tried to combat this problem with a tutorial, and while the players who read the tutorial understood and became better at the game, they weren’t having as much fun. We had to let go of our attachments to the idea we had built up of what our game was, and follow what was truly fun about our game – throwing knives.
When we removed the food serving mechanic it became apparent that the customer order system had to go as well. We were left with a single mechanic and no way to win or lose. Making matters worse, most of our major play testing opportunities had passed so we had much less feedback to guide the process of building our game back up. To say that we were feeling vulnerable would be an understatement.
We started small, building off of what we knew from our players and whatever we could salvage from the dismantled mechanics of our game. We knew that the order system hadn’t been successful because players hated not cutting the foods they didn’t need for the current recipe, so we based our losing condition off of that knowledge and built a system where the player received strikes for missing pieces of food. We also made the decision to have cut foods continue to cook on the grill and be served without the player tapping on them, and to have tips rewarded when the food finished cooking rather than when it is cut. We built off of that by implementing an earlier idea that hadn’t quite fit into the game at the time it was suggested: seasonings that the player could cut to season the foods on the grill and gain more tips. Later on we added in daily quests that reward the player for completing small optional challenges, as well giving the player a tip multiplier that grows the longer that the player goes without missing a food.
Once we had our core mechanics in we decided as a team that any ideas we had for a new feature would have to go into a document for the future. From that point on, we would only be polishing what was already in the game. For our programmers that meant bug fixes and ensuring that the knife throwing experience was flawless. Meanwhile, the artists turned their focus to populating the in-game shop with unique knives and restaurants as well as developing a UI that worked seamlessly with the various backgrounds that players could unlock, in addition to creating a trailer for the game.
Reflecting back on this summer, our team has learned the meaning of not being afraid to let our game change and evolve from our original vision of it. Although our mentors had stressed this piece of advice to all of the teams from the start of SIP, it was a concept that we couldn’t fully grasp until it had become abundantly clear that our only option in moving forward was to let go of half of the game we had made. Ultimately, it’s made Hibachi Hero a better game and prepared us for the next set of challenges that the industry will throw at us. The only thing left to do now is ready ourselves to let go of the game we’ve poured ourselves into for the past ten weeks, and hold on tightly to the knowledge that we’ve made it the best game we could in the time we were given. Team Hibachi, signing out.