More efficient design meant faster turnaround times on build releases. For the majority of our closed alpha and open beta testing periods we released builds on a weekly basis every Friday (for /r/gamedev’s Feedback Friday thread on Reddit!), gathering valuable feedback and feature requests. Over many months we received hundreds of replies about bugs, opinions, implementation ideas, and more! Unfortunately we did not have the resources to systematically approach usability testing. In lieu of asking testers to fill out surveys and trying to track statistics over time, we kept our ears low to the ground, so to speak. We interacted with the community often and nearly every interaction warranted a team discussion to some extent, leading to an assignment ticket being created, a feature being added, or a bug-fix expedited.
With time, Sky Labyrinth evolved from this buggy alpha to a functional beta (A GIF of a more stable beta, not without its issues though). Disregarding the obvious changes in art direction, there’s a noticeable difference in playability. If we look further down the road, here we see a more mature version of the beta with many minor improvements. These refinements, such as smooth camera behavior (which came about only because certain users pointed out the jarring effect of a shifting field-of-view) had been overlooked for a long time by our team (We had play-tested the game daily for so long, our eyes had become more than adjusted to little nuisances such as these). One huge benefit of frequent release cycles was getting fresh eyes on our builds to identify overlooked areas for improvement. However the most impactful benefit actually came from our so-called power users; other game developers that took the time to write mountains of feedback on everything from minute details to huge implementation suggestions. For example /u/interestingsystems recently gave a feature suggestion that in retrospect we desperately needed:
“May I suggest that when the player turns the character into a wall and falls down, the game automatically re-aligns them back along a path when they get back to their feet. As a beginner it was frustrating to fall multiple times and then die as I was fumbling to get the hang of tapping at the right time to get back on track.”
Failure had become a frustrating experience that we had approached with a number of different changes and tweaks, but this user’s suggestion of an automated rotation after failure was far and away the most effective at eliminating frustration and getting users back to the fun. Although power-users like these are extremely appreciated and respected there is one we have dubbed “The King of Feedback”.
In March of 2016, /u/Saiodin went far above what anyone could ever hope or ask for. In addition to writing dozens of feedback paragraphs, this user created an animated GIF and later built an Unreal Engine 4 project to demonstrate a concept he was suggesting we implement. This directly altered our core movement system; although not fast or easy, refactoring our work led to far better performance and smoother gameplay.
Much further down the road, nearing today’s version of the game, we continued receiving superb suggestions such as the addition of visual feedback or this switch from a HUD element to a diegetic UI to represent one of the player’s in-game resources.