Today, I went to the cafeteria of the local university, which is open to non-students, and asked a bunch of people if they could play Patent Blaster. I sat them down with my computer, started up the latest build, and silently observed them playing.

When you make a computer game, you try your best to make it easy to get started with: making menus clear, giving hints when needed, making the controls intuitive, starting out at a difficulty level that's easy but not boring. But because you tend to play the game in a particular way, and play it a lot, there end up being a lot of gaps where things are needlessly hard or confusing.

This is where hallway testing comes in: grab a bunch of random people from the hallway - or from the cafeteria, in my case - put them down in front of your software, and observe as they try to use it. And very soon, you'll find that things that were totally obvious to you are not obvious to anyone else in the universe - or at least confusing to a big proportion of people.

Two examples:

Right at the start of the first level, once you have figured out how to move your creature, a hint appears next to the target reticle, telling you to click to shoot. What it doesn't tell you is that you can use the mouse to aim. As a result, I had several people trying to play the game with the angle of their shots fixed to something awkward, and getting absolutely nowhere. That you can use your mouse to aim seems obvious to me, and maybe to you, but it's clearly not obvious to everyone. Nor is it a mistake that only non-gamers would make: two students who tried it were frequent gamers and didn't realize.

The conclusion from this one: The hint should say use the mouse to aim as well as click to shoot.

Another small thing occurred with one tester, who, noticing that he had two weapons available, tried to click on the other weapon to activate it. This did absolutely nothing, because it had simply not occurred to me to put in that option: you can select weapons with the number keys, and cycle through them with Q and E, but you can't use your mouse. As with the one above, this is a five-minute fix, and it will save at least a few people some confusion and frustration.

After four hours and six people, I have ended up with a lot of notes. Thankfully, there's no huge problems: everyone got into the game, rapidly became better at it, and enjoyed themselves. What remains is a long list of little fixes to make the game just a bit more pleasant.

My Raw Notes
  • Cursor to aim
  • Click mouse to shoot
  • Swords too good?
  • Reduce inaccuracy when autoshooting on easier diffs?
  • Shop & chooser defs not clear
  • Not clear items are items & weapons are weapons!
  • Arrow works!, pick me up works!
  • Hide cursor when autofiring? After a while?
  • Refuse to shoot if over barrel?
  • Seems to be enjoying it!
  • Hover mode hint visible in store
  • Box around items? Or: items have separate gfx sheet
  • Make item & creature chooser more distinct
  • Click on weapon to activate
  • Indicate resistances with sensors (lvl 2?)
  • Keeps on playing it :)
  • More cooldown for creature chooser
  • Should have no monsters in view on lvl 1 easy/normal
  • Hide controls?
  • Defs have to explain about aiming
  • Normal is hard
  • No stealers on lvl 1
  • Make images more clearly BG?
  • Explain frozenness
  • Put HP bars on top of particles
  • Don't offer weapons that are really bad
  • Indicate goal: kill the patents
  • Intently reading directions, I think?
  • Eventually manages to move
  • Picked a homing weapon
  • Resistance to STEEL damage
  • Main screen is too busy
  • Make buttons buttonier?
  • Individually turn off move hints
  • Really want no monsters @ start
  • She realizes patent gibberish is just deco
  • Finds particles distracting
  • Tries to memorize controls at start
  • Clearly some WASD experience
  • Finds hover mode, happy!
  • Indicate enemy not in range when auto-firing
  • Actively choosing items he wants