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TIGSource ForumsDeveloperPlaytestingGuert's Grinder no 4: A ninja stole my science fair project!
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Author Topic: Guert's Grinder no 4: A ninja stole my science fair project!  (Read 6256 times)
Guert
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« on: December 16, 2007, 07:40:45 PM »

LexVenture

A ninja stole my science fair project!
   What would you do if a ninja dressed in black sabotaged your science fair project and ran off with the blue prints of your new letter creating invention? I am pretty sure you’ll want to hunt down the culprit like the low-life rat that he is. Well, LexVenture allows you to do exactly that but in an innocent and funny way. 

   In the fourth installment of the grinder, I will take thorough look at LexVenture created by Interama. LexVenture is a family word game in which the player must form words using scrambled letters. Creating them will move the main character, an unnamed Charlie Brown look-alike, around the screen, in order to pick up lost machine parts as well as power-ups and bonuses, ranging from delicious cupcakes to nasty bombs. As usual, I will start by looking at the emotional side of the game then look at its technical side.  Finally, I will make personal suggestions to fix issues that have pointed out.
 
Throughout this grind, I will be referring to the player as “he” but this is only a matter of simplicity. The context applies to both male and female player.


Emotional

How LexVenture makes the player feel throughout its gaming experience? How does it keep the player motivated? Is the game intuitive enough? Does it offer a good level of experimentation? Let’s take a look.

Motivation
The player’s goal, the story, the originality and the emotional involvement of the player in the game universe all affect how the player will desire to play the game.  If those elements are mixed correctly, the game will hook the player for hours.

Goals
LexVenture offers numerous different goals to the player. From long to short-term goals, the game offers us many different possible targets to achieve. Special items scattered around the levels, progressive addition of gameplay mechanics, special mini-games placed between certain levels, high scores and moving obstacles in the levels (such as dogs and bullies) keep the player stimulated throughout the game.

The game would benefit from having more long-term goals. As of now, the story, the motivation of beating the game and getting the highest score are the only factors that keeps the player in the virtual world until the end. High scores and “beating the game” goals are too common to truly captivate the player. The game would need to find something else related to the gameplay to keep the player glued to his seat.

Originality
In general, the game offers a good dose of originality. It is not easy to come up with an interesting word game. LexVenture does follow certain patterns found in other word games so it is not completely original title, but it still manages to offer something that feels new and fresh to the player.   

Storyline
The storyline of LexVenture is one of its major weak points. The concept of having a science fair project sabotaged by a rival is quite an acceptable idea for a family game. The problem lies in its creation. The writing skills demonstrated by the cut scene are of low quality. It would be a good idea to review the lines and make sure that the dialogues focuses on what the reader doesn’t already know by looking at the picture. 

Emotional involvement
The position of the player within the game world is imprecise, making his emotional involvement wonky. The player names himself within the game world, takes part of the main character’s adventures but he is never called out during the experience. The main character is never named so the player is left wondering who he is in the game’s universe. The player is left to wonder on his own raison d’être: Am I helping the bald kid or am I the character? Why am I helping those kids? Where am I? Why am I?

The game needs to establish clearly the role of the player within the game world so that emotional involvement can occur. This is especially true when creating a game intended for kids.     

In summary...
LexVenture offers many motivational elements but fails to use them to their full potential. The fact that the player has no clear role within the game detaches the player from the experience, which ruins most effects other elements such as the goals may have on him. 
 
Intuitivism  

Goal clarity
It’s always clear what the player must do in order to progress in LexVenture. Simple mechanisms and helpful tutorials make the game’s goals very clear.

Solution clarity
This is where the weakest part of the game lies. The player always knows what to do but he cannot easily find the solution to overcome the challenge. The player understands that he has to find the right word to reach the next goal, may it be primary like the machine parts or optional like the cupcakes. The problem is that the game uses words seldom employed in our every day conversations. It would be very important for the creators to review the words in the game’s dictionary so that players with basic English skills, such as children, can find the solution to the challenges offered. This also applies to the mini-games where the player must find a word based on a definition. Instead of having a dictionary style definition, it would be interesting to have explicit clues on what the solution of the challenge is. 

The game offers hints to palliate this problem but it doesn’t solve it, it only makes it somewhat worst. It’s annoying when you are not able to find a solution to a challenge and it gets frustrating when the game gives you an answer that makes you think “How was I suppose to know that?” or “Is this even a word? I never heard that before!”

It’s not easy to only use common words in a game like LexVenture. In fact, at some point, the game would become redundant if the same basic words turned up over and over again. It would be a good thing to implement a progression in the words used so that, in the first levels, the player would easily come up with words like cat, boat, cake, house, car, dog, school, apple, snow, star, space, lamb, wolf, hero or dragon. Using words commonly found in the literature aimed for kids like these would really help to create this progression and would aid the young players when unscrambling the letters.

The game does allow words to come back occasionally from one level to another. This behavior is a very good thing since you want the player to learn something and feel good when he quickly finds the solution. I think that mixing this behavior with a word progression would truly benefit the game.


Mechanism behavior
The mechanisms used in LexVenture are working properly and clearly. The player can tell when something works or not when playing. Small confusions may appear n the player’s mind when using items, like bombs or hints, since the player has no clear sign of where to click if he wants to cancel his move. Besides that, the game offers all the feedback needed to know if what the player has done worked or not.
 
In summary...
LexVenture is a very intuitive game but fails in terms of difficulty. The solutions to the challenges are often too nebulous because of the language skills needed to solve them.

Experimentation level

Mastership
LexVenture offers a good share of mastership but still needs a bit of work. The game offers many challenges but doesn’t offer any ways to actually become better at the game without some external help. So, even after playing through the entire game on both skill levels, the player will not have learned much from the game during the experience hence he will not be much better if he restarts. He will be able to know how to score more points but he will only spot a few more words then when he first started.

To learn a word, you must know how it is spelled and you must know what it means. Tarantula might be worth many points in the game but without a proper definition, the player will have not learned anything else than how to score big points in LexVenture.

Avatar experimentation
Since the player cannot alter his avatar in any way, the player has nothing to experience with its avatar. The game doesn’t need any of this to be enjoyable.

Level and challenge experimentation
Levels can be completed in endless ways. The player may play the same level many times in a row and will be able to find new ways to finish it. Of course, this is mostly because the letters are randomly generated but many gameplay elements included in the levels give choices to the player.  Even if the challenges found in LexVenture all look alike, they do not become redundant due to the fact that there are so many possible ways to deal with them.

In summary...
LexVenture offers a great deal of experimentation but fails to make the player learn all the needed skills to master the game. 

Representation
 
Graphic direction
The graphic direction taken for LexVenture is interesting but lacks finish. The decision to go with a cartoon style is a good move but the game’s graphics lack expression. Backgrounds, characters and the interface all need a little spark of imagination. Right now, they work but do not have the “magic touch”. The characters would need more expressive reactions, the backgrounds, although detailed, would need to look a bit less flat and the interface would need to blend itself a lot more with the rest of the game.

The game feels like it’s on a good track and takes some good steps toward a good cartoon approach but doesn’t seem to reach it completely. It’s almost there, it just needs a few more steps. 

Character design
As mentioned in the previous point, the characters follow simple but effective concepts but fail to have expressive behaviors. In general, the characters feel somewhat distant from the player. In addition, the game would benefit from establishing the main character’s psychology. Right now, the characters presented to the player have no background story or introduction. They are simply there, without any reasons. Establishing who the characters are is quite important and right now, the game fails to do that.

Universe design
The universe design suffers from the same flaws as the character designs. The game does not established where the game unfolds. The player has to guess where the introductory scene occurs and only have few clues to understand the universe where he is evolving. There is no need for in-depth detail but simply pointing out rough concepts would do the trick, for instance, naming where the character is when game begins.

Sound and music direction
Musically speaking, LexVenture does a fine job. The music direction opted for a simple diversified soundtrack featuring styles ranging from country to reggae.  The music is a bit generic but does the job nonetheless.  The different styles of music fit with all the characters shown n the main menu. It’s a shame we cannot change the visuals of the main character so it could fit with the background music.

Sound effects
The sound effects are also well crafted. The only issue with those is that the voice acting is banal. A bit more enthusiasm would make them feel less generic. They work very well but in the context of the carton approach, they do not feel as vivid as they could be.

In summary...
In general, LexVenture does a good job in establishing the style they want for the game. The game would benefit from establishing the characters and the universe before the game starts and add more energy in the general graphic and sound designs.

Immersion
 
Information divulgation
A game like LexVenture wouldn’t benefit from too much immersion. Since the player needs to have access to many information to truly have a good view of his game, removing those elements would damage the game’s intuitivism. 

The only downside of this in this game’s case is that the interface is a bit too important compared to the rest of the screen elements. The game would feel a bit more immersive if the interface would be a bit more subtle.
   
Controls
The control scheme found in LexVenture is very intuitive. Since everything can be controlled using the mouse, any player can easily pick up and play this game with great ease.   
 
Continuity
LexVenture does a good job to keep its universe constant and logically balanced. Every little piece fit together and the player’s belief is rarely broken. The only little snag found in the continuity is the use of bombs in the game. In a context of a family game, it would be wiser not to throw TNT bombs on dogs and other characters. Although its use is constant throughout the experience, bombing others to win is not the best choice of behavior in this context.

In summary…
LexVenture could be slightly more immersive but the game needs to have a lot of information on-screen to make it enjoyable so too much immersion would not help it.
 
Fairness
As of now, LexVenture is not a fair game. It requires the player to use external knowledge to win and does not provide ways to gain this knowledge inside the game world. As mentioned in the mastership point, it would be a good idea to add some way to learn the skills inside the game in order to become better without consulting external media. 
   

Technical
Now that I have looked how the game makes the player feel it’s time to take a closer look on how the game has been crafted.

Mechanisms
Most mechanisms found in LexVenture offer enough feedback so the player always knows if his actions changed something in the game world.  There’s only one exception: the mechanisms used when using items could use more feedback to indicate the player how to cancel. This also includes the fact that item icons in the interface do not turn grey when you cannot use them creating a little confusion. The rest of them are clear and simple to understand.

Flow
The flow in LexVenture is smooth and easy to follow. Few screens lack a “cancel” button, “Choose player” and “Options” screens, which break the flow a bit but overall, it flows very well.

Economics
LexVenture offers a decent array of economical elements. Points, items, point bonuses, letters, game mechanics and levels are all part of its economical system. The economy could be a bit more developed, allowing the player to unlock more levels using points or perhaps allowing the player to customize its avatar looks with un-lockable content.  Even in its simplicity, the economics of LexVenture work and offer enough elements to feel diversified.

Ergonomics and accessibility
The game is ergonomically speaking well crafted. There are few irregularities, such as the fact that, in the in-game tutorial windows do not have the same button layouts as other screens, but in general, everything is well crafted. The game allows many customizations so it is quite accessible.
 
Stability
In terms of stability, the game looks bug free and I have not experienced any crash. Except a display bug occurring when using two bombs in a row in the word challenge and that there is no curse filter in the name entry, the game runs smoothly.


Personal suggestions
I believe the game would benefit from an in-game custom dictionary. It would be a good move to allow the player to learn the definition of the words when playing so that he doesn’t need to go elsewhere to find answers to his questions. Straight from the start, the player could have access to a dictionary that would fill up with the words he find while playing, allowing him to see his progress.

While playing, I had the impression that kids have not tested this game at all or, if it has, the kids were not playing by themselves. I think the game would benefit a lot from having a bunch of youngsters try out the game. The creators could watch their reactions and see how they feel while playing without helping them out.

In the “How-to-play” tutorial screen, I would personally change the label “continue” to “Play” to eliminate as much confusion as possible.
 
When the stage is completed, instead of writing “Biggest word”, I’d write “Longest word” just to make sure no one thinks the game is saying “Nastiest word” or something like that.

The custom cursor fits the game a lot more than the window defaults. It may be a better move to have this cursor enabled from the start and have the player change it if desired instead of doing the opposite.

In the stage select screen, perhaps making the “Continue” button flash or glow would catch our eyes a bit more and the player will know right away where to press to begin. It doesn’t need something too strong, just a little something to say to the player: “Hey! I’m here!”
 
   It would be a good idea to allow the player to leave a level for the world map. For example, if the player reaches the word challenge mini-game and is out of bombs and hints, he cannot go back in previous level to rack up on goods. He has no choice but complete the mini-game since quitting will bring him to the main menu and loading a game will send him straight to the cut-scene.


Conclusion
In conclusion, the game bathes in a good dose of originality, craftsmanship and polish but somehow fails to soak it up to its fullest. The artworks look modern but feel sterile. The gameplay is varied and polished but misses its target public by being too hard and unfair. The ergonomics and economics are elaborated but still present some irregularities. The game is practically bug free and is quite stable but displays poor storytelling elements…

Determined to become one of the world’s best batters, a very good baseball player decided to stop playing for a year to train in a gymnasium. Then, when his arms became big as tree trunks, he walked up to the plate again and completely missed every ball thrown at him. “How could this happen?” he thought. “I have trained all year to gain all this power! I should be hitting homeruns!” The player had forgotten why he was training in the first place. Sure, he had gained strength but forgot that his goal was to be able to hit the ball, not strike it with immense power.  It feels to me like this is what happened to the creators of LexVenture. They worked hard on this title, focusing on making the game polished and well crafted, making it look as professional as possible but forgot along the way that it was aimed for a young public. So in the end, the result is a game that runs smoothly but fails to be intriguing and delightful.

The situation is not impossible to reverse. I firmly believe that, with a little refocus and some play testing with kids, team Interama could turn this strike into a homerun. So? What would you do if a ninja would steal your science fair project?
« Last Edit: February 15, 2008, 05:47:25 AM by Guert » Logged

Golds
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« Reply #1 on: December 17, 2007, 01:20:15 AM »

The grinds are getting better and better!

One thing I will say is that from the screenshots, the color palette is nice and bright and colorful, which makes me want to play, and sets it apart from the general brown/muddysh trend in 3D PC games.  On the down side, the menu design reminds me of GarageGames' Marble Blast, which while a successful game, the menus look amateurish.Maybe less big black outlines around the boxes?  Anyway, the game looks good, and so does the grind!
« Last Edit: December 17, 2007, 01:25:50 AM by Golds » Logged

@doomlaser, mark johns
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« Reply #2 on: December 17, 2007, 05:00:18 AM »

I hope TexPine can link us to a demo so you guys can try this game out. Flaws aside, it's a fun word game and it deserves attention.

I think that they only need to add a bit of details in their menus to make them feel more natural. For example, right now, we can't tell in what material was created the boards for the main menu. Wood? Plastic? Metal? Fur? Who knows. They are just shapes with a filter applied. A little texture would change this alot.

Btw Golds, what do you like better with this grinds than with the others?
Later!
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« Reply #3 on: December 18, 2007, 06:35:13 PM »

Hi people,

My God, this grind is awesome. Really, it points problems we had during production, it is astonishing to see how much can be seen on the game. Like Scott Steinberg say, (http://www.sellmorevideogames.com/) "somehow game reviewers can see your soul!". The grind show us that problems we though resolved were not quite. Well, I don't want to justify any, just to point out what we are doing about some points you raised:

- We are aware of the difficulty level being too much high, specially during Boss Battles. (For some reason, the game is easier on Portuguese lol.) But we are working on it!

- The final version will feature word meanings, which I believe will help a lot to build true word knowledge for the player, specially when using the Tip item.

As for the other issues and suggestions, I confess I'm not sure how much we will be able to address, because we need this game out. Nevertheless, some are definitely doable, like the cancel interface for item usage.

Thanks for your support, Guert! It is by far the best feedback we received up to this point. Smiley

PS: we intend to have a demo out as soon as possible, but we are still making adjustments. I believe it will be done next month, and I'll post here the link. Wink


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Golds
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« Reply #4 on: December 18, 2007, 07:50:04 PM »

.
Btw Golds, what do you like better with this grinds than with the others?

Guert, the first impression of this grind is very good for the reader:  the screenshots and headlines break up the copy to provide lots of entry points, A link to the game's page is essential if reader wants to know more, or play and judge themselves.  It looks like you're polishing your presentation as you go on.

And I'll echo what Tex Pine said.  In the SB grind, you found lots of little things that I'd maybe thought about, but had left unfixed.  The grinds are a really good service and I like seeing them.  Cool 
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« Reply #5 on: December 19, 2007, 05:04:44 AM »

Golds:
Ok thanks for the info. Yeah, it's quite normal not to fix every issues found. I'd like to think that grinds aren't only for the current game but also for the next. Pointing out as much issues as possible in one will help making the next one better. A game cannot be perfect and a creator must know when to release but he can plan for the next project. Thanks again!

Tex:
It's not obvious to create a word game in a second language. I've personaly experienced it and it takes alot of fine tuning to make it right. And this gets even worst when you go for an international release (like translated in 10+ language. Headaches I tell ya!). Bottom line is, word games aren't as easy to create as they seem and they require very keen language skills. It's not impossible it's just hard so don't give up! Wink

Anyway, I'm happy this helped you out. Keep us noticed when you release a new version!
Later!
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« Reply #6 on: December 19, 2007, 05:12:02 AM »

(...) I'd like to think that grinds aren't only for the current game but also for the next. Pointing out as much issues as possible in one will help making the next one better.

I agree. Many flaws from previous games can be addressed on the very concept and planning stage of the next one. It is important to know what those flaws are.
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« Reply #7 on: December 19, 2007, 08:33:00 AM »

I'd really like to be able to try the game so that I could share an opinion! Kinda pointless talking about it if I can't see it.
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« Reply #8 on: January 28, 2008, 09:36:40 AM »

1.0 version is ready finally, and a trial can be downloaded here:

http://d.trymedia.com/d/bangout/v100_1h/bangout/LexVenture_Setup.exe

Enjoy! Smiley
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« Reply #9 on: January 28, 2008, 09:57:36 AM »

Then allow me to say...

DISCUSS

Smiley
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