Alpha Test One for Lands of Oneiro just wrapped up. It was four days of fun, excitement, and nerve-wracking anxiety. I had set the deadline for the first alpha test at only 2 months into the project with the hopes that having a hard date would keep me motivated. I believe it worked, that I achieved much more than if I hadn’t announced the Alpha Test was coming up. The biggest benefit from the test was the feedback that I got from the players who came to the test. Here’s what I learned.
1 – Hours of Building = Minutes of Content
Players will zoom through any well-built area. If there are no bugs or issues to slow them down, they can be FAST. The first player who logged into the game had killed her first bat 5 minutes and 4 seconds after connecting. After 26 minutes and 56 seconds, they finished the tutorial and ran out of content. That put me in the panic while I tried to build quests faster than the players could complete them. That’s not possible, by the way. You’ll be tempted to speed build areas to give the players more content…
2 – But Rushing Causes Mistakes
Each room flag, exit flag, extended description, reset, mobile and object in the area is important. Making even a tiny mistake can result in problems to troubleshoot. One tester and I worked through a broken door that I had forgotten to name. Another tester notified me that a barkeep had suddenly started speaking in human (when there are no humans in the world yet). It turns out I had accidentally changed his race while building in a rush. These sorts of oversights lead to the next lesson I learned…
3 – Players Will Find ALL of Your Mistakes.
I was embarrassed when the playtesters found typos. There weren’t many but I died each time someone found one. I had to remind myself that the entire purpose of The Alpha Test is to find those mistakes so they could be fixed. Take your time and build a quality area. No matter how much testing you do yourself, other people will find more mistakes. Make sure you collect that valuable feedback! If they found a problem, you want to know about it.
4 – Players Will NOT Find Your Cool Secrets.
In the mage tutorial, the player is sent to the library to find a scroll and they learn that the room description has bookcases that are real. There is a lesson about reading room descriptions and interacting with the things there. For the quest, the player needs to look inside the bookcase and take the scroll from it. There’s a second time during the tutorial that the players are reminded to read room descriptions because items are interactable. The players are sent to get food for a journey. They learn that the trees in the orchard are have free manafruit inside of them. The players learn to GET FRUIT FROM TREE. I made sure to players were shown that items in the room description are interactable and some are containers with free loot inside.
Inside the first dungeon the players encounter, The Wizard’s Tower, there is a niche in the stairwell. Not a single tester found the coin hidden inside there. Not a single player looked at the arrow slits to enjoy the scripted map view that I created. Not a single player found the scripted lore information about the Map of the Cosmos in the mage’s sanctuary. The players ran into the dungeon, killed the animated mace, killed the wizard, looted and then left.
5 – Players Will Kill Anything That Moves
If you built your area in a hurry, your players are going to find every single mobile that you forgot to flag as “avoids all attacks” that you had no intention of being killable. Every Single One. That’s why building in a hurry is such a bad habit. You really have to be meticulous. If you don’t want the players to kill an NPC, you MUST prevent it through the game OLC engine or scripting. Your players will not guess your intentions about it.
I had created a random NPC generator for citizens in town. I forgot to make the template unkillable. Now these are The Dusk Elves of The Kingdom of Zaltyra, the few survivors of a religious war that have gone to the edge of the universe to hide. The players are also Dusk Elves – this is their tightknight community, their only refuge in the cosmos. Yet the players loved to kill those level 6 citizens. OVER half of the players killed or attempted to kill citizens. They killed the librarian without a care. They attacked the level 50 guards (even though no one was higher than level 5). The end result was the I ended up allowing the citizens to be killed, but when they die they now flag the player as a murderer and town guards will deal with them.
Excitement and Motivation to Continue The Project
More than discovering about broken doors and tripping over the corpses of dead citizens strewn about the city, I found excitement! Everytime MUSHclient ding’d to let me know someone had logged into the MUD, I could hardly stay sitting at the computer. There’s something terrifying and exhilarating about having your creative work tested and judged by other people. I wanted to know that the general design direction I was going was valid. I wanted to see if the game was functioning as intended. Mostly I wanted to know that the testers had fun while they played. Having the game be fun is the ultimate goal, of course. I really hope they did have fun. I know I did.