Two week ago we shared a recap of an internal playtest, spanning a whole Avestan day. Last week we had another small round of community playtesting. We were looking into how well the simulation communicates certain pieces of information to the player, so the experience wasn’t completely one of “playing SEED”, but more an exercise in understanding our simulation by observation.
Let me tell you, interacting with a project you’ve been involved with for years is a very different experience than watching someone else do it!
Not everybody in our team could watch all the sessions, but we asked those who had a front row seat what it felt like to see our community play SEED.
Some of our developers admitted that it was not a totally pleasant experience. Some aspects of the game are pretty bare-bones at this stage after all. There’s almost an element of embarrassment sometimes: we know we’re not delivering a finished product here, but without this stage of testing, we will never get to one. So we turn to our community, to ask and check if we’re on the right track at every step.
A selection of notes from the recent test sessions
Then there’s the element of not being allowed to “help”, and watch players struggle to find a functionality or understand a UI element. That’s the point after all, seeing where things are not as obvious or easy to understand as we thought! One of our UX designers even said watching these tests is the true school of UX. You can learn the theory of good design all you want, the real test is seeing how real people interact with your work.
Then there’s bugs, making the whole thing more complicated. We knew about an issue where Seedlings would not eat food, even though they were very very hungry, but decided to go through with our test anyway - we thought that it would be annoying, but we needed the learnings about other aspects of the simulation ASAP to continue our work. What we didn’t anticipate necessarily was how hung up most of our participants got on this - they saw their Seedlings think about food all day, they saw our UI telling them they were starving, and they couldn’t understand why they weren’t just eating!
But, out of this frustration came a lot of useful information as well. We learned about many of their assumptions, about how they explained to themselves and us why they thought a Seedling might not eat right now. Would they only eat during certain times of the day? Would they only eat if there was food that belonged to them? We also watched with great interest as they were trying to figure out what was wrong, and how to make them eat their darned dinner, learning more about how they think things should work.
And there were some great moments as well - it was amazing to see how some things already CLICKED. How some players already saw the emergent narratives created by the systems we set in place, or how others understood some of the mechanics that only exist in their rudimentary form in the current version of SEED. We always said that the thing truly bringing SEED to life will be the players, and we could see that happen, if only a little bit.
Testing doesn’t only help us to find all the little imperfections we learned to ignore over time, it also helps us see strengths we didn’t know were there, places where a player can insert themselves and bring the game to life a little bit more.
It teaches us what’s important, what we need to lean into more, and how we can support our players more.
We’re not only getting the cold, hard facts, the results of the measurements our expert research team were taking, we’re also getting a real fresh infusion of energy and inspiration out of this. Seeing people play is the goal. That’s why we all log into work every morning - to get this simulation into your hands, to see what YOU will do with it.