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Reflections on playtesting and Puzzledorf

That is the fourth in a sequence of recreation design articles about Puzzledorf. Initially posted on my blog here. You’ll be able to see the full series here.

Playtesting is key to Game Design. The purpose is to watch folks enjoying your recreation to so to establish areas of weak spot in your design, or bugs, and methodically enhance it. There are 3 keys I’ve discovered that will help you playtest your video games which I used extensively in playtesting Puzzledorf.

Earlier than we get into the 3 keys of playtesting, I wish to cowl one thing I really feel very strongly about. I really feel strongly about it as a result of I believe that getting this proper results in higher video games, and to me that is the aim of playtesting.

In recreation design circles, it is common to listen to folks say:

“You are not designing video games for your self. You are designing them for different folks.”

I consider that is solely half true. I make video games as a result of I’ve a ardour and a imaginative and prescient for an thought, and I will not be pleased till I’ve introduced that imaginative and prescient into actuality. So from one angle, I am making the sport for myself as a result of I wish to play it. However I additionally need different folks to share that pleasure. So I believe the truth is you have to maintain each in thoughts; sure, make it for your self, but additionally bear in mind it must be enjoyable for others.

You can get too caught up in making a recreation you suppose is enjoyable, doing all the testing your self, however forgetting to do product testing with precise prospects. Then you definately launch the sport and discover nobody desires to play it. That is a nasty scenario, however I do not suppose the above assertion is the answer. It may very well be interpreted as saying, “let the purchasers design it for you and alter it to no matter they need.” However do they all the time know what the sport wants?

Your position, as a designer, is to watch folks enjoying your recreation, after which resolve what the sport really wants. Not each participant will be in agreement, so it’s a must to resolve what’s greatest in your recreation.

I am an absolute believer you ought to be designing a recreation you are enthusiastic about, and while you do, nice issues usually tend to observe. To design an awesome recreation, I believe you want a minimum of one one that has a imaginative and prescient, and the eagerness and drive to observe it by way of to the tip, maintaining the staff centered on that imaginative and prescient. The way you get there would possibly change, however do not lose sight of the imaginative and prescient.

However here is the place it will get messy. You may need a imaginative and prescient, however you do not all the time know how to get there. That is the place play testing is available in. I’d rephrase the sooner assertion like this:

“Design a recreation you are enthusiastic about however do not lose the imaginative and prescient. Use different folks that will help you refine it.”

It is an vital distinction. You are not getting playtesters to design the sport for you – you must know what you wish to obtain. However we are able to solely know what’s enjoyable when it is within the fingers of others, so we use playtesting to refine concepts. In any other case you run the danger of, each time folks play the sport, you make no matter change comes out of their mouth, and finally lose the unique imaginative and prescient.

Puzzledorf is an efficient instance. I knew I needed to make a puzzle recreation, and I needed folks to push blocks. What I wasn’t certain about was, “What makes a superb puzzle?” So I used play testing to refine my puzzle design and to stability the sport’s issue, to ensure the design labored and was communicated correctly to the participant. My play testers weren’t telling me what my recreation was; they had been serving to me to determine the place it labored, and the place it did not.

That is much like how you’ll conduct a science experiment. Recreation design may be turned in to a self-discipline with methodical guidelines to observe that, when mixed together with your artistic concepts, helps produce constant high quality. Let’s break down these guidelines for play-testing.


Once I first began playtesting Puzzledorf, for a very long time I simply watched folks play the sport. I additionally refused to assist them, as I will not be there to assist a buyer with the ultimate product, so should you assist them, it isn’t a real check. This led to many distinctive observations, serving to me perceive how folks work together with my recreation, and I used to be in a position to establish potential space’s of weak spot from these observations.

As soon as I recognized space’s to work on, I then did additional play testing for these particular parts.

Observing folks use your recreation is a vital first step in playtesting. Your major purpose is to see if the sport design works as anticipated. Begin with basic observations about your recreation and watch how folks work together with it. See if something stands out. Ask your self questions like, “Are they enjoying as supposed?” “Do they appear confused? About what?” “Is the sport’s goal clear?” “Is the problem appropriate?” “Is that ledge too excessive?” And so forth.

As the sport will get additional into improvement, you must apply a extra methodical method and observe particular parts that want additional testing and refining, which we’ll talk about later within the article. An instance, nevertheless, could be observing gamers try the jumps in a platforming recreation to find out acceptable heights and distances for these jumps.

In my puzzles, one factor I watched was to see if folks may be taught the principles of the sport with out my assist.

Take a look at

Testing contains of two parts.

  1. Preliminary exams and observations to establish weaknesses / bugs
  2. Particular exams to refine key areas

The preliminary exams are a part of that first remark, the place folks simply play by way of the sport and also you see how the general design is working.

The later exams are when you might have made modifications and are then testing it both on the identical folks or recent gamers to see if the modifications labored.

Try to be testing each particular person component of your recreation. Are there ledges to leap on? Take a look at their top and distance. Do it’s a must to kill enemies with a sword? Get gamers to aim it. Do you might have a protect to dam bullets? Get gamers to dam bullets. Are there particular talents and combo strikes? Get gamers to strive them.

Additionally, remember that you ought to be doing a number of the preliminary testing your self to work out early kinks, however do not depend on your self as a play tester. Use others that will help you refine the sport.

Here is an instance from an early proto-type.

This was an early design for a degree. I did some early play exams with others, and felt one thing was missing. What I discovered was that, there have been components of the extent that had been by no means used, and the puzzle was extra enjoyable once I eliminated them. The components in purple are by no means used.

So then I redesigned the extent like this:

Once I did that, folks had extra enjoyable enjoying the sport. In the long run I made a decision the answer to that model was a bit too apparent for my style so I made additional modifications to the extent. That is what it seems to be now like in Puzzledorf:

I flipped it the wrong way up then made just a few minor modifications. Now each area is used. I speak extra about how I refined my puzzles in my article onPuzzle Design.

Here is one thing else vital to recollect:

Each time you make modifications, irrespective of how small, check them.

There’s a recreation design principle known as the wobbly jelly. The speculation is that this:

Each time you make a change, irrespective of how small, it wobbles the jelly (the jelly being your recreation). The extra modifications you make, the extra the jelly wobbles, and the extra doubtless one thing is to interrupt. So typically a small change, that looks as if it should not break something, impacts one thing small and utterly unrelated.

I’ve skilled this myself many occasions. Often I bear in mind to check, however each on occasion there’s nonetheless one thing you miss, so be thorough with testing modifications.

When you find yourself testing, check as many individuals as you’ll be able to. You would possibly check a small group, make modifications, then check the identical group once more to see if the modifications labored, otherwise you would possibly check a recent group. I wish to maintain individuals who have not tried the sport but as a backup for somebody I do know can have a recent expertise.

With a puzzle recreation, for instance, one particular person might discover a specific puzzle very onerous, even unattainable, for some unknown purpose, whereas on common the problem could also be good. The extra you’ll be able to check with the higher, however 5 folks is an efficient minimal to begin with.

Be sure you examined each component of the sport and that some folks performed by way of the entire recreation. That is significantly vital for difficulty balancing. If just some gamers play the early ranges and a few gamers play the later ranges, you do not have a constant comparability of how a single participant experiences the complete recreation. You want some gamers to do this to see how they progress by way of the challenges and difficulties. Nonetheless, for small modifications, do check particular parts individually with out all the time doing a whole play by way of.

Do not be valuable together with your thought’s. No recreation is ideal on the primary go. View every space that is not working correctly as a possibility to enhance the design and make your greatest recreation but.


That is actually vital however simple to overlook. You could be tempted to simply watch folks, then make modifications from reminiscence. Do not do this. As an alternative, you ought to be recording observations and key knowledge.

Have a writing device close by and jot notes as you observe the participant.

When you’re testing for particular and measurable issues, reminiscent of, what number of gamers died on degree 3, or how lengthy does it take every participant to finish a degree, document such issues in an acceptable means. For degree time completion, I’d use a spreadsheet. Many issues may in all probability be measured on a diffusion sheet, however a notepad or phrase doc can be tremendous. Use no matter works, as long as you might be monitoring your knowledge, which often means monitoring numbers.

How many individuals died on the waterfall in degree 3? How many individuals died on the waterfall after you made modifications? How many individuals handed the primary degree? and many others.

With Puzzledorf, I balanced difficulty by measuring how lengthy it took every participant to finish a degree, then received a mean time. This was made tougher by some testers not enjoying by way of the entire recreation. For extra on issue balancing, learn my other articles.

What you check and measure differs with every recreation, so I’m going to provide you 3 useful inquiries to establish your space of want. Bear in mind these phrases:

  • Understanding
  • Issue
  • Enchancment

We’ll now flip these phrases into questions.

Does The Participant Perceive?

What kind of issues are in your recreation? Is it a puzzle recreation? Whether it is, does the participant perceive the puzzle? Discover I did not say can they resolve it – however can they perceive how one can start fixing it?

Any good puzzle, irrespective of how tough, ought to give clues to the participant how they’ll start attempting to resolve it. For instance, Puzzldorf is a block pushing puzzle recreation. So I helped gamers perceive that they needed to push the blocks to the precise location to cross the puzzle. Discovering the right path is as much as them. I speak about how I achieved this in my article on Tutorial Design, however the beneath picture provides an instance of Tutorial 1. The participant is pressured down a guided path, forcing them to be taught the principles of the sport with constructive reinforcement.

Does your participant perceive the person parts of your recreation? You are not simply on the lookout for basic understanding however you wish to break it all the way down to the smallest, particular person parts.

Does the participant perceive the controls? Do they perceive how they’ll die? Do they perceive how they’ll win?

Preserve reviewing this as you observe. If a participant appears confused, take observe and write it down someplace (measure it). When you make modifications, get that particular person or one other to strive it once more and see if that component continues to be complicated.

Is The Issue Applicable?

Discover I did not say is the sport too onerous. Some video games are profitable as a result of they’re onerous, however is it acceptable? Do not simply take this as a basic assertion for the problem of the general recreation. Apply it to particular person parts.

Is the boss of degree 1 too onerous?

Is that part of the extent too tough? Ought to the jumps be smaller?

Is that enemy’s behaviour too onerous to foretell?

For instance there’s a sure bottomless pit the place each participant falls to their dying. Does it profit the sport, or is it simply unhealthy design? The correct of issue motivates the participant to proceed. One thing that’s onerous, the place the participant wants to enhance their motor abilities, could be a enjoyable problem, as long as the participant appears like the error is their fault and perhaps they’ll enhance.

Unhealthy issue is when the participant struggles to finish a problem as a consequence of unhealthy design, eg, it is unattainable to not fall into bottomless pit. In such instances, the sport feels unfair and the participant provides up.

Within the bottomless pit situation, ought to there be some form of clue that there’s a bottomless pit, or is it the gamers fault for not realizing? You must think about these questions.

Seeing what number of occasions a participant makes an attempt to beat a problem earlier than giving up is an efficient indicator of whether it is working properly or not. In Puzzledorf, a number of the early puzzle designs had been too advanced and obscure. It was the incorrect type of issue – they received caught as a result of they had been not sure what to do, not as a result of it was a superb problem. A few of these ranges had been redesigned and others eliminated. Learn extra about Puzzle Design in Puzzledorf and Difficulty Pacing if you need extra examples.

Beneath is likely one of the late recreation puzzles. It is onerous, however not overwhelming to take a look at. Somebody who’s performed up up to now is aware of the overall thought of what they should do, it is only a matter of how one can get there.

You should not be valuable together with your thought’s however as a substitute be prepared to confess when issues may very well be improved or eliminated. Be excited concerning the alternative to make your recreation higher.

Can The Design Be Improved?

If a participant does not perceive one thing, or they play the sport in a different way to the way you supposed, by no means assume the participant is incorrect. Assume as a substitute that your design would possibly want enhancing.

Bear in mind, while you launch this recreation, you will not be capable to stand there and clarify how one can play. The sport must be self explanatory. With that in thoughts, as you observe folks enjoying the sport, you have to be on the lookout for clues about what might or is probably not working, then be ready to check and measure these parts.

That is essentially the most vital a part of the method, the query that results in all different questions: Can the design be improved?

If I wasn’t prepared to look critically on the above puzzle prototype, and refine the design, the sport would not be half nearly as good as it’s at this time.

There are 3 key space’s of your recreation to evaluation. Preserve this in thoughts to interrupt your recreation into completely different components to watch, check and measure. Bear in mind these phrases:

  • Objectives
  • Challenges
  • Navigation

Let’s break them down. You’ll be able to apply the observe, check and measure ideas and the questions we mentioned to those 3 space’s.


Does the participant perceive the targets of the sport? This may be interpreted as the general purpose of the sport, reminiscent of saving the Princess from the Evil King, and the smaller particular person targets, reminiscent of, “Do they know they want a fireplace sword to soften ice?”

This may be damaged down as small as you want, proper all the way down to, “Do they perceive how one can resolve such a puzzle, by placing the purple ball within the purple gap?” Keep in mind that there must be some kind of clues all through the sport to help the participant to know what they must do. A mission aims listing on the pause display screen is an instance of this.

Just a few issues I did to assist educate the targets in Puzzledorf. While you stand subsequent to one thing interactive, it flashes.

While you push the block on to the precise spot, you get a particle explosion and a reward sound that makes the participant really feel good.

After which I check the sport and watch new gamers resolve as many ranges as they’ll so I do know that they perceive how one can play. In the event that they cross the tutorial and the primary 3 ranges, they clearly have a primary understanding. Learn extra on instructing by way of design in my earlier articles.

So, what are the targets of your recreation? Does the participant perceive them? Is the problem acceptable in finishing them? Are there elements that may be improved?


Challenges are actually the issues that attempt to cease the participant from reaching the purpose. Once more these may be broad and basic, however also needs to be damaged all the way down to the smallest and most particular examples. In a platformer this may very well be the area and top between jumps. Are they the precise top? Does the participant perceive how one can bounce up there? Is the problem acceptable? Might it’s improved in anyway?

It may very well be you have to assist the participant learn to defeat sure sorts of enemies as a result of they don’t seem to be understanding it, eg, inexperienced bullets kill inexperienced enemies, blue bullets kill blue enemies, however the participant retains attempting to make use of inexperienced bullets on blue enemies. How will you assist them perceive to make use of the precise bullets?

If it is a block pushing puzzle recreation, does the participant even perceive that they’ll push the blocks, or cannot push sure blocks? Do they know what to do with the blocks once they push them? Do they know why they’re pushing blocks?

Once more, my article on Tutorial Design goes over this in additional element, however here is a fast have a look at the tutorials.

Tutorial 1 forces you to push blocks, so that you learn to do this, and with the constructive reinforcement talked about earlier, you realise that you’ve executed the precise factor while you push the block on the cross.

Additionally, when the blue block begins flashing, you realise you’ll be able to push different colored blocks.

Tutorial 2, beneath, teaches you that you may’t push 2 blocks, since most individuals are going to first try to stroll straight up. You then additionally understand it’s a must to typically stroll round blocks, to push them from one other angle, to get had been you wish to go.

So in a short time in 2 tutorials, with out phrases, gamers have discovered the challenges and targets.

Does the participant perceive the problem in your recreation? Is the problem acceptable? Might the design be improved? After you’ve got modified one thing, return and check it on one other participant. Is it working higher now?


It is a broad topic, however it includes something to do with how the participant navigates the sport. The important thing one is the controls. Does the participant perceive the controls and are they acceptable?

But it surely’s additionally how the participant explores your recreation world and the way they navigate the menu screens. Does the participant know how one can begin a brand new recreation from the principle menu? Do they perceive how one can change particular person choices on and off? Do they perceive how one can go away the primary city and enter the wild lands? This additionally consists of discovering issues throughout the recreation, reminiscent of discovering a shopkeeper and navigating the sport menu.

In Puzzledorf’s tutorials, apart from how they power the participant into studying the principles of the sport, the controls are displayed on the left of the display screen. If the participant presses TAB on the keyboard, they’ll conceal them, however they’re all the time there if the participant desires them.

When you haven’t learn my different Puzzledorf Reflections articles, you’ll be able to see the full series here. There are extra deliberate to be written quickly.

If you wish to be taught extra about Puzzledorf, you’ll be able to see the website or take a look at my blog.

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