On the 24th September till the 27th of September, the latest build of my game Super Mixtape was on show at EGX in Birmingham in the Rezzed Zone. I outlined a few goals prior to going and already had some statistics in the back of my mind in terms of how well the game would be received based on looking at other products, small amounts of playtesting and guestimation work. I wanted to see how people responded to the game, how they traversed it’s landscape and to pay attention to their body language whilst playing.
“” According to some number crunching, over 75,000 people visited the four-day event, with 40% of visitors attending an EGX event for the first time. – VG247.com
For those that missed the game, Super Mixtape is a game where you play as a cassette tape across carefully planned puzzles using physics, beats and the key ‘Flip-Mechanic’. The ‘Flip-Mechanic’ allows you to flip from the A-Side of the cassette to the B-Side and play backwards. Like a real cassette tape, if you are 1 minute into the A-Side and flip the tape over, you have 1 minute left on the B-Side. The game is in a Commodore 64 visual style and I have spent a lot of time ensuring gameplay supersedes visual aesthetic in these early stages. Within the game, there is also a tumble mechanic whereby you use the right thumb-stick to tumble over and correct yourself when you are upside-down.
Prior to going I had some expectations of how the game would be received and anticipated that 80% of players would walk away and not want to play because of the difficulty level, control scheme and lack of hyper-realistic graphics… Also throughout the game you have to pay attention to the background so you know where and when to flip. Having spent a long time thinking about the intricate details of Super Mixtape, I thought about how I played games, and I ignore the background and focus on the immediate. When you are playing Fifa or a driving game for example, how many of you pay close attention to the crowds in the stands?
Alongside this “foreground / background psychological barrier”, I assigned ‘X’ to nothing because of wanting to have a unique jump system which requires two separate buttons for the cassette and the beat switches which require 4 separate buttons. The combination of these two mechanics in Super Mixtape has given me very mixed reviews in playtesting prior to EGX.
“” I had a chance to chat with the game’s designer, Christo of indie studio ‘Polygrammatic’ and he explained to me that the control scheme went through multiple iterations before he settled on the current one, stating that early tests of the game proved confusing for some players, in his own words “people were switching the beat to jump and pressing ‘x’ so I deliberately assigned ‘x’ to nothing.”
To make gamer immersion even harder to achieve in my title, I created puzzles that require you to logically think about how to solve them, and upon failing, you will begin to learn how the puzzles work and allow you to complete them. This is great in theory when people are playing from the comfort of their own home, but in a large show where adrenaline is running high from free energy drinks distributed near the AAA titles to make sure you stay amped to play their latest release, and so much happening around you, it can be harder for players to concentrate.
Combining all of this, I was wrong, and couldn’t have been more wrong. Everything I had predicted was the complete opposite.
“” It throws everything you know about the standard platformer out of the window and creates its own rules.
I noticed a very small amount of players walk away and was overwhelmingly surprised at how many players stayed and grinded through the introduction period where you learn how to control yourself. A period where people were getting frustrated, but were equally rewarded from the progression and the ability to allow the player to learn through their mistakes and progress.
Schell, J. (2008). The art of game design. Amsterdam: Elsevier/Morgan Kaufmann, pp.118-124.
By looking at a difficulty over time graph, you can see that (I believe) the game is a difficult game, and that was part of the reason I believe the game was received so well by gamers and other developers. At various points I noticed players returning to play the game again to either challenge their mates, watch their mates try and complete it, and even just to improve their own time (interestingly I didn’t include a timer in the game).
Prior to going to EGX I wasn’t sure what to expect, but at Rezzed I met another developer called Matt Gamble, the creator of RPG Tycoon, and we bounced a few mails back and forth, and he helped point me in the right direction. I hold him in my sights as a passionate independent developer who has equally high ethics and morals. I think as a solo developer you can get lost in things outside of development of your game, so it’s a luxury to have friends like him.
Location Location Location: I was also extremely lucky with the position of my booth at EGX. As you walk into one of the main entrances, you could see the Super Mixtape main character ‘Mix’ 2 meters wide from halfway down the event, and on the side of my booth were DLaLa Studios and their now released game Overruled! They were extremely supportive and it was an excellent opportunity for me to talk to such a talented group of guys about their game and experiences with me being at an early stage compared to them and their highly polished product, Overruled!.
It was also great to talk and get feedback from the team working on Project Zomboid, Pixel Bomb Games, Starship Mechanic, Newquest Games (Man or Goat), and so many more, too many to mention here, and not forgetting the countless journalists, YouTubers, Podcasts etc that came to talk to me at the booth including the crazy guys over at Machinima SBOC!
I wanted to really answer a question that I had in the back of my mind, and a topic I loosely see passed around twitter from time to time is the value of doing events like EGX and Rezzed etc against the cost, not only financially, but also in time. From all my experiences, learning, conversations and doors that have now opened for me and Super Mixtape, I would say absolutely that events like this are invaluable. I do want to caveat that with, if you are going to these events to drum-up sales, then I can not pass comment on that as that was not my intention.
I didn’t stand on the booth and hand out flyers because I wanted to make sure that everyone who played the game or wanted to talk about the game had my undivided attention. I wanted to learn about my own game from watching people play it and interact with it, which in my mind, is invaluable first hand research that me as an independent developer should pay close attention to.
All in all, Super Mixtape at EGX 2015 was a massive success for me and the advancement of the product. I gained invaluable research into the game, and got great feedback on where and what to improve upon. I also gained a wealth of strong contacts with new friends and other developers working on equally as awesome games. EGX also positively reconfirmed some tough decisions I have made along the way against what others have recommended. If you believe in something, you should always see it through.