Hi there! I’m Adam Langridge (@ajlangridge) and I’m a game maker on Polycraft here at Wonderstruck.

In case you missed our previous developer diary, Polycraft is a new real-time strategy game with an action heart! Your hero has been washed up on the beach of a mysterious island. Rescued by a Wildling, you’re tasked with building a new life and defending it from the Ferals that seek to destroy it.

We’re currently hard at work turning Polycraft from a basic (but fun) prototype into a rich (and crazy fun) arcade strategy game. We’re going to be doing this all while our players are playing, poking and prodding it in pre-alpha form over at polycraftgame.com. This diary is all about why we prototype at Wonderstruck, and how we use player feedback.

One of the best things about having people get their hands on Polycraft so early into its development is that we can work out what our players already like, what new features they’re craving, and what things need to change. “How?”, you ask?

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You tell us! In your words, on our game feed. You come up with great and crazy ideas and we respond to them.

Last week we revealed our second major release of the game: ‘Enter the Wildlings’. We’ve been working on lots of new features that were requested by fans; like friendly creatures, a more expansive play space, day and night cycles and loads more. We also completely overhauled the graphics – look at the difference:

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One of the other additions to Enter the Wildlings was control tweaks. A number of our players asked us about different control schemes (adding WASD support for example). We take your suggestions seriously, so we decided to take a look at how the hero is controlled in Polycraft, and what our options were for improving it.

Polycraft is a game that uses the mouse to create a fast-paced, arcadey experience during combat. It does this very simply; you click on the ground, and you walk there. You click and hold to move and you chase the cursor as though it was attached to you by elastic – running faster the further you hold it away. If you click on a Feral (the baddies of Polycraft), you shoot at it. All using the same button. It works great for PC’s, Macs, and touch screens – I’m a genius, article over.

BUT, there were two problems, driven by cool players’ desire to move and shoot at the same time. To do this you would quickly click away from an enemy to run away, and then swing the cursor over onto the enemy to shoot them, and then back again. If you missed your click on an enemy, you ended up doing the exact opposite of what you wanted – instead of staying away and shooting them, you ran right into them (and trouble). The second problem was that you only ran straight at the cursor, into walls if they were in the way – not the best way to be a hero.

At Wonderstruck, we spend as little time as we can talking about things that might work, and instead focus on prototyping actual game mechanics to see if they work. Usually prototypes are simple tests done as quickly as possible, a bit rough and ready, but they do the job. We had lots of ideas about how to improve Polycraft’s controls, see if you can guess where we settled (answer at the bottom of the article):

A) Traditional WASD movement control combined with a click to shoot mouse cursor.

B) Melee-only combat; instead of shooting at a target, the hero barges into them and smacks them on the head.

C) Two button mouse control. One for movement, one for shooting.

D) Auto-fire. Once you attack something, the hero keeps volleying arrows until they drop.

E) Gesture based attacking. A swipe in the desired direction to send a shot that way.

F) Adding path finding to the hero. If you click somewhere, he walks around obstacles to it, but if you hold he runs around as normal.

Which one would be best? Which of these solves the problems without losing some of the lovely smooth feel of the movement? Instead of making a call, we prototyped all of these ideas. It took a few days, but what was interesting was that we all changed our minds about the best solution after playing them. We’ve been making games for years, and were still wrong! If we had only tried one of them, there’s a five in six chance that we would have just replaced one problem with another.

That’s just one example of how we use prototyping, combined with your ideas to make Polycraft as fun as we possibly can. You can try the new system for yourself in the new release at polycraftgame.com (psst, it was D and F)!