Hi. Don Kirkland here, programmer/designer/etc. at GeekBrain Games. Diary entry #2 is upon us, and we’re still not quite at the point of putting the game in front of the big wide world.

We’ve had our first big internal play-test, and the feedback from that was very interesting. Due to a minor logistical hiccup we had mostly younger kids (5-10) testing our game (aimed for 12+) – but the feedback we got was actually very good.

Firstly, it helped highlight areas where the game wasn’t clearly explaining itself. That’s one of those things you can never do too well. And we most certainly aren’t doing it too well yet. Secondly, the kids had fun playing it. This we weren’t quite expecting – young kids having fun with a strategy game. It was very nice to see.

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A few weeks ago, I did a short talk at the Mana Bar (Australia’s first video game themed bar) about stories in games. It was relatively well received, though I couldn’t help shake the feeling that many of the people didn’t quite get the point. This may have been because I had consumed a little too much beer, but the nagging feeling was there regardless.

The general gist of the talk was that stories matter, but the ones that really matter are the stories the players tell themselves. And I don’t mean that as in someone goes into a bar and tells a story to their friend; I mean the story that the player actually tells to themself in their own head.

What we’re trying to do with Ninja Raft is to recognize that people have these reconstructive stories, and to try and ensure the game clearly provides the right bits to make for good story-memories. Beginnings and endings are really important, and making sure that things don’t just feel like the same old thing each time you play the game.

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As such, we’ve been looking at ways to do anticipation without written narrative. Part of this is the ‘coming soon…’ bar, as well as indicating how far away the end of the level is. These aren’t super-revolutionary concepts, but for me having a clear understanding of why they are there and what they are attempting to achieve is good. It means we’ve got something we can measure when we judge their effectiveness.

We’ve been pushing hard on getting certain sub-features up to snuff. The tutorial levels are getting a major overhaul thanks to the play-test results, and we think we’re very close on the raft construction system. Right now it feels intuitive and fun, but further focus testing will give us the real results.

GeekBrain are Don Kirkland and Rupert Lewis Jones. Ninja Raft is being published by Right Pedal Studios.