The app will be up on the Amazon Appstore soon. We’re going to be applying to a few competitions, so look out for us. And finally, the story of Summer Ripley and Flashpaw will continue here: http://flashpawshollow.blogspot.com/
Thanks to everyone for the support of this project!continue reading
May 4 – 12
Today is finals! We’re preparing a bit of a riff on the traditional presentation format, and we’re live at 1:30PM. So stay tuned:
Last week, we were focused on the Transformational Games Summit, the evening showcase, finals presentation, and polishing. We also internally distributed a version of the APK out to our peers.
This morning, we’ll be practicing. And practicing. And then practicing some more.continue reading
April 20 – 24
Monday morning began at 9AM. This is early for us, because when given the choice, work days are instead work nights.
We started early because Monday was softs presentations, which was the last formal opportunity to show the faculty our product. We tried to showcase the team’s design choices – what was included, whether or not it worked, if it did, why, and then how we would push the book if we had more time. (Answer: We’ve found it’s the atmosphere-building content that is the most special.)
So, faculty and special guests visited the room in shifts, just like quarters, but this time seeing a complete product. On top of getting graded, we were also using this as a way to test and observe. It proved useful! Another use case emerged. Our standing list: 1) reading, 2) find all the things and play. During quarters, I saw for the first time someone go through with the volume on high without reading or focusing on images, and just activating and listening for sounds. 3) Sound palette.
Part of our feedback from softs was to improve the instruction page. In fact, we were already focusing on that.
The UI and instruction page were some of the last things to get added. As such, we know we have to test them. So, when the team had the opportunity to participate in another playtest day, we took it. We got groups of 4-5 kids for twenty minutes each, not unlike the first playtest day. We learned from the first playtest that getting kids in groups for short periods of time is not conducive to use case number one, reading. Adults need about an hour to read through the book. So, Will had the idea to exploit use case number two and make a scavenger hunt of features. This would give us feedback on the usability of UI and navigation.
Most users skipped over our instruction page unless explicitly asked to read it. Even when they did read it, and learned how to use the menu or parallax, their expectations about the interactions weren’t informed – they expected sound from everything and were tilting for non-parallax images. Based on these results, we know we need an instruction page that prompts an action, and teaches categories of content (animation, parallax, sound, and text-sound).
Observations from playtesting scavenger hunt style:
1) Competitive Reading
“Oh, I found the worm in the sign!”
“Hah, I’m beating you!”
And thus, a fourth use-case was born: 4) competitive reading.
2) Real Reading
Despite our scavenger hunt presentation, I was delighted when one girl started our book by reading from the beginning. She kept reading until she saw her friends skipping through the book.
3) Turtle Death
Tapping on turtles startles them, and they jump into the water. Or so we thought.
Some playtesters assumed they were killing the turtles, and gleefully proceeded to click on and kill every last one.
Next, the team is going to focus on polish items. After that, we’re going to have to make decisions about what to do with the final app. At the moment, we’re planning on distributing it on the Amazon Appstore.
Tonight, Team Cat Scratch will be attending an arcade put on by the new Bit Bridge Indie Community (BBIC). The arcade/demo is part of the art crawl, a monthly event in downtown Pittsburgh. And of course, we’re bringing our cat ears.
Right now, Laura is sitting at her desk, getting the final Chapter Six art assets from Hannah. Hannah, who has just exported an illustration of Flashpaw moving through an underground tunnel, has moved onto the second and final pass of all the art. Soon, Laura and I will sit down and layout the final chapter. Allyn’s worked out our buggy UI, and is taking on the “if we have time, we should” list. Will recorded a 30 second promo video, and is storyboarding our three minute vid.
What I’m trying to say is we’re almost done.
But it’s not over yet. We’ve had to make tricky design decisions. Two of the most recent issues were 1) page sensitivity, and 2) formatting for the text-plays-sound feature.
We talked to faculty member Jesse Schell about page sensitivity. His advice: look at what people have already done. We sat down in his office and looked at a PDF reader, which limits tap-to-turn to the margins of the pages, and a horizontal press and drag will turn the page regardless of location on the page. So, Allyn and Laura worked together to make some tweaks.
We’re also re-thinking one feature: activating a sound effect by pressing words. This is not too novel of a feature, but it gives us a way to use sound, and sound is powerful, so we’re keeping it (example: when Summer thinks about ripping paper, you can click “raw rip of paper” to hear the sound).
However, we’re struggling with how to indicate that a phrase is activate-able. The current state is that this special text looks like a hyperlink, and in playtesting, universally, readers have known to click the word. Recently it’s been brought to our attention that this style breaks the immersion of our fantasy space. On the one hand, that’s true: having something that looks like a hyperlink in the text, while you’re reading, may work against a consistency of content we’ve been trying to preserve (hyperlinks go to external places, right?). On the other hand, children have known how to use it. We haven’t needed to use instructions, they know it intuitively. The good news is that we’re playtesting one more time. Results from that should help inform our decision.
I’m also working on a “logic pass” of the writing – going through and making sure there’s consistency in the plot and rules of the world. Also grammar/spelling. Because it stings to have your spelling corrected by a 13 year old.
Softs are on Monday! We’ll be here over the weekend.
This week, Team Cat Scratch finished Chapter Four and worked on content for Chapter Five. Our UI has been added to the app, and even though there are still bugs, readers can now navigate through the book with a scroll bar summoned from the top of the page. It’s for usability, for the readers’ convenience – now they don’t have to furiously tap on the margins in order to move through chapters. (A happy side effect: this has reduced the amount of carpal tunnel amongst developers.)
(Cat Scratch is designed for the Amazon Fire 8.9, but the mini-version for mobile devices is kind of cute.)
Dave Bossert, from Special Projects at WDAS, was able to stop by and give us some good advice. Among the many projects he’s got going, he co-authored the app Disney Animated. It won Apple’s App of the Year in 2013. Going through it, you get an immediate sense of how deliberate the design is, with user experience being a priority. It’s rich with content, and users can summon pictures, videos, etc. to the foreground with a simple tap. Content is interwoven, making exploration easy. This is something that had to be on a tablet.
We were really lucky to have him sit down and give us feedback. His advice was on point – asking for things we’ve already been asked for from our primary demographic (wow moments, pushing interactions farther). Hopefully we can deliver for a climactic moment in Chapter Six.
We also responded to the design flaw in user experience of “I’m clicking and it’s not doing anything”, there are now sounds attached to all our static images, so there is at least one form of feedback. Originally, we thought this sound would be uniform (I imagined something like a “pock” sound, or the click of a typewriter). But Laura went through and found diegetic sound for all of them, which is in line with our design vision of having everything relate back to the story.
Jane Bernstein, our client and story editor, stopped by the ETC on Friday to get the most recent build. She delivered notes on the last half of the story, which I’m implementing. There’s not that much time for more iterations, so the writing is almost solidified. At this point in production, any changes to the writing have to be made with the condition that it won’t effect the structure of the page – an endlessly interesting writing constraint.
March 30th – April 3
Playtesting with children is not for the faint of heart. Last Saturday, we conducted our A/B testing with more structure than the method we used in previous playtests. We added an instruction page so we didn’t have to prime them in person. We didn’t introduce ourselves. We let them go.
Results: In my opinion, we learned three strong things from the playtest. First: page sensitivity. Users use different taps for when they’re trying to turn a page and when they’re trying to activate an animation, and having one happen when you’re expecting the other is the worst. Second: Cuing the interaction (readers know when something is interactive) needs to happen. We already knew this.
The last thing was maybe the most radical. Before I get to it, let me say that we lost our JSON files, so we’re missing the quantitative data to back this up. We also got several groups late and didn’t have the time to let them read through the experience, causing us to miss whole chunks of potential data. However, we A/B tested, and Will and I got to watch certain testers read through the “enhanced” version while others got a PDF version of the book – just text. Through observation, I noticed that the kids with the PDF ‘B’ version were much more fidgety (looking at the screens of their friends, messing with their feet, shifting in their chairs).*
When we pitched our concept during quarters, a lot of faculty assumed we were trying to cater to a demographic of readers who have difficulty committing to reading through a book. “No,” we responded, “We’re just trying to make new things work within the frame of a beloved format.” However, these observations were a strong validation of those faculty members’ instincts
If we had more time in the semester, I wish we could conduct another A/B test without missing our quantitative data.
We also had a take-home playtester volunteer to give us feedback. We got expert advice from Schell Games employee, Sabrina Culyba, who gave us high quality feedback. She picked up on things we’ve been noticing ourselves – one of those being how incredibly effective sound is. Forget illustration and animation, sound does massive amounts of storytelling work. I’d like to see a future ETC project do what we’re doing, using just a richness and variety of sound.
Faculty member Dave Culyba walks into our project room, the team sits down to talk. “Have you guys ever seen The Never Ending Story?” he asks. We chortle, because after our playtest on Saturday, in an effort to do team building we all sat down to watch a movie – and yes, it was The Never Ending Story. The film deals explicitly with the boundaries of the human imagination (spoiler: there are none). The takeaway though was that the never-ending-story book is different because it exists both on and out of the page. The narrative on the page breaks out into real world space.
At Cat Scratch, our mission is to make a story that builds off things that can only be done in a digital space. We mention this on our ‘about’ page – using sound, structure, style and illustration to support a story. These features have mostly been used as a part of the page, but it is unique to digital that we can suggest something out of the page.** For example, one of the more popular additions- a feather that floats away – suggests real world space. If we had more time, it’d be nice to go back and build more of these things into our story. We have 3D space (see below), why not play with it?
This week, we finished content for Chapter Four, and we’re working on Five. Allyn’s implementing UI, and Laura changed some things to help with page sensitivity.
*This is a strong result for team Cat Scratch, but perhaps a tragic result for the writer.
** Actually, it’s not unique to digital – you could do that with a physical installation. An enhanced reading nook. Drew, look at all these project ideas.continue reading
It’s Saturday morning, and we’re ready for playtesters.
It has come to the point in the semester that we have always feared, but never talked about openly. Yes, drastic times call for drastic measures, and sometimes it becomes necessary within the production timeline of ETC projects to handcuff your artist to her desk. Hannah is being forcibly detained in room 3306 with access to only a tablet and an internet browser with which to peruse Pinterest. We made the decision as a team, and it’s worked out pretty well so far.
Just kidding! But Hannah is working incredibly hard right now to make content for chapter four and finishing up chapter three items. We’re behind at the moment, but we always knew these chapters were going to be the hardest to complete. They’re the longest ones, with most chapters ranging about 10-20 pages, while chapter four came in at 35 (and counting).
We did another playtest this week, and are preparing for our last formal playtest this upcoming Saturday, where we’ll be conducting A/B testing on builds with and without enhancements. On Wednesday, we worked with some incredibly smart fifth graders at Avonsworth Elementary who gave us a lot of useful advice. They asked for things that we already have in the “to-do” queue, which was a great sign that we have an accurate sense of what people expect features will do.
They were so smart, they picked up on almost all of the interaction methods, including touch-to-direct-eyes on a large illustration of Willow. When your touch lands on the page, Willow’s eyes follow you. Despite our best efforts, these features have taken on an element of discovery. Meaning users will spend some time trying to figure out a feature (which is time spent not reading). On the one hand, it does sort of keep with our design – illustrations work in a similar way, where you’re asking the reader to stop and look at them, so it’s not necessarily a problem. However, our ideal design would be for features to show you beforehand how they work; for example, Willow’s eyes are already darting around the page, which theoretically shows users how this feature works.
For the next playtest, Allyn is building a data collection tool to be run concurrently with the book that captures information about what users are interacting with and how long they’re spending on each page. This, accompanied with the reading comprehension survey, will give us lots of great information about the way people use the book.
I’ve got to go now, Hannah is asking for water. Artists, am I right?continue reading
Halves presentation today! This is a graded presentation where our team goes in front of faculty, friends and guests in the RPIS and shows what we’ve accomplished up to this point in production. We’re going to be doing a live demo and reading from chapter 2 of the story.
What have we accomplished up to this point in production? Essentially, we’re halfway through. We’ve been doing about a chapter a week. This gives us three weeks to finish 4,5, and 6 before a content lock, where we spend the remaining three weeks polishing.
To be honest, it doesn’t feel like enough time. We’re going to have to push hard for our next sprint to keep to our pace implementing Chapter 4, but also adding revisions to Chapters 1-3 and conducting playtests. We have three playtests in the upcoming week.
We get to work with students in our age group! We’re working with Avonsworth Elementary, Lending Hearts, and using the ETC playtest that Mike Christel puts together. In each situation, we’re going to get groups of kids in rotations. During these playtests we’ll be doing two things: 1) watching students while they’re reading to see if it looks like they’re engaged with the book or if they’re distracted. 2) We’re going to conduct A/B testing – presenting an experience without augmentations and then the full experience with different groups, and surveying them after the fact on reading comprehension. We’d like to figure out if the “enhanced” experience changes the way students understand the story.
But man, where does the time go? There’s this whole chunk of time that cut right through our production: GDC, Spring Break, and now a week preparing for Halves/getting back into the flow.
On a positive note, we did get to demo Cat Scratch at GDC and got a huge chunk of feedback from expert game developers (a thinly veiled excuse to wear my cat ears). I was surprised by how much positive feedback we received. Our game is not really a game, and as we were presenting it at GDC (Game Developers Conference), I expected the response to be tempered. However! Universally, all our testers were excited about the artistic space we’re exploring.
March 2 – 6
We’re in California!