After our illuminating playtests last week, we spent the better part of this week dissecting our experience and figuring out how to make it better, and (in consultation with our friends at the CMNH) more scientifically accurate.
Our playtesters last week had two very distinct experiences. The first group understood the story we were trying to tell relatively clearly, solved the puzzles efficiently (with time to spare), and generally seemed to be having a blast.
The second group…didn’t. Partly due to a malfunction with our temporary robot voice tech solution, the robot character wasn’t able to communicate as easily with the second group and they subsequently never warmed to it quite as intended. They also had a lot of difficulty in figuring out what to do/how to solve the initial puzzles, and the robot wasn’t of much help to them.
While it was great that the first group had a good time with this early version, it became clear that we still had a ton of work to do to make sure that we can avoid scenarios like the second group’s experience. To that end, we’ve already overhauled the story to provide a clearer context to why the players are there in the first place and what they’re trying to do, changed the pre-show elements to use pre-recorded video instead of a live actor, and have retooled the robot’s context within the story and experience.
The balance between telling a compelling story and creating puzzles that fulfill the fantasy of being a scientist who’s analyzing ancient bones from another planet continues to be something that we are regularly wringing our hands over. It’s a challenge to derive a coherent story out of solving series of room-based puzzles, however related they are to each other, but dictating the entire story first in turn limits the puzzle possibilities and stifles creativity on that front.
All we can do is continue to be in constant communication about both sides of the experience and try to find the right give and take that leads to our ideal—a fun time engaging with puzzles where the narrative is clear and worth seeing through on its own merits.