Thursday, March 15, 2012

Amir Rao of Supergiant Games: Users had "no idea what was happening" when using gardening feature

This mistake story from the GDC 2012 "Failure Workshop" was captured by Kris Graft of Gamasutra, a gaming industry site:

Next up for the [failure] workshop was Amir Rao of Supergiant Games. The studio did ship its first title, Bastion, to much success. But what's not known by most people is that it shipped without one big feature that failed.

Basiton had a rich art style, a unique reactive narrator, and, Rao said, "It was going to have a rich and exciting gardening feature."

The reasons for including this feature were clear for Rao. "Gardening is an aesthetic that everybody understands. ... We wanted to try and take that aesthetic ... and apply that to an action RPG, because that is something that we haven't seen before."

The studio spent a year working on the gardening feature, influenced by games like Viva Pinata, Harvest Moon, and even certain systems from Civilization Revolution.

Player would find seeds out in the world, bring them back to the hub called Bastion, put them in planters, water them, and wait to see what they would become. The problem was that players had "no idea what was happening," said Rao. "It's really hard to communicate the intermediate part of planting" that happens between burying the seed, and having the final plant.

"You know people understand a lot better than planting? A menu," Rao determined.

I empathize with Rao's disconnect with his users, and respect his recognition that the gardening feature wasn't working. It's easy for a product developer to fall in love with certain features, and hard to finally decide to take them out.

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