Game Development Reference
A designer can also tailor a question to determine whether a player
perceived a specific thing. We should not ask, “Did you notice the door
on the left?” because the question itself gives players information that
might corrupt their answer. They'll often answer yes just to look smart
or to please the interviewer. A better question might be, “Tell me about
why you chose that path.” The playtester will either mention the door on
the left and why he didn't take it, or he will not. One indicates that it was
noticed and rejected; the other indicates that it might never have been
perceived at all.
Keep a professional, open tone. It's easy to become frustrated watch-
ing playtesters or listening to their feedback, especially when they don't
understand the game as it was intended. But any outward sign of this emo-
tion will make them clam up and stop giving honest answers. Playtesters
are doing you a favor, so treat them with gratitude.
It's wasteful to create full audio and art for a design only to discover upon
playtesting that it doesn't work. To avoid this, we can iterate in graybox .
A GRAYBOX is a low-fidelity placeholder version of a game mechanic,
system, or level.
I grayboxed extensively in my combat design process, but grayboxing
isn't just for levels—almost anything can be grayboxed. Cutscenes can be
replaced by still images or static text pop ups. Complex interfaces can be
replaced by labeled buttons. Sounds can be rendered with cheap synthe-
sized beeps and buzzes. Dialogue is read by a text-to-speech program or
rendered as on-screen text.
When BioWare developed Mass Effect 3 , the designers grayboxed crea-
tures. Early in development, a giant war robot would appear as a large cube
with two long rectangles underneath and two cubes attached to its sides
for arms. Another enemy—this one a tall yellow block—would grab the
hero with long yellow blocks attached to its sides. It looks bizarre, but it's
unmistakable what is happening, so the game is perfectly playable. These
graybox enemies allowed BioWare designers to test and iterate on their
creatures without investing in art for unproven designs.
Grayboxing speeds iteration. A graybox can be tested like a finished
game, but it might cost a hundred times less effort to build. Since most
ideas don't work, it's wasteful to implement them all with full art right
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