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Help me playtest my new demo for In Retrospect! It’s almost finished and I need some real feedback!

Hey all! Believe it or not, In Retrospect, my nearly 7 years in the making musical action platformer / runner game, is nearing completion! It might even release this year! (More likely is next year, but I’m trying to be optimistic.) I need to get some serious feedback before I can finalize some things and pull the trigger on a release.

So try out my new demo! It has 4 “story” stages and 4 “challenge” stages (and the challenge stages have leaderboards, so you can compete against other NWers for the top spots!) The demo story mode will probably take most people 15-30 minutes to complete. The challenge stages add another 5-10 minutes or so, if you only play them once.

Unfortunately I only have a PC build at the moment. I do still plan to make a Mac version but I'm focusing on getting this done first. (And yes, eventually I'd love to release on consoles, but... we'll see.)

There are two places you can access the demo, Steam and Itch. (If you have do not have a Steam account, anyone can access the Itch demo without an account.)

Demo on Steam (click the "Download Demo" button on the right-side menu a bit down the page, launch through Steam)
Demo on Itch (click the "Download" button near the bottom of the page, unzip the file, and click the .exe to launch)

And if you REALLY love me, you will fill out this short feedback form after playing through the 4 story mode stages (or giving up, if you can't finish them.) And also get a screenshot (or at least copying down the information) of the screen you see when finishing the story mode (you can also access it at any time in the main menu under “STATISTICS” if you forget to screenshot it when finishing the story mode.)

Feedback Form

But even if you don’t do the form, you can add your feedback here. The main things I am looking for feedback on:

1. Any bugs you may find
2. Any unclear or confusing parts
3. Whether the default difficulty in the story mode feels right, and whether the difficulty feels like it progresses stage to stage

But really, any feedback is appreciated!

ALSO, after you create an online username you will see an option to join an online community (it’s really just a way to filter the leaderboards so you can also see just your community’s scores.) If you're part of Negative World, the code for the NW community is: nw999

Thanks in advance to anyone who helps me out here, and let me know if you have any questions about anything!

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Posted: 07/11/20, 22:00:22  - Edited by 
 on: 12/17/20, 21:01:26
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Played it for about 15 minutes! I played the first story level and a couple challenge stages.

First off: this game has come together so well. The art is great, the music is obviously excellent, and the whole tone feels super on point. I enjoyed what I played of it!

As far as stuff I ran into that either didn't make sense or didn't feel right, here are the nitpicky notes I wrote down:

-Hide the mouse cursor when the game starts

-Textbox for creating a username was little janky, didn't register input at first

-I didn't like the "Press Y to Skip" flashing in the bottom right corner the whole time.

-I think the pacing of the text boxes could use some work. Rather than have the full sentence be written out really fast, and then a pause between boxes, maybe have the text appear more slowly and then less of a pause? Undertale does this thing where different characters appear at different speeds. So, after a comma appears, there's a .05 second pause before the next character appears, whereas with a period there's a .2 second pause. But this is up to your taste as a director for what you want the vibe of the cutscenes to be! During the opening, I dug the chill kinda peaceful etherealness of it, but I was also wishing it'd go a little faster.

-After the first level, when choosing memories, four appear, and then they fade away, and then four more fade in. I didn't realize that these second four were different from the first four, so in the split second between me seeing them fade in and me reading the text I accidentally chose the one that corresponded to the one in the first four that I wanted to pick.

-Bug: I beat the first level, save and quit, checked challenge menu, saw it had two stages unlocked, created my name for then leaderboards, then when I backed out the resume story mode option said "Resume at Chapter 4 (or however it's phrased)", and choosing it did indeed take me to Chapter 4. Then when I backed out, I checked the challenge menu again and had four challenges unlocked.

-I'd like it if the Escape button paused the game! It should also quit the game on the title screen, there's no seamless way to do that in full screen mode.

-Can you not air dash in the first challenge level?

Don't have replay be default option
Posted: 07/12/20, 03:41:05
Will try to give it a whirl after our game is done. We're in crunch time now, deadline under a week. Congrats on almost being finished, though!
Posted: 07/12/20, 21:56:27
@Secret_Tunnel Thanks for the feedback! Super helpful!

I'm going to address it one by one just to help myself make sense of things, etc. and see if there are some things you can clarify for me.

-Hide the mouse is exactly the kind of thing I need to hear, because not playing PC games much, it never even occurred to me to think about something like this, though it is so obvious once hearing it.

-Ok so Unity textbox focusing... I DON'T GET IT. It's so inconsistent! And I looked up solutions, and everyone is just like it's inconsistent, not much you can do about it but keep hacking away at it until you get it to work. Sometimes it works perfectly. Sometimes it doesn't work until you tab a few times. On occasion it just plain refuses to work at all. I really can't figure it out and to be honest, I tried and tried and now I'm just beating my head against a wall so I probably won't try much more. It seems to just be a thing with Unity's textbox focusing.

-I actually only added that because I playtest the demo and some people get very impatient in public playtests and just want to get to the action. What would be a better way to let the player know they CAN skip stuff? Maybe just have it appear once at the beginning in a prominent spot and then disappear?

-I'll probably play around a bit with this more in the future. It's tough to find the right balance for text speed in a runner because you can't really just stop the action and wait until the player has fully read it and moves on. But I definitely know the way it is now is not ideal, I get annoyed at it too sometimes, heh.

-HMM. I guess I need to make the "choices" section more clear. I've been trying to keep the amount of text in the game down but maybe some brief explanation of what to expect the first time through or something?

-Just to clarify, the demo only has stages 1, 4, 6 and 7 in it. Not sure if it is clear that it is supposed to be like this or not. I guess I could make it a bit more clear. Anyway, as to the bug, that's not actually a bug per se but it might be a stupid design choice. My logic with the challenge stages is I wanted them to unlock as soon as possible for a player, but only once they have seen the kind of powers / enemies / etc. that would be in the corresponding story stages first. So the challenge actually unlock at the BEGINNING of a story stage, even though you don't see the unlock message until you finish it. So if you started stage 4, it would unlock all challenges stages that getting to stage 4 unlocks (which is actually all of the ones in the demo.) But I forget if you get the unlock message if you just quit a stage in the middle. HMM. Either way I can see how this would be confusing. Maybe I should just only unlock challenge stages when someone finishes a story stage, so the unlock message would appear every time right away.

-Is escape to pause a common thing in PC games? (I feel like I asked this before.) The Q button quits the game from the main menu but I think I use escape for some things too so I need to just get something consistent there.

-You can't. I really struggled with how to explain which powers you would and wouldn't have in any given challenge stage and right now it is just some text in the right-side menu that shows up when you are hovering over a stage name. I went back and forth a lot in whether I should even have challenge stages restrict certain powers to begin with but I wanted challenge stages to be open from essentially the start, but to not contain any powers a player hasn't had in the story mode yet. Maybe that's a bad idea, I dunno. But yeah the first challenge stage I wanted to be SUPER DUPER EASY so there are no enemies and just jumping, which might be confusing because you already get the air dash in the first story stage and most people would probably play that before the first challenge stage. HMMM.

-So, very curious about your reasoning. The game originally had a game over screen that the player could choose to continue or quit from (and it took awhile to get the new auto-continue working, because I ran into a lot of weird bugs reloading immediately instead of going to a game over screen first.) My logic was... 9 times out of 10 the player will want to try again, because the only other things to do are go play challenge stages, dick around in the leaderboards, or completely quit, so it's just wasted time loading a game over screen and making them select to play again every time. You can still quit out from the pause menu if you're done.

I remember awhile back comparing the time it took to get back to playing when you died in New Super Mario Bros U versus BIT.TRIP RUNNER and it was like 16 seconds to 2 seconds or something. I MUCH preferred RUNNER's way of just throwing you right back into the game as soon as possible. I noticed a ton of indie games do that now too, and I thought basically everyone preferred this? Which is why I switched to it. Am I missing something?! What would you suggest instead?
Posted: 07/13/20, 04:09:27  - Edited by 
 on: 07/13/20, 04:13:46
If you die a lot, and levels are short, auto-restart makes sense. If you want the player to not experience a "game over" very often, it should be more like Mario where you know you failed and have to select retry. My thoughts on auto-replay, anyway. Like you, Zero, I hate when it takes forever to retry. Huge pet peeve. I am pissed I failed, and I want another crack, dang it.

"Five days? But I'm mad now!"
Posted: 07/13/20, 16:06:30
@J.K. Riki

Oooh, my last "Don't have replay be default option" was an unedited note I copy/pasted that I didn't see at the bottom of my post! Oops, should've expanded on that: I meant it specifically for when you beat a Challenge stage! I would assume that the default option would be something like "Continue to Stage List."

I think that remembering stuff like P is Pause, Q is Quit is harder than just using Escape for everything; I think PC players typically go for Escape! That's my instinct anyway.

I thought that the bug was that Stage 4 got unlocked right after Stage 1, unlocking each challenge level as you arrive at a new story stage made sense to me, I knew what was going on. But I do think it'd make more sense to have the challenge stage unlock after you beat the story stage, that way you have an entirely brand new level to look forward to, or an optional side replay thing to do if you desire... whereas I can't imagine anyone wanting to play the challenge stage before the story stage!
Posted: 07/13/20, 17:58:03
I squeezed in some time to playtest between the thousand hours of playtesting our game before release, ha ha. Here are some quick thoughts and I apologize I can't write longer and more detailed stuff but hope even this will help as you finish up.

First of all, it's amazing how far it's come! Well done. The quality is superb. I could talk a lot more about the great stuff, but you are looking for feedback so let me focus on what is probably most helpful to know from a playtester's perspective.

- I agree with S_T that the flashing "Y to Skip" was super distracting and pulled you out of the story. It was impossible not to have the eye drawn toward it. Just making it steady and a light gray, barely visible, will be fine. Also agree with him that ESC rather than P for pause makes sense. You have to hunt for P, ESC is easy to just hit even in a tense moment.

- The opening feels very slow, which I expect is an artistic choice on your part, but taking control of how fast (or slow) a person has to read the story can really harm the feel of the game for many gamers. Have you thought about allowing people to press space (or whatever) when they are ready for the next text box? It felt dragging, except one time when I didn't get to the last few words before it disappeared, and I wanted to hit the button and keep reading at my own pace but had to wait until the game said I could.

- During the "I'm ready" or "I need time" choice, is there a reason you have the affirmative one be on the left? Generally speaking since we read left to right the "go forward" option is on the right and the "go back" option is on the left. That felt confusing when I got to that choice.

- I found an instant natural affinity for the section where you run through the clouds with Dee and answer questions using the arrow keys. It's great, and I would happily do that for a lot longer. But... then as I was reading and thinking about my choice, they disappeared at one point. This made me anxious, because I felt like I only had a second to choose or I would lose the chance, and it didn't let me, well, have any change for retrospection. Like the first thing up there, some people are slower readers, so they would struggle with that.

- I got to the falling in space level and had to quit. It was a cool thing, and design-wise really neat, but the spinning sections made me literally dizzy and feel sick. I ended up dying because I was so disoriented and I just quit there because I needed to stop the room spinning. I'm sorry. I may not be your target audience in that case, but also you may want to know that bit (especially so early on in the game) is going to affect some people extremely negatively. I'm still feeling woozy now as I type this, so I'll wrap up there and get away from screens for a while.

Keep up the good work, it's coming along well!
Posted: 07/17/20, 04:20:51
J.K. Riki said:
- During the "I'm ready" or "I need time" choice, is there a reason you have the affirmative one be on the left? Generally speaking since we read left to right the "go forward" option is on the right and the "go back" option is on the left. That felt confusing when I got to that choice.

I noticed this as well! Wasn't sure if there was some deep meaning behind why it's the way it is, since the way it is isn't what I'd expect.
Posted: 07/17/20, 06:30:57
BTW, how "smooth" did the movement feel to you guys? Another playtester told me it was very choppy movement for them, but they said their framerate was fine, which... is confusing to me. They seemed to think I coded movement wrong, but for me it feels smooth unless the actual framerate is having issues (and I cleaned things up so that USUALLY there are no framerate issues on my crappy laptop anymore, so on any decent computer that shouldn't really be an issue.) And the movement does sync to the music (more or less), so it moves pretty consistently.

@J.K. Riki I think the opening is slow as well. You probably didn't notice that the dialog windows actually match the beat of the song, because no one seems to notice this. And the song is slow, so it means it takes foreverrrr for the next one to pop up! Plus, since the player has some choices to make that they can take however much time they want, it throws that off anyway. There are other points in the game where this makes more sense, it might not be worth forcing it there.

I actually didn't really think of the ready versus need more time thing as a forward or back thing, I guess, more like a stay still or move forward thing. But two votes for it feeling backwards means it is probably backwards.

J.K. Riki said:
But... then as I was reading and thinking about my choice, they disappeared at one point. This made me anxious, because I felt like I only had a second to choose or I would lose the chance, and it didn't let me, well, have any change for retrospection.

One of the big mistakes I made in this game that I'm going to try to learn from and not repeat next time is that I made a lot of decisions early on based on my THEME more than on what actually feels best. In this case, I actually wanted the choices to have to be kind of instant, can't think too long have to just pick something and roll with it, because well... that's how life feels to me, in retrospect. A lot of the major (and minor) decisions I have made in my life weren't actually super long thought out things, but just kind of (relatively) snap decisions that had lifelong consequences. You know, like "I clicked on this girl's profile, and now it is 10 years later and we're married" or "I sent out this job interview, and now it is 10 years later and..." I'm FAR from an impulsive person, but when I look back on things time all kind of blurs together, so everything FEELS like it was pretty quick draw you have to make a decision or you lose the moment.

So I kind of wanted to represent that in game form. But maybe I'm the only person who feels this way about life! And even if it makes sense, if it feels sucky in game form, it's not worth forcing! I do think that part happens too fast though, and of course, like everything else, it's synced to the beat of the music, which means it is hard to just slightly change the timing without messing all of that up. Another thing I will NEVER do is make a design where so much is synced to the music! Interesting in theory, a HUGE HASSLE to develop though, because you can't easily just make small shifts on things to tweak it all until it feels right.

I have to be honest though, this game went through so many changes that a lot of the original THEME stuff has been lost along the way anyway. I kind of, at this point, wish I had just made a fun runner without the THEME stuff getting in the way, heh. But maybe it will give it a little more depth, I dunno.

I never really thought about the spinning stuff making people sick. I was actually helping a friend playtest a 3D game involving gravity switching and walking up walls and such and before I knew it, I was in his bathroom wondering if I was going to puke. (I didn't, but it was a close one!) I wonder if these is any way to make it not have the same effect while keeping the screen spin? Probably not though. Hmm.
Posted: 07/17/20, 11:44:28  - Edited by 
 on: 07/17/20, 11:48:27

A quick and dirty solution to the textboxes going too fast might be something similar to what this Youtube channel does whenever they display text on the screen, with the little pie loading thing. Check out 2:41 in this video:

This specific example is weird because the text stays up for a couple seconds after the loading thing disappears, usually they're synced perfectly!

To me, the annoyance is less the speed at which the text disappears, and moreso not knowing the speed at which the text disappears. Modern Rogue solved this problem for everyone, I've never seen anyone else do this and it works great!
Posted: 07/17/20, 18:14:49

All fair points! None of it is game-breaking (well, maybe minus the spinning for some, ha ha) so no worries. Just offering the feedback. :)

I do like the theme, and honestly if I had more patience I think the opening synced to the music and such would be fantastic. I've just gotten spoiled by our quick-paced gaming of today where I can't sit still, I guess. Or, like, if it is a "cutscene" it maybe feels different? If I feel like I'm watching a movie, I can hold still for text just fine. It is just when it feels like I should be able to advance the dialogue but can't that the slowness is felt. I dunno. That's probably not super useful, but figured I'd type the thoughts as I was thinking them.

The wonderful thing about gamedev that I've found in the past two and a half years is that you learn such a crazy amount each game, which only improves things going forward! So it's great you know the lessons from this one, and I bet that's going to make whatever comes next even more fantastic than it would otherwise have been. :)

Regarding the screen spin, I don't remember being sick during the old Sonic bonus level sections, and it had a similar spin, right? Maybe you could see what they did and if there's something to incorporate/remove. My wife (who gets carsick at the drop of a hat, so this stuff is important to her) was telling me that in Mirror's Edge the developer added like a small dot or something? And that helped people. So maybe there's an easy solution, no idea. If not, just a quick "this game contains effects that may make people dizzy" warning at the start will at least help folks know it could be something to be on the lookout for, ha ha.

I wonder if just slowing down the spin would help? If it rotated a little less quickly, that might be more gentle on the eyes/vertigo.

EDIT: Also, did you want feedback from people other than just NW? If so I'm happy to tweet out the link to the Steam page with the demo and let folks know. Otherwise I can do that after release to hopefully spark a few extra sales, if you'd prefer.
Posted: 07/17/20, 18:30:20  - Edited by 
 on: 07/17/20, 18:33:07
@Secret_Tunnel I actually thought about something like that with a bar or something, might do it.

@J.K. Riki I would love more feedback from anywhere! To be honest I expected more here *coughs* WHERE IS EVERYBODY?! *cough* but all I've gotten so far is you 2 here, 1 guy on Twitter, and a handful of "I'm totally going to!" responses that may or may not come through in the end. As much as it is not easy to hear things wrong about your game, it's super useful. A lot of it is just confirming what I already sort of knew, like some of the dialog pacing and such, but it helps to hear other people say it. And some of it is stuff I never even really thought about because I don't game on PC much, liking hiding the cursor when the game starts.

What SUCKS is that we HAD regular playtest events in Chicago every other month where I'd say on average I'd get 5-10 people playing my game each event and I could just stand there and watch and though I had no formal process for gathering feedback, people would often just say whatever was on their mind, which gave me good feedback. But then Covid happened. So I finally have a more structured demo ready but those events are no more, for the foreseeable future. I've tried to find online equivalents but those never seem to get much response.
Posted: 07/17/20, 22:33:05  - Edited by 
 on: 07/17/20, 23:31:12

Sounds good, will tweet it out. No idea if that will get responses, but hey, more spreading the word doesn't hurt!

Also I forgot to respond to the question above, yes, it looked very smooth on my machine, which is "a decent PC though getting older." I'm not sure what choppiness they were speaking to, it seemed solid to me. And framerate is one of those few things I actually notice, what with being an animator, ha ha. So all good here, but maybe it was a specific part of a specific level I didn't get to?

EDIT: Okay, tweeted it out on my account, and will do the same for the Weekend Panda account tomorrow morning (it has more European followers, and at this point I fear it's too late in the day).

Also when you promote it, I'd vote lead with this image. It's great. Maybe you could add the logo to it? I think it is the most attention-getting of the ones posted.
Posted: 07/17/20, 23:19:01  - Edited by 
 on: 07/17/20, 23:39:06
@J.K. Riki He said it was constant and worst in the cloud areas, which I think you got to. I dunno. It's smooth on my crap laptop. Obviously you can't predict this but I feel like MOST PC gamers game on systems with much better specs than my laptop, so my logic is if I get things running smooth on my machine, that's enough. Maybe he has his settings all weird.

Developing for PC is the worst. I want to just do a closed system like the Switch. Get it working fine on one, it works fine on all! (More or less.)

He also had some issues getting his controller to connect, which for me it always works fine, but I don't totally understand controllers on PC. Like, I only "officially" support Xbox 360 controllers but it seems most controllers work off that structure so if you support 360 controllers, a bunch of other ones work too? I dunno. I actually use my Wii U Pro controller when I test controllers, I have this dongle that tricks my PC into thinking it is a 360 controller.
Posted: 07/17/20, 23:32:11  - Edited by 
 on: 07/17/20, 23:35:28
Zero said:

I want to just do a closed system like the Switch. Get it working fine on one, it works fine on all!

Man do I hear that. I tear my hair out with mobile's random variations. On Mobile you have to worry about the wonkiest stupidest aspect ratios in the world. Apple and their "It is three times longer than it is high, durrrrr!" So maddening.

Posted: 07/17/20, 23:44:39
I haven't been able to touch it much, but the only thing that jumped out to me was that my main character had a thin horizontal line at the top of their head. Almost like it's the border of a hitbox or something. I will have to take a screeenshot of it if I remember!
Posted: 07/20/20, 20:45:01
@PogueSquadron I... thought I fixed that. Hmm. I definitely know what you mean though, I've seen it before. The texture must not be loading correctly or something. I keep trying different things that seem to work and it keeps coming back though.

See, it was even in my "Completed?! - Bug Fixes That Seem To Be Fixed?" column in Trello!

I guess it was not fixed though. Good to know that. OOF.

The weird thing though is, I do the main character sprites and animations the same way I do any other object in the game, and I'm not seeing the same issue with other objects. Or I did d them the same, though I've tried various things to get this to go away since. WHAT THE HECK, GAME DEV.

Did it consistently do this for you, or just sometimes? When I first noticed it, it was only sometimes for me, so it's tough to know when it is fixed. I haven't seen it happen on my machine since the last fix I tried awhile back. I suspect it is also related to what resolution the game is run on / etc. though if I get it working correctly that shouldn't matter at all.

Did anyone else run into this?
Posted: 07/20/20, 21:25:53  - Edited by 
 on: 07/20/20, 21:43:32

I did not notice the line when I played, no. My heart goes out to you for such things, though, ha ha. I freaking hate when little issues like that crop up and it doesn't seem like there's a reason why it is happening! Gamedev can be a joy, and also a pain in the butt.
Posted: 07/20/20, 21:51:35
BTW I tried a quick fix to the line about the character's head issue based on some Unity help thing I found online so both the Steam and Itch sites have the new build up. That's the only change is that fix. If you have the Steam demo it can be updated through Steam, if you want the latest Itch you would have to go download it again. But I guess if you never had the issue to begin with, you don't need the update.

Pogue said it fixed it on his machine so... hopefully... it's fixed for good? I keep thinking that with this issue though and it keeps popping back up...
Posted: 07/21/20, 05:07:15  - Edited by 
 on: 07/21/20, 05:12:11
Anyone else?!

All feedback is helpful feedback!

PS. I haven't had a ton of time to work on the game lately but I've been using the above feedback to make changes which I think are making for a better game, so thanks!
Posted: 08/04/20, 00:10:54  - Edited by 
 on: 08/04/20, 02:40:59
Not sure if it's worth mentioning, but the game seemed to run in 4k as it did on my monitor. I tried playing in Big Picture Mode on Steam and my XBox One controller didn't register. It was giving me controller prompts, but my button presses weren't doing anything.
Posted: 08/05/20, 20:30:18
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