The 2017 Halloween Game Expo was the first time I showcased any games since graduating college. It came at a great time: I was already remaking Qualdrin and this was the kind of milestone I needed. I'll be breaking down the lessons I learned into several articles, since I felt each deserved its own attention. Starting off is the feature I had the highest hopes for: the Bottom Feeder.
(To get familiar with the game, check this video of the older version.)
Bottom Feeder: The Hero
As I refined Qualdrin in college, two annoying problems continued to evade me:
The second point was infuriating. Even when the controls were explained, many players wouldn't try or realize they can move up and down. This may partially be due to how similar Qualdrin looks to Galaga, a game you can only move left and right in.
Years later, the "solution" came in the form of the Bottom Feeder. It’s a toothy smiling wall at the bottom of the screen that destroys the player when touched. It grows in size by consuming enemies players don’t destroy and shrinks back when hit by blocks.
Now players are better incentivized to destroy enemies. Otherwise their playspace will get smaller and harder to move in. And if a giant chomping wall was gaining on them, players’ survival instincts should kick in. So they’ll press the up key in a desperate attempt to flee!
A Flawed Hero
Problem #1: Nobody noticed the Bottom Feeder
Playtests before and during the expo revealed everyone’s eyes are glued to what’s coming down from the top of the screen. It was fun to hear some cheeky players ask as soon as they start, "What happens if I let the enemies pass me?" It wasn't quite as fun when the Bottom Feeder is triple its original size before they commented, “Hey, is that thing bigger?!”
When asked after playing, most players surmised the Bottom Feeder grew by eating enemies. But no one realized it shrunk from getting hit by your blocks, despite the frowning face it would display
Problem #2: Those survival instincts weren’t kicking in
Players who didn’t realize they could move up and down still steadfastly refused trying to press the up or down keys, even when they realized the Bottom Feeder could grow.
Problem #3: Not making players realize how powerful they are
Due to not realizing their blocks shrunk the Bottom Feeder, once the Bottom Feeder grew big enough, players played much worse. They feared destroying themselves with the limited space to move in so they fired less and hardly tried dodging.
The failure here is not conveying an important tool for empowering the player. Even when the Bottom Feeder gets large, knowing you can do something about it means you still have control in this situation. And gauging the size of the Bottom Feeder is a super simple metric for understanding how well you're doing.
What fate awaits our hero?
I knew the Bottom Feeder wasn't perfect. And I couldn't imagine how oblivious it would be to players. The solutions I've brainstormed should also help deal with other lessons I learned.
Now that you know all about the Bottom Feeder, I guess I can't ask if you noticed it or not. But you can still play and give it shot. Stay tuned for the next Reflection piece.
I'm Gerald Franklin, an aspiring game and interface designer.