Hey folks, Dave here!
Steam Game Festival was so much fun, and we were excited for everyone to get their hands on our demos. We’ve received a lot of positive feedback about First Class Trouble, and thought this was a good time to check in with the development team at Invisible Walls.
Read on to see what creator Niels Wetterberg has to say about First Class Trouble’s development, what was learned from the SGF demo, and how your feedback helps shape the player experience!
Q&A with Niels Wetterberg
First, a few fun facts:
- First Class Trouble was originally called Cainwood, and the very first prototype looked like this.
- In the recent Steam Game Festival demo, players wasted approximately 68,000 liters of First Class Bubbles…
- And 6,755 people went for a swim in the resort pool!
How has player feedback influenced your design process?
With the first project we did, Aporia: Beyond the Valley, we did extraordinarily little testing. It was sort of developed in a black box. I think this is a natural approach with a first project. There are certain things you need to do in order to get them out of your system.
With First Class Trouble, we knew from the very outset that we wanted to take a different approach – a more community-based approach. This involved getting the game out in a prototype or alpha state as soon as we possibly could. Back when we started the project in 2018, social deduction was still very niche and there was no Among Us, so it truly needed validation as well.
Before we sent out the alpha, we tested it at our offices and tried to mix up the games with strangers, so we wouldn’t get the ‘friend effect,’ where everyone is having fun. And something extremely interesting happened. Right after the play session, people would get up and stand around discussing the game at length, without us trying to instigate it – laughing and trying to understand who was who and what had happened.
We found that to be quite unique, and wanted to find a way to facilitate that reaction in the game. How do we get people to stay for the end game and have that cathartic moment? So, the Vruumbas were invented as a spectator mode which would keep people engaged till the end. A lot has happened with the Vruumbas since then, and a lot more is still to come.
We sent out the first alpha in May 2019. It was nerve-wracking to send a very unfinished game into the public; with grey boxed levels, two working mechanics and a bunch of half-working stuff, and endless crashes. But the few hundred people who tested the game were super nice and patient with us, and we quickly learned a lot about our game.
One of the main observations was that not all players were ‘part of the core loop’ all the time. It was very comparable to being in an escape room with a few friends. There are always a couple people who are more active in finding clues, and a couple more ‘passive’ players. We concluded that we needed to improve on the number of activities you could do while playing, so that everyone would feel engaged most of the time.
Players had also asked for a way to defend themselves. In an early version of the game, we had a flare gun, and found that the game too quickly became hide and seek, rather than a social game – so we had made a dogma that we would have no weapons.
On the other hand, we’d also pledged to listen to our players. It was a bit of dilemma. One night two people on the team created the champagne bottle mechanic. We immediately tested it, and it was a pretty big success. The next test showed that these types of ‘silly mechanics’ were popular and that we needed to add more of that humor to the game.
I think this speaks to the fact that it is great to get your game out early and listen to your players, and try to come up with great designs that meet their expectations as well as your own. It’s an approach that has now become completely embedded in us, and during the Steam Game Festival demo, we tried to quickly adjust those things our players identified as critical.
What surprised you the most during the Steam Game Festival demo?
The biggest surprise has been how the community has taken to the game. We have tried to add our team’s – at times – crude humor to the game, and didn’t know if this would translate well to bigger audiences. But we are excited to see that our “stupid ideas” have resonated with people and that they are laughing and having fun across the board.
On a game play level, we have always been beyond worried about building a game that may be too complex. Worried that there was too much stuff to do and that no one would understand the goal of the game. And we still think we need to implement more guidance, but it has been great to see people quickly picking up on it after playing it a few times. They are having fun from the outset, other players help them into the loop, and players continue to discover new facets of the game. So some of that worry has dissipated a bit.
How do you plan to keep listening to the community in the future as it grows?
We want to continue to have a hands-on approach with our community, no matter how big it grows, because it has been such a big help in the design of the game. Thus, it would feel very weird to suddenly shift gears on that. But we are aware that a bigger community comes with challenges. We have tried to talk to people around us, that have had success in growing big communities, and there are undeniably a lot of challenges to how you keep listening to feedback.
The obvious challenge is that you receive a lot more feedback and you need a game plan for how to take it all on board. However, a lot of that feedback is likely to be around some of the same things, validating that there is indeed a problem that needs to be addressed.
One of the other big challenges is considering all feedback before making any changes. For example, hardcore gamers play a lot more than the average player and will give different feedback. So, it becomes an increasingly difficult balance to make sure that your hardcore players are rewarded and kept engaged with your game, while also maintaining an overall casual experience. As designers, we will need to keep balancing this and I think the need for communication will grow; making sure everyone understands the decisions we make.
We also want to ensure that the community remains a fun and safe place to hang out. A few bad apples can quickly ruin the experience for everyone. And steps taken to mitigate bad behavior may have an impact on well-behaved players’ behavior, which is not optimal. So there will be some major challenges in ensuring we manage our community and the game well.
The feedback loop between player and developer is very close to our heart. Having worked in other creative fields, one of the great things about video games is that you have customers who are engaged and willing to share their ideas and feedback. If you make a movie, you do not screen it to 200,000 people and then go back and re-edit it. It is pure magic that you, as a community, can work on improving your experience together.
I don’t think we will ever let go of our appreciation of that.