Alternity Design Blog #13: Our Playtest Process

alternity metalWe’ve just released the Beta version of our Alternity Quickstart Guide (now available as a free download on DriveThruRPG), which provides an introduction to the gameplay and systems we’re creating for the Alternity Sci-Fi RPG. We’ve already had hundreds of playtesters involved in our Alpha release, and we are working diligently at evaluating the feedback we’ve already received while also gearing up to get even more responses from our beta test. For this design blog, Stephen’s here to elaborate upon our playtesting process: what can we learn, and how do we get that information? Read on!

With the new design of the Alternity game, we’ve revisited and evaluated every component of the game system. But our initial design is just the start. Throughout the Beta process we’ll be revisiting and refining the various subsystems, making adjustments based on our own testing as well as external feedback. While emails, tweets, or facebook messages are a way to get information to us, our preferred method of getting feedback is through our survey tools.

img_7590With over 100 Alpha playtest groups, it was necessary to focus the feedback to answer a few specific questions. Getting a whole bunch of responses directed at a particular issue is much more helpful and actionable for us compared to getting answers to hundreds of different questions. A lot of feedback on something like the initiative system gives us a better sense of the range of responses, which helps us to us understand if that system is working and also identify outlier responses that don’t seem to fit with the bulk of the feedback. If we had only a handful of responses on initiative, for example, it’s harder for us to determine if an individual response is representative of what most groups would share.
For our first iteration of playtesting, we wanted to get input on issues that have a big impact on the game, and we want to get them right. We sent a survey link out that addressed those specific questions:

  • The Core Mechanic. Does the d20 + difficulty die system make sense? The general sense we got is that the core mechanic is solid. We need to clean up some language, but the concept of roll two dice and compare to a target number works well.
  • Initiative and Turn Sequence. In our system, every action has a time cost measured in impulses. After you take an action of n impulses, you take your next action n impulses later. The responses to this were mixed – in some tables it worked fine, but others found it too cumbersome. We still think the concept will work, but it does need more refinement. We want to be sure that tracking this is straightforward, and we’ll continue to iterate on this concept and make the rules clearer.
  • Speed of Play. We gathered data on how long each table played and how far they got through the adventure. We want to get a good sense of how much content is needed for a good three to four hour gaming window. It also gives us insight as to how much time at the table is spent with a combat encounter. This helps us understand the needs for episode/adventure design.
  • We also provided a space in our survey for more general feedback, and got a range of responses, many of which we are still evaluating or implementing.

This time around for the Beta release we have an order of magnitude more downloads. This is great for us, and we welcome the challenge of working through even more playtest responses and reports. We’ll still direct the feedback to some specific questions. We want to continue getting speed of play feedback. We also want to take a look at our damage and durability system, to make sure that combat feels dangerous and exciting (Rich recently discussed this in his blog). With an even wider net to cast, we want to get a sense of the genres of sci-fi our prospective players are interested in exploring, which will help us shape the product line for the months to come.

We’ll soon be posting a new survey for playtest feedback – and we’ll send a link out to those that have downloaded the Beta. If you’ve played through the Alternity Beta release or even just read through the PDF, your feedback will be appreciated. We expect there may still be minor inconsistencies or typos – if you do provide feedback, pointing out those errors will be helpful, but our priority is evaluating and iterating on the core systems. At this Beta stage we haven’t gone through a full development or editing pass, but rest assured those steps are part of our overall plan. Ultimately, our goal is to make sure the rules are clear and make sense in the context of the game.

Thanks for reading, and keep an eye out for Alternity on Kickstarter very soon!