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November 26, 2006

EL236 Beta test: subjects Alpha and Delta

I had two individuals play my IF game over break, neither of which had ever played Interactive Fiction before in their lives. I decided to make a list of simple commands and other tips that they could use.

Directions: You can type "go [direction]" or just the letter of the beginning of the direction, for example "s" to go south. In my game, you only need to use the basic compass directions: north, south, east, and west.

Helpful commands:
examine - use this to look at anything that is mentioned as an object (abbreviated "x")
"x me" - use this to look at yourself
inventory - use this command and the game will tell you what you are carrying with you (abbreviated "i")
look - use this to have the game restate where you are and what your surroundings are (this is helpful if you've tried a number of commands, and maybe they didn't work, so you may have forgotten where you are)
test me - use this at the beginning of the game if you'd like to see how the game runs (it'll run through a list of programmed commands so that you might get a feel for what actions to expect and what things you'll encounter)

I thought that this list broke the learning curve at least in half because these were things I wish I had known when I first started with IF.

So my first test subject, Alpha, is a middle-aged woman with nominal computer experience. She's an avid reader, though, so I thought this might interest her. By watching Alpha play, I noticed that she often tried to interact in ways I hadn't anticipated. Really, it seemed like she was expecting to be able to write the story herself. She typed in full sentences at first, also, until i noted to her that she didn't need to, and that simple commands would work just fine.

Alpha enjoyed the strange ideas in my game, and frequently laughed when she discovered something or read a particularly witty description of an object. I noted that she tried to type in full dialogue to the characters that I had in the game, which stalled her progress. (Again, I think she thought she was writing the game.)

Overall, Alpha enjoyed the game, she said. She restarted twice when she got lost with what she was doing. I allowed this since I know how frustrating it can be to feel like you're lost in a world that doesn't even exist... Alpha allowed me to show her the "test me" line, and she read through the story. She remarked that she still likes regular books better, but that she was glad I brought this to her to try.

The second test subject, Delta, is a fifteen year-old high schooler. He hadn't played IF before either, but enjoys when I show my schoolwork to him, so he actually volunteered before he knew I had a game for him to play.

Delta was enamored with the idea of being able to choose how the story would go. I explained that in more complex IF games there is a greater opportunity to actually "create" the story with the elements that the programmer/writer has put into the game itself. Mine, since it's just a beginner's text, isn't this complex and really has only a couple possibilities for being interchanged.

The tip list that I gave to Delta seemed to be very helpful. Delta is very acquainted with both computers and a variety of video gaming systems, so he had a strategy, it seemed, to progress through my game. I noticed that he asked for his inventory each time he took something. He also used the "look" command without regard--it seemed to me that he was used to having a constant visual to look at and that his way of making up for this lack of constancy was to be reminded of where he was and what he had at his own chosen intervals.

Delta progressed through the game very quickly and without hinderance. He laughed at descriptions of objects and said he really enjoyed the mish-mash of the place and time, and stories that happen in them. This comment made me think that perhaps Delta didn't expect to find zombies in an office building... But zombies could be anywhere (and nowhere!).

Overall, the subjects seemed to enjoy themselves. Although I did note some frustration at first in the both of them, they moved through the game with the help that I provided through the tips sheet. Their transcripts have been helpful for my revision, and have hopefully made the game much more player-friendly.

Posted by KarissaKilgore at November 26, 2006 6:31 PM


Glad to hear it, Karissa.

Posted by: Dennis G. Jerz at November 26, 2006 11:20 PM

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