We were very fortunate to get to show “Austen Translation” at this year’s amazing Boston Festival of Independent Games (BFIG). It’s events like FIG that help a developer hone their elevator pitch and to refine and clarify how you talk about your game and how it works. Developers get to see firsthand how players who are brand new to their games approach the play, interact with it, and where they connect to the story.
One of the best aspects of participating in a show like this is the opportunity to have fresh, in-depth conversations with first-time players. Some of our favorite take-aways from showing “Austen Translation” are summarized below:
NOT EVEN SKIN-DEEP
AT uses a system of matching three numerical characteristics to determine who each bachelor wants to marry. At FIG these were listed as Beauty, Ruthlessness and Wit. We had a really interesting conversation with a player who looked confused after they finished the character customization phase. When we asked, we were told that they expected their avatar’s appearance to change when the Beauty score was increased or decreased. Which made us realize that we were thinking of Beauty in the larger sense, encompassing appearance, but also grace and generosity and a lot of other intangibles. The label of Beauty seemed too specific and it seemed to be getting in the way of players understanding the design intent. Moving forward, we’ll be calling that attribute Charm, which is both a more flexible and a more truthful label.
THE PLOT THINS
There is a certain sub-group of Austen players who aren’t as interested in the strategic aspects and are more focused on the story parts (I’m one of them). So their decisions may not be the soundest tactically, but they feel right for their character in that moment, and winning in the traditional sense isn’t always at the top of their list. After one of these players finished their round they asked me, “So what happened to my character?” “Well,” I replied, parroting the intro text “She died in poverty because you didn’t marry your bachelor.” We had made the design decision early on that the more successful you were in the game the more in-depth your ending would go, and that if you didn’t even manage to get a proposal, you were basically dropped from the story entirely. This was not a good answer for this player and seems a little dismissive in hindsight. “But I wanted to see it,” they replied (reasonably enough). “I want to know what happened to this character I created and rooted for." With this in mind, we went back to draft a set of endings for every player. Not only does this give us a sense of completeness for everyone, it allowed us to layer in a whole set of messages questioning what it means to “win” a game like AT.
READING IS TRULY FUNDAMENTAL
With it’s conspicuously literary theming, it seemed impossible to envision “Austen” as a game without text. Of some sort. Of some amount. But we’ve been concerned about where that right balance between text and game flow might be. Watching people play at FIG showed us that folks actually read the text, which was a tremendous relief. They read, they laughed, they followed the story and felt something for their heroines. So the balance may not be exactly right yet, it’s at least working on some level.
We want to thank everyone who came out and played AT and especially the folks who stayed to talk with us about the game in more depth. Our thanks also go out to the BFIG organizers and their volunteers who always do an amazing job. We’re already looking forward to next year’s event!
Worthing and Moncrieff, LLC is an independent developer of video game stories founded in 2015.