An Invitation to Innovation

Stitchcraft is now in closed beta testing!  If you're interested in playing the game and providing constructive feedback, please read on to find out how you can get an early stall in the Azetta street markets right now!  Invitees will receive a key to redeem on Steam that allows them to play the current testing build on Windows machines.

Stipulations for Sanctioned Sorcery 

Please consider the following three basic expectations I have for participants in the closed beta test.  If you wish, click on each one to toggle further information.  For an explanation of why I think this is important, click the button below.

Gamers and game developers have an odd relationship right now with regards to the evolution of the "early access" movement.  When the idea of early access first came to be, I think that the intentions were pure.  I think these were mostly games that were believed to be past the majority of the technical portions of testing, and they wanted feedback from gamers about how the fun in the near-final product could be maximized.

As is wont to happen with almost everything in life, over time, we've had too much of this "good" thing.  Since early access is often monetized, history has shown that there are developers and publishers who are willing to take advantage of their customers by selling unfinished games, some of which never make it to a completed status at all.  That behavior opened the door for gamers, developers, and publishers all to be wary of exactly what's going on at this stage of the product in question.  Once the promise implied by "early" meant that some games were never made "final", I think gamers began adopting more expectation of completion during this stage as a sort of consumer protection.   I think this is reasonable behavior, but it hurts the ability for an honest developer to achieve the goal originally set by the first successful "early access" release candidates.

I think this is why Steam has developers answer the early access interview questions that you see at the top of their early access titles.  Valve seems to be trying to make sure that both the developers and the consumers are on the same page as to what is expected relationship in an early access purchase.   I agree that this is important, so I would like to set my expectations for players that wish to participate in the closed beta test, as well.  These expectations boil down to the three basic requests I make below.  I think these are generally applicable to any closed beta test you may participate in, and I think most players will find them very reasonable.  That being said, if you happen to find yourself in disagreement with any of them, please just wait for the game to release before you try it out!

 

TL; DR: There are going to be bugs; I'll even tell you a few in the next section.  You haven't paid for the game yet, so if you can't get past being annoyed by a bug, don't ask for a key.

My friends, family, and I have played dozens of games of Stitchcraft both solo and online already.  I have also played hundreds of games against the AI during my own development and testing.  The feedback I've gotten so far suggests that the game is a lot of fun, and necessary core for playing the game has been in place for months.  

desperately want you to have fun playing my game as well, because I have an enormous investment of time in this project.  However, this is not an "early access" version of the game; the keys are being provided free of charge.  The whole point of this testing round is to identify problems in the game that need to be fixed; this practically guarantees that at some point, one of these problems is going to be a nuisance to you and detract from the fun you have playing.  

This is a tough chicken-and-egg problem for all developers, not just game developers, though the metric for other kinds of software might be something like "efficiency", "usability", or "throughput" instead of "fun".  I've tried my best to root out the bugs that would prevent you from having a normal play experience.  I don't want the software to get in the way of you having fun, and correspondingly, I want you to be able to provide me feedback on the quality of the underlying game, as well.  Bugs are inevitable though, and I need your help catching them.

If you are uncomfortable with the idea that you may sometimes be unable to play the game, that you might be disconnected from or crashed out of a game you're in the middle of playing, that you may have to be inconvenienced by features that are unrefined or unfinished, and so on, perhaps you should just wait until the game has been officially released.  I will do my very best to ensure any problems are resolved before a player can pay for the game, but the reason you can get a key so easily right now for free is that several things remain to be polished.

TL; DR: Giving good feedback is hard.  If you don't do it routinely as part of your job, you're probably bad at it, just like I'm bad at writing concisely.  I know this is a lot to read, but you'll be 100x more helpful if you read it.  In the end, remember there are reasons why I might not take action, even if your feedback is well-crafted.

Putting together a team to evaluate a body of work is a pretty tough task, in my experience.  The test hosts seeking feedback want to get pointed and constructive feedback without the evaluators getting lost in the minutiae of problems that are already well-known and being addressed.  On the other hand, describing the well-known problems ahead of time runs the risk of putting an evaluator in a biased mental context or having them gloss over a new facet of problems the test hosts weren't yet aware of.  On the opposite side, evaluators often have problems looking past non-critical problems in order to evaluate the remaining portions of the work, even when those problems are already documented.  Furthermore, both parties can be at odds when the evaluators feel their feedback is being ignored in cases where the test hosts disagree with the feedback and therefore make no changes.

There is no perfect way of dealing with these issues, but I think transparency is the best solution for mitigating them.  In the spirit of that transparency, please consider the following when evaluating the game.

  • If you think you've seen a bug or other technical problem, please share it.  It would help if you can take a screenshot and describe the circumstances in which you observed the problem.  Most bugs you'll see at this stage of development will either be known or transient.  Particularly in the case of a transient issue, knowing the context of what was happening at the time the bug occurred will make it easier for me to reproduce it, which is a key step in finding and fixing it.

  • I don't mind at all when you share a bug with me that I already know about, but out of corresponding consideration on the flip side, please be patient if I don't acknowledge or address a particular bug right away.  Sometimes, there are excellent reasons for a decision to delay action on a particular issue; I'll provide two current examples of such decisions later.

  • Once you have acknowledged a particular issue, please try to separate that from evaluating other parts of the game unless they are directly connected.  For example, if I asked you whether or not you had fun playing the game, I'm interested in hearing about a disconnected match separately from that question.  The disconnected match clearly interfered with you having fun, but that's not the purpose of my question.  The purpose of my question is to find out whether or not the game itself is engaging, whether a particular Pattern is more fun than the others, whether or not the game can still be engaging to two opponents of disparate skill, and so on.

  • Please remember that while feedback on the design elements of the game is very important to me, a single individual's feedback may not be actionable in a vacuum.  There may be some facet of the game that you do or don't like that 50 other players feel the opposite way about.  Furthermore, even a large consensus of players is no guarantee that a change will be made.  This is my prerogative as a designer, just like it will be your prerogative later whether or not you choose to buy the game!

  • You're likely to be surprised by a few issues that are still in the game, but remember that your evaluation context and mine are not the same.  The best example is that at the time of this writing, you are likely to notice that the 2nd, 3rd, and 4th tapestries of the same color in a given showcase may sometimes be occluded by the 1st, hanging tapestry of that color.  This is due to a performance vs accuracy trade-off in the particle physics engine that can sometimes place portions of the hanging cloth on the wrong side of the colliders for the rolled tapestries during periods of high motion such as when a new tapestry is spawned into that set.  This has more relevance to me as the developer than you as a Windows PC player (since this is the only platform currently in the test), because I am also intending to eventually release the game for mobile devices where that performance trade-off is directly related to battery drain.  I could solve it in the PC version of the game right now by just cranking up the allowed solver iterations from 5 up to something like 100, but that's entirely not the point.  The problem needs to be solved by making slightly different choices in scene arrangement and wind dynamics, but since I'm also considering a major rework of the background and scene arrangement, doing that right now would be silly!

Here is an example of some of my own notes I made about the difference between how the Loom and Attrition Patterns felt to play.  You can use these as examples of what I think good feedback looks like; hopefully these will give you some ideas about the kinds of information that I'm hoping to get back from testers.  Happily, these are positive notes, because I think the two Patterns did an excellent job of providing a much different gameplay feel, but if you have critical feedback that you can describe in a comparable level of detail, I might be even more interested in that.

  • Attrition feels like a blood bath compared to Loom, because there are a lot more ways to interfere with your opponent - Plunder, Restock, Sabotage all now have some level of active aggression that was not part of their color identity in Loom.  I think the set is more about progressive strategic maneuvering instead of individual turn tactics.  I think is somewhat counter-intuitive because an individual tapestry has a lot more value in a game where it can be permanently removed, and recurrence opportunities via Reprieve are a lot more rare, due to both the fact that fewer tapestries are scrapped than in Loom (due to being removed instead) and the fact that Vanish removes itself, compared to Moths being a high-priority recurrence target in Loom.  High individual card value seems to suggest to me that it has important tactical value.  However, the strategy of soft-locking an opponent out of a color is much stronger in a situation where the cards can be gone instead of scrapped, and that is a long-term strategic goal, not a tactical one.  Moreover, since there are much fewer opportunities for a tapestry to knock an opponent back from a win condition ("used" Vanish can't be recurred with Reprieve; fewer recurrence opportunities from Gambit/Banish; some opportunities will be Plundered), more careful consideration must be given to using them for a tactical vs strategic advantage.

  • Because soft-locking colors is an easier strategy to implement in Attrition, the color set victory is a lot more important to Attrition than it is in Loom.  Not only do I think that does a lot for making the two Patterns feel a lot different to play, I think that is a really excellent feedback loop with the fact that Banish/Vanish are comparatively rare in Attrition.  An opponent which struggles back from a disadvantaged position to win in Attrition seems to often finish the game by assembling a color set victory instead of a rainbow victory, where rainbow victories probably outweigh color set victories in Loom by a factor of 8-10 to 1.

  • I actually might like Attrition even better than Loom.  I already felt like Loom was very "tight" in the sense that even the losing player is often close to winning by the time the game is over.  Attrition takes this to an extreme: most of my games against competent human players have 2-3 really tense final turns where either player could win.   On paper, the tapestry powers seem to provide only slightly more draw capability (via Plunder), but most games seem to end with both players having 6-8 tapestries available in hand and both chests down to 20-30% capacity.  If I tried to pin down exactly the reason why this happens, I would guess it's because players are constantly feeling pressure against their action limit because progress towards both players being near win condition happens really quickly out of the gate, and then there's a lot more need (even desperation) to make sure an opponent can't win "out of nowhere" because there isn't an expectation to be able to use 5-8 counterspells per game, as often happens in Loom.  You'll be very lucky if you get to use 4 in Attrition.  

  • All of this does weaken the color deduction aspects of the game in Attrition.  Loom is very much about evaluating when you can make a critical move and be the last survivor in a volley of counterspells, because if you are the "last man standing" after the opponent uses his, that often paves the way to getting one of yours back with Shuttle immediately afterward.  On the other hand, knowing when to retreat early from a counterspell volley in order to be able to break a Shuttle/Moths recurrence chain can be a good way of re-establishing dominance in a game, as well.  A lot of the best decision-making in Loom comes down to how good of a job you are doing figuring out what the opponent has in the Display.  Because Loom is more about deduction and posturing, players' hands are more often empty, so if you have done a good job monitoring their draws via card powers, you can better deduce your strength relative to the opponent in a counterspell volley.  It seems like Attrition isn't about this at all, to me - success there has more to do with knowing how to put your opponent in a position that they feel forced to spend a counterspell on something you consider to be a low-priority target to pave the way for future actions.  That strategy is more about what you have in the Showcase, rather than the Display.  Players that like tactics and bluffing will probably be drawn more to Loom.  Players that like long-term strategy may be more drawn to Attrition.  Or maybe that's all hogwash - I self-identify as a tactical player, but I like Attrition better!

  • Loom deals well with getting "unlucky" card draws pretty well by allowing the game to be delayed by good bluffing - I've dragged a game out long enough to being one turn from victory in a couple cases where I drew no counterspells the whole game, simply by bluffing that I had them Displayed.  Loom also helps with this by allowing Shuttle lots of opportunities to replace itself with any color, particularly in the case of Moths, which discards itself.  Since few Moths draws is arguably the most common way to be "unlucky", the fact that Shuttle mitigates this best for this color is a boon to allowing the unlucky player to muscle their way back into the game.  I might have worried that since that both posturing and recurrence works better in Loom, I might need to worry that Attrition would be too dependent on the luck of the draw.  That doesn't seem to be the case in practice, simply because the nature of the card powers lends the game to ending with 70-80% of the chests emptied, as noted in an earlier point.  You have to get a lot more extreme version of "bad luck" to mess up a game if 80% of the tapestries are drawn than you do in a game where 50% of the tapestries are drawn, so it turns out that Attrition just handles this facet of the gameplay in a different manner than Loom.  It's almost like we designed it on purpose that way :P

  • All in all, even though Attrition has had far less playtesting than Loom, I'm feeling confident that the design is in just as good or a better place than Loom.

 

TL; DR: There are going to be bugs; I'll even tell you a few in the next section.  You haven't paid for the game yet, so if you can't get past being annoyed by a bug, don't ask for a key.

My friends, family, and I have played dozens of games of Stitchcraft both solo and online already.  I have also played hundreds of games against the AI during my own development and testing.  The feedback I've gotten so far suggests that the game is a lot of fun, and necessary core for playing the game has been in place for months.  

desperately want you to have fun playing my game as well, because I have an enormous investment of time in this project.  However, this is not an "early access" version of the game; the keys are being provided free of charge.  The whole point of this testing round is to identify problems in the game that need to be fixed; this practically guarantees that at some point, one of these problems is going to be a nuisance to you and detract from the fun you have playing.  

This is a tough chicken-and-egg problem for all developers, not just game developers, though the metric for other kinds of software might be something like "efficiency", "usability", or "throughput" instead of "fun".  I've tried my best to root out the bugs that would prevent you from having a normal play experience.  I don't want the software to get in the way of you having fun, and correspondingly, I want you to be able to provide me feedback on the quality of the underlying game, as well.  Bugs are inevitable though, and I need your help catching them.

If you are uncomfortable with the idea that you may sometimes be unable to play the game, that you might be disconnected from or crashed out of a game you're in the middle of playing, that you may have to be inconvenienced by features that are unrefined or unfinished, and so on, perhaps you should just wait until the game has been officially released.  I will do my very best to ensure any problems are resolved before a player can pay for the game, but the reason you can get a key so easily right now for free is that several things remain to be polished.