More of the Diary
2/17/99 - Time for another brainstorming session, I sat down with Kelly Bell and Amy Robinson from Microsoft's User Education group, and Tim Znamenacek our program manager. We came up with the idea for a series of short AVIs with voice-overs, and short scenarios that would teach the basic concepts like; moving units, gathering resources, and building up an empire. The concept was that after graduating from the basic concepts scenarios, the user could play some historical missions.
3/3/99 Greg Street had a completed good outline for the scenario, and some excellent historical events and battles to bring the learning campaign to life.
Distinctive Asian architecture
3/7/99 Assistant Producer (and Sound Engineer) Chris Rippy and I presented the plan for the AVIs and the focus scenarios to executive producer Tony Goodman. Tony is another Ensemble person absolutely passionate about making the game easy and fun to play. We spent a long afternoon talking about what would be the ideal way to do it - a full in-game system of triggers and responses to the user's commands, and a compelling story as engaging as our full scenarios. Tony said that we should do whatever it takes to do it the ideal way, and move resources around to make it happen.
A new plan emerged - the player would be immersed in the historical flavor of the game immediately, with full multimedia presentation, a lot of hand-holding on the basic concepts, and new in-game triggers to respond to the user's commands.
Two armies face off
4/3/99 Greg put in some late nights to re-work the script text - fortunately the excellent historical story he has created supports this new approach. Chris Rippy adds stand-in voice over for all of the instructions. We test and refine it for the upcoming test.
4/22/99 Third Usability Test. A guiding principle we used was the 'Grandma Test' - if your grandma was sitting here, what things would you tell her to help her play the game - we kept this in mind for the instruction text and how it was presented.
Working closely with Michael Medlock in the usability lab we came up with a new approach to getting the most out of our test time. The first couple of days we do tests and make changes that night, knocking down any rough spots, adding new voice-overs or explanations as needed. The last few days we don't change anything so we can get a lot of data.
Another town scene
One of the testers said "Well, I understand how to chop trees and all that, but what's the game really about?" - that night we added stand-in screen shots and a voice-over that explained the overview of the game.
People are starting to get the concepts - we have to work on pacing and presentation some, and re-cap the concepts in each scenario - but it looks like this approach is going to work.