We ran our first public beta of Arctic Awakening during the LudoNarraCon festival in early May. It was both terrifying and exhilarating to finally have people outside of the studio playing the game after over two years of development.
The majority of the feedback was overwhelmingly positive, which has been a real validator as we continue to move forward with development. There were lots of little bugs, glitches and areas needing more polish (many of which we've already fixed), but what I'd like to focus on here are a few key issues that kept coming up. Let's discuss what we found and what we're doing about it:
By far the most common issue that players encountered during the demo was getting lost in the forest. On the one hand, this isn't surprising since that is the premise of the game. However, we of course want to maintain the right balance so that you can continue progressing in the story.
Much of this issue came down to Alfie's (the therapy bot) AI and navigation. In the blizzard scene after the crash, he failed to maintain his proximity rule, allowing you to wander off unchecked into infinity. He'll never block you from going where you want, but the idea is that he'll always be able to help get you back on track.
In the final scene of the demo during the daylight, many assumed they were supposed to be following Alfie, when in fact he was following you. Since Alfie tried to stay to the edge of your vision, it caused many to constantly turn off the trail and get hopelessly lost.
So, what are we doing about this? Well, we're making Alfie's navigation AI much smarter! We've been overhauling how these systems work so that he's always adhering to his proximity rule for starters. We're also making changes so that it's more clear when you should and shouldn't be following him.
I won't get too into the weeds right now to avoid ruining the magic of it, but the end result of the new system should be that Alfie feels much more like a companion coming along for the ride. He'll guide you in some instances, but for the most part it will be up to you to find your own path through this world.
A big part of Arctic Awakening is obviously the conversations between the characters and how those relationships evolve. However, it became apparent that there were some areas within the demo where this either went on a bit too long or wasn't well-balanced when paired with things to do.
We've heard this feedback loud and clear and have moved things around, cut entire sections and added new things to do to make the conversations better flow and fit together. We've also gone back and revised other areas beyond the demo scenes that we now felt would run into the same issues. We're confident the pacing of the game in general will benefit greatly from this initial testing!
Many games in this genre have very simplified traversal systems where you can only traverse exactly where the level designer specified. However, one of our design pillars for this game (both in the story and level design) has been player agency. So, we decided to build a more complex traversal system that allows you to define your own path through the world.
However, with the increased complexity comes an increased surface area for bugs. The core systems seemed to work well enough, but there were many false-positives with prompts for different traversal mechanics. There were also many instances where it felt like you should be able to simply step up onto a rock, plane wing, etc – only to be met with a "climb up" prompt.
Our intention is for these traversal mechanics to be smooth, consistent and intuitive. In order to achieve that, we've also ripped this system apart and re-built it from the ground up. It now scans the environment around you and detects the type of obstacles in your way to more intelligently identify the best mechanic to prompt at any given point. We're also moving forward with a rock climbing mechanic that wasn't shown in the demo, but which will add even more freedom of exploration in the final release!
We've already addressed many of the above issues and we're getting close on the rest. We'll be periodically making the demo available for beta testing at future festivals or other events into the fall. The feedback is incredibly helpful and will benefit the full game, so we hope you'll join us for future tests.