Secondary User Research - Axis Descending

How does one understand the Metroidvania audience? Before I should go out and look for feedback via testing, studying precedents would be beneficial. Sadly, not many test reports regarding the Metroidvania audience exist. I have, however, read a number of in-depth play reports from designers analyzing the game for both fun and educational reasons. To that end I'm examining articles written by them in order to better understand the way the audience thinks and feels throughout the game based on these critiques. My goal is to be able to evaluate focused feedback from these key individuals in order to make more calculated design choices/fixes/alterations as I move forward with the completion of the game: Axis Descending.

The Invisible Hand of Metroid
by Hugo Bille
Game Designer, Producer, Programmer and Writer known for Stick It To The Man! and Zombie Vikings
Analytical Playthrough &Written Analysis
- Hugo reflects on the ways the level itself teach him to move throughout the game, enforcing things like "not always going right" or retracing his steps to explore areas and unlock previously hidden/blocked pathways
- Hugo notes how many rooms there are in the game whose "key" is already in your possession but you aren't aware of it yet, such as the ability to run or wall jump, which are all revealed via particular level layouts or characters that show you how it is done

Hugo's article shows me that players can be allowed to expect the world itself to teach them how to play and where to go. If certain things seem like they should be communicated directly, like learning how to run or wall jump, it is okay to take the risk of frustrating the player. This makes the way they find the solution more memorable. This notion acknowledges some of the choices I have made thus far!

Deconstructing Ori and the Blind Forest's Best Bit
by Mark Brown
Previously Editor-In-Chief at Pocket Gamer, known for Game Maker's Toolkit
Analytical Playthrough &Video Essay
- In the very beginning of the video Mark notes how the Ginso Tree is one of the best areas of the game based on the way it introduces you to a new mechanic, tests your skills with it, and provides an difficult but easy-to-repeat (through a quick return) final challenge
- Mark mentions how this Ginso segment, if isolated, is such a brilliant example of Metroidvania level design, but as you pursue other areas in the game that exceptional series of challenges and instructive levels just doesn't exist

This is an interesting dynamic that I'm about to experiment with for Axis. Several hand-placed and fully designed levels exist, yet there will be environments that are predefined chunks of areas that I procedurally link together to create new and randomized levels for the player to explore. I should heed his warning about making the randomized content feel less connected as a whole. To this end I have a few ideas in mind for closing the loop of each level with a significant item or interactive object to allow for player progression. As I move forward certain areas should have an overall theme as well to aid in this effort to create cohesion among the areas generated.

Devs Play: "Castlevania: Symphony of the Night"

by Koji Igarashi (Designer, Programmer, Writer and Co-Director for Symphony of the Night), Ben Judd (Videogame Agent), Anna Kipniss (Senior Gameplay Programmer at Double Fine)
Analytical Playthrough &Video Interview
- Considering Koji was a developer I focused on Ben and Anna's commentary based on their experiences, most notably the ways in which they discovered the fact that half the game is hidden by finding a specific item during the "last boss" (the entire world flips upside down and the second half of the game begins)
- Ben notes that he knew there was something more to the "glasses" item that enables this flip because he couldn't find equipment that was taken away from him early on, which begs me to question the ways players develop their understanding of the game's progression system in order to provide incentives for discovery
- Ben and Anna discuss the most iconic enemy of the series, the Medusa Head, which was impactful because of how difficult it was to avoid!

Surprising the player by using their expectations against them is a strength. I hope that some of my own twists will offer the same effect flipping the world of Symphony of the Night will! One thing I plan on implementing takes place after the main story, consisting of 9 chapter segments, that helps to give the remaining content a sense of purpose or meaning. Even areas you have previously visited that may no longer be necessary to visit. This "bounty hunt" system will let players find, locate and trap interesting creatures and enemy characters that either close the narrative loop of a particular arc or just give the player more exposition/entertainment post-story.

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