This weekend I took a current build of Aztez to the EVO fighting game tournament in Las Vegas, Nevada. For those of you unfamiliar with EVO, it is the world's largest fighting game tournament. Highly skilled players fly in from all over the globe to compete in various one-on-one fighting games like Street Fighter, Marvel Vs. Capcom, Mortal Kombat, and more. But it's also an exhibition of all things of interest to the fighting game community. This year, the event organizers tried something really cool; they set up a showcase of 7 indie games they felt the community would enjoy. Aztez was one of those games and the experience was fascinating. I'd like to share the insights I received by having the game up and running, for anyone to play, from roughly 9am to 5pm, for the first two days of the event.
The EVO build was purely a combat build. It bears a resemblance to the most recent build up on this site, except with a handful of additional mechanics (grab mechanics, last remaining directional attacks, few more air attacks) and a lot of subtle ironing that has been done to make things more tight and physically predictable. The build had a timer of 120 seconds, and tracked your highest combo. There was a continuous stream of enemies, so players were engaged as long as the timer ran.
What ended up happening is that while there wasn't very much foot traffic (for a lot of legit reasons that mostly come down to me not making the game more attractive to passerby), the people that sat down and played it really enjoyed it. There was essentially 4 different types of players:
- Bored - A very small percentage of people sat down with it, pushed a couple buttons, and walked away before the timer even ran itself out. I could tell by the way they picked up the controller and looked at the game that they weren't very engaged with it in the first place. These people lifelessly performed a bunch of standing one-button combos and looked as if they felt there was nothing else of interest to the experience. Even if they knew there was, I don't think these individuals would have cared; they were checked out. To these people I say "oh well" because there's little to nothing you can do about someone who has decided they're bored before trying something out.
- Cautious - A small percentage (but a much larger percentage than the Bored, thank gawd) didn't really know what to expect when they picked up the controller but as soon as they performed a couple combos they perked up and were properly baited. Most of these individuals didn't seem super comfortable, which leads me to believe this wasn't their type of game. But they still became connected with the game regardless and while not all of them ended up exploring the mechanics, every last one of them played it through at least one round and oftentimes played more than once. They'd look around, see if there was a line or not, and continue to play if there wasn't.
- Sold - These are the obvious fans of this type of game. Easily the vast majority of the crowd were these individuals (which makes perfect sense given that fighting games and beat 'em ups are first cousins), and they would pick up the controller and very quickly get comfortable. Within 15 to 30 seconds, most of them were expressing themselves and having a BLAST. These players were the most exciting for me personally because A. it's who I made the game for and B. they made the game look good! I specifically built this combat system to be expressive and fun to look at, and when one of these players were playing, it drew a lot of interest from event goers walking by the game. We've done something right because the obvious fans of the genre are hooked.
- Diehards - THESE lunatics are my unicorns. And I can count them on one hand. Haha! 1 guy on the first day sat down and played the game for about 5 minutes. Not only did he do everything I knew the game could do, but he then went on to do a couple things I didn't even know the game could do. He then pleasantly articulated what he was doing and how, and then he went on his merry way. Or so I thought. He ended up coming back 3 more times over the course of the next two days, and each time he brought a new friend with him. On the last day, 4 of these friends were mutilating the game and performing all kinds of unbelievable things that I never would have tried and done on my own and it was magical. I ended up giving the main dude my email and saying "Play my milestone builds, break them, and then me tell how you broke them and I'll give you the game when its done and put you in the credits." and he said "Rad, okay". Like I said, these kind of players are unicorns and you want them in your corner.
All in all, I ended up feeling like we're absolutely on the right track and then some; if the track is "give the beat 'em up audience a game they'll go nuts for". Most players enjoyed the game and those that played expressively were able to do so comfortably. The most exciting part of all of this is that the EVO build was still a very thin vertical slice of the finished combat experience! There are entire mechanic trees and game systems that haven't been built and/or implemented yet, so the fact that people are engaged now is a very very good sign.