Playtesting Kakatte Koi Yo!

Playtesting has played an integral part in the development of Kakatte Koi Yo! As part of a class of separate teams working on games, development time has been broken up into 4-week sprints concluded with a day of testing. While largely constrained to other developers, this “test early, test often” philosophy has allowed us to continually clarify what is and isn’t working and refine the game as a whole.

An early level iteration, before we changed the colors of the teams.

One of the earliest obstacles we encountered was accessibility to colorblind players. At the start of development, we used red and green to differentiate between teams. However, one of our peers who played at the end of the first sprint informed us that his color blindness made it nearly impossible to tell who was on which team, and which basket was the right one to score in. After hearing this and doing some research, we decided to take a page from Nintendo’s book and use orange and blue instead, the vibrant complements utilized in the colorblind mode of their 2015 shooter, Splatoon. Additionally, we updated the environment art to improve contrast between the background and the foreground, reducing patterns on intangible terrain.

About two-thirds of the way through the semester—two and a half months of development time—we had the opportunity to showcase the game outside of our immediate peers. The first event we attended was the Chicago Toy and Game Fair, an annual exposition ranging from independent creators to large companies such as Hasbro and Mattel. At the event, henceforth referred to as CHITAG, we exhibited the game primarily to children, and I had change notes as soon as the first group picked up their controllers.

The representatives of Columbia at the beginning of the first day of CHITAG—I’m in the back, on the left.

The lower area of the level—where players enter the game—requires a jump up to a small bridge, then across to the main ledge with the pond for players to catch fish. In the first group of four players, one of them repeatedly attempted the jump and couldn’t quite make it, even after several minutes of attempts. The vast majority of players were able to jump up without a problem, but the first thing I did when we worked on the game again was adjust it to be more forgiving.

This is a sample of the four-page list we compiled of observations from the event. We didn’t act on every point here, but many of them reflected on the continued design of the game.

We made a number of less gameplay-oriented fixes as a result of CHITAG feedback, mostly focused on clarity of objectives and abilities. We added silhouette fish to the pond so players knew where to go, and added a sound effect to the bomb to indicate that hitting it without a fish is ineffective. By that point, our objective was to polish the experience we had and prepare for our second event: the Logan Theatre Playtesting Party.

Naturally, we had to give the game a test run on the TV before it opened to general participation.

Where CHITAG was a widely open event, Logan Theatre was more concentrated. Developers of digital and analog games alike entered for a chance to exhibit their work and compete for a booth at the Chicago Comics and Entertainment Expo in March of 2019. The majority of players were either game enthusiasts or other developers, and thus offered a different perspective on the games on display. The feedback from Logan Theatre helped us to hone in on what players enjoyed about Kakatte Koi Yo! and make those aspects even better, and to pick up the slack in areas that weren’t as widely appreciated.

Kakatte Koi Yo! wouldn’t be half the game it is without the playtesting feedback we’ve accrued throughout development. Working on a game for even just a short time starts to blind the developers to its quirks and oddities—without considering the difficulty of communicating mechanics to new players after developing them for weeks. Finding the fun of a project requires outside voices, and whether or not they agree on where that fun is, the designer’s role is to craft an experience that emphasizes it.

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