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The Chinese Room Explains How A Simple UI Change Can Mess Up Reviews

by Mike Futter on Aug 11, 2015 at 04:55 AM

In our review of Everybody’s Gone to the Rapture, we cite the game’s plodding walk speed as a significant detractor. It turns out that the game does have a way to increase movement pace, but a last-minute change kept it hidden from players.

Developer The Chinese Room posted a note on its blog this morning explaining how to access the sprint feature (R2). Because it’s a gradual increase in walking speed to a full run, players won’t notice unless they hold the R2 button down.

The apparent lack of a sprint option popped up in a number of reviews (including our own). The Chinese Room explains how this crucial feature was accidentally left hidden.

A couple of weeks before the game went to final, Santa Monica did a last round of playtesting. At this point, the game included an autosprint. That meant that if you kept moving, you’d gradually ramp up to a run speed, specifically to deal with issues with how long potential back-tracking could take, given the game’s non-linearity. The problem was, playtesters wanted to be able to trigger it themselves. It didn’t matter about the speed, it was the psychology, the choice. 

So together with Santa Monica, we made a late call. We replaced the autosprint with an R2 trigger hold, keeping the gentle ramp up to main speed. This then needed testing, because it potentially threw out all of the pacing we’d been working on for the last year, plus could cause issues with accidentally parkouring into places you couldn’t escape from, creating game-breaking bugs. All this took time.

And then suddenly launch was right on top of us, and something had been missed. The controller icon in the options menu was missing the sprint instruction, and it hadn’t been localised. Localisation takes about 24 hours, but because the UI is build in Flash, it would have to be changed, and that would mean a full round of testing before creating a patch – about 4-5 days through the global QA pipieline, which we’re doing now, but wasn’t ready in time for release. It’s in the online manual, but not at the start of the game.

We probably should have announced the run button before launch, but we didn’t. That was a bad call, and we’ve paid for it in the reviews. But the most important thing is that we get the word out to players, so here we go – although we’d love you to take your time and explore Yaughton at a slow, steady pace, if you need to backtrack or get around more quickly, hold down R2 – it’ll take a few seconds before you are running fully, but it will speed your movement up.

So if you haven’t played Everybody’s Gone to the Rapture, keep this in mind. While it certainly wasn’t our only concern about the game, this might help improve the experience for those yet to explore the bucolic post-apocalyptic world The Chinese Room has created.

[Source: The Chinese Room]


Our Take
This story is an object lesson in the importance of user interfaces. This shows how minor adjustments can have a profound impact on how players experience a game.

It’s also a warning to other developers. Don’t make changes at the last minute. Something is likely to get missed in the process.