Improving Outer Colony's Shelf Appeal

Questions, ideas, and general discussion of Outer Colony.
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Improving Outer Colony's Shelf Appeal

Postby Administrator » Fri May 26, 2017 3:19 pm

With the Kickstarter campaign wrapping up, it's time for a bit of introspection.

Outer Colony's campaign came up short, which we knew was something of a foregone conclusion from the outset. The Kickstarter medium is not what it once was, and it generates neither the organic traffic nor the monetary support that it did many years ago. Our mission objective here was to generate some more awareness and support for the project; to get new eyes on it, and to rally a few new testers to our cause.

In that respect, we did succeed, to an extent. On the whole, though, Outer Colony has really struggled to gain traction. The indie game space is extremely crowded, and it takes something really special to stand out and attract an audience. My hope was that Outer Colony's radical features and technologies, intricate gameplay, and networked multiplayer support would be enough to get there. After several months of trying to promote the game by way of various mediums, I'm of the mind that this may not be the case. We're coming up short thus far, so some adjustments may be necessary.

That's OK! We're all about incremental improvement, gradually working toward making Outer Colony the best game that it can be.

With that in mind, I wanted to ask for suggestions from you guys, Outer Colony's current players:

  • What kind of changes would most improve the game's shelf appeal? What would help it to grab people's attention better?
  • When you think about your friends, what would have to change about the game in order to make them want to play it with you, too?
  • What would you personally like to see in the game that isn't there now?
  • If you were me, and you could make any changes to Outer Colony that you'd like, what would they be?

Do you think the graphics are just not up to standard right now? I went with something of a functional approach for designing the aesthetic, but games are definitely a visual medium, and they need to be as stimulating as possible. Over the course of the last week, I've built an isometric-style rendering framework into Outer Colony's engine. I don't have any isometric sprites, but I can render terrain using solid-color tiles, and it looks like this:
Image

What do you guys think about this? It would require hundreds of hours of work, and we'd have to re-create all of Outer Colony's thousands of sprites, but if the game looked like SimCity 2000, would that make it more fun to play? All the gameplay would stay the same, and we wouldn't have to re-program any of that; it would be a purely visual overhaul.

(SimCity 2000 reference image):
Image

If you have any ideas to share, I'd be very excited to hear them! Thanks to everyone for all of your help so far, and I'm excited to keep moving forward!
Anachronic
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Re: Improving Outer Colony's Shelf Appeal

Postby Anachronic » Mon May 29, 2017 7:17 pm

Thought a bit about your questions and here's my long-winded input:

-The game would stand out a lot more if it had some more custom UI elements. Like if there is some way for you to customize the visuals of things like the drop-down menu options (File, Information, etc.) and the view panel. Having a bigger custom font could make the game feel more accessible, and maybe help attract players to the game by making it look more user-friendly and less like a Java app. Is there any way to add a border to java app window? That would be a nice aesthetic feature but not sure if it’s possible.

I do like OC's current game screen visuals and pixel art quite a bit, but also that isometric perspective looks really cool so I remain undecided. Either way, I think you should implement a wider range of zoom levels, and make an easier way for players to change between them (maybe hotkeys and/or scroll wheel?). Even if the added zoom levels aren't really useful to the player from a functional perspective, they would add greatly to the game's aesthetic appeal, allow you to create more diverse screenshots, and would be nice when the player just feels like taking in a broader picture of the world or getting a closer look at something.

-The name? I hate to say this one sorry, since you've already changed it once; but I dunno if OC reflects the majesty of the subject matter nor the game's humor. I wouldn’t be in a hurry to change the name, but if you think of others you like or think are funny it could be a good opportunity to do a Twitter poll. Heck, the more Twitter polls the better, and even better if you can make people laugh with them.

-Speaking of humor, I think that's one of OC's best qualities and that there are ways to capitalize on it. Right now the humor is kinda subtle; like a by-product of the procedural generation. It would be neat if there were ways that the humor was more obvious, maybe even coded in; say like funny conversations between colonists or scathing daily performance assessments on the player's management ability (which could also be a good way to implement tutorial/help features, like telling the player what they should do next or are doing wrong on a regular basis). A little sarcasm could be funny there; not so hard-hitting maybe as LinaInverse’s comments but a light touch of it could be compelling.

That feature (funny daily progress reports) could help players navigate the learning curve. Humor could easily be one of the main selling features of OC if it played a more prominent role, and it would really help keep players engaged through the tutorial.

-Another small feature request that I just came up with while starting a quick game (I realize there is no such thing as a "quick game" of OC but bear with me) is that the grid for setting down your ship should be green when the location is acceptable and red when it is unacceptable. Maybe that’s supposed to happen and I just encountered a bug?

-Another usability feature I thought of is a quick and obvious way to reset the Z level to the surface layer.

-IMHO getting the exit to main menu button back into the menu should be your top priority with OC. It's a bit of a glaring omission at the moment. Might be better at the moment to disable the tutorial instead if that’s the only short-term solution.

Just getting through the tutorial is a pretty big task for new players, and some might quit well before they get through all the sections. I know you’ve put a ton of work into that feature, but it’s possible that because it is so in-depth it could turn players off before they even get a chance to try a random world and experience the funner and funny parts of OC. Finding some way to more subtly integrate the learning parts of the game could be critical to keep players engaged. I really do like the idea of daily reports or something that just give the player some helpful hints about what to do next, so players don’t have to go back to the tutorial or searching through documentation if they feel a bit lost. I think you need to avoid new players feeling like they are doing the wrong things or missing steps in the early stages that will sabotage their game in the long-term. Ideally, the player would feel free to experiment knowing that they aren’t wasting their time, and will still have a fun rewarding game even if they don’t follow all the tutorial steps in the best possible order.

Hope this is some helpful feedback for you! Cheers
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Re: Improving Outer Colony's Shelf Appeal

Postby Torvus » Wed May 31, 2017 11:14 am

Administrator wrote: What kind of changes would most improve the game's shelf appeal? What would help it to grab people's attention better?


Isometric graphics would probably improve the game's appeal and would probably make it easier to see what's going on. That being said, I don't know if the bump in appeal would counter the cost of a graphics overhaul since the metrics so far have shown us that people aren't hating what they see, they just aren't seeing it. Though maybe with improved graphics the people who do see it would be more likely to send it on to a friend.

UI could probably be improved/streamlined. It started off with a better UI than some other games, and it's been improved even more since then. I don't think it's an overly complicated system right now, but it may appear so to new players. This is one of those things that will get better as we have more testers putting in feedback on what seems counter-intuitive to them. Would a right-click function be possible? Maybe if you could highlight an area and then right click to pick from at least some of the more basic functions it would save time of having to go back and forth across the screen to get to the UI buttons.

A fast-forward button. Planning out your work orders is fun, seeing the fruits of your colonists' labor is fun, and strange things that happen along the way are fun, but watching your colony dig down to z level 10 and mine a 20x20 swath of impact crater ore might not be that exciting if you are just waiting for them to finish before you put forth new orders. We were talking together about how to improve the early game, and a fast forward function might help to move things along quicker. When I play Crusader Kings 2, I use the fast forward button quite a bit. With how long it takes for things to happen, I usually just play the game at the fastest speed possible since any important events will pause the game and give me a popup.


Administrator wrote: When you think about your friends, what would have to change about the game in order to make them want to play it with you, too?


I've shown it to friends and they had mostly positive responses to what they saw. I don't know if any downloaded the demo and played it, but they all seemed to agree that the ideas in OC were cool

Administrator wrote: What would you personally like to see in the game that isn't there now?


I've been with this project for a while, so just about everything I'd want you've put in or are planning to put in. Vehicles will be nice.

A waypoint system would be nice too. Right now we have one waypoint that can bring us back to our landing zone, but having more would be nice. Would make setting up additional settlements a lot easier. Would also make it easier to check in on other civilizations that have set up shop on your planet.

Some way to better keep track of your NPCs. They can be a bit unwieldy, so it would be nice if I could tag them with something like Yoren Arsonik (scientist) or Inub Dobo (high IQ) or something like that. Or maybe if we could set up pools of NPCs

Administrator wrote: If you were me, and you could make any changes to Outer Colony that you'd like, what would they be?


I'd continue on the path it is on now with a focus on usability improvements.

Anachronic wrote:Is there any way to add a border to java app window? That would be a nice aesthetic feature but not sure if it’s possible.


I support this idea

Anachronic wrote:-The name? I hate to say this one sorry, since you've already changed it once; but I dunno if OC reflects the majesty of the subject matter nor the game's humor. I wouldn’t be in a hurry to change the name, but if you think of others you like or think are funny it could be a good opportunity to do a Twitter poll. Heck, the more Twitter polls the better, and even better if you can make people laugh with them.


We went over a lot of name possibilities. I came up with dozens of them myself. Here's a sampling of some of the finer rejects I've proposed:
Spacetime: It's time for space
Where the Rockets Go
Spacers in space: Story of the Space Spacers
Star-Seed Sagas
Astronaut Homesteaders
Taking Up Space
Manifest Destiny: Space Edition
Planet Palooza
Embarkation

All in all, I like the name Outer Colony pretty well. Thought "Spacetime: It's Time for Space" will always hold a special place in my heart.


Anachronic wrote:That feature (funny daily progress reports) could help players navigate the learning curve. Humor could easily be one of the main selling features of OC if it played a more prominent role, and it would really help keep players engaged through the tutorial.


Currently, you can get all kinds of colonist feedback through other ways, but maybe reports from the colonists themselves would make it more accessible to players who don't want to look at the various graphs.

Anachronic wrote:-Another small feature request that I just came up with while starting a quick game (I realize there is no such thing as a "quick game" of OC but bear with me) is that the grid for setting down your ship should be green when the location is acceptable and red when it is unacceptable. Maybe that’s supposed to happen and I just encountered a bug?


Not a bug and I've considered this myself, though I don't remember if I ever made a mantis ticket for it.

Anachronic wrote: Either way, I think you should implement a wider range of zoom levels, and make an easier way for players to change between them (maybe hotkeys and/or scroll wheel?). Even if the added zoom levels aren't really useful to the player from a functional perspective, they would add greatly to the game's aesthetic appeal, allow you to create more diverse screenshots, and would be nice when the player just feels like taking in a broader picture of the world or getting a closer look at something.


Not something I would have thought to suggest, but it actually seems like such an obviously good idea if possible. Telling people about OC will involve amusing stories about unforeseeable outcomes, and images of the magnificent things you've built and/or destroyed.
I am Torvus. My titles at voyager games are thus: Lore Weaver, Creature Consultant, Chief Science Officer, Company Chaplain, and Star Magus among others.
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kashire
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Re: Improving Outer Colony's Shelf Appeal

Postby kashire » Sun Jun 11, 2017 6:16 am

You are a BRILLIANT man, Sam. :D

Isometric graphics is the way to go, I think it will bring in a lot of appeal from the old school strat/city build players, and I personally love it.

Regarding the name, I think OC is good. I liked Far Reaches, but Outer Colony is still a great name.

I've not been able to play for awhile, I've had a lot come up with "work" (read: admin duties lol) and life, but I'm looking forward to
jumping back in and checking things out. :)
LinaInverse
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Re: Improving Outer Colony's Shelf Appeal

Postby LinaInverse » Fri Jun 23, 2017 7:31 am

2d graphics is even more oldschool than isometric. and if you make this game text-mode-only it will be even EVEN MOAR oldschool. But I think the most important thing is the logic and the AI. Of course there are developers who don't give a shit to the bugs but with every 0.X.X.XXX.XX update are adding over 9000 colored doors, sofas, beds, 300 variations of the same piece of clothes, and everyone is like OOOOOOOH THIS IS SOOO COOOOL MUM LOOK I HAVE A NEW PAJAMA ON MY CHAR.
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Re: Improving Outer Colony's Shelf Appeal

Postby Administrator » Mon Jun 26, 2017 4:17 pm

This has been a tremendously valuable thread, in terms of the feedback provided and suggestions for continuing to improve Outer Colony. It warrants a significant response, and I'm aiming to share something of a road map forward with everyone once I've really got it figured out. Torvus, Imperator and I are continuing to meet in the aftermath of the Kickstarter campaign to assess our options moving forward, and, based in part on the posts in this thread, to determine our focus for continuing development.

For now, I'm putting in some work on a performance upgrade that should take much of the strain off the rendering portion of the engine. This is needed regardless of whether we overhaul the graphics, and it should be another step toward smoothing out performance on lower end hardware and supporting larger populations and geographies on higher end systems.

I hope to cut another release in the fairly near future, and I'll keep everyone informed as much as possible on the direction we take moving forward. Huge thanks, as always, to everyone who's shared their thoughts so far!
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Re: Improving Outer Colony's Shelf Appeal

Postby eggplunt » Thu Aug 24, 2017 2:47 pm

Perhaps superfluous at this point, but I'd like to share what I've seen.
Outer Colony is initially compared with Dwarf Fortress, due to its depth and the UI concepts (slice-based view and ASCII). DF has a steep learning curve, because of these factors.
As a long-time DF player, I did not expect to have trouble with OC, as I am familiar with the view already (I don't care much for Stonesense). And OC even includes a proper top-down view, instead of a 'slice' view!

However, the complex sprites and relatively small amount of stuff that can be represented at once makes it a bit more difficult to follow what's going on. I find myself playing on the 50% view, and mainly on flat bits if I can find them, and I'm still having difficulties keeping track of everything.

The concept picture really seems like a good solution, and possibly a large improvement; suddenly we've got a good overview of what's going on, and not just for people familiar with the slice or top-down views, but also for others. It'll also reduce the overlap with DF, and push OC a bit more towards its own identity (the gameplay).

Second, I do feel that this would be a good reason to re-do some of the sprites, as they currently seem a bit inconsistent and hard to recognize. Isometric sprites can be gorgeous, as well.

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