Making your dreams player-friendly

Joe Florey from PlayStation's User Research Team has spent a lot of time watching people play Dreams. And he's spent a lot of time watching people play your Dreams when he observes players test DreamSurfing.

So, we invited him to write a blog for Media Molecule about the user experience pitfalls he observes and how to help players from getting stuck, lost or confused, so they can enjoy even more of what you create!

Here are Joe's tips for giving players the best experience possible:

  1. Teach your game's controls in context.

I've seen a lot of cases in the Dreamiverse where a game will start with a control scheme showing some controls before disappearing and never coming up again. Players have no chance of taking all this information in at once, especially without context for where the controls will be useful. Teaching controls at the time when players need them means that they won't get overwhelmed and It will make it clearer how and where they'll need those controls in the future.

Grabbing controls in Porto

Porto shows instructions for grabbing...

Throwing controls in Porto

...and throwing boxes when players first go near to a box.

Shooting controls in Grimy

Grimy teaches shooting controls when the player has a target that they need to shoot at to progress.

  1. Make sure players know the objective.

Many levels in Dreams drop the player into a world but don't give them any direction about what they should be doing or where they should be going. I've often seen players leave really cool levels because they didn't know what to do. Show them where to go using a camera, or light the way they need to go clearly. Do they need to collect five magical maguffins? Give them some instructions and show their progress to the total.

Objectives in The Saltine Sea

The Saltine Sea gives players a clear counter at the start of the level telling them how many crew members they need to find.

Objectives in Neonmancer

Neonmancer uses lighting and camera angles to guide the player around the level.

  1. Reinforce at the right time.

Human memory is fallible and players will often forget things as soon as you tell them (you may be familiar with a certain calibration prompt by now…). This means you need to reinforce what the player needs to do regularly, otherwise they'll forget, get confused and drop your game. To counter this, reinforce the players' goal and any key controls regularly, ideally in situations where players will need them.

Prompts in Eggbot

Eggbot reminds players about using the torch whenever they enter a dark area.

Prompts in Kaiju - City Rampage

The prompt appears every time the player is near a car in Kaiju - City Rampage.

  1. Give players feedback for what they are doing.

There are lots of subtle things that professional games do to give players feedback for what they are doing. A sound effect and small animation when a player takes or deals damage or when an ability has recharged or a trigger is activated can make a huge difference to the player's experience.

Visual effects in Time Corruption

Time Corruption shows a visual effect and maintains the status of the "time bar" whenever players adjust the time.

Visual effects in Kaiju - City Rampage

Buildings and the player's character have a clear animation and sound effect whenever they are hit in Kaiju - City Rampage.

  1. Playtest your game (and give good feedback)

The best thing you can do, more than any of these other tips is to playtest your game. Get a friend, sibling or coMmunity member to play through your game. Ideally, watch as they play along (and resist the urge to tell them what to do!). It's only when you see someone else playing that you'll be able to appreciate all the little things that might confuse someone or make them get lost.

If you're giving feedback on someone else's game, try to avoid just saying simply "I got stuck" or "you should add some more instructions". Try to explain what actually happened to you and if possible, why. Feedback like "I missed the instructions at the start and didn't know how to change my weapon" or "I got lost trying to find my way to the castle" will mean the creator of the level knows where the problem is and can try to make that better or clearer.

The Dreams User Guide is a work-in-progress. Keep an eye out for updates as we add more learning resources and articles over time.