Humans, Part Guides, and Other December Developments

Today, we’re joined by Lead Game Designer Luke for a closer look at our latest RoboCo dev efforts:

We’re in our last couple weeks of development before holiday break. When we return, we’ll be in QA testing for a build for our research partners at WestEd who work with us on our NSF grant. Therefore we’re mostly in a refinement and clean up mode right now, but we’ve still got some recent improvements to share!

Human Refactor Complete!

In our previous dev update, I mentioned that we’ve been refactoring the code for our human systems – this basically means rewriting our initial designer prototype code in a way that is structured more efficiently, but yields the same outcomes for the player’s current experience. 

Code rewrites like this can be daunting. To make joyful games, it helps to have fun while making them, so we try to keep ourselves entertained by sharing silly things we encounter when a work in progress isn’t yet working quite right. Here’s a fun one that Carter, the engineer who did the code refactor, shared of a human who was feeling particularly skippy about the extra attention that human systems have been getting lately:

Since then, we’ve completed the refactoring process – so you won’t see issues like that in the actual game. But as you’ll see below, the fruits of our labor are already coming to..well, fruition!

Little Touches of Reactivity

Now that we have humans behaving similarly to before the refactor, and a more robust underlying system driving those behaviors, we are setting our sights toward improvements. To keep risk low for our upcoming QA period, we opted to start with one of the smaller improvements, adding a bit of nuance that Carter proposed. In his words:

“Humans currently tolerate being slowly prodded, rubbed, and touched in the face. This makes the humans look silly, as humans in real life are particular about being poked in the face. Instead humans should have a trigger zone that defines their face so that they can get mad quickly when robots touch their faces.”

This now happens. Take a look!

In the coming year, we have several more human improvements in mind — some smaller details like this, as well as some bigger ones. The cumulative effect should be more interactive humans, further developing RoboCo’s most distinctive relationship: skillful but sometimes malfunctioning robots and the human scientists who patiently work with them.

Joint and Part Guides

Our UX designer Joe and engineer Jon are always looking for ways to ensure RoboCo is a pleasure to use and is accessible to as many players as possible. The next several items in our development update are all part of that initiative to continuously improve our user experience.

The first of these was adding a guide to the different types of joints that are possible between robot parts. The Joint Tool is one of our more advanced tools, and players can often ignore it if they wish, but understanding the joint system opens up some new possibilities in how to build and can help with troubleshooting. As of Closed Alpha, players could hover over a joint icon for a description, and hide or show surface, rod, or mechanical joints. But we felt players might also benefit from a single reference to what all those joint icons mean, so we added this guide into the Joint Tool’s UI:

In a similar vein, we also created guides for some key parts like the DC motor, servo motor, pistons, gears, and elevator, in the form of a “How to use” diagram added to those parts’ hover tooltips:

We hope these guides will be of interest to players when starting out. Players can also turn off either of these guides if they no longer wish to see them.

Saving Robots on the Results Screen

We’ve added a new Save button to the results screen that shows up whenever you complete the main objective of a challenge. If you’ve previously saved the robot, the name field also fills out automatically so you can reuse or adjust it.

Trackpad-Friendly Camera Commands

We recently added a couple new camera command alternatives that anyone may benefit from, but were particularly targeted at players using laptop trackpads. We definitely recommend playing RoboCo with an external mouse, but we recognize that may not always be feasible, particularly for folks using RoboCo in a school setting. And some basic RoboCo interactions like right-click and drag to rotate the camera can feel clunky on a trackpad.

Now, players have the option to instead hold the “Alt” key while moving the cursor to rotate the camera, or hold “Alt+Shift” while moving the cursor to pan the camera, with no mouse button needed at all. It’s a bit tricky to demonstrate the benefit of this using an in-game video clip, however once you’re hands on we hope you’ll agree that these alternative commands make playing RoboCo on a laptop trackpad a more enjoyable experience.

Ongoing Challenge Iteration

As always, we’re analyzing, iterating on, and improving all aspects of our challenges. Level designer Alan has been addressing usability issues with certain props and objectives as identified in Closed Alpha feedback and internal reviews, and generally just making everything play better. Recently we received some helpful feedback across the entire RoboCo campaign from our CEO Dan, who is also principal investigator on RoboCo’s NSF grant. Thanks to this, Alan and I have gone through the list of sub and secret objectives and identified certain ones that we are most interested in tweaking next year to maximize variety.

3-D artists Flora and Meghan make the game look better and better, and recently completed a second art pass on two challenges: the romantic Light Their Fire and the jittery RoboCoffee. We’ll leave those to your imagination for now, but for one final tease…

Longtime fans may be pleasantly surprised to find a new room in our Sandwich Server challenge next time they play – expect more changes to come as we approach our launch on Steam Early Access in 2021.

That’s all for now – and looking at my calendar, for the rest of 2020 most likely! On behalf of myself and the rest of the RoboCo team, we wish you a safe and happy holiday season. See you in the new year!

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