Week 8- Our First Guests

It’s Playtest Day week! Everything was focused this week on getting the entirety of Rooms 1-3 ready to playtest with complete strangers on Saturday. 

Video Design

This week, Ivy went from storyboard to a complete draft of our pre-show video! Kat recorded voiceover, Nolan edited it and created a musical soundtrack, and everything was ready to go by Friday. Here is our current version of the video!

Puzzle Design

This week, we playtested three different ways of delivering clues for the wheel puzzle. Because we need the puzzle to take at minimum two minutes to complete, but at maximum about 3.5 minutes, pretty small differences in difficulty and cluing make a huge difference as to whether the puzzle feels well designed. 

Playtesters on Tuesday at Hunt Library!

For the initial playtest on Tuesday, we took the approach of making the puzzle as difficult as possible, with a non-trivial answer that required close reading from the players and multiple forms of input. The rationale is that we can always provide hints to a difficult puzzle, but we cannot solve the throughput problem of a quick answer to a trivial puzzle. 

Here is the poem we used, and an explanation of the answer. 

Our first playtested version of the puzzle!

As expected, this difficult puzzle took far too much time for our playtesters, with an average time of 7 minutes and 31 seconds across 7 playtesters. However, at this playtest, we did not attempt to onboard our guests, and they faced confusion about the mechanics of their RFID dragon scales. For instance, one group did not understand that they could not leave their RFID dragon scale on the reader the whole time. So, for playtest day, it became even more important that we have onboarding elements such as the pre-show video and the elemental magic tutorial before we introduce the puzzle.

Playtest Day

At Playtest Day, we were scheduled to see 18 groups of guests, ages 8-adult. With some last-minute logistical rearrangement, that translated to over 35 playtesters, including children and their parents, developers at Simcoach Games, larger groups of kids only, and everything in between. Here is our photo gallery from Playtest Day!

For the morning group, we used the same poem as tested on the Tuesday playtest, but with a non-horizontal RFID tap surface and the additional context of going through our pre-show video and our elemental magic tutorial. We hoped that that might decrease confusion on the puzzle, and for some groups, it certainly did! However, for most groups, it was absolutely still much too hard. Two groups had to be cut off before they could finish, so they would have time to fill out our survey, and the average finish time was over eight minutes, even worse than the Tuesday group did. We suspect that that is because the Tuesday group was all CMU students taking a break from studying in the library, whereas the Playtest Day group was an audience much closer to the Festival audience: diverse in age, diverse in game experience, and highly stimulated by everything happening on a special day. 

This painful playtest experience was the final nail in the coffin- the close reading element of the puzzle had to go. So, Kat spent our lunch break rewriting the poem in the hopes that it would be more straightforward. And even though some groups on the afternoon of playtest day still had higher solve times than we would want, the problems they were facing were set design problems, not confusion.

The rewritten poem between the morning group and afternoon group at Playtest Day!

For instance, one group didn’t realize that the images on the computer monitors behind the eggs were clues instead of decoration. One eleven year old figured out our nontrivial solution within one minute, and spent the rest of his time figuring out how to input the puzzle. These are problems that are easy to solve with lighting and prop fabrication. While the solve time is still, on average, too high at 4 minutes 15 seconds, we gained a lot of insight on puzzle design at Playtest Day. 

Beyond the puzzle, we also tested a complete rough draft of the pre-show Video and the tutorial. Feedback on these two stages of the experience was very positive! The tutorial was most often the crowd favorite, because guests really enjoyed watching their magic have physical effects on the fountain, fan and fire. The preshow video rated as engaging, and as a good length for the information presented. 

At Mike’s Playtest Day workshop, we said we wanted to make guests feel powerful and magical, and for them to understand our story. Here is a word cloud of the most common words guests used when asked to describe the experience they just had and how it made them feel. Judging from their reactions, quantitative responses, and qualitative responses, most of what we presented was a rousing success!

Set Design

We made use of Spirit Halloween this week, and purchased fire cauldrons for our fire element interactive in Scene 2 (the tutorial scene) and some stone-patterned tablecloths. The fountain we ordered several weeks ago also arrived, just in time for Playtest Day! 

Our fountain, fire, and fan elements in the tutorial are all set up with the RFID show control!

Louise Cutter helped us shop for pedestals to be placed in Scene 3, which have been ordered. In the meantime, we are asking our playtesters to suspend their disbelief and just pretend the eggs are locked into pedestals. Louise also came back another day to help us spray paint columns for the Dragon Temple setting of Rooms 3 and 4. 

The ¼ inch acrylic for the dragon eye blinking mechanism was finally able to get laser cut! Due to the size of the pieces, we couldn’t use the ETC’s laser cutter, and we were very thankful that the laser cutter at TechSpark on Main Campus came back into use quickly this week. 

Goals for next week:

We weren’t able to finish enough of the dragon puppet to show it at Playtest day, so we really need to get the ball rolling on that. Additionally, we need to test more versions of the puzzle to get the solve time down even further. Since next Monday is Halloween, we will go shopping for post-Halloween deals on decorations, costumes, and lights next Tuesday, and bring everything together with the show control programming.

Also, we need to plan walkthroughs with our Faculty Consultant, Dave Culyba. He and his daughter, Hazel, love dragons, and she wants to do walkthroughs with us as well! Sounds like she will be one of our harshest critics.


Playtesting both on Tuesday at Hunt Library and on Saturday at Playtest Day helped us figure out what was making the most difficult version of our wheel puzzle difficult, and we iterated several times to help make it more intuitive. Ivy, Kat, and Nolan worked together to complete a draft of the pre-show video. We also added the physical elements of (fake) fire, water, and air to Cleo’s show control program, so we could playtest a more complete experience of Rooms 1-3 on Saturday.