"Playtesting" is not just Playing Your Game.

Hello Champions,

I've been thinking about this topic a lot and coming from a Software Testing background, it means quite a bit to me. I also wanted to write a blog for people who are at the early stages of testing their game or veterans looking to refine their testing skills. With that, I hope this helps :)

Playing your game is not enough. you need to actually test it.

I've seen a lot of people saying, "[they] are playtesting [their] game", when they are not! In reality, they are just "playing their game", hoping to stumble across an issue or a bug. In software testing, we call this Monkey Testing - "In software testing, monkey testing is a technique where the user tests the application or system by providing random inputs and checking the behavior. . . " (Wikipedia).

 

We need to do more than just Monkey Testing our games.

What is testing?

To begin, we need to have a common definition of testing. For this, I want to borrow the definition of software testing because the goal is the same:  

"Software testing is a process of executing a program or application with the intent of finding the software bugs." - ISTQB

Let's take out the word "software", and "the software bugs" with "problems". 

testing is a process of executing a program or application with
the intent of finding problems. 

Now that we have a definition of testing, we need to explore what the "process" is.

 

The Testing Process

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The Testing Process can be broken down into three key components.

  1. We start with a hypothesis or knowledge
  2. We iterate using experiments
  3. We gain knowledge about the system under test

Let's look at an example of this. Imagine you were testing tic-tac-toe. Where do you start? Well, you start with a hypothesis or knowledge. A possible hypothesis is, "the player who goes first always wins."

Now you can run a series of experiments by sitting with a friend and playing the game.

This is now the beginning of actual playtesting! Congratulations! 

But wait: imagine you play 100 games and the first player always wins, does that mean your hypothesis is validated? Actually, no it does not... Many times it is easier to prove something wrong than something right. The way to prove this hypothesis wrong is by stating "There exists a series of movies where the first player will lose." Anyone who has played Tic-Tac-Toe knows that this statement is true. This is where the scientific method can help us.

The Scientific Method

To avoid making this section really long, I will leave learning about the Scientific Method to you (Wikipedia).

The Scientific Method is just one process that can help. What I want to emphasize is that testing is just part of this process. The Tic-Tac-Toe example was a very simple case, but what about a bigger question that I get a lot while developing Genesis...

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I Love this Question! 

When I am asked this, I always try my best to respond with, "That's an interesting question, let me test it out." That's the beginning of the scientific method - the question. Then I start to formulate the hypothesis, create the testable prediction, gather data (ie. test/experiment), create a theory and then I make my next observation. This method has been refined over the years by people way smarter than me. As the expression goes, "Why reinvent the wheel?" There's a process you can use for testing your game and to learn every facet of it, might as well use it, right?

That's it for this post. In the next post I want to cover different types of testing methodologies and how they can apply to testing your games. Until then, I'd love to know what type of tests you do in your games? How do you structure it and how do you keep track of your tests?

Thanks for reading!

 

You can read the next post here: 
Types of Testing you can apply to your game! (Part 1/2)

How to Prepare for Your First Convention

Hello everyone!

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SkyCon is done and gone! Though it was so great, and we had the time of our lives, it is also good to finally be able to relax, reflect, and recover.

For those who don’t know what SkyCon is, it is a gaming convention held in the Kitchener-Waterloo region of Ontario. It focuses on table-top gaming (ie, cards, board games, minis, etc. More information can be found at www.skycongames.com). After the success of this year, it wouldn’t be a surprise if this becomes an annual event.

We felt like SkyCon was a great opportunity to debut Genesis, and we were right. It was a hectic weekend with very little sleep, but we showed the game to over 30 people, got feedback from 20 or so people, and sold a significant number of copies. It was a great experience. There were a few things we did really well and other things we could have done better, and I want to share those with you.

Practice, Practice, Practice.

I cannot stress this enough, you will never be practiced enough with your pitch. You just need to start doing it. So when it comes to your elevator pitch or teaching the game, you should start doing it with real people as soon as possible. That is something I am grateful for. I had a lot of opportunities leading up to the convention where I practiced teaching the game over, and over, and over, and over again. However, everyone else who came with me was not as fortunate.

What I would recommend you start with is showing your game to family and friends. When you do, ask them what you did well and what you can improve on. The important thing is to make sure the first time you pitch your game or teach the rules isn’t in front of customers.

Also, something I didn’t think would be so hard was to wrap things up. What I mean is, after you’ve demo’d your game, what do you do now? It always felt awkward. I hope whatever we plan for next convention is a bit more streamlined.

You can never be over prepared!

No matter how ready you think you are, you aren’t ready - especially if this is your first convention. Be ready to make mistakes and for things to feel awkward. That’s okay.

However, for the months/weeks/days leading up to your first convention, try to find a good project management tool. Trello was one of the greatest things I had at my disposal. There were so many little things that would have slipped through the cracks if I didn’t have it. You can use any project management tool you want, but I recommend you have something. A few examples of things that could have easily slipped past us were:

  • Do you have a way for people to pay by credit or debit card?

  • Do you have change for people who pay by cash?

  • Do you have something as a giveaway?

  • Do you have enough business cards?

  • Do you have your banner/advertisement?

One major thing that did slip past us was the temperature of the convention hall. When you have a booth, you need to be there all the time. So if it gets cold or hot at the booth, you need to manage that. Also, we didn’t practice with our debit machine enough and it started failing at random moments. These mistakes happen, you just need to improvise, make note about them, and make sure for the next event you are more prepared.

Sleep and Eat Well

With all of the excitement about a convention and stress about setting up, it is very easy to neglect eating or sleeping. This is a bad idea. Last thing you want to do is yawn while teaching someone the game or completely phase out when it’s your turn. (Sorry, Ken!) You only get one chance to make that first impression, and your audience will feed off of your energy and personality. If you’re bored or tired, they will notice that too. So sleep as well as you can.

Also, I found it hard to get healthy food at a convention hall. So if you can, bring a salad or some fruit, that would be great. Whatever brings you healthy energy is key. Also, bring lots of water!

Those are all my tips for you. If you are going to vendor at your first convention, I wish you the best of luck and I hope this helps.

If you’ve vendored at a convention before, what did you learn? Any tips you would share to a first time vendor? Or if you haven’t been a vendor, what questions do you have? Please leave a comment below.

Until next time!

~ Assad

 

5 Lessons I learned from My First Time Speaking on a Panel

 Assad Quraishi presenting at #QualityTO hosted by TWG, Toronto Ontario.

Assad Quraishi presenting at #QualityTO hosted by TWG, Toronto Ontario.

I was recently asked to speak on my first panel at QualityTO about "The Past, Present, and Future of QA in software testing". I honestly had no idea how it would go or how to prepare myself. I asked my mentor for some advice and had an answer ready for every question that they said would be asked. Despite all of my preparation, I was severely overwhelmed.

After I left that night, I followed my mantra of "Learn. Pivot. Keep Moving." and I wrote down everything I learned to prepare myself for my next panel talk (which will be at SkyCon - more details here). I realized that a great way to pay it forward would be to share the lessons I learned. If you're the type of person who just skims articles like this and just reads the titles, I totally get it because I do that too. But if you end up reading all of this, I will add some secret tips for you that the other people won't get ;)

1. Pick one key point. Say it early. Say it often.

 Card - Libraries of Sahas Artist - Rumyana Zarkova

Card - Libraries of Sahas
Artist - Rumyana Zarkova

For every presentation you do, it will boil down to one simple thing: you want your audience to takeaway your key points. The difference between a panel and regular presentation is that the audience is bombarded with information between the moderator's questions, your answers, and the other panelists' answers that they may not always remember your answer or your key takeaway if you do not emphasize it enough. I would recommend that you write that down on a cue card.

Then, at the panel, make sure you have that cue card in front of you the whole time. If you're anything like me, then you might get overwhelmed by the questions presented or what your peers are saying to the point that you forget what your key point is. Having that cue card in front of you will remind you of it whenever you get nervous.

Also, I recommend you say your key point first (ideally in your introduction) because that way, you are the one who is "owning" that viewpoint. If anyone expands on your point, it is still your point. If that is the one thing you want the audience to takeaway from you at the end of the night, then take the credit for it too.

I didn't do this, and people had no clear takeaway from what was presented at the end of the night. Worst of all, they didn't takeaway the point I wanted them to. That's why I wish I had said my one key point as often as possible.

2. Have friends in the audience

When I was preparing for this talk, I was super nervous and I didn't want my colleagues or friends to see me speak because I was worried they would hold on to any blunder I made and tease me for it. However, between having my wife and my friend show up that night, I found amazing resolve in myself. It was very helpful having them around because whenever I felt like I wasn't looking at the audience enough, I could look at them. Also, if I felt that the conversation was getting a bit boring, I could always find a way to make my wife chuckle and that was good enough for me.

At the end of it all, having friends and family watch you present brings a part of your home with you, and you can be more comfortable. I highly recommend this.

3. You know more than you think

When I saw the other speaker's profiles before the talk, I was deeply intimidated. They had way more experience than I did! But for a panel talk, that honestly doesn't matter too much. I say that because the host's reputation is on the line here too and they wouldn't have invited you to speak unless they trusted your background and respected your opinion in this field. Now, if you really know nothing about the topic, then respectfully decline the invitation to speak. But if you were asked to speak, then even if the audience doesn't care for what you say then at least the host/coordinator does. And if you followed my previous point, then you will have at least a few people who are curious in what you have to say.

Secret tip 1: Also, don't worry about getting a question you don't know the answer to. If you are truly stuck then asked if you can have a few moments to think about it and let the other speakers go first. At that point if you still don’t know what to say then you can just pass on the question. Hopefully the audience still built a wealth of knowledge from the other panelists that missing your answer won’t cause a problem.

4. Some preparation is important, but you don’t need to go overboard

If you're lucky, you will get a list of the questions that will be asked. That's great, prepare for them and have answers ready. However, you still need some luck if the moderator even asks those questions. Out of the 10 questions or so they said would be asked, maybe only two will actually be asked. So preparing for those exact questions was kind of a waste of time. However, practicing how those questions could tie back into your key point for the night is essential. If you want to prepare, have a friend ask you those questions and try to answer them on the spot and then ask them what their takeaway was. If it isn’t what you expected, practice this again and again until you and your friend have the same perspective.

5. Bring a notepad

Secret tip 2: Ask if you can have a table or something if you don't have one. That way you can put your drink, cue card, and notepad right in front of you.  

The worst issue I had was that our moderator sometimes was a bit long winded when asking questions. I understood that he was just trying to give context to the questions and to help the audience, but I was already very fazed and couldn't think straight by the time he got to his actual question. About half way through the night, I started writing down the questions he asked. That way I could compose my answers to the actual question. The best is when you can write down the question and your answer in bullet points really quickly after they are asked, and then you can pay attention to what the other panelists are saying. Because, while the audience came to hear everyone speak, you didn't come there to just hear yourself speak (or maybe you did...?). Seize this opportunity to hear your peers speak and learn from them too. The more time you spend forming your answer in your head and holding onto that answer as you wait for your turn, the less time you spend listening to your peers and learning from them. Remember for the same reasons you were invited to speak, they were invited too. So take a few moments to take notes on what they're saying and learn from them.

 Secret tip 3: Bring water! You might be talking for an hour or more. Staying hydrated and not letting your mouth dry out is important.

 That's all I have on this topic. What tips do you have about speaking on a panel? Please share below.

 

Why to design games - and why not to

Hello everyone!

I’ve been struggling with this topic for a while, and I wanted to share where I’m at with it. Then I want to hear your opinions on if you agree, disagree, or have an additional perspective that missed.

So, why should you make a game? I’m going to share two of my worst reasons I’ve made games, and two of my best reasons I’ve made a game.

Bad reason 1: To make money

Wow… *scratches head*... this was a bad idea. If you want to make a game because you think you’ll make it rich like Monopoly, Flappy Bird, Candy Crush, or whatever is out now, you are going to have a huge reality shock very quickly.

Have you ever seen the art piece “Onement Vi” By Barnett Newman? It’s a very simple piece, but it sold for more than 43 million dollars. Now you might be flabbergasted, as many people are, when you heard about this. You may even think to yourself, “I could have done that!” Yes, it’s true, you could have. But you didn’t. Let alone did you not do it, you couldn’t do it at the same time, same place, and same reputation that Barnett Newman did.

Those random success video games are random luck. Flappy Bird came out in 2014, according to Wikipedia, that year saw roughly 809 games (reference here). That appears to just be video games that were on everyone’s radar. That doesn’t even include indie games, board games, or other casual hobby games.

Like any other product based startup, if you work with the goal to make money, your chance of success is low because your measure of success is not correct. Money should never be the reason why you do something. It can be the outcome of what you do, but not the reason why you do it. Because if your game makes money or not is really hard to predict. You got to just make the game the best you can and hope for the best.

Bad reason 2: “Why not?”

This one has gotten me quite a few times. The story has always been the same for me. Either my friend or I have a game idea and we pitch it to the other person. We get excited and the thought comes, “should we make this game?” Then with a simple shrug, I say, “why not?” I’m often left thinking, “why else am I going to do with my spare time?”

What I’ve found is that every game that started with a shrug, never ended with me finishing the game. A good, well constructed, well balanced, well playtested game, takes a lot of effort! It should never be underestimated how hard it takes to make a game. That’s the only thing I really have to say about this point.

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Good reason 1: To learn and practice what you’ve learned

Onto the good reasons to make a game. If you’re still here, and you’re nodding along saying, “that’s not me”, I’m incredibly happy!

I want to move to my favourite reason for making a game: to learn something new and practice that thing in a fun space. What I’m trying to get at here is that everything can be gamified, even learning. There’s a game out there for almost every topic, but there’s going to be a few topics that don’t have a game around it. In that case, if you want to learn something, make a game out of it. That’s what I did throughout university.

I was in second year university and taking a computer science course. In the class we were introduced to stacks and queues. I had learned some of what a stack was from playing Magic: The Gathering and other card games. But the queue was a new concept. I couldn’t easily understand the pros and cons of each, or when to use them properly, so I took an early form of Genesis and changed it from using a stack to using a queue instead. After playing a few games, I could clearly understand the difference between the two.

Often there are concepts you don’t understand, and you need a space to explore it, and games can be a great source to do that. To dig deep into a topic and figure out how it works fully so that you can turn it into a game and respect the material you’re learning from. Like I said earlier, game design is an art form and art allows you to learn, grow, and develop in your own way, and that’s pretty amazing.

Good reason 2: You have “the itch”

If you’re like me, then you just have to be designing or working on a game. It’s just in you. Like a dancer has to dance, a painter has to paint, and a musician has to make music. I have to make games. It’s my creative outlet, and I know for many people out there it’s the same thing. There’s a great poet out there, Sarah Kay, and she has this phrase, “Poetry is like pooping. If there’s a poem in you, it has to come out.” That’s equally true about game design. If you’ve got a game that’s on your mind, and you’re passionate about it, then give it a go. But going back to my bad reason 2, don’t half-ass it. Do it to the best of your abilities and give it your all. Because it’s your’s at the end of the day, and you should take pride in that.

Conclusion

So I hope you walked away with a bit more guidance around if you should or shouldn’t make a game. I know those are my reasons, and you don’t have to follow them, but this has been my experience. In summay:

  • Don’t make games to make money

  • Don’t underestimate how hard it is to make a game

  • Do make games to learn, explore, and grow

  • Do make games if that’s your creative outlet

What have been the reasons you’ve made a game? Did it work out for you? Or was it a bigger struggle than you thought?

Until next time!

Introduction - Who are we?

Hello all,

Since this is our first blog, I figured a small introduction would be appropriate. I am Assad, the founder of Haunted Castle Gaming and an avid card game player. I have been playing card games since ‘94 when I first picked up a deck of Magic: The Gathering. Since then I’ve a series of TCGs, both small and large. My favourites being OverPower, Pokemon, Yu-Gi-Oh, and of course Magic.

I founded Haunted Castle Gaming with the core belief belief that games are amazing learning tools. I believe that games should, "enable and facilitate learning". I have personally learned so much from games and I want to contribute to helping others learn just as much. A prime example was learning about “the stack” from Magic; or being able to practice some of Sun Tzu’s concepts from The Art of War in Yu-Gi-Oh tournaments. And on a low level, it’s a great place to practice math and reading comprehension.

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A little bit of a background on the name of the company. This whole endeavour started when I approached my friend and told him I had a dream about making my own game. He immediately jumped on board, and we made our first game then. That was 2003, and I was in grade 10 at Galt Collegiate Institute in Cambridge. Our high school was known for two things: Looking like a castle and being haunted. As an homage to that day, I named the company after my high school.

Normally I will end my blogs with a key takeaway that I want you to ponder, question, and debate me against. But seeing how this is the first blog we’re posting, I don’t think that's needed. So let’s just end with a simple question: What’s one lesson or concept you learned from playing games?

That’s all for now!