Astroneer and the opposition between freedom and mastery

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LudoTIC presents « GameU.R. »

logo GameUR

Regularly, we present a game’s review using our tools and expertise: our Game Usability Review (Game U.R. for short). The goal of these reviews is to find out what is good or bad, to uncover problems and discuss some solutions.
Game development is an art, here are some pieces of advice to turn your work into a masterpiece.

We use an internally developed method which sees a game from 3 points of view:

  • Usability: as a Human Machine Interface
  • Playability: as an object with playing potential
  • Gameplay: as a video game

For more details, see our related article !
You can see here our last review of Paladins !

Today : Astroneer

Astroneer is an exploration and adventure game made by Systeme Era Softworks. You are a spaceman in a spacesuit and you land on an unknown planet. There, using a “terrain shaping vacuum cleaner”, you have to discover your surroundings and build upgrades of your base to discover more and maybe reach space gain.
This is an exploration game where the player has to discover and shape the world around him with little to no help, much like Don’t starve, Subnautica or Minecraft. The usual struggle of these games is “how much the player needs to know and what can we let him discover by himself”, let’s see how Astroneer handles that.

Astroneer Logo

For now, Astroneer is in “Pre-Alpha”, it means that it will change and maybe some of the topic we will talk about will be fixed afterward or won’t exist anymore. For the review, we used the 0.2.10119.0 version, mid-January 2017.

One day was enough to review this game and to end with these findings:

 

1/ Usability

Aide et guidage

Help and guidance

At the start of the game, it teaches us the basic inputs (moving the camera, using the “vacuum cleaner”…).

CarefulWarning BUT after that, no explanation is given about anything, we have to learn ourselves that with no “blue bar” (oxygen) you die and that you can build lots of different “buildings” for your base.
AdviceAdvice For these particular issues, you can add a little recap after the character’s death and a quick description of the function of each building before or after we build it.
What is this thing ? What does it do ?

What is this thing ? What does it do ?

 


Sensation de controle

Sensation of control

The game can be played with a mouse and keyboard or with a controller and inputs can be freely mapped.

CarefulWarning With a controller, the same input is used for aiming with the « vacuum cleaner » or an item and moving the camera: the right stick. And with the mouse, we have to use the right click to turn the camera around. This means that we can’t turn around easily while vacuuming or moving an item.
AdviceAdvice A solution could be to lock the camera behind the character when the « vacuum cleaner » is out or an item is selected. This means the camera would always have the character and the target in a line in these situations and still allow to look around freely the rest of the time. This could even allow to remove the right click input and thus, simplify the controls.
A camera position that coul be more pleasant, when interacting with something, it stays behind the character.

A pleasant camera position

2/ Playability

Choix

Choices

ApprovalGood point After guiding us to do the basic interactions the games leaves us with tremendous possibilities.
For example, we were 3 to test this game and none of us had the same experience. One made a rover to explore farther, one tried to build an efficient base and the other made a big complex to ease his access to oxygen.
AdviceAdvice In this “sandbox” type of game, offering a lot of opportunities is very important to leave the player experiment boundlessly and create unique experiences.
Expanded base One of the vehicles in the game

 


Espace d'experimentation

Experimentation Space

This criteria is about ensuring that the player can test, experiment and investigate possibilities. The game offers him several actions and possibilities and provides opportunities to make them real.

Approval
Good point
Astroneer leaves us on an unknown planet with an earth shaping vacuum cleaner and from that we can do anything: building, exploring, collect… It even poke our curiosity by displaying mountains and strange structures in the distant skyline.
Advice
Advice
Astroneer is a very good example of this criteria: In this kind of game, you have to leave the player free to make his own journey. The use of procedurally generated environment allow to shape new planets for each game, creating even more unique experiences.
If I go there's just no telling how far I'll go !

« If I go there’s just no telling how far I’ll go ! »

3/Gameplay

Failure

ApprovalGood Point Death isn’t penalizing in the game, we just revive at our base, it even invite us to try again because the body remains were we died with all his inventory and a marker displays its position in the distance to easily find it.
CarefulWarning BUT an issue remains, when we die and as the game goes on, we tend to use most of the resources close to our base. It can become harder to progress the more we fail which is not a very good moto for new players.
Advice
Advice
A solution could be to make some of the resources respawn around the the base if the player stays in a zone too close to it. Or to add events that reshape the terrain and create new opportunities over time.
We can see where we died.

We can see where we died.

 


Acquisition de competences

Skills acquisition

ApprovalGood Point At first, the tutorial is really simple and we understand quickly what the game is about, we find ourselves really free to experiment as we like.
CarefulWarning BUT after that, and really early, the game provides no more explanations and we have to understand and remember how everything work ourselves. It can sometimes take hours to figure out necessary functionalities and sometimes it feels impossible without looking for the wiki online.
Advice
Advice
It doesn’t hinder the discovery to sometimes explain functions or hint about how to use objects with a little text or sound. Or even add a “bestiary” in the menu to list the crafted objects function.
The pretty usefull wiki page :)

The pretty usefull wiki page 🙂

Conclusion

Astroneer feels great, it feels really good to explore these new worlds and pluck them of their precious resources. The “vacuum cleaner” allow a lot of freedom to explore and shape the environment. One of the developer’s biggest challenge will be to tune the players progression and find the balance between freedom to allow discovery and guidance to enhance mastery.

Infographie GameUR Astroneer English

A picture is worth a thousand words

 

This review was but only a peek of our Astroneer’s assessment (It isn’t even its final form !!). We can do a lot more thanks to our tools and expertise, contact us if you want to know more.
If you have questions or opinions, please tell us In the comments. See you next time 😉

That was GameU.R. the review ergo of jeux vidéo.

 

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Eloi Duclercq
Eloi est spécialisé dans l'ergonomie des jeux et media interactifs. Il apporte son expertise au pôle recherche Jeux Vidéos et s'intéresse particulièrement aux problématiques liées à la réalité virtuelle.
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