This overview will provide you insight into how testing and iterating over time assisted Geometric Interactive in refining the core game design pillars of COCOON, generating a title with 97% positive reviews, achieving a Metacritic score of 88, and achieved several awards, one of which was for Best Independent Game at Game Awards 2023
The Journey to Success:
Geometric Interactive's "COCOON" (Led By Jeppe Carlsen, the lead gameplay designer of LIMBO and INSIDE, and programmer/composer Jakob Schmid, whose work on the music-based platformer '140' won the 2013 IGF Award for Excellence in Audio.) was unleashed on September 29, 2023, after five years of meticulous development, and the accolades were instantaneous. The game received overwhelmingly positive reviews, standing tall on Metacritic across various platforms, a testament to the success of their long-form progression playtesting strategy.
So, how did COCOON become such a success?
Meticulous Playtesting & Puzzle Design Iteration
One of the key factors that contributed to the success of "COCOON" was its exceptionally intuitive gameplay & how its vision was refined throughout its journey.
From the moment players entered the game, they were greeted with an interface that seamlessly guided them through the mechanics and interactions.
Consistent internal & external playtesting assessing the gameplay experience throughout has helped to create regular feedback loops, ensuring that any potential points of confusion were identified and addressed early in the development process.
Just look at several early prototype Videos released by the Geometric Interactive team, demonstrating how far the game has come from its early prototype stage.
Prototype vs Final Game Comparison - First Puzzle
Key Killer Puzzle: One of the first puzzles in the game, you use the hierarchy of worlds within worlds to overcome an obstacle. This one is also almost identical in the final game vs the original prototype.
Prototype vs Final Game - World Building
Lift Powered By 3 Orbs: In the 2D prototype, we sometimes added a big lift that would require all orbs to activate and then transport you to a new area. This was added for level design reasons since a point of no return where all orbs are brought along is a great setup for introducing a new scene or puzzle concept. In the video, you can see an example of how we, in the final game, turned these simple "progression lifts" into world-building set pieces.
"Testing for failure was perhaps more important than testing for success."Jeppe Carlsen, Game Designer (Game Developer Interview with Chris Kerr November 3 2023)
Focused Full-Game Playtesting
COCOON's vision is a seamless experience; assessing individual puzzles in isolation wasn't enough. To ensure a well-rounded and engaging gaming experience across all biomes, the stakeholders paid close attention to market perception over time.
Over 1.5 years, Geometric refined the title with various forms of full-gamethrough playtesting with external markets to create the perfect balance of gameplay and breathtaking visuals.
To evaluate success, Geometric identified key objectives & behaviours to observe in the gameplay footage:
- The world was cohesive, and players felt new mechanics were naturally introduced.
- Confusion did not lead to puzzle complexity over time, particularly the visual clarity within each Biome & world hopping understanding.
- What puzzles required an additional step to ease the understanding and maintain a seamless experience?
- How are people behaving with each mechanic as they progress deeper into the game?
- Are players feeling a sense of challenge and accomplishment as they progress?
- Are people smiling through satisfying interactions?
How Geometric conducted the full-game playtesting?
By iterating our core mechanics/pillars heavily in the early phases of development with a wide array of people/stakeholders, Geometric were able to reduce our numbers for the long-form phase of strategic playtests. However, depending on our needs/objectives, they scaled up and down between 8-15 players per test to build confidence in the areas where they were concerned.
For each test:
- People took part from start to finish with no guidance, as Geometric Interactive wanted to replicate the natural experience before release.
- Fresh eyes/new players were used to benchmark the progress.
- Focus was on understanding how the game overall felt but for each iteration, particular focuses on areas that weren't performing as expected.
- They watched the behaviour of players to assess how our changes had impacted the puzzles and the game as a whole.
- The playtest was extended to allow people more time to overcome their challenges in the game.
"I think, interestingly, what you end up having to do a lot is playtest to figure out all of the apparent wrong solutions so you understand what sort of ideas people have when they interact with your puzzles. You have to polish those incorrect 'solutions' as much as you polish the actual solution. By that, I mean when someone tries something that's incorrect, you need to be able to feed back to them that it's 100 percent wrong and repeated attempts will still be 100 percent wrong."Jeppe Carlsen, Game Designer (Game Developer Interview with Chris Kerr November 3 2023)
Playtesting for Market Release
As "COCOON" approached the end of its development life cycle, Geometric Interactive remained committed to delivering a polished and refined product.
Feedback from the player community, combined with insights from internal stakeholders, informed decisions about updates, patches, and additional content.
"COCOON is a deeply special game that gushes with expertise from the talented minds that programmed it. By constantly expanding upon the unique mechanic of layered world-hopping, players are gifted with an absolute darling of a puzzle game. COCOON is one that is rarely meant to stump with obtuse solutions, instead becoming a constantly evolving challenge that travels through spectacular alien worlds and rewarding moments."Digitial Chumps, 98 Metacritic Review
Results of Full-Game Playtesting
"COCOON" by Geometric Interactive stands as a testament to the power market feedback has in aligning stakeholder decisions with the public ensuring the game became another indie benchmark for excellence in the gaming world.
Including WINNING The Best Debut Indie Game at The Game Awards 2023 The developer's success story continues...
Summer Games Fest 2023 - Most Anticipated Indie
Day of the Devs Summer Games Fest Edition 2023 - Official Selection
Golden Joystick Awards - Breakthrough Award
IGN - Best Puzzle Game
Esquire Gaming Awards 2023 - Best of All-Around Game
Launch Trailer 🚀
Don't wait to validate your gameplay – start capturing your audiences' habits early and often to ensure you have the time to polish the game & maximise your opportunity.