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The Darknet Flavor Demo

The flavor demo is a brief, limited, tutorial-like experience; it's meant to give you a taste of the game in a very short time. If you have an Oculus Rift DK1, go check it out!

The demo was my best shot at solving a tricky problem: how do you show the appeal of a deep strategy game in an expo setting? I knew I'd be showing off the game at GDC and PAX East, and I'd only have a few minutes to impress people, but Darknet is designed for much longer play sessions. I can't possibly teach all the game mechanics that quickly, let alone give players enough time to start figuring out the strategy. So what to do?

I chose to focus on the theme and overall feeling of the game (the "flavor"), while still giving a glimpse of the game mechanics. There's only one part of the demo that serves as actual gameplay, and I struggled to balance it for first-time players (for a long time it was way too difficult, and now I fear it may be too easy). There were a lot of tradeoffs involved in getting the demo down to an acceptable length, and it was sometimes painful (like any good iterative design process should be).

That said, I think it worked out pretty well! By the end of the demo, most players seem excited by the game's possibilities rather than frustrated by the demo's limitations, and everyone seems to understand the demo's purpose and context. It's a good first impression, and that's all I need at this point.

Another related problem is that Oculus Rift games are not great for spectators. I could mirror the player's view on a monitor, but the warped image isn't ideal, and it would kinda spoil the experience for everyone else. My solution was to show a few minutes of looping gameplay footage on the monitor while someone was in the demo. That gives spectators something a little prettier to look at and makes sure that the demo will stay fresh for them.

This system worked great at GDC, and I'm optimistic about showing it at the VRLA launch event tonight, but the real test will be at PAX East, where I'll be a part of the Indie MINIBOOTH. That's three straight days of demos! I'm stocking up on wet wipes for the Rift and cough drops for myself. Wish me luck!

P.S. One fun fact about the demo: the "computer voice" is provided by the wonderful Jon St. John, the voice of Duke Nukem and a bunch of other great game characters! He really nailed it, I think. :)

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