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iOS/Android designer diary: The One Night Ultimate Werewolf/Vampire app

Ted Alspach
United States
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Castles of Mad King Ludwig Collector's Edition on Kickstarter January 19th
Castles of Mad King Ludwig Collector's Edition on Kickstarter January 19th
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From gallery of toulouse
Game design for the One Night Ultimate Werewolf games, including One Night Ultimate Vampire (shipping to KS backers soon, and available in retail in a few months), involves a whole plethora design and development tasks. In my designer diary for One Night Ultimate Vampire, I talk about how the gameplay for the game and roles in the game were created and evolved, and here I’m going to talk about the free app.

If you aren’t familiar with the app, it’s free for iOS/Android and works on phones and tablets. It’s had one major update already, when Daybreak launched, and at that time we added several new features, but for the most part they were all “add-on” features - they just were bolted on to the app however they fit. For Vampire, the app has been totally rethought and redesigned, while ensuring that we kept the things that people love about the app: ease of use and quick in-and-out gameplay.

As a game designer, I spend a lot of time reading reviews and comments about my games on BGG. It’s a little narcissistic if you just read the comments for people who rate the game a 10, and it can be downright depressing to read the 1 2 3 rating comments. But I read them all, because I want to know what is working and what isn’t for players of my games, so I can learn what I need to do to better next time. For games with a companion app, like One Night, I also read Google Play and iTunes reviews to see how the app is being received.

What’s good, what’s bad
The app research resulted in the following takeaways for the app:

Pro: Everyone loves Eric Summerer’s voice work. Player who noodle with the settings like Ashly Burch’s voice work as well, but Eric takes the crown here.

Pro: The app is super convenient, and the overall UI works really well.

Pro: The app is free. People love free.

Con: The nighttime narration can take too long sometimes.

Con: The Doppelganger role is confusing (this is commentary from both the game and the app).

Con: New players are confused that all the roles aren’t shown in the app (Villager, Tanner, Hunter, Bodyguard, Prince, Cursed).

Con: There’s no way to pause the narration and/or timer when an out-of-game event occurs (doorbell, baby crying, etc.).

Con: It wasn’t obvious where to go to change the Game Timer settings.

Con: It wasn’t obvious where to change any other settings, either.

Immediate fixes
There were also two issues that were (in my mind) egregious enough to fix them in an minor bug-fix update:

Issue: There was a bug on Android that prevented users from changing the hardware volume while in the app. While this didn’t make it unplayable, it caused a lot of issues for people who launched the app with their volume very low initially.

Issue: One of the new Daybreak app features, which added a new screen of dialog (and related narration) to every night right before players were told to wake up (it asked them to move their cards around slightly with their eyes closed), was loved by some and hated by others. Of course, the haters were very vocal about their displeasure with this new feature.

The Android sound bug was simply a bug that was easy to fix (I’m not a developer, and with my background in product management, all “little” bugs are easy to fix…hahaha). The “Move your cards around” issue was different. Because some people loved it I couldn’t just take it away, so instead a new option was added to the options screen that allowed players to turn it on and off as needed.

Getting the app prepared for Vampire
With my list of pro’s and con’s I started making a list of the enhancements I’d like for the app, adding screenshots and as much detail as possible. Of course, I also had the new Vampire-specific functionality to deal with, which meant even more new features and changes.

The most critical things with any One Night game release-related app enhancements are (1) to add all the new roles and (2) figure out how they integrated with the existing app roles. In addition, I really wanted the new narration in place early for testing purposes, even before the final roleset was determined; with Daybreak I waited until late in the process to do this, and it resulted in lots of late-stage changes to gameplay that put more pressure on me than I was comfortable with.

I sent the first list of role narration to Eric Summerer back in December 2014, and because he’s a consummate professional, he turned them around like he always does in a few days. I had the initial set of narration audio on December 10th, and after my developer turned it around pretty quickly, that allowed me to do testing of the app AND the game right away.

The above paragraph makes it seem like I got the audio files, gave them to my developer, and I was able to test, just like that. Nothing could be further from the truth. Prior to getting the script to Eric, I had to figure out the entire order and logistical mess that is now One Night Ultimate [lots-of-stuff]. Some of the ordering was very apparent, because most of the new roles that add Marks into the game happen in a pretty solid block. But others had to be squeezed in between other existing roles. Not only that, but there is a ridiculous amount of logic that is required for the app to spit out the correct narration based on various combo’s of roles. Every audio file/screen has a series of “show if X is in the game” and “Show if X is NOT in the game”. For instance, the narration that tells players to look at their marks halfway through the night only plays if one of the new Mark-adding characters is active…so those characters had to be listed out for that line. Some of the role interactions are incredibly complex too: The Apprentice Assassin and Assassin narration is very different if one or both of them are active.

Then there’s the Doppelganger. Hardcore One Night players love the Doppelganger. I love the Doppelganger, too. However, with Vampire, the Doppelganger has resulted in spaghetti logic that required a two-story whiteboard to comprehend, let alone figure out. There were times that I seriously considered placing a line in the Vampire rulebook that said “You can’t use the Doppelganger with Vampire” which would have saved a ton of time and at least one punchboard from having to be included in the shipping box. But I stuck to it, and worked out most of the kinks (there could still be some edge cases out there that no one has found yet, but I’m sure that the previously-mentioned hardcore players will let me know when something isn’t right).

Here’s a look at a portion of the spreadsheet I use to track the narration in the game:

From gallery of toulouse

The other issue that I had been in denial about was that with all the new characters in Vampire (and any unlocked stretch goals during the KS campaign), the roles wouldn’t fit on the screen. They just barely fit for Daybreak/Bonus Pack 1, and they had to be reduced in size in order to work there. I didn’t want to go any smaller than the Daybreak edition of the app, so some sort of way to have more roles would have to be incorporated. Ultimately, we went with a scrolling list, that’s ordered by night wake up order. But even with that, I knew that the majority of players would have just the base set, or some combination of games that weren’t all of them, and to make everyone scroll through characters that they didn’t have was bad design. Buttons across the top of the app that show the different games/bonus packs were the solution to that, allowing players to turn entire games on and off at once.

The New Features

I then went through and focused on each of the major cons I found when doing my research, attempting to solve them in a way that wouldn’t compromise the integrity of the app.

Expert Mode: To solve the “nighttime narration takes too long” issue, I developed a special mode called “expert mode” where the narration is limited to critical directions, and not the long, drawn out rules that usually are played. This effectively cut nighttimes down by about 50%. The werewolf screens, with this option on are “Werewolves wake up. [pause x seconds] Werewolves close your eyes.” If you change the role timer to 0 (or just turn it off), this speeds through the night like you wouldn’t believe. Of course, to do this required a whole new set of audio files and screens (yay, more busy work).

Verbose Doppelganger: To address the “Doppelganger is confusing” issue, I chose to address the single most difficult aspect of the role: remembering which roles go right away (when the Doppelganger first wakes up), and which ones are done later. With this option on, the narration will list the Doppelganger roles that should do their night action right away. It does this by listing all of the roles that are active and should be done immediately: “Doppelganger, wake up and look at another player’s card. You are now that role. If you viewed the [Seer], [Robber], or [Troublemaker], do your night action now.”

All Roles Available: The app was designed to assist with nighttime narration. From that point of view, only the roles that actually wake up at night needed to be in the app. However, that point of view isn’t shared by players new to the game, and feedback from new players was that the app was “missing” roles, because there was no Villager, Hunter, Tanner, etc. Many users rated the app low as a result, saying it was missing roles. Initially, those kind of comments (and their ratings) can seem irritating, because “that’s not what the app is for” comes to mind. But in retrospect, just because that was how the app was originally designed doesn’t mean that it syncs up with users’ expectations. Initially I thought I would just add the missing roles allow them to be clicked, and (since there isn’t a night action for them) just ignore them in the app.

Then I realized that here was a golden opportunity to address another issue that I personally had run into, but just chalked it up to user error: Having the wrong roles selected. When this happens, it’s halfway (or more) through the night when everyone realizes that somethings not right, like a role that should be called was skipped, and it requires a total redo: cards have to be shuffled and redealt, and the night has to start over again. In fact, I was often doing a lot of math in my head when setting up the app each night: I would count the number of players in the game, add three (for the 3 center cards), and then subtract the non-waking roles, then count the number of selected icons in the app. With weird math like that, it’s no wonder that screwups happen occasionally.

The new feature lists *all* the cards in the game, including duplicates (for instance, there are two werewolves, so now there are two buttons for werewolves). A number appears within the Play button that indicates how many roles are selected. As long as that number equals the number of cards on the table (including the 3 center cards), you’re good to go.

Pause: This seems like a little thing, but adding a pause button to the app so that it stops the narration or timer wasn’t easy. The result is a much more flexible app, and it also provides a way for a group to say “before we vote, let’s just…” and still have the app count down the vote.

Game Timer quick access: The first version of the One Night app allowed players to change the game timer right on the main screen. The Daybreak version pushed that handy adjustment feature into settings, requiring the user to tap the settings button, and then tap the Edit button of the Game Timer options. Not terrible, but definitely not convenient. The new app provides the ability to access the Game Timer directly by pressing and holding the game timer icon, displaying the Game Timer settings instantly.

Gear instead of i: The first version of the app had very little in the way of settings, and was mainly about providing info to the user about the app and game. Thus, a lowercase “i” was chosen to access preferences. Replacing the “i” with a gear was a welcome change, and makes it very obvious where settings are.

2X Complex roles: Testing showed that roles like Cupid and the Priest, where players have to move several items around (in both of those cases, 4 items) take longer than others at night, so there's now an option to double the length of complex roles like those.

From gallery of toulouse
The first version of the app shipped with a crickets chirping background. You could turn it on or off (or change the volume of the crickets). Functional, but a little annoying at high volumes (Tom Vasel’s review of One Night had the background sound on and sounded terrible). The Daybreak version of the app upped the ante by providing two different musical compositions (created by yours truly from Logic Pro libraries) as well as wolves and card shuffling noises.

For Vampire, and really for the whole series, I wanted something that was uniquely, distinctly One Night, so I started talking to composers, and finally settled on one who seemed to get the spirit of the game. The first track he delivered was the Fantasy track (available on the current version of the app), and it had a strong set of melodies. So strong, in fact, that I began humming the melody and eventually came up with words to it, which we ended up using for the One Night Music Video.

Once the basic melody was locked down, it was time to come up with interesting variations: I had him create a whole bunch of them: A wild-west Spaghetti Western sound, a horror movie soundtrack (you can hear part of it at the beginning of the Music Video), Vampire Rock (think Lost Boys and From Dusk ’til Dawn), disco and others.

To accommodate all the new tracks, the background screen of course had to be entirely redone.

Final voice files
Some of Eric’s voice files were cobbled together just for testing purposes, and those had to be replaced. Eric supplied more then 130 new audio snippets for the app. Ashly Burch provided a complete set of audio files for the update as well.

This is the final step. All the new features are are being tested thoroughly to see how they’re working. The vampire logic is the toughest to test, and while most of that is complete, the roles weren’t finalized until just before the Kickstarter, so the logic needs to be retested with the roles that didn’t make the cut taken out, and with the roles that have been achieved via stretch goals in. Some of the other new features build on that logic, so they have to be entirely tested as well.

Finally, testing will be done on as many devices as possible, so we can do a simultaneous iOS/Android release.

Shipping is soon!
As you can probably tell from this writeup, a lot goes into making a companion app for a game like One Night Ultimate Vampire and One Night Ultimate Werewolf. But it’s definitely worth it, as I know the experience of using this app makes the game that much better!
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