Something very exciting happened last month: Iron Roads was released into the big scary world and onto the screens of the first batch of alpha testers. What a ride it's been (please excuse the train puns).
We've had an enthusiastic, and unexpected, response to our call for testers. We are grateful to the lovely folks who put up with the bugs and major quality of life issues, joined our fledgling Discord community and shared their thoughts. Their feedback has changed both our short-term and longer-term roadmap, but I'll get to that in a bit.
The question of 'will people play and enjoy my game?' haunts every developer's mind and until you have a playable prototype, you can never know the answer. At the same time you don't want your early testers to get derailed (I promise I'll stop!) from your vision because your prototype has too many placeholders and missing content. It's a tricky balance, but we reasoned that if we wanted to create a game people wanted to play, we would need to involve them as early as possible, even though it meant putting something out there we were not entirely happy with.
We aimed for a complete (ha!) version of a small slice of gameplay and posted about it on Reddit, and had a really positive response. It's not there yet, and there's a lot to fix, but we were particularly thrilled to find out that some people have played the demo for over eight hours. This is all very promising and makes us think that we're on the right track (I'll see myself out...). Below is a particularly intricate layout created during this testing (thanks to Kaigoni, who kindly gave us permission to exhibit this wonderful layout).
So, back to the feedback and what we got up to in the last few weeks. On Discord, players can vote for features they would like, which helps us decide if an idea is popular and what to prioritise. After Duncan had fixed some gnarly bugs we missed when playtesting internally, we addressed some quality of life issues brought to our attention by the community. This included improving the WASD controls, adding edge scrolling, cleaning up UI issues, adding a tutorial and fixing typos. More serious changes were changing no entry zones into no-stop zones (this still needs more work) and adding waypoints to give players more control over the precise routes taken by their trains.
Interestingly, there is very little overlap between what our to-do list looked like before we got tester feedback, and after. The former list veered towards tasks that are more fun for us to do, but are less of a priority for players. Things like animations, new towns and reducing train speed around corners. We will still add these, but the external voices have made us more objective with how we prioritise our time.
We've also tried to increase Iron Roads' visibility during the Steam Next Fest that starts today. We've updated our trailer and made a 'watch devs play' video. If you are a streamer, journalist, or just someone who would like to play Iron Roads and talk about it somewhere - even at the pub with your mates, please do get in touch. Anyone can playtest by downloading the demo on Steam and joining our Discord. And consider wishlisting Iron Roads, because, you know, algorithms.
Once we have recover from Next Fest, we'll continue ticking off player requests, fixing bugs and more excitingly, developing new scenarios and generally adding new content to Iron Roads.