Water Good Idea: Hydrophobia’s Darknet

By John Walker on May 17th, 2011 at 12:36 pm.

Just cranking the checkpoints.

It’s safe to say I didn’t enjoy Hydrophobia: Prophecy so much, but when it comes to listening to players’ comments it’s hard to fault developers Dark Energy. Today they’re reporting some impressive success from their Darknet system – a context sensitive feedback system that lets the team see customer remarks exactly where they have them during the game.

It’s implemented in the Steam version of the oft-revised Hydrophobia game, and has received thousands of responses in the first week – far more than the team were expecting. Dark Energy’s director, Pete Jones, explained,

“We were expecting a slow burn with Darknet, so when we switched on InfiniteWorlds the day after launch and the whole game map lit up like a Christmas tree, we were really surprised. People really seem to be embracing the connected development philosophy behind Darknet.”

It’s unquestionably a brilliant idea. Imagine a map of the game with hotspots wherever players are commenting on events. The team can then see exactly what people are feeding back, and either learn that something was great, or see there’s an issue that needs fixing. And fixing they are, with a number of updates already released on Steam addressing concerns. Including increasing the number of checkpoints, which will make the experience less frustrating.

Of course, a cynical person could suggest that the system lit up so vibrantly and so instantly because the game is so riddled with annoyances. But Dark Energy are reporting positive feedback too.

“It’s a mind blowing experience to play back through the game you created and see what the community thinks about the different elements. You see clusters of positive responses around cool moments and you can analyse the map area by area to see which are most popular. But the main idea of course is to actively improve the game, and this is already happening. Thanks to Steam Cloud we’ve already delivered several micro updates to address frustrations flagged up by Darknet, such as adding extra checkpoints to alleviate concentrations of frustration data points.”

It’s the sort of thing I’d love to see in more games. Valve’s system of monitoring data, rather than receiving direct feedback, is perhaps more representative (with Darknet your feedback is exclusively from the sorts of people who want to leave feedback, which skews your results somewhat), but also must lack something in not being nearly as personal.

Such a system would, of course, also be biased toward negative comments. If I’m enjoying a moment of a game, the last thing I’m going to want to do is snap out of the moment and leave a remark. But if I’m stuck, or annoyed, the fiction’s already broken. But then, as the developers say, that’s the real purpose.

I think it’s an excellent idea, and certainly demonstrates humility on the part of a developer who came to fame for kicking off at negative reviews. Good call.

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56 Comments »

  1. Temple to Tei says:

    Something similar on RPS?

    “John made a good point”
    “Quinn is pithy”
    “More Minecraft articles”

    • Ruadhan says:

      Totally! RPS should have a way to add a context sensitive feedback system to the site. Per-paragraph is perhaps a little bit much – I don’t want to break immersion, even if I stumble across an irritating SPAG issue – but maybe some form of feedback at the article level.

      The logical place to have such a system would be at the bottom of articles, so once I’ve read them I could immediately give my feedback. You could make the process fairly easy by having a text entry box already at the bottom of the page, inviting us to say something.

      By that point you don’t need to worry about immersion much, so you could even let other readers view the feedback, and perhaps give them a chance to agree or disagree? I don’t know, that might result in some good ideas being met with mockery, which you probably wouldn’t want…

    • JackShandy says:

      It could make little speech bubbles pop up when you mouse over a sentence that people have reacted to. Spell-checking and identification of awkward paragraphs or tricky segues could be done instantly – you could tighten your overall journalism experience and really reduce frustration.

    • Temple to Tei says:

      Oooh, it’d be like Demon Souls.
      You’d know not to read this article as many had already perished there already.

    • stahlwerk says:

      What would be great: if there was a mechanism, say, a button, that let’s me express appreciation of an article. If enough people clicked this “yes, please more of this button”, the RPSchums could think about releasing extra content, or maybe just activate additional advertisement banners on those articles with a higher appreciation rate.

    • Koozer says:

      Woosh.

    • stahlwerk says:

      Is it a bird? Is it a plane?

    • Harley Turan says:

      Nope, it’s the spambot!

    • Pop says:

      Ah man, you could rate the difficulty and frustration involved in parsing each sentence!

      Plus they could add buttons at the beginning and end of each paragraph to monitor both the completion rate and completion time!

      Then we could watch over time as all articles slowly degenerate into monosyllabic grunts of derision or approval in order to appease the metrics! Less long words! More grunts! Less metaphors! More numbers!

    • bill says:

      I guess if we all went and installed Diigo (or some other social postit extension) then we could do it now.

    • Dances to Podcasts says:

      And for comments too!

  2. Nighthood says:

    It’s a nice idea, completely overwritten by the dickishness of the developers who used it.

    It’s always annoying when good ideas are held down by bad people.

    • Urael says:

      Harsh. In my view they’ve learned some lessons from said “dickishness”. Nobody gets a second chance in your world of black/white absolutes?

    • trjp says:

      They’ve had a few chances, to be fair, and they still keep dropping clangers.

      The original game – the updated version of the game and then the PC version of the game…

      Their next game may be lovely but I think the boat is long sailed on this one, however much they insist otherwise.

    • Urael says:

      “…and then the PC version of the game…”

      You mean the one that loads of people have commented on RPS that they’re enjoying, in defiance of John Walker’s drubbing? And define “clangers”: beyond the initial griefing of journalists what have they actually done that’s so wrong?

      Please help me understand why so many around here are prepared to wash their hands of these guys, when to my mind they – recently – seem to be doing a lot right.

    • icupnimpn2 says:

      It is a nice idea, but it’s a stunningly better idea pre-launch.

    • Fierce says:

      @trjp

      I too would like to read your response to Urael’s inquiry, trjp. I, perhaps being unsoiled by the original and X360 update, look forward to what they do with this game concept next, especially considering all the feedback they’ve received.

    • enshak says:

      I’am about 180 on your opinion. The developers aren’t being dickish and darknet is a bad idea. When I’am on holiday I don’t want to be taking endless pictures of mysely. I want to be having a good time.

    • trjp says:

      @Urael here’s the deal with Hydrophobia and me…

      They launched it on 360 – I read about ‘amazing water effects’ and ‘revolutionary combat’ and was intrigued so I hit-up the demo – which was short, boring, featured a small about of water and no combat – time totally wasted really.

      A mate bought it tho – he likes water or somesuch shit – so I tried it and, well, I didn’t see the attraction at all.

      Then there’s a fanfare – they’re releasing the ‘updated’ version which is even better and it so when I around his place I try it again and – I’ll be totally honest, I didn’t really notice much difference.

      Then the PC version comes along – and I’m realistic, it’s not going to be any different is it? I might have tried a demo – except their last demo was shite and there isn’t one for PC.

      Here’s a tip for developers – create a game, release it with a DECENT demo – accept the reviews and move along quietly.

      There are far too many games as it is, trying to resell us your tired old tat isn’t really necessary…

  3. Mechorpheus says:

    I have to say, I’ve played a good couple of hours of Hydrophobia and am not hating it. The slowdown is annoying but not as bad as John seemed to suggest, and I love the water effects. The voice acting and general plot are almost in the ‘so bad it’s funny’ camp, and I have no real problem with the general ‘action adventure’ gameplay, works well enough. Reminds me of uncharted in a way.

    • westyfield says:

      “voice acting and general plot are almost in the ‘so bad it’s funny’ camp”

      So they’re just bad, then?

    • Urael says:

      If you can appreciate Zoe Castillo from Dreamfall then you won’t have any trouble here. Despite some early moments of less-than-stellar delivery from the main actress the voice-acting generally is perfectly serviceable, and even quite good in places. I’ve heard much much worse; Dragon Age slurps to mind…

    • John Walker says:

      As I said in my impressions, there’s absolutely nothing wrong with the voice acting. If people think it’s bad, they don’t have much experience : )

    • Mechorpheus says:

      I’d probably agree with the ‘Serviceable’ comment regarding the voice acting. Initial impressions thereof were more in line with….. maybe the original FarCry? Some if it sounded a little forced to me, but it does seem to be getting better. I met this commander bloke I had to rescue a little way in, and the delivery of his lines made me cringe a bit, but maybe that was more him constantly repeating the same line about getting rescued while I was trying to figure out what to do. I have heard worse though (Men of War is probably the highlight, although a mention has to go to a little known game called Martian Gothic: Unification, which is truly abominable. That game really needs a GoG re-release, so more people can bask in the horror).

      My point about the plot was mainly that I’m a good two hours in and still have no idea what the hell is going on, or even what kind of ‘ship’ I’m meant to be in. I hope some more of it gets explained, as it kind of has the potential to be interesting.

    • Urael says:

      Mechorpheus: the start of the game tasks you with collecting little objects. One of these is a scale model of the very ship-city you’re riding around in (that you can view in spinny-rotatey glory in your log-screen) which also comes with a little blurb to explain it. Much of the game’s plot, mechanics and information is delivered in this way.

      Actually, the story is delivered very subtly compared to other games, with lots of pseudo-literary quotes randomly scattered about invisibly near the cypher keys, for instance. It reminds me of nothing so much as Deus Ex. There’s a real philosophy at work behind the terrorist’s actions. And if anyone tells me they haven’t seen the biblical allegory of the idea of ridding the world of humanity’s evil (i.e: humanity itself) coupled with the sheer abundance of ever-rising water in the game I’ll facepalm so hard my skull will likely crack in twain.

      That’s what bugs me about the criticism this game is getting – it’s largely knee-jerk, vague and overly-emotional. i can almost see why the developers went a bit mad when people started panning it.

  4. Josh W says:

    I wonder how much they’re going to actually respond to this criticism; are they going to mercylessly patch their game to have entirely different level layouts? What about people who are in those zones when the patch comes through?

    • Josh W says:

      Hmm just realised that’s easy; the issue is not the location of the avatar in 3d space, but their progression along the paths of the game. If you create a mapping between the routes in the game (which there should basically only be one of because it’s a linear game), then you can pop people from one version of the level to another on the basis of being “just after the 17th checkpoint”.

  5. Alez says:

    It saddens me to see developers so involved with gamers focusing on such a shitty useless game.
    Hydrophobia doesn’t deserve this much attention. Sure, it has the best water physics ever but that’s not a big deal. Make the best fire, best destruction or best guns ever and THEN we’ll talk. Not just a big “water level” game.
    Give these people a good game to obsess about.

    • DeepSleeper says:

      It’s hard to believe anyone would honestly advise “Stop working on improving your game and just pump out another one, but somehow make it magically good this time”.
      No.
      Attention to detail, everywhere. Quality and polishing, everywhere. Even on their “shitty games”, if you believe that. (I don’t. Hydrophobia is a perfectly good game.) Even if you think this game is worthless, it’s still a learning experience, still a way to develop techniques and quality control procedures that would benefit a hypothetical Pyrophobia.
      They’re taking feedback and learning how not to make a shitty useless game next time. If this is really something you want to complain about I’m baffled by your priorities.

    • stahlwerk says:

      Have you actually seen the fire in this game? It’s gorgeous! Why? Because hot gases act like fluids, when you can simulate water the rest is just a palette shift away, more or less.

    • Urael says:

      Alez – perhaps if you’d quantify your complaints about the game instead of relying on just “shitty and useless” then we could have a proper discussion? Personally, I really like the game but you’ve not contributed anything beyond “x sucks”.

      As for the “big water level” game – that’s a frankly ridiculous thing to say. Hydrophobia (the clue’s in the name) has never had any pretensions to be anything BUT a water-based game. If Bioshock 1 or 2 had featured anything at all like this I’d have loved them a whole lot more than I do, and the fact that water features so prominently is great – it’s like the computer version of The Poseidon Adventure!

    • NaFola says:

      Funnily enough, the water aspect of the game is the only reason I’ve ever contemplated getting it. I almost purchased it at one point when it first popped up on steam, but after watching TotalBiscuits “WTF is” on it though, I decided the rest of the game wasn’t as appealing to me (been there, done that), and I couldn’t justify buying it just to see the water effects, regardless of how cheap it actually is. Still, the point is, I want to see more games making use of water in interesting ways.

    • Alez says:

      @DeepSleeper, i have seen 4 updates already to this game, developers talking all over the internet with people. I just feel that no matter how much attention this game recieves, it will never be good. It’s flawed from the core. If they didn’t realize at start that only giving a pistol, using a cover system, giving almost no control over the water, having no interesting water puzzles and having all the game take place in a generic space setting is a bad idea, they will never learn.

      @stahlwerk, i didn’t see anything interesting with the fire. I shoot a barrel in the water, fire stays on the water for a while, then it goes out. I am not trying to be a dick here, i just don’t remember anything impressive with the fire.

      @Urael, i did actually say more than “it’s shit”. If you wanna look for the comments in the article that was just an impression, not a Wot or something. I can’t give a review of the game every time i talk about it, it’s much easier to say it’s shit.
      It’s not that i was expecting something other than water related things but this game does nothing impressive with water. The gameplay quality is that of a “water level” in other games. The water behaves VERY impressively but the actual gameplay is garbage. I am completely confused as to how people enjoy something so mediocre.

      It short, they made the best looking water in gaming history but they had no idea what to do with it.

    • Matt says:

      Alone in the Dark (2008) had the best fire ever in a game and people shat all over that. (I enjoyed it though.)

  6. blind_boy_grunt says:

    Kind of sad that they didn’t, for whatever reasons, put out a better game. It doesn’t seem to be because of them not caring enough. I do hope they are able to make another one. And that they learned a lot while doing this one.
    Also, that pun took me quite a long while

  7. Daiv says:

    I gave feedback, and within fifteen minutes the entire dev team had kicked down my door and beaten me with hoses :(

  8. Jahkaivah says:

    Apparently this was one of the games Microsoft thought was worth promoting over Super Meat Boy on Xbox Live.

  9. Moonracer says:

    I think a large reason they have stuck to this game is that they are strongly related to those people (if not the same?) who created the HydroEngine. The game is largely a demo of that feature; trying to show what can be done.

    Worth mentioning, their participation in the games Steam forum is impressive. It’s well enough that they learned to Not respond to negative feedback, but they have been positively present to a large degree and responding to Lots of people. I definitely get the impression this is a company that has learned a lesson.

    Also, while I enjoyed the game (played through twice). I agree it’s not great. I think the selling point is 50% the water tech demo. I thought that when I bought it and I still do. But that’s what I expected, and it is an impressive tech demo. I want this water in Half-Life 3, surrounding the Borealis.

  10. Nighthood says:

    It’s got to the point where I don’t trust any comments on a story about Hydrophobia, as I feel like every positive thing said is just as likely from the dev as someone who’s played it.

    • Rii says:

      Well that would be your problem, not theirs.

    • Jimbo says:

      Uh, no, it would be their problem.

    • Urael says:

      That’s a bit paranoid, Nighthood. Not to mention insulting to people who genuinely like the game and don’t work for Dark Energy. The only valid comments are the negative ones? Thanks very much.

      I also note you haven’t chosen to defend your earlier comments about the “dickishness” of the devs, but would rather cast aspersions instead….bit dickish, that, if you ask me.

  11. Fierce says:

    Have you had a chance to retry the game and play it to completion Mr. Walker?

    I would be humbled if my comments after your Impressions article compelled you to give it a second chance. WITH the 3D map of course. :)

    • enshak says:

      I Don’t think he needs to, as it doesn’t get better from the point he left off. His points on the design of the levels were valid. I mostly took issue with the moan about bugs in a PC game and the comment about the developers.

    • Fierce says:

      Your opinions of better or worse notwithstanding, I asked the man a question regarding if he tried it again. Nothing more, nothing less.

      Simply curious if he gave it another shot and finished it due to the comments received in his Impressions article.

    • enshak says:

      Fair enougth then. Did you change your opinion as in your original post, you was at the end of act 2.

    • Fierce says:

      No, actually rather than change my opinion, the rest of the game validated it. I continue to think the game performed exactly the role it was apparently supposed to, which was highlight the franchise gimmick of water-based combat as an uncharted but potential filled dynamic, as well as set the foundations for the planned sequels to expand on Kate’s story. While the game was admittedly too brief and probably too cliche (haunting childhood memories) to cause the vast majority of those who played it to care, I personally look forward to discovering what happened to Kate’s powers and how they’ll evolve, who her childhood friend is/was, what happened to Scoot / Billingham and where the devs intend to take the level design now that the key-unlocks-door industrial underbelly of the city has been declared too repetitive; much more than I care about Croft’s reasons for her next worldwide tomb raiding jaunt or which greek mythology faction Krato is pissed off at now.

      For context, when I wrote my original comments, I was just before the shootout in Act 2~3 that Kate sees in Act 1 where the swinging jump acrobatics are explained. After that comment thread, I found both the shootout arena and the non-flooded brightly lit white corridors that followed before the Final Boss to be the refreshing scenery changes people were clamoring for, and representative of exactly where I’m waiting to see the devs take their “floating city” environment. They even did a little mini version of “The Massive Destruction Setpiece” becoming a favourite of the gaming industry when Kate climbs to the vents objective above the shootout arena. Assuming they take the graphic performance criticisms to heart and are investing in improving both the width & breadth of their city environments plus the water’s dynamic possibilities even more for hydroengine 2.0, you can imagine how impressive the water gameplay might get when mixed with Titanic level hull breaches and other water-based hazards (and powers) if they’re at all skilled in producing what can be envisioned.

      And as for the water powers and PC optimization, I found it immensely telling that the water power controls immediately reminded me of Star Wars: The Force Unleashed 1′s Force Lift controls, and that they seemed suited to the X360 controller’s variable pressure on the Left Trigger (Essentially pulling the Left Trigger a little created a short water tower while pulling it down hard created a tall water tower, a mechanism I haven’t experimented with using the keyboard yet). Given the facts that PC gaming comfortably these days practically necessitates owning an X360 controller for PC, more and more upcoming games like Hunted: Demon Forge are GFWL titles to manage the fact of life cross-platform issues, and even our beloved triple-A juggernaut the Witcher 2 is taking a little flak for gamepad-induced combat simplification and imprecise combat/blocking mechanics, I do feel slightly vindicated that I maintained Prophecy wasn’t doing anything that every other multiplatform game ported to PC does all the time, only with far less drama surrounding it.

      There was, is and continues to be untapped potential in the Hydrophobia franchise, and I look forward to seeing what the owners dig up for the continuations using the profit and feedback they’ve received.

  12. Sunjammer says:

    i know it’s the unpopular opinion, but i really dig Dark Energy’s approach, from the very beginning and on. I dont’ even care about the reviews; I certainly didnt buy the game based on any reviews (i have real life hydrophobia, so hey, free horror!). I just love how this game seems to become less and less about what it is, and more of a collaborative community effort gradually turning it into what it could be.

    It’s the kind of approach they’ve attempted with Minecraft, only Mojang have failed at it outright (who the hell wanted torches that burn out what the). I welcome a future where you can pay little at the start, but through feedback assist in developing a game that will eventually be worth the full price. It’s not like we weren’t all testers to begin with, only we pay 60 bucks each for the testing privileges.

  13. trjp says:

    I’ve been thinking about this all day and I’ve decided that this Darknet is a stupid idea – it serves only 1 purpose, to help the developers work out what it is people don’t like about their game…

    IMO the biggest problem with the Internet is that it’s been designed with the assumption that everyone’s opinion is worth hearing – something which is about as untrue as untrue can be *irony bomb dropped*

    I don’t want to give developers feedback as I play a game – I WOULD like to be able to summarize any gripes in a way they can read and respond to them if relevant, but that’s already possible in a wide variety of ways, which most developers completely ignore anyway.

    There is a part of me which keeps saying “but you’d LOVE to have thrown a brick at the developers of Outland many, many times before you deleted it in disgust” and that’s true BUT the problem with Outland was that the developers are talentless fucks and left in a tonne of “waste the players time” shit, so I doubt they’ll find the time to listen to my complaining about that really…

    Summary – if they want detailed info about their games, they should focus-test the fuck out of them the way Valve do. After all, they said this has been in development for several years – plenty of time to do that instead of treating paying customers as guinea pigs eh?

    • LordEvilAlien says:

      “IMO the biggest problem with the Internet is that it’s been designed with the assumption that everyone’s opinion is worth hearing – something which is about as untrue as untrue can be *irony bomb dropped*”
      But you still give your opinion anyway

  14. Hatsworth says:

    What if I consider added checkpoints to be detrimental in many cases? I want action games to be challenging, and to have death carry some kind of meaning. It would be better if they added them as an optional easier setting. While Valve’s heavy playtesting does yield good results, it’s probably the reason both HL2(on hard) and Portal 2 felt too easy to me.

    • trjp says:

      The issue of over-checkpointing is contentious – they can certainly trivialise a game and reduce it’s playtime dramatically but they can also be used to spin a game out and make it much more boring.

      I actually prefer the quicksave system – it’s then upto you when you hit that button/what you do and don’t repeat. Much better idea (allied with some checkpoints in case people forget of course) – let the player choose they own challenge level…

      Mind you – Portal2 IS easy – by comparison to Portal it’s VERY easy (single player at least) – fewer checkpoints would be hard given it’s habit of loading EVERY bloody puzzle separately too…

      HL2 – took me 4 years to complete because I was bored as I ran into one ‘samey’ encounter after another – but then it’s a game you can save anywhere you want isn’t it??

      I recently gave-up on Metro 2033 in disgust at a variety of things – mostly it’s crap weapons/bullet-sponge enemies but it’s lengthy gaps between checkpoints was a factor (esp when it’s making you replay scripted ‘horror’ bits – killing any effect they have stone-dead).

      Outland (360) has been killed for me by it’s retarded checkpoint/save system (and other schoolboy errors). Checkpoints are where you respawn when you die – but ‘saves’ only happen at the start of a level meaning if you don’t complete a level (and one could easily take 15-25 mins) you lose ALL progress – what is this, 1985? They then put the final boss checkpoint at the bottom of a ladder it takes 20-30 seconds to climb – seriously, fuck the fuck off…

      So as I said – quicksaves!!

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