Lobby UX streamlining suggestions - Fewer lobbies and a drawable map in game.
I had great fun in your game over the Big Alpha weekend, but I have one fairly major gripe and that's with the lobby system. I often found myself waiting far longer in the lobby than actually playing, and it simply didn't have to be that way. A few more iterations on the design could clean the user experience up nicely. Here are my breakdown and thoughts.
LOBBY 1) I start the game, I join a waiting room where I can choose my role priorities and invite my friends. That's great, makes sense.
LOBBY 2) We search and find a party, but we're given a 1-2 minute countdown to give time to people choosing their new preferences. Two problems with this:
1) The countdown needs an "press f3 for ready" override. This simple omission greatly reduces the enjoyment of a play session, both long or short ones.
2) Most importantly, people have already chosen their role prioritization in Lobby 1. As such, this lobby is completely unnecessary. If I want to make role adjustments based on who ends up being in the lobby, do that in lobby 4.
LOBBY 3) We accept our preferences and start loading the map. Some of us load much faster than others, but we've nothing to do but wait and stare. Another major sore point. I think people who've already loaded the game can jump straight to lobby 4 to take a look at their options.
LOBBY 4) Everyone is loaded and assigned a role. You can also swap roles. As an aside, there is very little indication that you can swap roles with your fellows and that really needs to be made much clearer. This is where most of the lobby action should take place.
I propose the following changes to greatly streamline the experience. After lobby 1, the newly formed party jumps straight to a modified version of lobby 4. No map load is done yet. We enter the lobby, poke around with the characters and their perks, maybe look around at the various 2d maps while people are getting settled. Players get something interesting to look at and get some much needed strategy time on the role side. Once all players are in and hit ready (or a countdown timer goes off), the map is selected and hunters are assigned their roles. People have their role swaps and are allowed to cancel selections if required. They hit ready (and a second timer). The monster selects his role and perks. End scene. Map now loads. People who are done loading early jump into the next lobby right away.
LOBBY 5) This in-game lobby was great at first, but experiencing the same 30 seconds over and over was pretty rough. It's a shame as this is really a prime time to strategize. What's more, you could add to the excitement of the scene. You have 30 seconds to look at the map before it's all action. Use it wisely.
What's more, I suggest that players can hit a button to get a huge version of the map that they can draw on using their role colour (and a super quick way to mute people's ability to draw dicks all over the map). They get a much needed chance to discuss tactics, places to split up, good hiding spots, etc. Veterans can impart wisdom onto noobs, which is great for so many reasons. And lastly, players won't get as bored with repetition.
LOBBY 6) This post-game lobby could really use some streamlining as well. My suggestions here would simply be to make it far shorter. Perhaps show more of the progress icons at once (zoom out), and animate the numbers at 4x speed with less camera movement. Also, showing 'character', 'player', and 'performance?' progress in three separate rows but on the same screen would really speed things along. In short, a simple redesign of these elements all on one screen would really help this lobby along. I loved seeing my progress, especially when something cool unlocked, but it became really cumbersome over time. Allowing people to hit OK and then jump straight into the modified Lobby 4 again would also really help reduce down time.
All together, I think these changes would reduce the downtime from 6-8 minutes to around 2-4, which is HUGE, especially when you compare that to an average round time of 10-15 mins. Heck, we had some games that lasted a mere 3 minutes. With the current system that's a 2:1 ratio of downtime, at best.
I know to many players and devs, this may seem really nit-picky, but please consider that it's the games that take the extra time to clean up these fiddly user experience bits that succeed in the long run. You've made an excellent product here, a fantastic exploration of the Left 4 Dead formula. Let's all make sure that you succeed.