One of the key parts of playing Ecobugs is finding where the bugs hide. We went through a few iterations of how this could work before we got it right, and testing the game in the field was vital.
Avoiding making it too easy
The initial idea was to use google maps and pin point where each group of bugs was hiding. The main problem with this is that it removed any element of a game. Initial concept tests showed that players are likely to know the area that they are playing in so if you pinpoint the location of the bugs on a map they are going to know how to get there and the map becomes irrelevant.
Making it abstract
We opted for a radar to show the general direction and distance of the bugs. This worked really well because it helps guide the players but its not too easy (and it looks cooler than a map).
Restricting the view
The initial radar designs were not quite right. One of the benefits of Ecobugs is that it should get the players moving. The first radar design showed a full 360 degree view so you knew exactly what was going on around you. So when people used it they didnt have to move to spot any blips on the radar.
We restricted the view to 180 degrees. This worked really well; getting the player moving around to find the bugs and creating more of a challenge.
Testing it in the field
We were happy with the design at this point but a major flaw was brought up when we tested the game in an environment where it was likely to be played.
The issue was that the design looked fine on an iPhone screen in a reasonably well lit room, but when you took it outside on a sunny day the contrast was too low. As the player moved about the sun would often glare off the screen and it would be difficult to tell what was going on. So we redesigned the radar to be much brighter and a higher contrast. If we had only tested Ecobugs in an office or design studio, these issues may have never been picked up.
Its important to think about the spaces in which your game is going to be played and test them there. This is especially important for mobile. What is your game going to play like on a moving bus or train? Does it work with the sound off if Im trying to get a sneaky game in at work? Are people going to be playing this game in an environment where there are lots of distractions? If you only test in a usability lab you could be miss some key design issues.