I am not always the best game designer. Luckily, I realized I have a rich pool of insightful minds to draw inspiration from.
Testing your game is always an exciting and scary moment - you learn what works, but also what doesn't. Overnight you may realize the grand featured you poured hours into really should be cut. But you may also discover new intriguing ways your game may be enjoyed. Testing is a crucial step of game development cycle that too easily can be treated as a one-way street.
The thing about testing is that it usually tells you what's broken, but not the best way to fix it. Technical stuff or specific game mechanics are self-explanatory, and testers usually throw a suggestion or two. But what if a whole complex segment of the game just doesn't feel "fun"? What if a crucial plot point is utterly confusing? Or if the narrative resolution is unfulfilling? Those are not issues that can be simply added to your Bug List.
Karaski is a complex beast that tries to fuse a lot of different ideas together, both in gameplay and narrative. This has definitely proven challenging, and I've spent countless hours re-doing the same bits just to get them right. I think I've almost completely re-written some of the conversations a good 4-5 times by now! But working on a single game for close to 2 years, it is easy to get stuck in tunnel-vision and forget that alternatives exist. Worst yet, you become subconsciously dismissive about out-of-the-box thinking, as it threatens your beloved design.
However, on a few occasions I realized I simply did not know how to fix the problem. Even with a story consultant earlier and 2 artists currently onboard, there's still a lot of areas and caveats for me to consider as the lead designer. A lot of different issues I don't yet have the experience to confidently overcome.
Enter, my testers.
In retrospect it feels like such an obvious thing, but one that did not occur to me enough. Instead of just having the testers play your game, report bugs, and fill out a questionnaire or two, why not engage them further? Instead of just asking "what did you dislike about X," ask them "how would you fix X if you were in my position?" Why stop there, why not keep digging the back-and-forth dialogue with your testers and continuously refine the suggestions?
Your testers may not think like designers, understand all the intricate system ruling your game world, or even know what emotional impact you want to evoke. But they are your fellow passionate gamers and creative humans. A lot of GameDev channels recommend running your ideas by your friends and family, so why not do it with your target audience as well?
Very quickly I went from staring at a blank page and list of failed solutions, to a whole host of tenable and fresh ideas to draw inspiration from. Sure, many of those may not be feasible or fit your design, but they are immensely useful in getting past a game dev's "writer's block" and spinning the creative gears again. It's funny how some of the most stubborn problems might actually have the simplest solutions you overlooked this whole time. You only needed to ask.
Being a game designer is a never-ending learning process. Despite my growing experience I'm hardly an expert, and my shortcomings definitely show. Engaging my testers in REAL dialogue about the game's problems has opened my designer mind to so many new possibilities I would have never considered. The fact it improves the game in the process is almost just the cherry on top.