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Do Games Know The Secret Of UI? 256

Posted by Hemos
from the better-then-most-interfaces dept.
A reader writes "There is a nice interview at the BBC talking about how computer games are the ones pushing the envelope. Particularly interesting is it doesn't just deal with the tech aspects, but goes into the user interface aspect as well." Having conversed with her on a number of occasions, I can attest to JC being smart. Good interview.
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Do Games Know The Secret Of UI?

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  • Error parsing story: cyclic redundancy check
  • My favorite UI of all time was FIFA 99 soccer for Windows. The UI was just a mismash of unlabelled icons, many of them not even resembling their action (To start a game, click an international flag. Huh?)

    Part of the challenge of the game was figuring out the UI. :)

  • Your BBC links (Score:2, Insightful)

    by praedor (218403)

    You know, just about every damn time I try to connect to the BBC site via slashdot (including with this story) it doesn't work. There appears to be something REALLY dicked about a lot of DNS servers. I suggest that from now on, instead of linking to the bbc URL you guys use the IP address, which always works.


    MOST of the time the BBC url is broken and gives an IMMEDIATE "unknown host" message. Type in the IP and viola! Instant connection.

    • I suggest that from now on, instead of linking to the bbc URL you guys use the IP address, which always works.

      You aren't the guy who wrote Code Red I, are you? Keep in mind ./ stories are archived, so if an IP changes after some time, boom, the link is dead.

      Now, the DNS thing: sometimes adding a "www" after the "http://" does the trick for me (not with BBC but with a few other sites). I think this is easier than figuring out and typing an IP.

  • From Experience... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by keesh (202812) on Friday August 31, 2001 @01:23PM (#2240093) Homepage
    Gamers want fancy interfaces. I know someone who's a huge fan of Civ, Alpha Centauri et al., but when I introduced him to FreeCiv his first comment was "the interface sucks". This isn't someone who's computer illiterate, either.

    It seems that people want something different when playing a game. They don't want just their standard operating system look, they want fullscreen fancy eyecandy, even when that's not the nicest option.

    You can even see this in game editors -- AFAIK, WorldCraft is the only editor even close to the standard OS style...

    Whether it's because the whole screen should look SciFi / Fantasy / Whatever, or simply because users want something different, game interfaces have to be different from usual programs.
    • You can even see this in game editors -- AFAIK, WorldCraft is the only editor even close to the standard OS style...
      Agree with the rest of your comment, but have to disagree with you there. To name a few, StarEdit, PUDDraft, and QuArK (which IMO is a poor interface). Game editor interfaces are usually divided into two sections: a display of the content, surrounded by controls for manipulating the content, which is the same thing you see in word processors and web browsers.
    • by EpsCylonB (307640)
      David Cronenberg said the reason why films have stylised opening titles instead of jumping straight into the story is because they act like a vestibule between reality and the story.

      I beleive the same principle is involved with a game's UI, after all the whole point of a game is that you aren't doing something normal like using a spreadsheet, your running around a castle shooting hell knights. It shouldn't look anything like using a spreadsheet.
      • I beleive the same principle is involved with a game's UI, after all the whole point of a game is that you aren't doing something normal like using a spreadsheet, your running around a castle shooting hell knights. It shouldn't look anything like using a spreadsheet.

        Yes, but a search and replace feature would be useful sometimes.

    • by jnik (1733)
      Whether it's because the whole screen should look SciFi / Fantasy / Whatever, or simply because users want something different, game interfaces have to be different from usual programs.

      For me it's pretty simple: in addition to all the usual interface constraints, a game interface should help put me in the game world. The Freespace series did a pretty good job of it, with launcher screen, configuration options, keybindings, etc. all looking similar to each other and to, say, the mission briefing screen. The look was consistent and designed to feel like a part of the game world.

      Now consider, say, Terminus, which features menu screens that look like a bad Smalltalk implementation crossed with ncurses. Garish colours and all, it just doesn't quite fit the universe. But it's not as bad as...

      X:Beyond the Frontier does everything through a Windows dialog box. To change the configuration, you're thrown out of the fullscreen and play with standard Windows widgets. Not only do you lose association with the universe, you're given a very strong association with this universe, and Windows, and a whole bunch of other things.

      Granted: it's a fair bit of work for both the artists and the programmers to design a "pretty" interface. But it does serve a purpose, and awfully nice when they can do it.

  • by garcia (6573) on Friday August 31, 2001 @01:23PM (#2240094) Homepage
    remember there are other applications (other than just the military and games as she mentioned) that use most of the CPU (RC5, Netscape ;))

    this really has little to do w/UI. It has to do w/what she feels is important in the industry at this time (cell phones that are connected).

    It's true that games love faster CPUs but it is also true that it is probably possible to make much faster/better games in the standard constraints that we already have but people don't care to do that anymore (remember 64k games that looked cool as hell or even 4mb games?)

    Sending your picture in front of the Eiffel tower to your kids on your cell phone is less important than decreasing the bloat!
    • Sure, a red splodge on the screen looks nice, but nothing beats a corpse which has been hacked in half and is full of bullets. It's the multiplayer thing -- it's soooooo much more satisfying to get realistic gibs than a few dots.

      So even though games are playable on a z80 (yes, there is at least one 3d engine on a ti86 calculator), there isn't the same splat effect.
    • by Midnight Thunder (17205) on Friday August 31, 2001 @01:37PM (#2240174) Homepage Journal
      Another point that should be mentioned is that with faster processors new types of applications become accessible to consumers. Imagine trying to edit your home video on your computer, or trying to do other creative work, on a computer four years ago and it would not have been possible.

      The way I see it, is that while games push the envelope, faster processors make new kinds of applications available and the interest in those applications also help people want faster computers.

      We all use word-processors and spread-sheets but there also a lot of people who also want to be creative with their computers.
    • It's true that games love faster CPUs but it is also true that it is probably possible to make much faster/better games in the standard constraints that we already have but people don't care to do that anymore (remember 64k games that looked cool as hell or even 4mb games?)

      IIRC, the size of the QuakeIII engine is only a couple meg, and the data files are some 400 meg.
      The only way in this case to reduce so-called "bloat" is to sacrifice quality of models, textures, effects, etc.
      Sure, oldskool games are tons of fun, but why should modern game developers be encouraged to use artificial constraints?
      Games are for fun - visual quality and playability are much more important than efficiency.

      Sending your picture in front of the Eiffel tower to your kids on your cell phone is less important than decreasing the bloat!

      Maybe to you, but the average consumer cares more about gadgets (like cameras) than knowing the firmware on their phone takes only 4k.

      C-X C-S
  • by ObligatoryUserName (126027) on Friday August 31, 2001 @01:25PM (#2240104) Journal
    Hemos knows Jesus? Maybe he can let us know which distribution The Lord uses, and if he prefers vi or emacs - then we can decide for ourselves if he's smart or not.
  • by sheetsda (230887) <doug.sheets@gm a i l . com> on Friday August 31, 2001 @01:30PM (#2240130)
    The only thing that will push a computer to its limits is a game. No one admits it but no one needs a new computer to do a spreadsheet programme or Word document.

    *sigh* This is what I tried to tell my uncle last weekend when he shelled out way too much money for a 1.4 GHz P4 with a Geforce2 and 128 megs of RAM to run Microsoft Windows/Office. He believes buying a top of the line system now will save him from having to buy another one in a couple years. Ha! Good luck. Lusers just won't listen.

    • sigh* This is what I tried to tell my uncle last weekend when he shelled out way too much money for a 1.4 GHz P4 with a Geforce2 and 128 megs of RAM to run Microsoft Windows/Office
      Having 128 meg of ram won't prevent him from having to buy a new machine tomorrow if he wants to run office well ;). But you're right... 500, 600 Mhz with 256 meg of ram and an 8 meg (16 if you want to be fancy) video card will run almost all non-game, non-DVD home applications quite nicely.
    • A few years ago, as a summer job, I was offering my expertise in helping people purchase a computer.


      The first question I always asked was "What do you want to do with your computer." This gave me a starting point. If it was gaming, the machine was always a more powerful machine than the folks who were looking to do word processing and internet access (we're talking mid-90's here).


      I remember one guy being quite shy about saying that he wanted to play games, I had to admit that I did a lot of gaming before he would. As a result he ended up being very happy with his machine, and as I recall, he didn't have to put a dime into that machine for over a year!

    • by mblase (200735) on Friday August 31, 2001 @02:02PM (#2240318)
      ...since every iteration of the Microsoft or Apple OS requires more RAM, a faster processor, and more colors on the monitor, I think it's more accurate to say that no one needs a new computer to do a spreadsheet program or Word document, provided they don't want to use the latest version.

      And besides, there's more to a computer than just the processor and graphics card. I've got a three-year-old PowerMac clone sitting at home, and I can't hardly use it for anything new. It does its job fine, but all its hardware is legacy -- DIMMs, SCSI, and serial ports while everything else is moving to SDRAM, FireWire, and USB. This phenomenon exists in the PC world as well, just to a lesser degree. If I want to upgrade my machine, it's ironic that it will cost me more money than if I had a brand-new one with USB and SDRAM on the motherboard.

      In other words, then: it also costs me more to make my machine compatible with a Palm handheld, a digital camera, a joystick, or a new printer, I need to spend the money to upgrade it first. If I want to do anything like digital video, I have to upgrade it a lot. Even downloaded Flash multimedia ran slow until I upgraded the processor, and I sure can't add an MP3 jukebox without a substantial hard drive upgrade (2 gigs doesn't go as far as it used to).

      Games push the envelope harder than anything else in the consumer industry, true. But it's hardly the only thing. There's more to consumer PCs these days than video games and word processing, and it's all more demanding than it used to be.
  • Well, I thought it was an OK interview, just a little light. And the main gist of her UI comments were more towards feature presentation and interaction, not graphic design and artwork (as other posters have taken it).
  • Whatever (Score:2, Insightful)

    by swagr (244747)
    What Hertz SHOULD have said is that games are the only commercial applications used by the masses that maximize CPU useage ...

    Yes, I'm sure no one has ever maxed a CPU for hours or days on end modelling fluid dynamics, or physical optics, or encoding mpegs, or ...

  • by Brownstar (139242) on Friday August 31, 2001 @01:33PM (#2240146)
    What a game would do is immediately give you those three features and then as you progressed and became a more powerful character it would give you more features

    Mr. Clippy: I'm sorry, you're not experienced enough to change text colors yet. Try underlining it for now!
    • Well, the advantage of games is that they don't put you in situations where you have to do something that you don't know how to do yet. So it would be more like:

      Mr. Clippy: I'm sorry, but John doesn't know how to underline text yet. Can you get one of his co-workers to do it?

      Boss: Damn.

      • You don't play RPG's very often do you. I can think of plenty of times that at a particular point in a game I needed to do something (but my character didn't have enough experience to do it) to continue with the game.
    • Mr. Clippy: I'm sorry, you're not experienced enough to change text colors yet. Try underlining it for now!

      When will I be able to import my Baldur's Gate character into Word?

      • When will I be able to import my Baldur's Gate character into Word?
        Mr Clippy: I'm sorry, you're not experienced enough to change text colors yet. Try underlining it for now!

        Etheria the Wizard: Fool! You do not understand the powers with which you are meddling! Do you not realize the consequences of unleashing such colours upon your document?!

  • by Daniel Dvorkin (106857) on Friday August 31, 2001 @01:34PM (#2240154) Homepage Journal
    ... I mean, I'm all for faster CPU's, more RAM, better video cards, higher bandwidth, etc.

    But I don't see games pushing the UI envelope in a way that's useful to most user tasks. Sure, game developers put an enormous amount of effort into creating detailed, realistic virtual environments, and that's great -- for games. But attempts to introduce such elements into OS's in general, and into general-purpose applications like word processors, graphics programs, and browsers, will lead only to clutter and bloatware. You don't need realistic lighting and fog effects when you're writing a letter ...

    Browsers are an area that deserve special mention. I've seen a few attempts to use game-type visual metaphors to turn cyberspace into something Gibsonian (anyone remember Hotsauce?) and the effect is always ugly, pointless, and slow. Make the hardware fast enough, of course, and "slow" will go away, but "ugly" and "pointless" will remain.

    When I'm playing a game, I want to be immersed in a virtual world. When I'm writing, or designing graphics for a Web site, or pounding out code, or looking for information on some obscure subject, I want a clean, simple interface that makes it as easy as possible for me to get, create, or manipulate my data. And that's it.
    • Good post, but...

      When I'm playing a game, I want to be immersed in a virtual world. When I'm writing, or designing graphics for a Web site, or pounding out code, or looking for information on some obscure subject, I want a clean, simple interface that makes it as easy as possible for me to get, create, or manipulate my data. And that's it.

      I'd have to disagree and say that the basic principle is the same. When I'm playing a game (Myth II for example), I want to focus on paying attention to the health of my units, where I want to get them to go, and not have to worry about the mechanics of actually achieving it. When I'm writing a document, I want to focus on my train of thought, what I'm trying to say, etc. and not have to worry about the mechanics of using the word processor. Different paradigm, but same UI goal.

      I would say that many games I've played seem to have gotten this down well. Perhaps it's because of the focus where they know that no player is going to actually bother reading the manual, and the developers need to keep in mind the needs of a novice user just sitting down at the program for the first time.

      The game 'tutorial' intro level and the wavy green lines in Word: both good steps along this path.


      • I'd have to disagree and say that the basic principle is the same.


        While this is not what you said, it lead me to imagine, say, a compiler in which you start with 7 "lives". You'd lose one after each compiler error or 3 warnings! After that you'd have to restart the IDE or reboot the system, depending on the OS. Some people would be a lot more careful...
    • Hey, what about those of us who would like to have lighting and fog effects when writing letters? I think it would be seriously cool if the next "Cease and Desist" letter I got had really cool real-time smoke.


      I agree that an interface should be straight-forward, and simple. However, users LOVE eye candy. Just go look at Themes.org. We actually have users at my company who run PowerPoint on their desktops. They like having desktop wallpaper, and our policies prohibit it. They are willing to take the performance hit just for that useless bit of color.


      As for me, I'll just sit back and enjoy my heavily tuned Enlightenment desktop that uses more RAM and CPU than my first 6 computers had, combined.


      -WS

    • I think you're confused as to what the user interface in a game is.

      The special effects like fog and realistic lighting are part of what is being presented, you don't ever actually use it. The user interface is the menus, hand icon, etc...

      One of the reason's why you may have mistaken that is because UIs in good games have gotten so seemless with the game its hard to tell the UI from the actual game (take Black & White for example).
    • You're confusing game UI with game graphics.

      Game UI include radial menus, configurable hot keys, .cfg files, contextual menus, contextual dialogue boxes, contextual icons, intuative interface design, "HUD" style layouts, and many more features.

      These have nothing to do with fog distance.

    • I want a clean, simple interface that makes it as easy as possible for me to get, create, or manipulate my data.


      I bet you don't use Emacs, do you. Notepad all the way, baby !!!

  • No (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Uttles (324447)
    I think this article is a little unrealistic. I agree that many games have exciting and interesting features which take time to develop and give you a sense of completion and understanding, but I don't believe this applies to other applications. Specifically it is this statement that I don't agree with:

    What a game would do is immediately give you those three features and then as you progressed and became a more powerful character it would give you more features.

    That's really cool in games, I love the accomplishment of attaining the highest level, but when I open MS Access I want to be able to jump right in and program modules rather than be greeted with a form creation wizard or what not. I'm the type of computer user (like most people here probably) who wants all the features I can get my hands on. Throw them all out me, and I'll determine what it is I need.
  • by tim_maroney (239442) on Friday August 31, 2001 @01:36PM (#2240166) Homepage
    Incremental disclosure with sticky adaptation, the single UI principle discussed in the interview, has been well known in the design community since the 1980's.

    Just because Microsoft doesn't make good use of the principle doesn't mean that it's a gift from gaming to the rest of the world.

    In most other ways, games are UI nightmares. They're difficult by design. Applying their principles to other domains would be a giant step backwards. Non-entertainment systems should be easy by design, rather than conjuring obstacles for the thrill of overcoming them.

    Fans of UNIX will, of course, disagree. The popularity of archaic command-line interfaces in the UNIX subculture could perhaps be understood as a consequence of gamer-like behavior among hobbyists and tinkerers.

    Tim
    • Just because Microsoft doesn't make good use of the principle doesn't mean that it's a gift from gaming to the rest of the world.

      Well, they did try "smart menus" that didn't show you commands that you didn't use too often, but IIRC a lot of people thought those were pretty annoying.

      • Well, they did try "smart menus" that didn't show you commands that you didn't use too often, but IIRC a lot of people thought those were pretty annoying.

        That's because the distinctions between basic and advanced that MS uses are arbitrary and don't match any sensible incremental disclosure sequence. Technically this design error is known as a mismatch between the user and system model. In this case, what it leads to is an extra step in searching for options, because the user has no way of knowing what is hidden in the "advanced" functionality.

        With a cleaner conceptual break between the initially disclosed and initially undisclosed information, though, it's a great way to manage interface complexity. Usually this means having the undisclosed portion all be strongly conceptually related under a particular category, rather than simply being a miscellany of supposedly advanced features.

        Tim
    • by kabir (35200) on Friday August 31, 2001 @02:07PM (#2240353)
      Fans of UNIX will, of course, disagree. The popularity of archaic command-line interfaces in the UNIX subculture could perhaps be understood as a consequence of gamer-like behavior among hobbyists and tinkerers.

      I wouldn't have thought that the popularity of "archaic command-line interfaces" had anything to do with their being cryptic, or figuring them out being entertaining... it seems to me that those sorts of interfaces are popular because they tend to be extremely powerful. My personal experience of interfaces has shown the general trend where GUIs tend to be less powerful/flexable than command line interfaces. Though I freely admit that my opinions are colored by many years of UNIX usage, so I'm not really all that objective.

      Solving the "problem" of an interface, while somewhat rewarding, isn't exactly an experience I go looking for. I've dealt with this both with command line UIs and GUIs - crappy is crappy either way - and it's never fun. I think it's just that command-line UIs tend to be a bit more featureful than GUIs simply because there is less aversion to complexity, probably because people expect a command-line to be more complex. I generally consider the command-line being more cryptic to be the price I pay for greater power and flexability.

      Or I could just be so used to UNIX everything else seems a little weird ;)
    • Non-entertainment systems should be easy by design, rather than conjuring obstacles for the thrill of overcoming them...The popularity of archaic command-line interfaces in the UNIX subculture could perhaps be understood as a consequence of gamer-like behavior among hobbyists and tinkerers.

      Nonsense. The CLI is easy - for some things.

      It all depends on the task you want to perform. "rm -r *.o" is closer telling my faithful servant to "remove all object files from here on down" than is "click on Start - mouse over Search - click on For Files Or Folders - fill in .o in the appropriate field - click through several levels to specify the appropriate target to Look In - click on Search Now - click on Edit - click on Select All - click on Edit - click on Cut - click on Yes." A GUI is a lousy way to instruct a servant.

      On the other hand, for things I want to do myself, using the machine as a magic typewriter or paintbrush rather than as a servant, a GUI is the better choice; a verbal interface would be a lousy way to control a magic paintbrush. (Though it would be useful in some types of line and block drawings.)

      • It all depends on the task you want to perform. "rm -r *.o" is closer telling my faithful servant to "remove all object files from here on down" than is "click on Start - mouse over Search - click on For Files Or Folders - fill in .o in the appropriate field - click through several levels to specify the appropriate target to Look In - click on Search Now - click on Edit - click on Select All - click on Edit - click on Cut - click on Yes." A GUI is a lousy way to instruct a servant.

        This happens every time CLI versus GUI comes up. Yes, you can do it like you describe, just like you can type "rm" for every file you want to delete in a CLI -- and then complain that "CLI sucks" because you have to type every file.

        Just because you don't know how to use a GUI, don't assume that there aren't fast ways to do things.

        However, I agree with your main point that for some things GUIs are better, and for other things CLI is better. What's annoying is that so many CLI people are totally inept and ignorant of how to use file managers effectively.

      • by cpt kangarooski (3773) on Friday August 31, 2001 @02:31PM (#2240489) Homepage
        Which leads to something I've been saying for a while. The GUI and CLIs should be extremely tightly integrated. That isn't to say that it would ever, ever, be required that a user use an interface he was uncomfortable with. The two different methods would be alternatives of each other, but which would be more than the sum of their parts when used in tandem.

        Having three or four terminals open in XWindows is _not_ an example of this, by any means.

        For example, imagine that you want to move all your object files, plus a few others that don't have anything in common. (save to you - i.e. not the same name, or file type, etc.)

        You could quickly navigate to the appropriate directory in the GUI - it's faster unless you remember the precise (short) path. Type a command along the lines of "select *.o" into the cli parser of that _very_ GUI directory window, and the appropriate _icons_ highlight, and are selected. Quickly mouse around to the other couple of icons you want, and shift-click to add them to the selection.

        Then drag the icons from the window into another folder visible onscreen (which may be easier than having to remember and type in another pathname), change over to that window and enter a command like "rename * *.backup" to rename all of the moved files.

        (n.b. command names would likely exist in several forms, with the full name of the command being the easiest to understand - for consistancy's sake, it would be precisely the same name as used in the GUI.)

        Both pointing & grunting at things, as well as talking about them are good ways to control a computer. In the real world, we recognize the usefulness of using them in conjunction, rather than either exclusively. There's a place for that here too.
  • Wiggle Room (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Foggy Tristan (220356)
    I'd disagree that games necessarily are better for UI development, it's just that games have a lot more wiggle room in terms of bad user interface. A game like Leisure Suit Larry can get away with not having standard looking buttons, and a game like Myst III: Exile can get away with not having standard looking icons.

    It doesn't mean however that games can have bad UIs. The eGames sample I stupidly picked up has one of the worst interfaces possible, and most of the games are individually difficult to manage.

    And finally, it's worth pointing out there's no standard UI for a laser blaster. ("The cross-sight must be in red, with a slightly thicker line near the center...")
  • by Animats (122034)
    J.C. Hertz's book "Joystick Nation", is excellent. Especially the part where she visits the automated Nintendo warehouse and meets the "wave planner", who orchestrates shortages of games to build demand. Her day job is at the New York Times, where she covers electronic entertainment.

    "Kai's Power Tools" [metacreations.com] had a game-like interface. Users started out with a few simple tools. After demonstrating competence using the basic tools, users advanced to the next level and more tools became available. This was hated. Rumors that Kai was going to redo the user interface for Photoshop resulted in a sizable protest to Adobe.

    Game user interfaces work because you can't do much. Move and shoot works well. Nothing else does.

  • the better the UI, the quicker it'll "disappear."
    This is of course the essence of great UI design: it should be quick to learn, fairly obivous (note lack of word 'intuitive' :) and have some ability to grow with the power user/reveal more advanced features.

    I think most game builders are too busy trying to be different from their competitors than to confer with each other on standardizing their interfaces. I could be wrong: I don't play a whole lot of video games, but GoldenEye and Perfect Dark had fairly simlar UIs, adjusted of course for different functions withing the game.

  • I wouldn't mind seeing a game-like UI for stuff like Office and crap like that. I would turn the option on for most users. Of course myself, I'd rather have everything there, so it exists when I need it.

    Of course I can see people doing stuff along the lines of Final Fantasy.. Click there, open this pop-up box, type that, twist this and belch and volia you have the ultimate resume wizzard. But you can only get this after 90 hours of churing out presentations, databases (wannabe), spreadsheets and documents. I can almost see the spam that would create in an office environment.

    I guess what I'm getting at, there are users that know enough to use some of the advanced features, but don't need them for everything. How can you enable these features without running a typical M$ gauntlet. (i.e. trying to update IE2.0 on a fresh NT install, yet the new version of IE requires a new service pack, but you can't get the new service pack 'cause the page to download it won't open in IE2.0)
  • Hemos, Don't worry, games don't know the secret of U and I. And I will keep my promise not to say anything. So don't worry my little soldier boy :-).

    Kisses

  • True True (Score:3, Interesting)

    by BrookHarty (9119) on Friday August 31, 2001 @01:48PM (#2240233) Homepage Journal
    The only thing that will push a computer to its limits is a game. No one admits it but no one needs a new computer to do a spreadsheet programme or Word document.

    The problem with the industry is nobody admits jack shit. Marketing folks seem to think everyone wants to buy airline tickets, but we all know pr0n built the Internet.

    No one wants to get a trailer on their mobile phone. What people want to do is take a picture of themselves and their spouse in front of the Eiffel Tower and send that image to their teenage daughter back in England

    Over in Japan, the most popular thing for 3G phones are entertainment (Pr0n and Instant messaging). One game, you can chat with an IA women and try to see how far you can push it before she gets mad.

    For consumers its Entertainment, music, pr0n or video games. Business customers might pay 5x the price for the service, but you have 100x average consumers.

    Come to think about it, I bets thats why they sell so many vibrating batteries.
  • by KFury (19522) on Friday August 31, 2001 @01:51PM (#2240251) Homepage
    There's a lot to be said for consistancy in UI. While games introduce some daring new metaphors and interaction models, it doesn't do a whole lot of good when each iteration forces you to relearn several of the skills you already learned (this, by the way, is also my beef with Mac OS X. People learn how to use a finder and you make them use a totally new one!)

    On the simplest level it's things like the 'inverted mouse' problem in FPS games, but whenever a hot game developer figures out a cool way to convey manipulation of another custom game feature, it detracts from the learning curve.

    It's a shame that 'pushing the envelope' and 'consistancy of design' are orthogonal terms. It would be great of the game designers got together and admitted that they're each trying to make the better game, but that establishing consistant design patterns for interactivity can increase the playability of all games, and let the struggle be with the puzzles, and not the interface.
  • Unreal UI (Score:3, Interesting)

    by supabeast! (84658) on Friday August 31, 2001 @01:52PM (#2240262)
    The Unreal Tournament UI certainly pushed game UIs to a new level, with easy to access, well organized drop down menus. . If I had more time I would probably hack up enlightenment to make it work like that. Trbies 2 did a great job with taking the UT and Tribes interfaces and merging them in tabbed pages and pulldowns to produce one of the best, albeit somewhat complicated (Due only to all the cool features of the game.) menus anyone has ever made for anything.

    EverQuest is another great example of game UI development. Their UI was damned lame at first, but over time has become fully customizable in regards to positioning, size, colors and transparency, all created from the input of hundreds of thousands of users.

    What I really would like to see is a merging of the UT/Tribes style interface with EverQuest customizability, along with all of the keyboard manipulation provided in Maya, and of course, easy to design and implement themes.

    If anyone wants any help designing a gui, feel free to shoot me a message...
    • "The Unreal Tournament UI certainly pushed game UIs to a new level, with easy to access, well organized drop down menus. . If I had more time I would probably hack up enlightenment to make it work like that."


      Actually that would be a really cool Windows hack. Instead of spitting out the standard BSOD I'd like the screen to rotate 90 degrees and show the uptime rankings of Linux desktops in the area. If only we could get one of those guys who breaks into Microsoft's network to insert THAT into the code base...

  • Pardon me a moment while I strap myself into by Nerd-o-Tronic Virtual World Interaction Suit (bet you don't see Slashdot in 3D!) and get a fist full of gyros, get a lock on my corneas and prepare to go totally human with this 2D screen and keyboard...


    Interaction with games or other software has always had fine people like JC trying to figure out how to build a better interface or control, as far back as electronic drafting boards or Sirius Joyport. Weird controls have come and gone to make the game "real" (steering wheels, vibrating chairs, better joy sticks, etc.) and eventually we find ourselves looking at new games or software which still rely on keyboards (one of the most infuriating devices for action games if you type like I do (9 thumbs and one hunt-and-peck finger)) or any of a series of non-standard devices. Probably the closest we came to one standard for input was back in the hay-days of Atari 2600 and C64 computers. (Yet, arcade games had buttons slap dashed around consoles which made Defender nearly impossible for me to pay, yet my hand-to-eye let me rule in Pacman)


    The article doesn't delve much into why we keep flopping all over and re-discovering bad interfaces and controls, 20 years after these things became mainstream. Probably has less to do with the designer and consultant than it has with the actual market force of millions of buyers who never gave a thought beyond the package graphics.


    So call me a skeptic.

  • by Junks Jerzey (54586) on Friday August 31, 2001 @02:01PM (#2240310)
    Most game UIs are written with custom code, not huge object-oriented libraries. And they tend to be very usable and snappy on what amounts to low-end hardware (thinking of game consoles here). Compare this to any method of creating a UI for your favorite OS, whatever it may be. It is an order of magnitude easier to write a game-like UI from scratch than it is to learn to use any of the various UI toolkits, even if you already know those toolkits.

    Along those lines, I am continually amazed when Windows XP (or the even a new KDE or whatever) requires significantly more CPU power than the previous version. Does handling clicks on widgets _really_ take that much processing power? We just blindly assume "oh yeah, context sensitive help, that's _gotta_ be expensive." But c'mon, these things could have been lightning fast on the Commodore 64.
  • Perfect UI (Score:2, Insightful)

    by mcelli (518034)
    In response to the title of this post: Games do have the secret to the UI because they are single task programs. Saying a game has the perfect UI is like saying a Toaster has the perfect UI. I think that the number one rule of a UI is the less you can do, the easier it is to do it.

    The article brings up some good points about making things more real, but personally, it's no more real to me now that it was in the days of Coleco Vision. Final Fantasy X doesn't make me feel any more like I'm "in the game" than Final Fantasy I did. Graphics and presentation have obviously gotten better, but that's only made games nicer to look at, and hasn't made them any more real for me.

    I'd like to hear people's comments on whether or not these graphics bring a sense of realism. I equate it to the change from say twm to GNOME/KDE, it's prettier, but it's not any more "real".

    • In response to the title of this post: Games do have the secret to the UI because they are single task programs.

      And there's a second, related property specific to games: They are creating their own tasks. The sole purpose of a serious application is to help its user with an external task. The same is not true for computer games, which create their own tasks out of nothing. This is a rather fundamental difference. Application programs help you to accomplish tasks, games create tasks for you so you can spend time on them without getting bored. The user interface may even be part of this.

      Computer games aren't easy to use, they just keep the initial treshold low. It is easy to learn how to move around your character in a 3D shooter, how to shoot, and how to pick up things. But there is more in the game, and in its user interface. It takes considerable effort to learn all the things that make you a skillfull player, e.g. of Quake. Find weapons and ammo and other stuff, identify enemies and shoot them quickly, without wasting too much ammo and health, remember secret rooms and buttons, find your way through the map -- all these things are not easy. The player has to learn them the hard way, and this learning is part of the fun of gaming.

  • by geekoid (135745)
    I don't know her personally, but I've never read anyhting from her that indicates intelligence.
    Unless stating the obvious is now considered intelligent.

    Is it supposed to be profound that she says games push computers? which, by the way, is not true. It may push PC's, but thats another story.

    Like trying to quickly move through 5 terrabytes of data doesn't push computers, sheesh.
    I can say this about her, she comes off as a competant VB programmer.
  • I most certainly agree that games are driving a lot of innovation in all parts of software.

    I think the reason is simple though. Since games have such a short lifetime, the designers are always free to try radically new ideas. If it works out, great. If not, oh well, they can try something better the next time.

    They also have users who don't mind and actually expect to start from square one, so games don't have as a design goal being as minimally invasive as possible upon the existing instincts of the user.

  • i came across an elegantly intuitive, yet powerful, extensible UI the other day at the mall. yep, in the Discovery Channel Store, hanging on the rack with all the other knicknacks and doojobbies, there it was.

    in essence, it's a PIM for kids in the form factor of a keychain about the size of a stick of gum.

    on one end (left) was the keyring, and a small button inset into the front next to the LCD screen - 3 lines by about 24-30 characters.

    the other end was a large button that, when twisted one way, functioned to scroll up, the other way to scroll down. when pressed, the button performed an action (enter)

    with these three simple functions and the mode switching of the small button at the left, it accomplished every function of a PIM - including giving me my horoscope and telling my fortune. i learned how to use it within the thirty or so seconds i was playing with it before i was distracted by the 76-in-one multitool on the next shelf over.

    my point? did i have one?

    oh yeah. more than a few developers can take a lesson from a $5 keychain that got it right with just two buttons.
  • I personally think that games do really push the envelope on UI design. Take games like Black and White that use gesture based control. This would be a great ability in many pieces of real software. Imagine being able to trigger filters or switch drawing tools in photoshop by simply making quick gestures, the learning curve would be a draw back but it would be the same as hotkeys and key combinations, new users wouldnt be effected but power users would learn to use them and theyd become a natural efficiency booster.
    This is just one good example of a UI feature used in a game that would be very useful in real software applications. Sure many games have stupid and unnatural interfaces, but many also have strong elements that could prove to be immensely useful in the future
    • The only trouble with gesture-based control is that it's generally quicker and easier to hit a hot key combination.

      For example, in Black and White, I've found that, when I'm in a hurry at least, hitting "m" on the keyboard is easier than tracing out the shape of an "m" with the mouse. Of course, that may be because I'm generally fighting with the terrain and a shifting viewpoint at the time...

      Cheers,

      Tim
    • Sadly, the company that made the product (ClearSpace) is no longer around. But it was a really well designed grapbics library and included a gesture-based command system - basically the system took some gesture the user performed and converted it into an int. It did a pretty good job of not really having many collisions and being tolerant of errors in the gesture.

      For example, drawing a circle around something would zoom in. Drawing a line diagonally outward would zoom out, and "zorro"ing a graphic would remove it. You could tie any command to any gesture you liked though, and even build trainable interfaces that way.

      I really liked the system and I'd like to see more things pick up gesture based systems.
  • Having conversed with her on a number
    of occasions, I can attest to JC being smart.


    Well, given your esteemed recommendation, we need no more convincing as to JC (who??)'s intelligence. If a Slashdot editor thinks someone is smart, hell, that should be good enough for all of us, huh ?

  • by dasunt (249686)


    From the article - "Unless you are in a military installation, the most demanding application on any computer will be a game."


    Naive bastard. On my system, the things that spank my processor aren't the games.

    • by Tim C (15259)
      Actually, on mine, it is games that really "spank" my system.

      A compile can take 10 seconds or 10 minutes - it really doesn't matter. If it's 10 seconds, I'll wait. If it's ten minutes, I'll read /. or go get a coffee.

      On the other hand, if a game is running at less then about 40 frames a second, I'll quit it and go do something else instead.

      I do agree up to a point, though - it's not just military installations that have more demanding apps running than games. For the vast majority of home users, however, he does have a point.

      Cheers,

      Tim
  • Not quite right (Score:3, Insightful)

    by alexjohns (53323) <almuric@[ ]il.com ['gma' in gap]> on Friday August 31, 2001 @03:41PM (#2240864) Journal
    Games only push speed of the processor and the video card. That's it. Most games play off the CD, so they don't push the size of the hard drive. They could care less about your printer, scanner, or anything else like that. Most big software packages require more RAM than any game. I have 512MB at work not because I run games.

    So Intel and AMD love games. I imagine RAM manufacturers like bloated office app developers, and bloated OS developers - MS springs to mind. CD player/recorder makers like musicians. Printer makers like business and old people who want a hard copy of everything. Scanner makers love the internet for wanting everyone to share their pictures.

    So companies like HP could conceivably help their bottom line by supporting musicians, longevity drugs, and getting more people on the internet. How about that. Someone should tell Bruce Perens.
    • Games only push speed of the processor and the video card. That's it. Most games play off the CD, so they don't push the size of the hard drive. They could care less about your printer, scanner, or anything else like that. Most big software packages require more RAM than any game. I have 512MB at work not because I run games.
      For advancing hard drives, media has taken the place of games, but games certainly *do* require hard disk space; do you honestly believe the seek times and speeds of CD drives are tolerable for games? As for RAM, well, office suites may get to be more bloated, but with that sort of software swapping doesn't matter; in games, performance goes straight to unacceptable when RAM runs out. Sure, games don't care about printers/scanners, but just about every other peripheral matters. Who do you think were first to go for super-high-resolution mice, and optical mice? Who buys very-large monitors? Gamers do. The same is true of quadrophonic speakers (and associated sound cards), and low-latency Internet connections, just to name what I see looking around my desk. Fact is, games drive consumer hardware in nearly all fields.
  • I don't know which is more disturbing: the fact that this made news somewhere or the fact that it showed up here. This is really simple shit, don't you think? Most of my friends don't even have to be stoned to run on with such theories.


    But more to the point, let me ask how often most of you recall seeing an interview with a dignitary of the male persuasion where, say, two-thirds of the way through, the interviewer asks, "How about you, Rick? What are you 'up to' at the moment?" *wink-wink*


    Doesn't this get on your fucking nerves? No, not that hot chicks' opinions are relevant, but rather that at first glance we're likely to agree! Don't agree with her? Hell, chances are she's probably not your type. If she's your type, she could be telling you how much better off we'd be with Leiberman as a VP and you'd fucking agree in a heartbeat.


    Then, what do I know. I'm here late in the day on a Friday when I should be at happy hour looking for organic material to attempt gene mutations with. All I'm saying is, you could be half as smart and twice as rich if you were a hot chick. Call me misogynistic, stoned or whatever.

  • Sims, from a UI standpoint, is very well designed. The buttons are nice and big, which means they're fast to access via Fitts law. The buttons appear in a pie-shaped fashion around the mouse pointer, which further increases access time (you don't have to go down a list of buttons button by button. The pie shape means that each button is adjacent to the mouse pointer).

    A lot of idiots throw high-technology at usability problems. Especially all those people touting web based interfaces (and of course, we've never, ever seen a confusing, difficult-to-navigate web page, have we? None of those exist ;) ) Usability problems are not technology problems, they are people problems. The silicon based computer is not speaking the same protocol as the carbon-based one. The solution is not to add RAM and CPU cycles to the silicon computer, but get the silicon computer to speak the same protocol the carbon-based computer speaks.

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