Forgot your password?
typodupeerror
Games Entertainment

Gaming Usability 101 305

Posted by Zonk
from the don't-do-what-donny-don't-does dept.
Next Generation (now happily fully merged with Edge) is carrying a story entitled Videogame Usability 101, attempting to lay out some standards for interacting with games. Some of them, like '3. Always let players remap controller buttons to suit their preferences' seems fairly straightforward and hard to disagree with. Others may be a bit more controversial: "4. Always let players skip cut scenes no matter how important they are to the story. What a predicament cut scenes create. As a designer, you want all your hard work to be acknowledged, even the cut scenes. Sadly, interactive entertainment is the name of the game, and it always comes first. That's why gamers play these things. So rather than assume every player wants to watch your story-telling chops, allow them to bypass cut scenes, tutorials, and even speed up the showing of logos when a game boots up. Tell your story through engaging gameplay, and you'll easily be remembered and praised regardless of what you accomplished in a cut scene, tutorial, or start screen branding." Anything on there that you categorically disagree with?
This discussion has been archived. No new comments can be posted.

Gaming Usability 101

Comments Filter:
  • by Iguru42 (530641) * on Wednesday October 10, 2007 @03:20PM (#20930777)
    It's getting pretty bad these days. I can't stand not being able to bypass the logos at startup, never mind long ass cut scenes. Does it occur to the designers that maybe someone might play the game a second time and has no need of seeing the cut scene again?!? My favorite example of designers with their head up their ass is Keiji Inafune. When Dead Rising came out and people started complaing about the save system (one one save allowed). Supposedly, in an interview with Electronic Gaming Monthly, he said that the saves were intentionally designed so that players would feel that there were some consequences for their actions and would be forced to make quick, tactical decisions. Right, don't bother trying to make the actual GAME more interesting. Cripple the save function so the game appears more dynamic..... I really hope if they do a DR2 he has nothing to do with the project.
    • by UbuntuDupe (970646) * on Wednesday October 10, 2007 @03:27PM (#20930867) Journal
      Partially disagree. Making you experience the genuine feelings you'd have if the game's scenario were actually happening, is a good thing. In real life, you can't "save and reload". You can't send information back in time. To the extent that a game allows you to, it is breaking immersion. I would consider the Holy Grail to be a game with a storyline, in which you cannot use information gained in a previous game, in a new one, nor retain useful information past a reload.

      Still, you're correct in that there are downsides to this: the "one save" can make it so frustrating as to outweigh any gain that can come form the greater immersion. And unless the game is designed not to dump you into dead ends, it will condemn you to replays you may not have time for. A better compromise is to have a special mode where you are permitted one save, like "Iron Man" option in Alpha Centauri (and I assume, Civilization).
      • by surajbarkale (877769) on Wednesday October 10, 2007 @03:32PM (#20930989)
        It's a game not real life. Immersion comes from being able to recreate any moment in the game I want. I can compare this with my style of reading books. I go through it at a high speed marking the places where I would like to spend the time and then read those again just to increase the value.
        • Seriously - I totally frikkin hate that. I play a game for FUN and RELAXATION. If I wanted stress, I'd be at work.

          Or, for example, rock climbing on Half Dome rather than in the gym with all those silly ropes and pads. Heck, why use ropes? It kills the immersion!

          Even worse are when the saves are totally worthless, like in Ninja Gaiden for Gameboy Advance where the save game is a stupid cipher.
      • NetHack (Score:5, Insightful)

        by tepples (727027) <tepples&gmail,com> on Wednesday October 10, 2007 @04:37PM (#20931929) Homepage Journal

        I would consider the Holy Grail to be a game with a storyline, in which you cannot use information gained in a previous game, in a new one, nor retain useful information past a reload.
        NetHack: Levels are random. Saving is automatic. Death is permanent.
    • by CastrTroy (595695)
      My biggest problem is when they don't let you remap the controls. My favourite example of this is Tony Hawk Pro Skate 2. On the PC version, you could completely remap the controls. However, on the console version, the controls were hard-coded. I think you could pick from 2 or 3 configurations. I really hate when they don't let you remap the controls. It doesn't add any complexity to the game, and can only make things easier on the person playing the game. There is no excuse for not letting me remap t
      • I really hate when they don't let you remap the controls.
        But if you've remapped the controls to the point where they are unusable, how would you get back into the menu to make them usable again? And what can player 1 do while player 2 is piddling around on the controller mapping screen?
        • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

          by tixxit (1107127)

          And what can player 1 do while player 2 is piddling around on the controller mapping screen?

          Hit player 2 on the back of the head for taking so long.

          But if you've remapped the controls to the point where they are unusable, how would you get back into the menu to make them usable again?

          Easy, don't let them remap the start button and have the remapped controls be the gameplay controls, not the menu navigation controls.
      • by Hatta (162192)
        I know. I've encountered a few games where the x axis is inverted and I can't change it. Y-axis inversion is fine, games have always had that. But some games... instead of looking to the left when you point left it moves the camera left causing you to look to the right. Who the hell thinks that's a good idea?
    • by Aladrin (926209) on Wednesday October 10, 2007 @03:32PM (#20930983)
      Absolutely. 'Consequence for actions' works great in real life, and keeps people from running out into a stream of bullets. It does -not- stop little Johnny from doing the same while playing a game. As for me, it only pisses me off and makes me curse the designer of the game, not the careless action I just pulled. Dying and having to try over and over and over is bad enough, I don't need them to add artificial pain as well.

      If they wanted 'consequences for actions' they should have perma-death and NO saves. There have been games like that and they generally just piss me off, but there are those that like them.
    • by Hatta (162192) on Wednesday October 10, 2007 @03:49PM (#20931273) Journal
      Let me guess, you've never played nethack.
      • by lgw (121541)
        I played NetHack until the first time I died. Clearly I was dead and couldn't play again. (Actually, I'm not joking, I hate games that restrict saves that much.)
        • by xouumalperxe (815707) on Wednesday October 10, 2007 @05:19PM (#20932597)

          I was about to bring up nethack myself. The trick is how you look at the game. I'll give you a moderately similar example -- chess.

          The first few games of chess you play, you'll get your arse handed to you in a platter within 10 moves. Then you start making sense of how to protect yourself from elementary attacks, and you get owned after, say, 20 moves. Then you actually start getting the hang of the early game, and can keep yourself alive for long enough to see the mid-game. At this point you might even win a few matches, get a few neat combo plays, whatever. Etc. etc. etc. Anybody who ever got into chess knows what I'm talking about.

          The key issue here is how the game is designed. Some games (JRPGs come to mind) are meant to take you through one looooong, mostly linear, trip. Replay value is either nil, or limited to a few different endings, and there's no real reward for playing it much more after you've cracked all the secrets and explored all the finales. So you save and you save and you save yet again, trying to keep your options open, so you won't have to go through 20 hours of gameplay to change the course of that one decision you made that killed off half the game world or whatever. Other games, like Tetris, Chess, Checkers, etc are oriented towards playing loads of individual matches. As a learner in chess, you might want to take back a play or two to explore different angles and as a learning experience, but mostly these games are made of having a very real chance to lose. How quickly would chess become BORING as hell if you were allowed to backtrack all your mistakes once you found out they were wrong? Such a game model should give the possibility to adjourn the game, but never, EVER to allow you to actually backtrack without consequences.

          Nethack clearly fits into the category of games where you can play through the game several times in one day, and the focus is on playing loads of individual games, not on progressing in one long thread of gaming. So having only the option to adjourn the game is the way to go.

          Since we already have nethack up, let's measure it against these usability rules!

          1. Nethack never, EVER prompts you to save. You either go on playing, #quit, die, or type 'S' to save (and adjourn the game)
          2. After asking you a few questions about your character, Nethack gives you a short message and prompts "--more--". Sure, it's not "press any key", but both space and enter, the biggest keys on any reasonable keyboard, will proceed forwards. Not perfect, but hardly the worst ever
          3. Nethack doesn't let you remap the controls, other than choosing between two basic layouts, whichever is most appropriate for your keyboard. It also has the most extensive key list ever, but at least all the actions are bound to sensible keys, and there's nothing you can do (other than movement) that can't be cancelled, so you'll never get really hurt by missing a key. All in all, bad, but not the worst
          4. Cutscenes? No dungeon crawler worth its salt has cutscenes. Next!
          5. Top down camera that always shows the totality of the level you're in. If your character knows it, you can see it. It's primitive, but once you think about it for a few minutes, it's actually one of the best interface design choices ever.
          6. Nethack uses loads of keys because it needs to. The alternative is making it much more verbose and difficult to play. But I'll grant you that using every bloody letter in the keyboard is pretty hardcore, so no cookie here.
          7. I don't really think accessibility even applies to nethack, so I'll skip this one.
          8. Unbeatable opponents? Now *this* is one of the game's crown jewels. There might be some pretty close to impossible monsters, but you can get out of most situations if you play your cards right. In fact, that's what the game is all about.
          9. In-game is actually pretty good: simply pressing '?' will result in you being given help on mostly anything that you're not supposed to learn through playing,
          • by lgw (121541)

            Unbeatable opponents?
            Is NetHack the rogue-alike that had the Medusa that would instantly kill your character, forcing you to start the game over? Man that sucked.
    • by Goaway (82658)

      Right, don't bother trying to make the actual GAME more interesting. Cripple the save function so the game appears more dynamic.....

      You know, pervasive saving in games is a fairly recent development. You speak as if it was a basic principle of all games that has to be removed, instead of being something added to a game.

      For me, pervasive saving in PC games is what turned me off most of the platform. It changes the gameplay from a smooth flow to a chopped-up sequence of obsessive re-loads to get through the next fight as well as possible.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by ucblockhead (63650)
      I don't mind if there is only one save. What I do hate is games that don't let you save at any point. Nothing is more irritating than having to go through a tedious 30 minute section of some game over again not because you died, but because you had to quit playing unexpectedly. I want to be able to save at *any* point in the game so that if, say, my wife calls me to bed or my son starts painting the cat, I can immediately stop and take it up where I left off a week later.
    • Blank screen? (Score:4, Informative)

      by tepples (727027) <tepples&gmail,com> on Wednesday October 10, 2007 @04:35PM (#20931901) Homepage Journal

      I can't stand not being able to bypass the logos at startup
      Would you rather have a blank screen while the game loads from optical disc? That's what the logos are partly designed to cover up.
      • Re:Blank screen? (Score:4, Informative)

        by blighter (577804) on Wednesday October 10, 2007 @05:19PM (#20932585)
        Not always.

        Crackdown, for example, has a series of unskippable logos when you put the disc in. At the end of those you get to "press start" and then you get the loading screen.

        Thank god for pic in pic so I can watch tv and still see when the game is finished with its unskippable logos and has finally actually loaded.

      • That may be true for some games, but not the ones I remember. Battlefield 2 for instance forces you to sit through several logo movies while it is doing absolutely nothing. You can actually mod the game to take those movies out, but then you can't play online because others don't have the same modded game. The lack of the logo movies sped the game up by the duration of the movies.
    • by Boronx (228853)
      "One Save" is one of the draws of games like Nethack. It's just a different attitude towards play. It does not work at all in games that aren't randomly generated each time.
    • by LainTouko (926420)
      There's nothing wrong with crippling "power word reload". You just need to remember that you're doing it when you're designing the game, so that the player won't permanently lose without doing something clearly stupid.
  • I have little enough time to play games as it is, and the time I have is intermittent and scattered. Waiting through a cutscene (or worse, a startup logo) that I've seen a dozen times already is exceedingly frustrating and means I buy fewer games.
    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by ClamIAm (926466)
      I have little enough time to play games as it is, and the time I have is intermittent and scattered.

      This presents a different problem for me: because of the time between plays, I sometimes forget what's going on in the story. It would be really nice if all games gave you the option to replay cutscenes you've already seen.
      • Actually, that's a good point. Not only should all the cutscenes be skippable, but why the F aren't "replayable" cutscenes standard at this point? Tons of games I've played have had something in the menu like "saved movies" or "theater" or whatever that allow me to replay cutscenes that I've already seen. This should be standard in every game, that way it's there if you need it, and you won't have to worry if you bump the controller during a cutscene and skip past it by accident.
  • by Joe the Lesser (533425) on Wednesday October 10, 2007 @03:21PM (#20930783) Homepage Journal
    I've played several games where I am at a difficult section where I need to try over and over again. However, between the difficult spot and the last available save spot would be some cutscene.

    If it took 20 times to get by the spot, that was 20 forced brain-numbing times through the cutscene, and often after a few tries I would just put the game down. It wasn't worth a 5 minute wait to get killed again.

    When I fail I want to retry as soon as possible.
    • by Selfbain (624722)
      The first Golden Sun game on the DS has a fairly lengthy cut scene right before one of the bosses. It took me several tries to beat them and I was ready to smash the game by that point.
    • by JoshJ (1009085)
      Your hope ends here... and your meaningless existence along with it!
    • by david.given (6740)

      I've played several games where I am at a difficult section where I need to try over and over again. However, between the difficult spot and the last available save spot would be some cutscene.

      Bloody Metroid bloody Prime.

      Oh, look, here's a boss. I've just met it for the first time and it's killed me. Fair enough, that's what bosses do. Okay, back up to the save point and let's try again. Uh... the closest save point to the boss is five minutes' walk away. On the other side of a puzzle room. And a room-fu

      • by edwdig (47888)
        Bloody Metroid bloody Prime.

        Oh, look, here's a boss. I've just met it for the first time and it's killed me. Fair enough, that's what bosses do. Okay, back up to the save point and let's try again. Uh... the closest save point to the boss is five minutes' walk away. On the other side of a puzzle room. And a room-full of low level monsters I have to fight through. Every time.


        You must've been missing the save points. There was only one boss in Metroid Prime that was any significant distance away from a save p
        • by grumbel (592662)
          ### There was only one boss in Metroid Prime

          The thing is, it only takes one of them to break the whole game. In both Prime1 and Prime2 I ditched the game after being stuck on those bosses for to long and only picked it back up month or even years later. What made the Prime games especially annoying is their tendency to respawn enemies, so you can't do it in a tactical way as in other games (move forward, kill enemies, fall back, save, repeat, till the way to the boss is clear). Prime games only are fun as l
          • by edwdig (47888)
            Well, in Prime 1, the one boss with a badly placed save isn't too big a deal. It's a very simple boss that you should be able to beat very easily once you have a clue what's going on. It really should only beat you if you're totally not expecting it and come in very weak.

            Prime 2 I will agree was extremely frustrating when it came to that boss without a save.

            Anyway, I'm not trying say those cases weren't design mistakes. I'm just responding to someone who was claiming these issues occurred early and often, r
        • by david.given (6740)

          You must've been missing the save points.

          Nope. Here's a map [gamefaqs.com]. Look up Varia Suit, which you get after defeating Flaahgra, the first real boss. It's in the middle of the Chozo Ruins. The nearest save point, the black dot in the yellow circle, is two rooms away, southeast. The room immediately to the north of the save point is full of stuff you need to shoot to get past; the room immedately south of Flaahgra is a puzzle room which requires you to do stuff in the right order, shoot things, and climb up a seri

    • by jgoemat (565882)
      One game that comes to mind is "God of War II". The final scene where you're killing Zeus and you have to do all the random joystick movements and button presses is preceded by a cutscene that you cannot skip. I think the button-pressing is a little arbitrary anyway, but it's not that annoying when spread throughout the game in small pieces and it allows you to still feel like you're a part of the action when your character is doing some heavily scripted and defined things. This particular section was ma
    • by Blakey Rat (99501)
      Worst example: Sonic the Hedgehog for Xbox 360. (The new 3D one, not the old one on Xbox Live.)

      Ugh. In fact, I think that game breaks every single usability rule in this article.
  • 4. Always let players skip cut scenes no matter how important they are to the story. What a predicament cut scenes create. As a designer, you want all your hard work to be acknowledged, even the cut scenes. Sadly, interactive entertainment is the name of the game, and it always comes first. That's why gamers play these things. So rather than assume every player wants to watch your story-telling chops, allow them to bypass cut scenes, tutorials, and even speed up the showing of logos when a game boots up. Te

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by Chris Burke (6130)
      Heh, yeah I know, there's nothing worse than a non-skipable cut scene.

      Oh, wait, I can think of one thing, though it's more a variation on a theme: The un-skipable Summons in a Final Fantasy.

      FFVII's summons were absolutely awesome... the first time. They were still pretty cool up through let's say the twentieth time. But after the thousandth time you've used your summon you'll just want to gouge your eyes out waiting. Especially since the power of the summon seems to scale with the length of the cutscene
      • FFX had normal and shortened summon/overdrive animations, selectable in the menu. Did FFVII not have that?
        • No, it didn't. FFIX had short animations most of the time (it was random, and the first FF to have shorter summons), but summons also hit noticeably harder when you got the full animation, so you felt gypped when the animation was shortened.

          That said, I never had an issue with the summon animations in FFVII, and I've played it tons of times.

      • by Bobartig (61456)
        Bahamut Zero nuthin', can you say "Knights of the Round"? It was 13 mini summons all back to back. The first time, you feel light-headed from phenomenal ass whuppin you just unleashed. Later on, when you fight bosses that require 12-15 castings of "KotR" to defeat, and all party members equipped with Mime, it unleashes this unending summoning sequence that just goes on and on...

        Of course, my party all had Final Attack -> Phoenix, the master materia with their respective W's... the game aspect was already
  • by _xeno_ (155264) on Wednesday October 10, 2007 @03:26PM (#20930835) Homepage Journal

    I don't think that's very controversial. Cutscenes really must always be skippable, simply because it's foolish to assume that everyone is playing for the first time. Even if the game "knows" it's a new game (think DS game fresh out of the case) it can't be sure that the player hasn't played the game before and therefore doesn't want to see the stupid cutscene for the fiftieth time.

    Don't get me wrong, I generally will allow the cutscenes to play. But some cutscenes are just annoying. For example, when you start the Legend of Zelda: Phantom Hourglass, it gives you a recap of the events that occurred during Wind Waker. However I've already played Wind Waker and would have very much liked to skip past the recap to the new stuff.

    Massive bonus points for any developers who add TiVo-style controls to their cutscenes. Sometimes I just want to jump back and rehear a line I missed.

    In fact, I'd say that the first item, "Never ask a player if they want to save their game" is much more controversial. In a perfect world, that works (when there are enough save slots that auto-save is possible) however the world isn't perfect. In Phantom Hourglass I might not want to overwrite my save slot just because I hit a "save point." This is a limitation of the DS - there are no memory cards, so you're limited to whatever space the game gives you.

    However for something like Half-Life 2, the autosaves work well. I don't need to be asked if I want yet another autosave, so it doesn't bother asking.

    Otherwise I generally agree with the list.

    • by CastrTroy (595695)
      The game where I hated cutscenes the most was Final Fantasy 7. Every time you attacked, it would show a very long cutscene. After seeing the same cutscene 700 times, this starts to get really annoying. It's kind of cool to see the attack sequences the first time around, but after that, I really don't want to see them. The only other thing I should add, is that if the cutscene is that important to me progressing in the game, like in many RPGs, make it so that I can replay it by pausing the game and selec
  • The first 8 are a hit with me. I'm not sure about 9. I definitely don't think 10 is a big deal unless jumping out of the game engine is entirely disruptive.

    An in-game tutorial is a good idea for lots of games. Sometimes an out-of-game tutorial as a separate program or perhaps a manual and web site make more sense.

    For a FPS, stay in the game engine and allow the respwan from there. That's standard. If it's a memory or logic puzzle, then the player shouldn't be allowed extra time outside the level to look at
  • by AKAImBatman (238306) <akaimbatmanNO@SPAMgmail.com> on Wednesday October 10, 2007 @03:29PM (#20930909) Homepage Journal
    ...skip cut scenes using a non-gameplay key. There's nothing more annoying than missing an important cut-scene because you accidentally hit the Fire button. Especially when the cut scenes intrude on the game suddenly and unexpectedly.

    There is one of the items I disagree with:

    8. Never use insipid, indefensible enemy attacks.
    "It's impossible to get out of the way every third attack!" I shout at the on-screen boss in despair. Ah, the indefensible enemy blitzkrieg. This technique was more prevalent in the age of quarter-munchers where arcade makers needed to extend profits at the expense of cheap gameplay, but any remnants of this move should be completely abolished from interactive entertainment.

    One man's "impossible" is another man's "challenge". Just because it's impossible for you doesn't mean that it's truly impossible. Go check out some Youtube videos of people playing a Bullet-hell shmup on one life. Inspiring feats, to say the least. Yet I know that I need infinite lives to pass these games because I'm simply not that good. Therefore, #8 should really say, "Know thy audience." That way you'll make sure you put the right level of difficulty in the right game.
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by revlayle (964221)
      like for example, Kingdom Hearts 2, not necessarily it is the best game in the world (I enjoyed it however), but there was always a way to skip any cutscene: Press start, and confirm the skip (also, that provided a way to pause cutscenes without having to skip them - esp. long ones, which this game had).
    • Actually I think a better idea is to do the 2-3 second wait before accepting input. Lots of games do this, so that skipping is possible but not accidental. Gives you a chance to retire that trigger finger and decide for yourself whether you want to watch this particular cutscene or not.
    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by roadkill_cr (1155149)
      I think the idea behind the article is that there are still games which guarantee you will be hit - for example, where it'd be impossible to go through bullet-hell on one life. In fact, the bullet-hell you reference is exactly what he is asking for - not impossible, but very challenging.
    • Better: DON'T MAKE CUT SCENES THAT APPEAR IN COMBAT!

      Of all the things wrong with Lair, this is the worst. Why on Earth they think I need a 10-second cut scene to show the thing I just blew up blowing up is beyond me. All it serves to do is make it even more confusing where you actually are in relation to everything else. Cut scenes should only appear in periods where there is no action, like between levels/missions.

      Of course, the ideal is to go the Half-Life route and design the game so you can tell your
      • Agree and disagree. Agreed that cut scenes should always be in between missions or at breaks in the action, but Half-Life's refusal to use cut scenes is bloody awful. There are things I like about Half-Life, and others I don't, but Half-Life's storytelling is crap because they don't have cut scenes. Games without cut scenes are cool if there's no story, but if you want to have your game have a story, they're mandatory, imho.
        • by Blakey Rat (99501)
          I would argue that Half-Life doesn't have a story, only a setting. Unless you consider, "our magical device exploded and now aliens teleport all over and kill people, oh also there's a guy in a suit" a story.

          That said, one of the things I hated about Half-Life 2 was the loooong stretch of time in Barney's hideout where you can't do anything but dink around while the characters are all running their mouths. If they're going to talk about something I don't care about for a long time, making me retain control
  • Subtitles! (Score:5, Insightful)

    by machinecraig (657304) on Wednesday October 10, 2007 @03:32PM (#20930975)
    Subtitles for most (if not all) spoken content would be awesome, even better is when it gets kept automatically in an in-game journal as in Deus Ex. This could be considered more accessibility than usability - but it's very nice when you can pull up that critical conversation that you had a few days ago.

    This helps solve one of the biggest gaming problems:
    "Am I supposed to escort the Foozle or KILL the Foozle???"
  • by Ted Stevens (1166671) on Wednesday October 10, 2007 @03:33PM (#20931011)
    If time is put into the cutscenes, make sure we can watch -- and pause -- them. John Woo's Stranglehold for Xbox 360 is an example where this fails. The game claims to be "cinematic." Please, developers, let me watch the cinema even if the pizza arrives during a cutscene!
  • Yes, but.. (Score:5, Interesting)

    by \\ (118555) on Wednesday October 10, 2007 @03:35PM (#20931039) Homepage
    Let me skip any and every single cutscene/tutorial, but also give me the opportunity to replay them at my convenience.

    If I've decided to skip something that actually has important information, or I decide I want to watch something later because I'm in a groove, where is the harm in letting me access it when I want to?
  • A good example of piss poor usability in a game:

    The Battlefield series.

    Fantastic core gameplay. Horrible menu system/options etc. Take 2142 for example. Who's brilliant idea was it to force users to redo their kit loadout EVERY SINGLE TIME THEY CONNECT TO A SERVER. This is shit that is obvious after using the game for 10 minutes. Also how the key assignments for assault rifle and rockets change depending on which team you are playing for. Ummm hello?

    I remember reading a quote along the lines of "It
  • I'd Include (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Greyfox (87712) on Wednesday October 10, 2007 @03:44PM (#20931189) Homepage Journal
    Never throw the player into a boss fight they absolutely can't win. The JRPGs in particular are fond of making you fight a boss early on in the game with absolutely no possible way you can win. It's annoying and unnecessary to do so. It's strange how this is handled with varying degrees of competence in the same game. Suikodan III, for example, lets you level up early on and win several of those fights you're supposed to lose. One of the characters will call you a cheater if you beat him. Later on in the game though you fight a duel with a guy and it's impossible to win it.

    So if you put a fight in the game that the party is "supposed" to lose, you should either include the option of them not losing or make it a (skippable) cut scene because no degree of interaction from the player is going to change the outcome at all.

    Additionally, do not kill members of my party off without giving me some way to rescue them. If I completely dominate the boss that was supposed to beat my party and kill that guy, don't kill that guy.

    • Never throw the player into a boss fight they absolutely can't win.
      I second that. I hate running through all my potions and phoenix downs just to find out that if I had stood there and done nothing it would have had the same effect. Also completely aggravating? Working my ass off to beat the boss, and then watching a cutscene that assumes I lost. GRRR!
    • Note: There are some spoilers here, but only for really old games.

      Always been a pet peeve of mine when the story is forced with a battle that you have to lose. I've got no problem with the fact that many games stories are mostly or totally linear. However what I do have a problem with is when they want to do that by putting you in an unwinnable situation. Do better writing instead, don't expect me to play along.

      This is especially true because in some games you find that the situations ARE winnable, but then
      • by lgw (121541)
        I thought Deus Ex was pretty good about that. The scene with attempting to rescue Paul, for example: if you ran away (leaving through the window was the trigger), Paul was dead for the rest of the game. If you won the fight (or at least left through the front door of the Ton, the other trigger) Paul was alive for the rest of the game.

        The only unwinnable fight I recall from that game was the one where Gunther ambushes you in the subway - you may be remembering the wrong fight.
        • So what you do is sneak around the hotel and plant a couple grenades. Some explosives in the main room and gas in the hallway work great. Then talk to him to start the event. The grenades go off. If you are skilled and have some heavy weapons, you can make short work of the attackers. Well then what? You both are free to go now, but he just keeps running around telling you to go before it's too late. You won the fight, but the game acts as though you didn't. You then either have to blow yourself up, which w
      • If you survive the apartment battle you just get captured by Gunther when you leave the subway station in Battery Park, which is where Jock is supposed to try to meet up with you (so you have to go there). The difference between running away and fighting and winning is that if you run away, Paul just dies, but if you fight and win, he gets captured "off camera" after you leave, and you can save him from the MJ12 facility on Liberty Island when you break out.
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Jimmy_B (129296)
      <blockquote>Additionally, do not kill members of my party off without giving me some way to rescue them. If I completely dominate the boss that was supposed to beat my party and kill that guy, don't kill that guy.</blockquote>
      No, that would be a huge mistake, and it's one that many JRPGs have made. If the player has too much control over which characters are around, it becomes impossible to write good dialog. The writers won't know which characters are part of the conversation, so they have to s
    • I call this one the "Groundhog Day Effect."

      I hate it when a game is clearly designed in such a way that the ONLY way you can learn how to solve a puzzle or beat a boss is to be killed (GAME OVER) and try again from the last save. I don't mind dying from my own stupidity, but the game should be solvable in theory without ever having to back up to the previous save point. There are quite a few games where there was no information available about the solution until after you'd committed the fatal mistake

  • TFA mostly right (Score:2, Redundant)

    by vux984 (928602)
    #1 - save games automatically - good point. do it. But don't overwrite their last save. Create a new one.

    #2 - always say "press any button" to start game. whatever. I'd say its more important to just work with the common ones. Nothings more annoying than games with non-standard or backwards 'menu navigation'.

    #3 - go one further - acknowledge left handed players and design a map, sure it won't match every lefties preference but nothing sucks worse than having to remap a game from SCRATCH because its totally
    • #1 - save games automatically - good point. do it. But don't overwrite their last save. Create a new one.

      And then do what once the player has exhausted the space on the memory cards? Offer to rent the player more space to save games on the Internet?

      Nothings more annoying than games with non-standard or backwards 'menu navigation'.

      Backwards like O vs. X in PlayStation games from different regions, or the placement of A and B buttons on Xbox vs. DS? And what happens when the player has remapped the buttons such that the menus become useless?

      And for those new 'games for windows' that apparently have to support xbox controllers, if i don't have an xbox controller don't effing show me what my control layout looks like on one.

      Then what graphic is the game expected to use to represent your controller? Most players don't know where "Button 0" through "Button 15" are. Or should

      • by vux984 (928602)
        And then do what once the player has exhausted the space on the memory cards? Offer to rent the player more space to save games on the Internet?

        On systems with only "memory cards" sure the behaviour should take that into account, and having rolling autosaves separate from explicit player saves or something.

        Backwards like O vs. X in PlayStation games from different regions, or the placement of A and B buttons on Xbox vs. DS?

        Backwards like every game lets you push start or 'A' to start, except one which requ
        • by vux984 (928602)
          The issue with lost planet was that when a new action was required it would prompt me in game with stuff like "Push to "

          supposed to be:

          "push {picture of xbox 'z' button} to {perform action}"
  • 1. Never ask a player if they want to save their game.

    Because the office world has taught us that auto-save never, ever ends up writing over data we wanted to keep. Ditch the word "never", let players save when they want to, but also auto-save to a different save file.

    2. Always say "press any button" to start a game.
    So after years of having to press the Start button, gamers can't seem to remember where that button is located? Weird. What if the main screen has some different options that the player

    • by Blakey Rat (99501)
      I think the main point is, "make it damned easy to start the game." What specific button it is isn't important.

      For instance, don't make me decide whether to send Xbox Live invites, then decide what game mode I want to play, then decide what character I want to play, then decide which level you want to start at, and then strand me at the equipment buying screen, and then play a long cutscene. Make it so the default button to start (A or Start) the game just starts. Some games get this horribly wrong, and it
  • controls (Score:5, Insightful)

    by JoshJ (1009085) on Wednesday October 10, 2007 @04:06PM (#20931489) Journal
    I find it strange that he complains about "17 buttons" on the PS2/PS3 and Xbox.

    L1, L2, L3, R1, R2, R3, triangle, O, X, Square. That's ten. Start and Select make 12. The "analog" button isn't used in gameplay, but that's 13. Then what? Counting the d-pad as 4 buttons is silly because in MOST games it, like the joysticks, simply serves one purpose.
    Most games ignore L3 and R3, or use it for some function that's tied to the joystick it's on (e.g. using R3 to recenter the camera when the right stick controls the camera).

    The start button has done the same thing in every game since the Super Nintendo era, so complaining about it is silly. It's standard. It pauses the game and/or brings up the menu. Period. Select is rarely used and could be gotten rid of. Analog was used on the PSX and some PS2 games for toggling the controller mode (again, standard among every game because it actually applied to the controller), but it had no role in game.

    The joystick or d-pad is always used for movement. Granted, some FPS's use the d-pad for things like "switch weapons with left/right and zoom with up/down" in which case it's really two additional functions. (not 4! It's a logical pair and if you know that "right on the d-pad is next weapon" it's obvious that "left on the d-pad is previous weapon"!)

    Ultimately, I think the most complicated console game I've played in terms of keymapping are the FPS'es like Timesplitters where all 8 shoulder+face buttons were used and you used the left-right and up-down pairs for weapon swapping and zooming, and the two joysticks did move/strafe and turn/look; making for a total of 12 functions- counting "fire" and "secondary fire" as different concepts.

    I don't think 12 functions is too much to expect someone to know for a complicated game.

    Compare this to a fighting game, say Virtua Fighter, which technically has an 8-way joystick (or uses the d-pad for 8-way movement) and 3 buttons. Kick, punch, guard. That's simple, right? Well, there's kick+punch, punch+guard, kick+guard, kick+punch, kick+punch+guard, down-forward kick, etc, making for movelists with over 100 commands. Almost every modern fighting game (minus Smash Brothers) has upwards of 50 commands and even Smash Brothers has quite a high number of moves with just "attack, special, shield" thanks to being able to smash them, smash in the air, smash while running, etc.

    Shoot, compare it to Nethack, which used nearly every button on the keyboard (lower AND uppercase) for something.

    Complaining about console games having "too many buttons" is absurd. PC games are where this "problem" really lies, and if done right (such as Civilization 4- all the buttons were really just shortcut keys to something you could get at through the GUI somehow) it's not a problem.

    Granted, if every direction on the d-pad and the 8 general directions on each joystick did different functions that weren't even logically connected, he'd have a complaint, but I'd argue that such a design would be a bad user interface in general because it's not using the expected behavior of the joystick/d-pad.

    He's spot on about allowing controller remapping, subtitles for deaf people or kids whose parents make them turn the volume off, forced-death boss fights (I remember one in Chrono Cross where I used a massive number of potions, curative spells, ethers, etc to survive and continually damaged the boss, ultimately giving up and letting him kill me just to see if I was "supposed" to lose it- and promptly reset so I could redo it without losing all the items.)

    Also, tutorial levels should damn well be optional. Cutscenes should be skippable (though make it buttonmasher-proof like Xenosaga did) and re-viewable. Not everyone is playing the game for the first time.

    I fully disagree with "never ask the player if he wants to save his game", as does anyone else who's ever gotten stuck in Riovanes Castle in Final Fantasy Tactics without a backup save. (Yes, I got through. Yell and Auto-potion are a ridiculous
    • Some games DO use the d-pad as buttons. Forza Motorsport 2, for instances, uses them to scroll through live telemetry overlays while racing. Project Gotham 4 uses them to manipulate the in-game radio.
      • by JoshJ (1009085)
        I assume the radio one does something like left/right is previous/next station and the Forza one has either left/right or up/down as previous/next overlay? My point is that the d-pad (whether in pairs or as a whole pad) is typically used for related functions. It'd be like declaring that the c-buttons on the N64 pad are "4 separate buttons" in a game like Mario 64 where they all serve one shared function- moving the camera. Sure, the PS2 technically has 17 buttons plus two joysticks. They're NEVER used
    • I don't think 12 functions is too much to expect someone to know for a complicated game.

      I think the gist is that games should be less complicated, at least through the early levels. Using features on the other buttons should be an option, not a requirement. For instance, I've seen a video on YouTube of someone beating Super Mario Bros. without pressing the B button (except for one "press B to continue" screen).

      He's spot on about allowing controller remapping, subtitles for deaf people or kids whose parents make them turn the volume off

      He doesn't mention deaf people or the Deaf community. Instead, he mentions speakers of a different language. Sometimes, excluding non-native speakers is intentional, as many video game

      • by JoshJ (1009085)
        Games where all the action takes place in a plane such as Mario Bros don't really have a "camera" to speak of that can get stuck behind walls, behind your character, obscuring the view of things, etc. 2d games just don't have camera problems. In first person games, your vision moves the camera- you move and look around. Now, games in first person view which artificially limit your field of view (e.g. you can't look straight up to see what's with the ledge above you) are a problem. Games in third person t
  • by Anonymous Coward
    Fast main menu load times. HL2 based games are serious offenders here.

    Allow fast alt tabbing. Basically every PC game needs to function like World of Warcraft in "maximized windowed mode" I simply can't stand games that hitch and make your PC nearly freeze for quickly changing to another task while you are playing. LET ME READ THE WEB WHILE YOUR GAME LOADS!
    • Step 1 to properly enjoying HL2 is to turn of that goddamned scene that loads behind the menu.
    • Problem is that the game itself takes a performance hit when you do that.

      A lot of games are running in a special full screen mode and at an increased process priority - this gives the game a larger than normal portion of your CPU time, increasing your frame rate. Running it in windowed mode makes it behave a little more like a normal app, making your web browsing and switching faster but slowing your frame rate.
    • by tepples (727027)

      Allow fast alt tabbing.
      DirectX graphics itself has a limitation that you have to reload all of VRAM, including all textures, whenever you switch display modes. So fast task switching would require either playing the game on a separate machine from the PC or playing a simplistic 2D game.
  • Here's a great article [ua-games.gr] and "game" that I found a while back. The author calls it the world's most inaccessible game where each level breaks a cardinal sin of game design. The designer them goes on to describe how it's broken and how to avoid and fix it in the future. I thought it was a great idea and it applies here.

    The site [thefirsthourblog.com] I write for also deals directly with usability and accessibility in video games. I think these aspects of gameplay are often overlooked for various reasons and things like unskippable cutscenes and unskippable story sequences (not necessarily cutscenes but just long drawn out blobs of text - see my First Hour Okami review next Monday) are just plain foolish and obnoxious to the player!
  • The KoTOR Scenario (Score:5, Interesting)

    by GMFTatsujin (239569) on Wednesday October 10, 2007 @04:45PM (#20932059) Homepage
    I'd add a major rule, based on my experience with Knights of the Old Republic. After watching my character whip ass in lightsaber duels with poise and confidence, he was suddenly a complete klutz at a particular challenge.

    The challenge was the podrace. My character has the reflexes of a trained Jedi; I do not. Yet *I* had to drive the pod with my pitiful skills. My character's 18 DEX was nowhere to be seen.

    So the new rule is:

    In a game where the action is judged by statistics based on the character's abilities, such as a role playing game, never add an arcade element that depends on the player's abilities. Or more generally and colloquially stated: remember who is in the driver's seat for a particular style of gameplay.
  • While many points in the article are valid, it fails to discuss that some of their "solutions" have severe negative consequences, which can do far more damage then the original problem:

    1) Auto-Save: In Halo this works because you have clear cuts between the levels, so when you mess up the checkpoint you can resume at the start of the level. Other games don't have such clear cuts, so you really don't mess up a users game-state without asking first. Another solution would be to have special auto-save slots be
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by Blakey Rat (99501)
      5) Cameras can get annoying, quite true, so getting them right is important. One thing I am wondering: On a TV/movie set walls are often removed to make room for the camera, allowing the camera to be placed in location that are outside of the room itself and would be physically impossible if the room would be real. Games on the other side basically never do this, instead they let the camera collide with the fourth wall. Any reason for this? Or any games that do otherwise (aside from top-down RPGs that leave
  • by tgibbs (83782) on Wednesday October 10, 2007 @04:51PM (#20932167)
    I'm willing to be compelled to watch the logos, cut scenes, etc...ONCE.
    What I do object to is having to watch them over...and over...and over. After I've seen them once, I should be allowed to skip them.

    However, there is a reciprocal issue. I want to be able to see any cut scene again if I want to.

    I can't think how many times this has happened:

    I've finally reached a major cutscene, the reward for the last two hours of play, that finally explains critical plot points.
    And the phone rings.
    So I hit "start" to pause the game, which works everywhere else in the game.
    But because it's a cut scene, it thinks that I want to skip instead of pause.
    So now I've missed the cut scene, and the only choices the game offers are to start at the beginning of the next level (missing the cutscene)...or go back to my last save and replay part of the level that I JUST BEAT, just to see the cutscene.

    Or sometimes, somebody comes in and interrupts me while the cutscene is running, and there is no way to pause it. And then when I want to go back and watch it without interruption, I find that I can't.

    The "skip cutscene" button should NEVER be the same as the button you use to pause the game--and that button should pause the cutscene, just like it pauses at any other point in the game. And if you do somehow miss the cut scene, there should be a mechanism for seeing it again without having to replay the entire level.
    • Why force it once? Do you like sitting through cutscenes just because the game isn't psychic, doesn't realize you've already seen it on another computer or previous install?
  • by PJ1216 (1063738) * on Wednesday October 10, 2007 @05:01PM (#20932351)
    1) allow cutscenes to be paused. i hate it when the phone rings in the middle of one and i can't pause it. who knows how many phone calls from hot women i may have missed when i chose to watch the cutscene instead =P
    2) allow cutscene skipping BUT don't make it so easy to skip. i hate when i accidentally hit a button and skip a cutscene and all of the sudden i'm in a situation that leaves me with a "wtf?" expression on my face. i think it was one of the xenosaga movies, i mean games, that when you paused the cutscene a little note at the top said "press x to skip" or something of that nature.

    i know many people want to be able to skip it very quickly, but you don't want to punish the ones the game was targeted at (those who want the story line). if you want, you could go as far as making it an in-game option to allow quick-skipping or forcing the pause plus an extra button to skip. I think this would satisfy everybody. everybody could set it to what they want.

    on a different note, i think saving should be allowed at *any* point in the game. sometimes you just *have* to stop playing but hate it cause you'll lose like an hour's worth of work just because you haven't reached a savepoint yet.
  • I like the idea of this article. I think it would be a good idea to make more that are specific to genres. I'm a hardcore fighting game player and here is a list of things that are really annoying when not followed:

    #1 If you want your game to have longevity, make sure you get the best players to spend a lot of time beta testing it. Soul Calibur 3 is a good example of what goes wrong when you don't have good players test your game. There is a character in that game with a move that can instantaneously re
  • I hate, hate, hate game scenarios where you have to protect (or maybe just want to protect) a supporting character who dies absurdly easily. While I understand that this can occasionally make for interesting gameplay, devs often don't take into account the increasing difficulty levels on games. Watching my NPCs blown to pieces is frustrating, especially when my character is much stronger than anything else on the screen.
  • I don't care how important you think it is to the storyline. I love the storyline. I think it's grand and epic and really the best thing about your game.
    But I memorized it 30 plays ago. You've turned a fun game into a tedious experience because You didn't think anyone would like your game enough to re-install it on a new system. Or maybe you don't even bother memorizing that I've watched it before. Or maybe you think my "new character" is played by a new person, so he needs to see it too. Or maybe
  • I agree with the part about cut scenes, but mainly for a different reason. There are many games where one might want to go back and reply a certain part to do it better and when there's a cut scene in the middle, it can be extremely annoying. They can also be annoying if one is playing the game for a second (or third, etc.) time.

[Crash programs] fail because they are based on the theory that, with nine women pregnant, you can get a baby a month. -- Wernher von Braun

Working...