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Games Entertainment

Gaming Usability 101 305

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?
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Gaming Usability 101

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  • 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 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 _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 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.
  • 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 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 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.
  • 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!
  • by revlayle ( 964221 ) on Wednesday October 10, 2007 @03:34PM (#20931033) Homepage
    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).
  • by roadkill_cr ( 1155149 ) on Wednesday October 10, 2007 @03:54PM (#20931333)
    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.
  • 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
  • by ucblockhead ( 63650 ) on Wednesday October 10, 2007 @04:16PM (#20931637) Homepage Journal
    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.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday October 10, 2007 @04:18PM (#20931671)
    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!
  • NetHack (Score:5, Insightful)

    by tepples ( 727027 ) <{tepples} {at} {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 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.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday October 10, 2007 @04:57PM (#20932265)
    I don't give a crap what "real life' is like! I play games to escape for awhile.
  • by ClamIAm ( 926466 ) on Wednesday October 10, 2007 @04:59PM (#20932305)
    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.
  • by tixxit ( 1107127 ) on Wednesday October 10, 2007 @05:25PM (#20932685)

    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 bevoblake ( 1106117 ) on Wednesday October 10, 2007 @05:32PM (#20932763)
    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.
  • Re:I'd Include (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Jimmy_B ( 129296 ) <{gro.hmodnarmij} {ta} {todhsals}> on Wednesday October 10, 2007 @05:41PM (#20932873) Homepage
    <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 spend all their time writing alternative dialog for each combination of characters that may be present. Instead of railroading the player onto one well-written path, the player gets to choose between many poorly considered ones, characters don't get fully developed and the story suffers.
  • by Speare ( 84249 ) on Wednesday October 10, 2007 @06:14PM (#20933271) Homepage Journal

    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 and hit a point of no-return-except-RESET.

  • by xouumalperxe ( 815707 ) on Wednesday October 10, 2007 @10:32PM (#20935485)

    Like I said before: You're reacting to the game as if it were meant to be played like you play most computer games, where the board game perspective is much more adequate. You're not supposed to win first time 'round. Or the 20th time 'round either, for that matter. It's all about the learning experience. You'll soon be able to get to the bottom of the gnomish mines in a couple of hours tops, or perhaps to Sokoban if your class/race/alignment combo isn't very favourable to doing the mines right away.

    Don't get me wrong: It's perfectly ok that you don't like the game. It's just that I think you made that decision without fully understanding what sort of game you were playing. Like going into Rainbox Six: Rogue Spear guns blazing and complaining that the hostages that got in the way were the designers screwing with you

    Nethack is all about the learning experience. You're supposed to eventuallly figure out that even though item descriptions change from game to game, every effect is always worth the same amount of gold. So if you #chat a vendor up, and he tells you that he'll sell a certain spell book for 100 coins, you'll know that that sort of spell book is one of a limited amount of spells. If you engrave letters on the floor with a wand, you'll get different effects depending on the wand you used. Did the bugs on the floor stop moving? That was either a wand of death or a wand of sleep. Did the bugs vanish? It's either invisibility or teleportation. This sort of logic works for a lot more stuff. Drop items to the floor, and let your pet walk over it. If it avoids the item like all hell, it's probably cursed. If it walks all over it without trouble, it's safe to wear.

    Then there's good sense. You need food, sure, but eating the corpse of other humanoids is considered cannibalism, which is a no-no with your god. Eating the corpses of zombies is a baaaaad plan, as the meat will be rotted to all hell and back. Old kills are the same. Lichens don't rot though. Stuff like this piles up, and you'll soon have figured out how to survive through a fair bit of stuff.

  • by damaki ( 997243 ) on Thursday October 11, 2007 @03:31AM (#20936977)
    I totally agree. I bought Final Fantasy 12 the month it was released. I haven't played it much. Why? While I could play continuously for many hours when I was a student, now that I work, my gaming time is more restricted. Yeah, I know the "don't save whenever you want" paradigm of the FF, but I never felt it was as annoying as now. I cannot play it for twenty minutes then stop, only because I cannot choose when I save and I cannot be sure I will be allowed to save my game when I need. Yeah, it breaks the game flow, players can exploit the save, blah blah blah...
    I'm still trying to figure out why I shouldn't be allowed to play a japanese style RPG only 20 minutes in a row. And please, realize than even FF4 to FF5 on GBA have quick save. If a GBA can quick save, why a PS2 could not? I don't care if it takes a whole memory card as long as I can have the damn instant save.
    Dear game creators, please take in account that most gamers are not kids any more and that they have a life. Even a half assed save like in the 360 version of Oblivion is far better than nothing, at least I can save whenever I want, though the character will not spawn exactly at the same place on load.

Basic is a high level languish. APL is a high level anguish.