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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 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).
  • 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?
  • Re:Thank you!! (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Chris Burke ( 6130 ) on Wednesday October 10, 2007 @03:39PM (#20931115) Homepage
    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. Okay, Bahamat Zero, would you mind flying to our planet from outer space a little FASTER maybe? Or how about just sticking around in orbit above my head, since you know I'm going to need you again soon...
  • 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.

  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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 tieTYT ( 989034 ) on Wednesday October 10, 2007 @05:24PM (#20932673)
    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 reverse almost all attacks without risk and leads to a followup that does >50% damage. Most other characters can do a max of 25% after doing a RISKY juggle. Any mediocre player would notice this as a problem immediately. Soul Calibur 3 was popular for about 4 months and then totally died. Soul Calibur 2, which did not have any obvious problems like this, was popular for over 2 years.

    #2 Have a great practice mode for the console version. The Soul Calibur 2 practice mode is seriously lacking and there are tons of basics that require another person to help you test. It should be possible to do every basic system feature (rolling, 'tech rolling', laying on the ground and getting up as soon as possible, etc.) without needing a friend to come over. The Japanese console version of Tekken 5: DR doesn't even have a practice mode. When the normal version of Tekken 5 does, this looks like a step backwards and pisses off the hardcore gamers.

    #3 Update your game to fix problems. Virtua Fighter 4, the most popular fighting game of its time in Japan, updated its game more than once and fixed a lot of balance problems each time. In the original Tekken 4, the biggest balance issue was a single attack by a character named Jin. Tekken 4 was updated at least 3 times and this attack's properties were never modified. This pissed off the fanbase each time. Tekken 4 is currently ridiculed as one of the worst in the series.
  • by Blakey Rat ( 99501 ) on Wednesday October 10, 2007 @06:37PM (#20933553)
    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 away the roof)?

    The only game I've ever played that did this was Oni by Bungie.

    I'd love it if World of Warcraft added this feature, since the camera gets so cramped in smaller rooms (or inside huts, or other indoor areas that quests require) that you can't see anything beside your own character's backside. Even worse if you play a Tauren, who are fricken' huge, or a druid that can shift into bear form (also fricken' hug.) It makes you tempted to play a gnome just to avoid the camera issues.
  • by tepples ( 727027 ) <tepples.gmail@com> on Wednesday October 10, 2007 @06:56PM (#20933733) Homepage Journal

    Have you ever encountered a game where re-mapping the IN-GAME controls also remaps the MENU controls?
    I have, several times, on the PC. Unlike console controllers, PC game controllers do not have a consistent mapping from position on the controller to button ID number, so games have to make everything remappable. StepMania for PC is intended to be navigated entirely with a dance pad if the player chooses. Pressing left on the dance pad moves to the previous song; pressing right on the dance pad moves to the next song; pressing Start on the dance pad starts the game. This game allows two keys per function, so you can still leave the keyboard mapped, but it's possible for the player to completely fsck up the bindings to the point where he has to go into the INI file and delete the keyboard bindings, and even if not, people using a set-top PC don't want to have to plug in a USB keyboard all the time to troubleshoot things.

"The eleventh commandment was `Thou Shalt Compute' or `Thou Shalt Not Compute' -- I forget which." -- Epigrams in Programming, ACM SIGPLAN Sept. 1982