Wednesday, 28 October 2009

Late Wii Fit game usability review

Although Wii Fit Plus is already in the stores, I thought I'd get down my game usability thoughts on Wii Fit, and aspects of the game that should be considered for Wii Fit 3 - Wii Fit Cubed maybe...

Playing in a group

You can tell Wii Fit is designed to be played alone. Essentially all the activities require the Wii fit balance board. But we treated it as a party game. I had my family round my brothers copy, and we all did exercises together. However, after we all created our profiles changing between them was very hard work. After completing an exercise/minigame, to change player you had to:
  1. 'Quit' out of the exercise/minigame
  2. Exit the exercise/minigame 'channel' selection screen (yoga, muscle exercises, balance games)
  3. Exit the welcome screen
  4. Select the new player
  5. Select the right 'channel' on the welcome screen
  6. Select the right exercise/minigame
6 steps! Far too many for quick switches between players.

This sits poorly against the games apparent attempts to encourage group play. Whenever someone new enters the game, the other players are told of this, and says how good it is to play Wii Fit together. The game encourages people to play it together, in spite of the effort required to do so!

Wii Fit 3? Ensure there's a shortcut to change between profiles.

Personal details

People are sensitive about their weight. They don't like to tell others, and they don't want others to know. But when first joining Wii Fit, it announces your BMI for the whole world to see! There is no option NOT to see your BMI, it is plastered all over the TV. Anyone else in the room will have seen it.

The designers seem to have been aware that people wouldn't want others to see their details, and there's the ability to protect your information behind a password, but not on the first go...

Wii Fit 3? Offer new players the ability to NOT see their BMI when they join.


When My girlfriend and I were playing Wii Fit, 1 of us did the exercise on the balance board, the other did the exercise alongside. We were exercising together. That's the next step... 2 balance boards on a machine at the same time. This would encourage us to use Wii Fit and exercise far more than any other change.

Wii Fit 3? Make sure people can exercise in a pair, using 2 balance boards at once (if they're sufficiently monied to have 2 boards).

Why I'm not getting Wii Fit

I really like Wii Fit. It's fun, and it really would keep me active. Anything to get my rotund behind moving is fine by me! BUT I'm not going to be getting it. Partly for the reasons above, and also partly because the game needs a large amount of space in front of the TV. I don't have that, and I can't get that... at least until I next move house.

Also, it's dependent on everyone around having a relaxed open attitude. To play Wii Fit in front of others is essentially to make a fool of yourself. You do yoga, poorly, you try and balance, you wobble, and you sweat. You need people around you who are willing to let you do all these things and not judge you. Alas, where I currently reside, I don't have these people. I can't exercise if front of my current housemates, I won't be able to relax. I'll feel like I'll be judged.

Ah well, just means I get to play it once a month whenever I visit my brother. No losing weight for me just yet.

Monday, 19 October 2009

Charlie Brooker - Summing up the trouble with games

I read a great interview with Charlie Brooker yesterday. For those of you unaware of who Charlie Brooker is - He's one of the angry ones on TV. Pretty funny, and very... aware. Go see his stuff if you like someone being bitter. He's recently made a program called Gameswipe which this interview covers. Essentially Charlie, Mr Brooker, wanted to make a program about games that would be entertaining to both gamers and non-gamers. He speaks about the problems he faced:

"Games don’t realise how off-putting the complexity of games is to people who don’t regularly play them. Every gamer has experienced this, and again this is something we were going to put in the show. You introduce someone to something like Grand Theft Auto and they haven’t played a game since Streets of Rage when they were a student.
You sit there with them and within minutes you’re going: “No, press that button. No, that one. No, you’ve gone into crouch. No, don’t do that. That’s the map. No, you can’t run in that door. Why not? Well, you just can’t. It’s part of the scenery. I know you could run in the other door, but you can’t go in that one. Why? Because you just can’t.”
You have to sit there biting your tongue as they point the camera at the ground and run into walls. You forget how difficult games are to the non-gamer."
"It’s like learning a language. We’ve done it. We’ve played games for years. We know the shorthand. There was a bit of the show we had to lose where we talked about this. I know that if you’re running around and the camera’s in the wrong place I know that there will be an option to centre it behind me. A non-gamer isn’t going to now that unless they’ve poured over the manual. I don’t have to read the manual to know that."
I think this cuts straight to the nub of the issue. The reason why the Wii has been so successful is that people haven't had to learn how to play, you just do what you do naturally. More complex games need training, they need understanding, hard work and commitment.
"The closest analogy really is that it’s like we’ve learnt a language. Gamers are people who’ve learnt Esperanto."
Hope you're all keeping your Esperanto finely tuned - and spare a though for those starting out!

"How do you use this?" picture from YoshiVic

Sunday, 11 October 2009

Light of Altair game usability - demo problems

I'll be discussing the game Light of Altair, specifically the game usability issues. This game was first brought to my attention by Gamers With Jobs (thanks guys!)

I really want to like this game. It's sounds great, GWJ wrote "Light of Altair has done a great job of distilling the elements that made games like Sins of a Solar Empire so addictive. If you prefer your strategy gaming in 20-minute chunks, Light of Altair is for you. "

BUT, I can't play it! Why? The demo is just too confusing.

A demo should showcase a game simply and clearly. It should not require the player to study any complex text or manuals, or leave the player confused on what to do next. After all the aim of demo is to ensure players have a seamless experience. They should move through the demo learning about and doing some of the things possible in the game without encountering any problems, otherwise it's goodbye possible sale. Players should see enough of the game to get a taste of what they can do, and be left wanting more. This demo unfortunately leaves me cold... Here's why.

Problems with the Light of Altair demo

Simply, it's confusing. The help messages simply don't tell me what I need to do, or how!

For example, I recieved this message:

"Now that the moon base has grown to a proper colony you need to construct a research facility and the power to support it."

The problem is, it doesn't tell me how I go about doing that. I eventually discovered the "research facility" had become available in the construction list and was able to move on... Why doesn't the game highlight that? Tell me in the message, or highlight the new building option visually.

Further on in the demo a message appeared:

"Commander, the construction of the moonbase is going slower than we planned. Please focus on the objectives otherwise we will be forced to relieve you of your post"

Huh? What was I doing wrong? The game didn't tell me, I was left along to work this out. How? Trawling back through all the messages the game had sent me recently (status reports, updates and crucially, orders). I found I needed a landing area on both my colonies - why not say that? Ok, moving on. Mission complete - next mission.

According to the mission summary at the top of the screen I've got to "Gain an income of $5000 a month". Easy. Wait... how do I do that? I've looked back through the instructions and I think this is the related instruction:

"Now you have an ore supply, you are advised to research and develop an Industrial Centre that can create tradable goods out of the ores on the planets surface. These goods can then be traded via a Starport to generate more income."

Ok, I got it. Build mines, then industry, and I'll make money through the starport. The problem is, I can't work out how! I've got mines, I've got industry, but I'm getting very little trade. I've missed something out. The help text is of no use, they're essentially worthless. The instructions fare no better. So I'm stuck. I've no idea how to proceed and I've just recieved the message of doom again:

"Commander, the construction of the moonbase is going slower than we planned. Please focus on the objectives otherwise we will be forced to relieve you of your post"

I'm out thanks...

What the game should have done
  • Given much clear instructions on how to do the objectives asked, e.g. "generate an income of $5000 a month. Income can be generated by..."
  • Given tips to the player to explain how to complete the objective they're stuck on, e.g. "you need to build a landing pad in all your colonies"
  • Ensuring the help text linked to much more in depth instructions/explanations on how the game worked, e.g. "For each mine, 2 industries are needed in the same colony"

Demos are possibly the most public facing aspect of a game. They cannot be some early levels of the game thrown together hastily. The whole experience the developers want to project to the potential buyers needs to be considered, and then that should be modelled. It will require further development time and resources, but a good demo should pay for itself by encouraging better sales.

Thursday, 8 October 2009

Braid game usability assessment - is Braid a casual game?

Game Usability Review

Braid's great.


Introducing controls-
As well as being conceptually interesting Braid gradually introduces the game controls very well throughout the first level. It is essentially a training mode built into the game itself – there is no pop up or voice over explaining the controls. The required controls are simple placed on the screen near the obstacle:

Players are left to discover the controls themselves.

Braid also gives great ambient feedback. When reversing time a sound effect is used, the music reverses and the whole colour scheme, including the background changes. Clear feedback is one of the key features of a casual game.

Casual games as a whole-
In order for a casual game to succeed, there are a few restrictions it must place on itself in order to appeal to the casual gamer market. Braid does all of these well:

Less punishing – errors are easily fixed through rewinding time
Less complex – the control scheme is simple (control dimensionality of 3.5). Braid uses wasd controls for movement. This is fairly complex for a casual game, but I shall be returning to this topic at a later date…
Shorter – the game can be completed fairly quickly
Simpler – the games controls are simple, and the most complex aspect is the time travel
Less open ended – the only thing that is possible is to go through the game and collect the puzzle pieces
Clear feedback – it’s clear when rewinding time, and reminders of the controls appear on the screen whenever the game is played (not just on the first levels)


There really is very little wrong with it! It seems mean to poke holes, but then again that's my job...

It could be argued that even when you work out the solution to some of the puzzles you are still forced to attempt the solution several times to succeed. Often seemingly completing the puzzle by chance. Essentially the game requires very precise movement and time control. Such precision implies the game anticipates being used by a hardcore gamer, as these are not the skills casual gamers posses.

Also – some of the puzzles are quite hard, there is little/no clues anywhere in the game (even the official game walkthrough tells you not to use any external help – to solve the problems on your own). If this game really was aimed at the casual gamer as well as hardcore, then more help should be used – clues that gradually reveal over time, or hints that appear after a certain number of failed attempts. So those players struggling are helped through the process.

So - is Braid a casual game?

I don't think so... Why? Especially after talking about how Braid is a great casual game? I believe Braid is a hardcore casual game - it's a casual game for hardcore players. This explains the high difficulty and high skill level required to solve the puzzles.

It's success stemmed from taking a good hard look at the successful casual games on the market and applying findings to a game aimed at the hardcore. The result? A great game...

The implications? Gamers like casual games too, and lessons can be learned from both ends of the game spectrum.

Wednesday, 7 October 2009

My gaming history... or coming up!

The games platforms I owned (In order), and some of my favourite games from them... I'll probably be talking about some of these games and their usability in later posts.

- Spectrum ZX (New Zealand Story, HeroQuest, Batman)

- Mac (Lemmings)

- Game Gear (Sonic, Streets of Rage, Micromachines)

- PlayStation (Final Fantasy 7, Vigilante 8, Command And Conquer: Red Alert, Doom)
- MegaDrive (Brian Lara Cricket, Toe Jam and Earle, Gunstar Heroes)
- Playstation 2 (Timesplitters 2, Prince of Persia - Sands of Time, Super Monkey Ball)
- Wii (Resident Evil 4, Wii Sports, Super Smash Bros Melee)
- XBox 360 (Halo 3, Mass Effect, Bioshock)
- PSP (Locoroco, Final Fantasy - Crisis Core, Puzzle Quest)
- PC (Morrowind, Quarantine 2019, CounterStrike)

I slung these down in 5 minutes, so this is very much a work in progress... Hope you've got a few good memories from some of these! If not, check 'em out.

As I say I'll be posting usability focused thoughts on a few of these over the next couple on months.

Keep your eyes peeled and keep gaming...

Sunday, 4 October 2009

Assassins Creed quick game usability assessment

Assassins Creed - PC version

I will be putting down my thoughts on various games from a user experience perspective here. Here's my first review...

Good game. Hard controls.

It's a great sandbox. Players can complete missions in a variety of ways, they're free to explore and experiment new techniques and find new
ways to play - always a good sign. Allowing players to play their own way allows players to entertain themselves - messing around or playing seriously whenever the feel like doing so.

The game encourages flow, it's so easy to run, jump and climb all over the city. Very little cognitive effort is involved in performing actions - players just move without having to stop and think what to do next.

The controls are too complex.

*Please note - I'm discussing the PC version*

To get a gauge of how complex controls are you could use
control dimensionality (as described by Activision Central design, and 21st Century game design). This pulls a games controls into a number, so you can do direct comparisons with other games to see how much more or less complex 1 games controls are compared to another. Simply put, the less complex a games control, the better. The control dimensionality is calculated below:

3D movement (in/out, left/right, up/down) = 3
2D camera = 2
8 key actions (left hand (high/low profile), right hand (high/low profile), run/walk (high/low profile), head, target lock) = 8 * 0.5 = 4

Total = 3 + 2 + 4 = 9

There's no way of knowing if this is too high or too low without comparing it to other games. I'm going to stick my neck out and say it's high... As this blog continues we'll be able to compare this to others.

The complex controls are accentuated by the game using modes (high and low profile). This means the same buttons perform different actions depending on the mode the player is in. This can cause real problems. In my experience modes will always cause confusion, and especially when under time pressure (like playing a game).

Also the game is a poor port onto the PC from the console versions. The on screen advice tells you to press the trigger button (advice for those using the 360 controller). The manual isn't much help either... There's 6 pages summarising all the actions possible, but I spent about 5 minutes trying to work out what buttons were for what actions.

The game controls were a risk. Ubisoft should (and probably did) have tested the controls with users as soon as a working prototype was available, before committing to any significant degree.

Also take more care and attention on porting to the PC. Put the right controls on the screen, or at least remove the on screen prompts. Ensure the new manuals for the new version include the controls.

What do you think? Do you agree with my thoughts? Or do you think I've over exaggerated it's problems?

Friday, 2 October 2009

Hello and welcome

I've set this blog up to post my thoughts and feelings on games. Not just any thoughts and feelings. It's got a special focus - game usability. Hardly a shock with the blog name as it is, but there you are.

I'm a user experience consultant. I have been for several years now and I'd like a change. I want to get into game usability. Why you ask? Playing and watching others play games for a living? Sounds fun to me. Also it'll be great to always be working on projects I am genuinely enthusiastic about.

Anyway, what am I going to post here? I'm aiming to showcase what I can do by putting reviews and assessments of games, interesting findings from research, and my thoughts on games in general.

Feel free to suggest games you'd like me to take a look at (anyone got some homebrew games out there?).

And anyone who has a game usability job going? Lets chat!