Final Fantasy XIII: Where is North?

Title logo for Final Fantasy XIIIAfter 35+ hours, I’m finally getting to the point in Final Fantasy XIII where I need to use the map. Up until now it’s been a straightforward affair mostly consisting of following a hallway until the next cutscene. Back when FF XIII was in the news, this caused quite a stir among the Final Fantasy faithful. Personally I like it, because it lets me focus more on the storytelling of the game, and less on the getting lost in the forest.

Anyway, now that I’ve made it to chapter 11 need the map to navigate the Archylte Steppe, I’ve discovered a peculiar missing feature: north. The game’s map doesn’t have any way to tell which direction you’re facing. Which is made especially hard because the map is constantly moving depending on which way you’re facing. It does have one big landmark to help you out, but even that isn’t clearly marked. Let’s talk about the map.

Continue reading

Final Fantasy XIII: A Great Loading Screen

final fantasy xiii - fireworksHistorically, I’ve had a problem with Final Fantasy games. For whatever reason, it takes me forever to finish them. Usually, I’ll get about a third of the way in before I get distracted for a long time. Then when I return, I have totally forgotten the story, and it’s really hard to get back into the groove of the game. Especially one as story driven as the Final Fantasy series is.

Finally, after enduring many years of “hey can someone explain the ending of this game to me” with Final Fantasy games, Final Fantasy XIII has made a simple change that has made me really happy. As soon as you start loading the game, recent plot events are relayed to you on the loading screen! Let’s have a quick look at this small but much appreciated usability-enhancing feature.

Continue reading

Lollipop Chainsaw: User Expectations and Fuzzy Math

logo for Lollipop ChainsawLollipop Chainsaw is, undoubtedly, a high-score fest. Destructoid’s review compares it to the SEGA classics House of the Dead and Crazy Taxi – odd comparisons for a hack and slash game. But it’s true, much like the game of Diablo III has barely started by the time you beat the story once, Lollipop Chainsaw begs to be played again and again so you can rack up a massive score.

Okay, score is important in Lollipop Chainsaw, what’s the big deal, and how is this related to usability at all? It’s how the score is presented to the player. It looks like the game is producing some seriously fuzzy math, and it’s an example of how important it is to mind your users’ expectations.

Continue reading

Lollipop Chainsaw: The Information Scent of Notifications

The concept of “information scent” is relatively simple: when a user is trying to find some information, they rely on clues in the environment to tell them if a given path is going to be worthwhile (wikipedia link on information scent). This is why link titles in websites are so important – hopefully, that link in the last sentence gives you a very good idea of what’s to come on the other side.

Lollipop Chainsaw - Juliet Starling's face

Juliet Starling, our hero

Lollipop Chainsaw is a hack-and-slash title that has the player playing a zombie-killing cheerleader (this makes total sense). While the game’s UI is super stylish in its comic book motif, I’m going to talk about probably the lamest possible part of this game – how it tells the player that there is new content in one of the menus. I know, with so many rainbows, sparkles, and other awesome touches on this game, it’s a bit of a tragedy…but somebody has to do it.

It’s a nitpick about how notifications are a little weird in the game, and a quick discussion on how information scent factors into in the UI of Lollipop Chainsaw.

Continue reading

Forza Horizon: One Amazing Tutorial

Title screen for Forza HorizonThere are many different tactics that video games use to introduce players to the game’s basic functions. Some are closely integrated into the story, others are clearly outside the “normal” experience of the game. Mass Effect 2’s tutorial is yelled to Commander Shepard over the intercom system as a high-pressure situation unfolds immediately upon opening the game – it’s very integrated into the gameplay. Final Fantasy XIII’s battle tutorial does take place during a real battle, but it breaks the normal flow of battle and there is a lot of reading involved (not to mention a big flashing “TUTORIAL” in the upper left corner). Ghost Trick for iOS has an even slower and more text-heavy tutorial that is actually quite irritating for a mobile title.

Forza Horizon for the XBox 360 is an open-world racing game, and it may have the best tutorial that I’ve ever seen in a game. In fact, if you’re not paying attention, you might not even notice it’s a tutorial – and that’s a great compliment. Read on and I’ll break it down to show you the magic of a non-tutorial tutorial.

Continue reading