Hotline Miami: Meaningful Backtracking

Cover of Hotline MiamiGiant Bomb defines “backtracking”, in part, as the following:

“Backtracking is often a derogatory term used to describe a situation in a game where the player must return to previously encountered locations in order to continue advancing the game”

Most of the time, backtracking is annoying, even when realism-wise it’s a little dubious how the game’s hero is able to make it all the way out of perilous situation X while off camera. But as is usually the case, the real answer on backtracking is “it depends”. Sometimes, in small doses, it can be very effective.

Hotline Miami (Steam link) is a super-violent action game that has earned a lot of attention as an indie PC title released in October 2012. It uses backtracking in a brilliant fashion – to really hammer home the game’s own meta-commentary on violence in games.

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SimCity: Tiny Maps and Tiny Zooms

SimCity logoSimCity has had quite the launch to be sure, ending with the resignation of EA’s CEO. Through all the drama, there’s an incredible game hiding in there. In fact, it’s a bit of a miracle that I escaped the mighty mining town of Woodville long enough to type up this article (just kidding, it’s actually running in the background).

The internet has a lot of complaints about SimCity, at various levels of validity. The UI hasn’t been one of them, and that’s because it’s pretty good. A favorite feature of mine is all the various data maps you can turn on. This puts an extra layer of data right on top of your city, no extra screen required. However, despite the small city size (a common complaint for sure), you still can’t actually see your whole city if you zoom out all the way, making all those sexy data maps a little less useful.

Read on for more about tiny maps and tiny zooms in SimCity

Origin: A Classic Example of the Diagonal Problem

EA’s Origin service launched back in June 2011 as an EA-only version of the Steam digital distribution platform. I haven’t had a lot of need to use it until recently, when the Sim City beta launched (which by the way, I am excessively stoked about). When I fired it up this weekend, I recognized a classic usability problem that I really thought we collectively had defeated already: The Diagonal Problem.

Screenshot of EA's Origin with an arrow indicating the diagonal problem

Failure is imminent.

As far as I can tell, Jakob Nielsen coined this term back in a 2009 Alertbox article titled “Mega Menus Work Well for Site Navigation“. The problem can occur in any kind of poorly designed hover menu – when you have a small label that displays a big menu on hover, if the mouse ends up temporarily outside the path of the active item, the menu will close.

Here, I recorded a short video of the situation in Origin…

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Skyrim: Four Quick Thoughts on the UI’s Usability

The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim logoI’m finally getting around to playing The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim. I know, where have I been, right? Nearly all of my friends across the gaming spectrum have taken their vacation into Tamriel and are back again, so I’m a little late to the party. But for a game that’s won so many Game of the Year honors, it’s better late than never.

I’ve just gotten a handful of hours into Skyrim on the XBox 360 so far, and I’m already noticing a few questionable usability decisions. I mean, it’s definitely sexy, but the game has a whole mod (SkyUI) dedicated to fixing its menu system – that’s not a great sign. I’ve got four little complaints already, so without further ado…

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XBox SmartGlass on the iPad: UX First Impressions

Finally, after years of discussions and dreams, Microsoft is starting to deliver on this Windows 8 and Surface-based dreamworld of dual screen viewing. The recently-released XBox SmartGlass application (iTunes link) makes your “entertainment more amazing” according to Microsoft. Like every new amazing technology, there are a lot of promises out there – from a better experience controlling your XBox to using your tablet as a map or playbook in-game.

Being the owner of both an XBox 360 and an iPad, I had a few minutes to try it out this afternoon, and I thought I’d report back with some quick thoughts on the usability of the whole experience. In a nutshell, so far I’ve found it a lot like you’re probably imagining – a really cool technology that isn’t quite fully baked yet. Read on to find out more.

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