Achievements are a staple of gaming these days. Since Microsoft popularized the concept with the XBox 360, most gaming platforms have a centralized achievement bank. Even mobile games – Apple’s GameCenter launched with achievements in 2010 (though not the first achievement platform on iOS), and Google announced Google Play Games in May 2013.
Achievements can bring a whole different angle of entertainment to a game, and add to its longevity. But only if your achievements aren’t terrible. Steve Bromley’s Games User Research blog lists 5 achievement sins, though I’m only going to talk about one type – when achievements are so epic, they jump the shark. I have three examples of iOS-translated board games that have achievements geared toward serious players only.
The mobile game Quento (iTunes link, also quento.com) from Q42 features an exceptionally clever start screen that doesn’t teach the whole game, but it does a wonderful job at introducing the game’s core mechanic to the player. Finally, a game that doesn’t just want us to mindlessly “press start” for no good reason!
There 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.
Puzzle Craft (iTunes link) is a combination match-3 and town-building game out for iOS developed by Ars Thanea and published by Chillingo (owned by EA, but isn’t everybody?). It was released recently to much critical fanfare as a very effective time-killer, and in my brief stint with the game, I can confirm that it’s quite good at passing the time. This casual game dominates at the “just one more turn” trap that many similar games use.
What it’s not good at though, is following a variety of simple good usability practices, and these cause me a fair amount of mental anguish each time I encounter them. Like Joel Spolsky says, it’s the tiny frustrations that can make all the difference in usability, so let’s talk about five of them in more detail below.
I played a lot of Magic: the Gathering for a few years back in the 1997 range. I spent a fair amount of time and money on the game, but eventually I ran out of people to play with, and that pretty much ended my Magic career. My wallet was thankful, though I always missed playing. Fast forward a few (quite a few) years to 2012 when Magic 2013 for iPad was released. Card games on the iPad seems to be a natural fit, and I was excited to pick it up.
Firing up the app for the first time, I immediately noticed how many screens there are before I could make it to the main menu. A few weeks ago I mentioned how video game intro videos must die, and it’s never been more true here. But it’s not just an intro video – it’s a whole series of screens that are absolutely useless to the user.