SimCity 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.
After my article on 10000000 for iOS, I got a recommendation to check out a similar iOS title, Dungeon Raid (iTunes link). It’s a tile-matching game that has slightly different gameplay, but a common RPG element put on top. If you ask me, anytime you can solve puzzles and upgrade your weapons, it’s bound to be a good time.
And it is a good time. However…there’s one problem, while not unique to this game, that I’ve found particularly irritating here. The big benefit to touchscreens, of course, is removing that disconnect between you and your content that’s caused by a mouse and keyboard. Unfortunately, not only is your finger significantly bigger than a mouse pointer, it’s also attached to your hand. So when tapping items on the screen, your finger has a nasty habit of covering exactly what you want to look at.
After 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.
Way back in iOS 3, Apple implemented the “shake to undo” feature. This means if you’re typing, say, a text message, and you want to “undo” your text, just shake your iPhone, iPad, or iPod Touch. While it’s a cool trick, this isn’t the most usable feature that Apple has ever implemented. It’s both hidden and unintuitive. And I’ve definitely triggered it more accidentally than I have on purpose.
Quento (iTunes link) is a stylish puzzler for iOS (and Android, and Windows 8, and Chrome) that looks a lot like Letterpress except it substitutes simple math problems for word problems. It’s a good distraction for your brain, but unfortunately it’s also a good example of how not to implement a shake feature in your game. Shaking your phone resets the board, causing you to lose all your progress for that level – without any warning.
10000000 for iOS (by EightyEight Games) is an awkwardly-named (iTunes link) “Dungeon Crawling RPG Matching Game”. Yep, it’s a match-three tile matching game built into an RPG. And despite the odd mashup of genre and strictly numeric title, it’s actually quite good.
Here’s how it works: you control a hero who’s forever running to the right. Occasionally your hero is stopped by an obstacle – a monster, a chest, or maybe a door – and you need to match key, sword, and magic stave tiles to help defeat said obstacle. When you’re not slaying monsters and running exclusively to the right, you can also use some other resources that you’ve gathered like wood and stone to upgrade your weapon, armor, and a variety of other perks.
With those basics out of the way, I’ve got four usability related topics to discuss: