I picked up Elite: Dangerous recently in a Steam sale, as it’s a game I’ve threatened to get excited about for a while now. Upon booting it up the first time, I found one of the most difficult decisions facing me: what to name my character. And Elite: Dangerous leaves out some pertinent information that would help inform that decision.
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.
Title screens and tutorials are both topics that I’ve covered before on thatgame’s(ux). I complained about the epic hand-holding tutorial in Ghost Trick. I wondered if title screens only exist to waste my time, and later declared that intro videos must die. Today I’m offering an example of how to do both of these things right, and even on the same screen.
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.