World maps are a standard-issue feature in games of all kinds of genres, and have been for a long time. In many games the map is a critical feature, and gamers are constantly flipping to it in order to avoid getting lost. For PC gamers, this is usually straightforward – there are a lot of keyboard keys available to enable direct access to the map.
Gamers playing on a console don’t have it quite as easy. In fact, sometimes it’s downright hard to figure out where you’re going. Let’s talk about three different patterns console games have used for getting players to the map screen:
Directly access the map
Use a status menu
Use the pause menu
Of course, not that we needed to ask for directions…
Metaphors are used in interfaces all the time. The metaphor of the desktop is perhaps the most commonly cited. We don’t talk about the desktop a lot these days, but the collective we does talk a ton about the skeuomorphism that is running rampant in Apple’s various products. Your opinion on that topic may vary, but I’ll take stab in the dark and say your opinion of the Microsoft Briefcase is either 1) what is that? or 2) ugh that’s a terrible metaphor (fun fact: Briefcase is available in MS Windows 7, but has finally been retired from Windows 8. A sad day indeed…)
Metaphors in gaming interfaces are used frequently too, and not always well. Grand Theft Auto IV makes frequent use of a cell phone for contacting other in-game characters. Being set in 2008, as text messaging was on the rise, this totally makes sense. Unfortunately, being an appropriate metaphor doesn’t mean that it’s an easy to use interface, and here’s where the game runs into all kinds of trouble.
Gamers might not like to admit it, but everybody needs a little help the first time firing up a new game. Experienced gamers can probably guess at what the controls are for common genres – how long has it been since the Madden series has made any kind of meaningful change in controls? For games that are a little more unique though, gamers need help in figuring out not only what buttons to push, but also on a deeper level gamers need to get familiar with what the game is all about. Since we all know that users/gamers/humans don’t read, the usual answer is some kind of in-game tutorial.
Then what happens when you throw a unique game type onto a mobile platform where there are no buttons? Where every game has totally different controls? Well, you might get something like Ghost Trick: Phantom Detective, originally a Nintendo DS game ported to iOS that (in a nutshell) features a dead protagonist going around possessing inanimate objects. Ghost Trick features an introductory tutorial level that takes the gamer around 25 minutes to complete! Tutorials for mobile games need to have more action sooner to grab and keep the interest of their probably distracted and already busy audience.
Title screens. Nearly every console and PC game has one. Back in the arcades, the title screen was the tollbooth of the highway of gaming bliss. But with a game that you’ve already purchased, what is the title screen really doing for us these days? And a better question, why do a lot of games delay loading content until after the title screen?