10000000: A Brief Usability Review

The basic tutorial screen in 1000000010000000 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:

  • Main Menus are for Suckers
  • Your Hidden Health Bar
  • Armored What?
  • Sometimes, Load Times are Good…

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Puzzle Craft: Good At Killing Time, Not Good At Usability

Puzzle CraftPuzzle 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.

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Letterpress for iOS: Beautifully Simple

Letterpress (iTunes link) is what you might call “the new hotness” on iOS these days. It’s in a similar category as SpellTower (iTunes link), a challenging mobile word game that’s as beautiful to look at as it is hard to put down. Letterpress’ author is the creator of Tweetie, Loren Brichter (currently of Atebits), and famously is credited with inventing pull-to-refresh.

Gameplay-wise, Letterpress is a word game that plays kinda like Boggle-meets-Reversi, with a few twists thrown in. But you probably already know all of this, as Letterpress has seen its fair share of press from major news sources (Macworld, The Verge, Touch Arcade, even The Telegraph among others). So in the spirit of the simplicity of the game, this won’t be an in-depth review, just a few thoughts on the four aspects that I noticed in Letterpress’ beautiful design that are simple, thoughtful, and maybe even sexy.

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A Case Study in How Not To Handle Errors

The other day, I was watching a playoff baseball game, and in an attempt to keep my mind off the baseball game, I decided to fire up Civilization Revolution on my iPhone. While it’s a definitely cramped on the iPhone, it’s still a great game for the mobile setting – easy to pick up for just a couple of minutes (in theory anyway), and balances complex gameplay with simple enough controls to make it a fun and rewarding diversion.

While I spent most of the baseball game conquering the Russians (they were in my way, what could I do?), I didn’t get to see my civilization rise to its true glory. Not because the Americans were about to breach my defenses, but instead, the game silently refused to save my game. This is a UX disaster – read on to hear the whole story.
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Bar Oasis: When Mediocre Usability Doesn’t Really Matter

There are plenty of iOS apps that contain drink recipes, but there are very few games that have you actually making drinks on your phone. Bar Oasis is called a “bartender simulation” by Touch Arcade, which seems pretty accurate. It’s a very story-driven game that I guess would have to live in the simulation genre if I had to put it somewhere. You’re put in the shoes of a bartender, tending to your customers while listening to their problems, and of course, making their drinks.

(brief aside: If you agreed with my article about Ghost Trick having a way-too-long tutorial, this game falls into the same camp – so far I’ve experienced way more dialogue than actual gameplay)

In real life it’s definitely a skill that bartenders have to develop for making good drinks in a hurry, so how does that translate into an iOS game? As you might have guessed, it’s not ideal. There’s potential here, but there are a few quirks that really make it more irritating than it should be. Though at the end of the day, how much do perfectly precise controls really matter if the game is still fun? Let’s discuss…

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