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 draw of portable gaming is simple – life doesn’t always make it easy to be tied down to a TV (or your computer) for a full-on gaming experience. Sometimes, you get stuck in the car for four hours and need to play a little Pokemon to relax. Mobile gaming makes it even easier with no lack of quality time-fillers that are already in your pocket.
For many situations, portable gaming means a need either for headphones or for an experience without sound at all. It would, after all, be irritating if everybody in the line at Subway was playing Angry Birds with the sound cranked up on their phone. So most respectful people (that don’t have headphones handy) will switch their phone to silent mode. The problem comes in when disrespectful games choose to ignore this, and play sounds anyway. Like Madden 11 HD for iPad.
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!
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.
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.