XBox SmartGlass on the iPad: UX First Impressions

Finally, after years of discussions and dreams, Microsoft is starting to deliver on this Windows 8 and Surface-based dreamworld of dual screen viewing. The recently-released XBox SmartGlass application (iTunes link) makes your “entertainment more amazing” according to Microsoft. Like every new amazing technology, there are a lot of promises out there – from a better experience controlling your XBox to using your tablet as a map or playbook in-game.

Being the owner of both an XBox 360 and an iPad, I had a few minutes to try it out this afternoon, and I thought I’d report back with some quick thoughts on the usability of the whole experience. In a nutshell, so far I’ve found it a lot like you’re probably imagining – a really cool technology that isn’t quite fully baked yet. Read on to find out more.

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Borderlands 2: Mission Information When You Need It

Borderlands 2 logoIn comparison with the original, Borderlands 2 hasn’t changed all that much. Gameplay-wise it’s more of the same, and that’s not necessarily a bad thing. There are definitely a few tweaks in the game’s framework – obviously new classes and skills, 87 bazillion guns, at least one new currency, and a lot more shininess in the UI.

And speaking of the UI – there was one relatively minor change that caught my attention. The Fast Travel Network screen shows players where the missions are that they need to complete right where they need to see it. I really appreciate tiny changes that make big improvements from game to game, and this definitely falls into that category. It’s not a new concept for sure, and it’s even been featured on That Game’s UX before from another game, but it’s still worth celebrating. Read on to find out more!

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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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Magic 2013 for iOS: Too Many Screens Before the Main Menu

Magic: the Gathering logo

I played a lot of Magic: the Gathering for a few years back in the 1997 range. I spent a fair amount of time and money on the game, but eventually I ran out of people to play with, and that pretty much ended my Magic career. My wallet was thankful, though I always missed playing. Fast forward a few (quite a few) years to 2012 when Magic 2013 for iPad was released. Card games on the iPad seems to be a natural fit, and I was excited to pick it up.

Firing up the app for the first time, I immediately noticed how many screens there are before I could make it to the main menu. A few weeks ago I mentioned how video game intro videos must die, and it’s never been more true here. But it’s not just an intro video – it’s a whole series of screens that are absolutely useless to the user.

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Borderlands 2: Can There Be Too Much Loot?

Borderlands is a series that’s absolutely driven by the desire to collect loot. When the original Borderlands was released back in 2009, I heard it referred to frequently as “the Diablo 2 of shooters”. It’s fitting then, that Borderlands 2 has a limited edition that comes with a replica loot chest.

All of the guns and other loot in the Borderlands series are randomly generated, and while the story is great, finding a legendary rocket launcher is really the reason to play. Collecting more and better guns is as good a driving force as any to play a game, right? But managing all that loot can be a challenge, and for a game that’s as loot-driven as Borderlands 2 is, Gearbox could have dealing with all of those sweet, sweet guns a little bit easier.

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