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Gaming Usability 101

Zonk posted about 7 years ago | from the don't-do-what-donny-don't-does dept.

Games 305

Next Generation (now happily fully merged with Edge) is carrying a story entitled Videogame Usability 101, attempting to lay out some standards for interacting with games. Some of them, like '3. Always let players remap controller buttons to suit their preferences' seems fairly straightforward and hard to disagree with. Others may be a bit more controversial: "4. Always let players skip cut scenes no matter how important they are to the story. What a predicament cut scenes create. As a designer, you want all your hard work to be acknowledged, even the cut scenes. Sadly, interactive entertainment is the name of the game, and it always comes first. That's why gamers play these things. So rather than assume every player wants to watch your story-telling chops, allow them to bypass cut scenes, tutorials, and even speed up the showing of logos when a game boots up. Tell your story through engaging gameplay, and you'll easily be remembered and praised regardless of what you accomplished in a cut scene, tutorial, or start screen branding." Anything on there that you categorically disagree with?

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305 comments

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I couldn't agree with TFA more.... (5, Insightful)

Iguru42 (530641) | about 7 years ago | (#20930777)

It's getting pretty bad these days. I can't stand not being able to bypass the logos at startup, never mind long ass cut scenes. Does it occur to the designers that maybe someone might play the game a second time and has no need of seeing the cut scene again?!? My favorite example of designers with their head up their ass is Keiji Inafune. When Dead Rising came out and people started complaing about the save system (one one save allowed). Supposedly, in an interview with Electronic Gaming Monthly, he said that the saves were intentionally designed so that players would feel that there were some consequences for their actions and would be forced to make quick, tactical decisions. Right, don't bother trying to make the actual GAME more interesting. Cripple the save function so the game appears more dynamic..... I really hope if they do a DR2 he has nothing to do with the project.

Re:I couldn't agree with TFA more.... (3, Interesting)

UbuntuDupe (970646) | about 7 years ago | (#20930867)

Partially disagree. Making you experience the genuine feelings you'd have if the game's scenario were actually happening, is a good thing. In real life, you can't "save and reload". You can't send information back in time. To the extent that a game allows you to, it is breaking immersion. I would consider the Holy Grail to be a game with a storyline, in which you cannot use information gained in a previous game, in a new one, nor retain useful information past a reload.

Still, you're correct in that there are downsides to this: the "one save" can make it so frustrating as to outweigh any gain that can come form the greater immersion. And unless the game is designed not to dump you into dead ends, it will condemn you to replays you may not have time for. A better compromise is to have a special mode where you are permitted one save, like "Iron Man" option in Alpha Centauri (and I assume, Civilization).

Re:I couldn't agree with TFA more.... (5, Insightful)

surajbarkale (877769) | about 7 years ago | (#20930989)

It's a game not real life. Immersion comes from being able to recreate any moment in the game I want. I can compare this with my style of reading books. I go through it at a high speed marking the places where I would like to spend the time and then read those again just to increase the value.

Re:I couldn't agree with TFA more.... (1)

WinterSolstice (223271) | about 7 years ago | (#20931639)

Seriously - I totally frikkin hate that. I play a game for FUN and RELAXATION. If I wanted stress, I'd be at work.

Or, for example, rock climbing on Half Dome rather than in the gym with all those silly ropes and pads. Heck, why use ropes? It kills the immersion!

Even worse are when the saves are totally worthless, like in Ninja Gaiden for Gameboy Advance where the save game is a stupid cipher.

game vs. real life (1)

tepples (727027) | about 7 years ago | (#20932093)

It's a game not real life.
Of Second Life, Habbo Hotel, World of Warcraft, The Sims, Animal Crossing, and Harvest Moon, which are games and which are not?

Re:game vs. real life (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 years ago | (#20932399)

The hell it your point? I don't play any of that crap.

NetHack (4, Insightful)

tepples (727027) | about 7 years ago | (#20931929)

I would consider the Holy Grail to be a game with a storyline, in which you cannot use information gained in a previous game, in a new one, nor retain useful information past a reload.
NetHack: Levels are random. Saving is automatic. Death is permanent.

Re:I couldn't agree with TFA more.... (1, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 years ago | (#20932265)

I don't give a crap what "real life' is like! I play games to escape for awhile.

Re:I couldn't agree with TFA more.... (1)

CastrTroy (595695) | about 7 years ago | (#20930873)

My biggest problem is when they don't let you remap the controls. My favourite example of this is Tony Hawk Pro Skate 2. On the PC version, you could completely remap the controls. However, on the console version, the controls were hard-coded. I think you could pick from 2 or 3 configurations. I really hate when they don't let you remap the controls. It doesn't add any complexity to the game, and can only make things easier on the person playing the game. There is no excuse for not letting me remap the controls. You don't know how I am most comfortable playing the game.

Unusable controller mappings (1)

tepples (727027) | about 7 years ago | (#20932205)

I really hate when they don't let you remap the controls.
But if you've remapped the controls to the point where they are unusable, how would you get back into the menu to make them usable again? And what can player 1 do while player 2 is piddling around on the controller mapping screen?

Re:Unusable controller mappings (2, Insightful)

tixxit (1107127) | about 7 years ago | (#20932685)

And what can player 1 do while player 2 is piddling around on the controller mapping screen?

Hit player 2 on the back of the head for taking so long.

But if you've remapped the controls to the point where they are unusable, how would you get back into the menu to make them usable again?

Easy, don't let them remap the start button and have the remapped controls be the gameplay controls, not the menu navigation controls.

Re:I couldn't agree with TFA more.... (1)

Hatta (162192) | about 7 years ago | (#20932425)

I know. I've encountered a few games where the x axis is inverted and I can't change it. Y-axis inversion is fine, games have always had that. But some games... instead of looking to the left when you point left it moves the camera left causing you to look to the right. Who the hell thinks that's a good idea?

Re:I couldn't agree with TFA more.... (4, Insightful)

Aladrin (926209) | about 7 years ago | (#20930983)

Absolutely. 'Consequence for actions' works great in real life, and keeps people from running out into a stream of bullets. It does -not- stop little Johnny from doing the same while playing a game. As for me, it only pisses me off and makes me curse the designer of the game, not the careless action I just pulled. Dying and having to try over and over and over is bad enough, I don't need them to add artificial pain as well.

If they wanted 'consequences for actions' they should have perma-death and NO saves. There have been games like that and they generally just piss me off, but there are those that like them.

Re:I couldn't agree with TFA more.... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 years ago | (#20931249)

Right, don't bother trying to make the actual GAME more interesting.
Perhaps, just perhaps the notion of what makes something 'interesting' is subjective. Maybe the notion of your actions in a game of survival having consequences, and thus creating the atmosphere of "shit, this is for keep", requires nuking the ability of the player rebooting their gameplay until they get it just right.

Re:I couldn't agree with TFA more.... (3, Funny)

Hatta (162192) | about 7 years ago | (#20931273)

Let me guess, you've never played nethack.

Re:I couldn't agree with TFA more.... (1)

lgw (121541) | about 7 years ago | (#20931689)

I played NetHack until the first time I died. Clearly I was dead and couldn't play again. (Actually, I'm not joking, I hate games that restrict saves that much.)

Re:I couldn't agree with TFA more.... (4, Interesting)

xouumalperxe (815707) | about 7 years ago | (#20932597)

I was about to bring up nethack myself. The trick is how you look at the game. I'll give you a moderately similar example -- chess.

The first few games of chess you play, you'll get your arse handed to you in a platter within 10 moves. Then you start making sense of how to protect yourself from elementary attacks, and you get owned after, say, 20 moves. Then you actually start getting the hang of the early game, and can keep yourself alive for long enough to see the mid-game. At this point you might even win a few matches, get a few neat combo plays, whatever. Etc. etc. etc. Anybody who ever got into chess knows what I'm talking about.

The key issue here is how the game is designed. Some games (JRPGs come to mind) are meant to take you through one looooong, mostly linear, trip. Replay value is either nil, or limited to a few different endings, and there's no real reward for playing it much more after you've cracked all the secrets and explored all the finales. So you save and you save and you save yet again, trying to keep your options open, so you won't have to go through 20 hours of gameplay to change the course of that one decision you made that killed off half the game world or whatever. Other games, like Tetris, Chess, Checkers, etc are oriented towards playing loads of individual matches. As a learner in chess, you might want to take back a play or two to explore different angles and as a learning experience, but mostly these games are made of having a very real chance to lose. How quickly would chess become BORING as hell if you were allowed to backtrack all your mistakes once you found out they were wrong? Such a game model should give the possibility to adjourn the game, but never, EVER to allow you to actually backtrack without consequences.

Nethack clearly fits into the category of games where you can play through the game several times in one day, and the focus is on playing loads of individual games, not on progressing in one long thread of gaming. So having only the option to adjourn the game is the way to go.

Since we already have nethack up, let's measure it against these usability rules!

  1. Nethack never, EVER prompts you to save. You either go on playing, #quit, die, or type 'S' to save (and adjourn the game)
  2. After asking you a few questions about your character, Nethack gives you a short message and prompts "--more--". Sure, it's not "press any key", but both space and enter, the biggest keys on any reasonable keyboard, will proceed forwards. Not perfect, but hardly the worst ever
  3. Nethack doesn't let you remap the controls, other than choosing between two basic layouts, whichever is most appropriate for your keyboard. It also has the most extensive key list ever, but at least all the actions are bound to sensible keys, and there's nothing you can do (other than movement) that can't be cancelled, so you'll never get really hurt by missing a key. All in all, bad, but not the worst
  4. Cutscenes? No dungeon crawler worth its salt has cutscenes. Next!
  5. Top down camera that always shows the totality of the level you're in. If your character knows it, you can see it. It's primitive, but once you think about it for a few minutes, it's actually one of the best interface design choices ever.
  6. Nethack uses loads of keys because it needs to. The alternative is making it much more verbose and difficult to play. But I'll grant you that using every bloody letter in the keyboard is pretty hardcore, so no cookie here.
  7. I don't really think accessibility even applies to nethack, so I'll skip this one.
  8. Unbeatable opponents? Now *this* is one of the game's crown jewels. There might be some pretty close to impossible monsters, but you can get out of most situations if you play your cards right. In fact, that's what the game is all about.
  9. In-game is actually pretty good: simply pressing '?' will result in you being given help on mostly anything that you're not supposed to learn through playing, on demand.
  10. Another point where nethack is superb. You start a game within seconds of opening the program, and you can suspend/resume games with incredible ease.

The balance? Nethack does crap where the actual controls are concerned, because they're quite complex and non-alterable, but everywhere else it's either decent or pretty good, especially where the actual game design is concerned. The interface is wonderful, all things considered, but the game itself is about as friendly to pick up unaided as, say, chess.

Re:I couldn't agree with TFA more.... (1)

Goaway (82658) | about 7 years ago | (#20931593)

Right, don't bother trying to make the actual GAME more interesting. Cripple the save function so the game appears more dynamic.....
You know, pervasive saving in games is a fairly recent development. You speak as if it was a basic principle of all games that has to be removed, instead of being something added to a game.

For me, pervasive saving in PC games is what turned me off most of the platform. It changes the gameplay from a smooth flow to a chopped-up sequence of obsessive re-loads to get through the next fight as well as possible.

Re:I couldn't agree with TFA more.... (2, Insightful)

ucblockhead (63650) | about 7 years ago | (#20931637)

I don't mind if there is only one save. What I do hate is games that don't let you save at any point. Nothing is more irritating than having to go through a tedious 30 minute section of some game over again not because you died, but because you had to quit playing unexpectedly. I want to be able to save at *any* point in the game so that if, say, my wife calls me to bed or my son starts painting the cat, I can immediately stop and take it up where I left off a week later.

Blank screen? (3, Informative)

tepples (727027) | about 7 years ago | (#20931901)

I can't stand not being able to bypass the logos at startup
Would you rather have a blank screen while the game loads from optical disc? That's what the logos are partly designed to cover up.

Re:Blank screen? (3, Informative)

blighter (577804) | about 7 years ago | (#20932585)

Not always.

Crackdown, for example, has a series of unskippable logos when you put the disc in. At the end of those you get to "press start" and then you get the loading screen.

Thank god for pic in pic so I can watch tv and still see when the game is finished with its unskippable logos and has finally actually loaded.

Re:I couldn't agree with TFA more.... (1)

Boronx (228853) | about 7 years ago | (#20931945)

"One Save" is one of the draws of games like Nethack. It's just a different attitude towards play. It does not work at all in games that aren't randomly generated each time.

Re:I couldn't agree with TFA more.... (1)

LainTouko (926420) | about 7 years ago | (#20932691)

There's nothing wrong with crippling "power word reload". You just need to remember that you're doing it when you're designing the game, so that the player won't permanently lose without doing something clearly stupid.

Unskippable cutscenes are just wrong. (1)

Dr. Manhattan (29720) | about 7 years ago | (#20930779)

I have little enough time to play games as it is, and the time I have is intermittent and scattered. Waiting through a cutscene (or worse, a startup logo) that I've seen a dozen times already is exceedingly frustrating and means I buy fewer games.

Because loading is inherently unskippable (1)

tepples (727027) | about 7 years ago | (#20932153)

Waiting through a cutscene (or worse, a startup logo) that I've seen a dozen times already is exceedingly frustrating and means I buy fewer games.
Then play NES. Games on PlayStation and newer platforms are shipped on optical discs, and these take time to load. The startup logo and in-game cut scene are there to cover up the loading. Would you rather look at a blank screen while the game loads? Or would you prefer to play the game without textures?

Re:Because loading is inherently unskippable (1)

DudemanX (44606) | about 7 years ago | (#20932475)

Or you know we could play games on these things called Pee Cees. In which case all it has to do is load the game menu from my 10000 RPM hard drive and should only take about a second or two. EA disagrees with my immediate need to find a server and start capturing silos though and needs to show me 30 seconds of commercials every time I run BF2142.

Even on consoles though it shouldn't take more than a few seconds just to load a game menu and maybe a background image. The real data and texture loading should be done when you actually get around to loading the first map.

Re:Unskippable cutscenes are just wrong. (2, Insightful)

ClamIAm (926466) | about 7 years ago | (#20932305)

I have little enough time to play games as it is, and the time I have is intermittent and scattered.

This presents a different problem for me: because of the time between plays, I sometimes forget what's going on in the story. It would be really nice if all games gave you the option to replay cutscenes you've already seen.

Re:Unskippable cutscenes are just wrong. (1)

provigilman (1044114) | about 7 years ago | (#20932593)

Actually, that's a good point. Not only should all the cutscenes be skippable, but why the F aren't "replayable" cutscenes standard at this point? Tons of games I've played have had something in the menu like "saved movies" or "theater" or whatever that allow me to replay cutscenes that I've already seen. This should be standard in every game, that way it's there if you need it, and you won't have to worry if you bump the controller during a cutscene and skip past it by accident.

The saved game dilemma (3, Insightful)

Joe the Lesser (533425) | about 7 years ago | (#20930783)

I've played several games where I am at a difficult section where I need to try over and over again. However, between the difficult spot and the last available save spot would be some cutscene.

If it took 20 times to get by the spot, that was 20 forced brain-numbing times through the cutscene, and often after a few tries I would just put the game down. It wasn't worth a 5 minute wait to get killed again.

When I fail I want to retry as soon as possible.

Re:The saved game dilemma (1)

Selfbain (624722) | about 7 years ago | (#20930841)

The first Golden Sun game on the DS has a fairly lengthy cut scene right before one of the bosses. It took me several tries to beat them and I was ready to smash the game by that point.

Re:The saved game dilemma (1)

Otter Popinski (1166533) | about 7 years ago | (#20931155)

This really should include boss battles that take place during a cutscene and involve hair-trigger button pushing. I think it took me an hour to beat Zeus in God of War II. Get killed, retry, and watch three minutes of dialog (which I've already seen ten times) only to mash the O button instead of X at a critical moment. It's not fun -- it's absolutely infuriating.

Re:The saved game dilemma (1)

JoshJ (1009085) | about 7 years ago | (#20931171)

Your hope ends here... and your meaningless existence along with it!

Re:The saved game dilemma (1)

david.given (6740) | about 7 years ago | (#20931863)

I've played several games where I am at a difficult section where I need to try over and over again. However, between the difficult spot and the last available save spot would be some cutscene.

Bloody Metroid bloody Prime.

Oh, look, here's a boss. I've just met it for the first time and it's killed me. Fair enough, that's what bosses do. Okay, back up to the save point and let's try again. Uh... the closest save point to the boss is five minutes' walk away. On the other side of a puzzle room. And a room-full of low level monsters I have to fight through. Every time.

Screw that. I gave up at the second boss. I simply couldn't stand having to replay long, tedious, uninteresting chunks of the game simply to catch up to where I was before I died. This is particularly evil with boss fights, because you're expected to die lots of times fighting them.

No. Evil. If you have bosses, put a save point right outside the room.

Re:The saved game dilemma (1)

edwdig (47888) | about 7 years ago | (#20932501)

Bloody Metroid bloody Prime.

Oh, look, here's a boss. I've just met it for the first time and it's killed me. Fair enough, that's what bosses do. Okay, back up to the save point and let's try again. Uh... the closest save point to the boss is five minutes' walk away. On the other side of a puzzle room. And a room-full of low level monsters I have to fight through. Every time.


You must've been missing the save points. There was only one boss in Metroid Prime that was any significant distance away from a save point, and it was about 2/3 through the game. It was some sort of security drone in the Phazon Mines... for whatever reason, they put a save room immediately after the boss fight rather than before it.

Prime 2 also had one boss like that, about halfway through (Alpha Blogg I think it was called). Prime 3 didn't have anything like that.

Thank you!! (1)

provigilman (1044114) | about 7 years ago | (#20930785)

4. Always let players skip cut scenes no matter how important they are to the story. What a predicament cut scenes create. As a designer, you want all your hard work to be acknowledged, even the cut scenes. Sadly, interactive entertainment is the name of the game, and it always comes first. That's why gamers play these things. So rather than assume every player wants to watch your story-telling chops, allow them to bypass cut scenes, tutorials, and even speed up the showing of logos when a game boots up. Tell your story through engaging gameplay, and you'll easily be remembered and praised regardless of what you accomplished in a cut scene, tutorial, or start screen branding.

Yes, this is a must. When you have replay a section, or just when replaying the game, it sucks beyond belief when you waste hours watching the same cut scenes again and again.

Re:Thank you!! (1)

roadkill_cr (1155149) | about 7 years ago | (#20930969)

Very true. Also, if you happen to be re-playing the game again sometimes you want to skip some of the more mind-numbing cutscenes.

Re:Thank you!! (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 years ago | (#20931027)

Even games like that try to find a compromise solution, such as "Heavenly Sword", need to lean further towards simply letting us skip cut scenes.

In Heavenly Sword you can skip a cut scene if you've seen it before...*that* play session. So if you fail a mission you can replay it, and skip the cut scene. But if you fail and save your game, you can't skip the cut scenes next time you boot the game.

Better, but not quite good enough. *if* it saved the fact I had seen the scene once in the game's settings file, and never made me sit through it again, I would be happy. I personally don't mind being forced to watch the story *one* time.

Note: It must not make me watch the cutscene again even if I start a new game. The "has been seen" data must be stored globally. I often watch my friends play a game like Final Fantasy before I play it, so I have already watched most of the cut scenes from *their* playthrough. --and if there is an unlockable *hard* mode or whatever, unless the cut scene is new, make it skippable!

-Xalseqsn

Re:Thank you!! (1)

mpathetiq (726625) | about 7 years ago | (#20931643)

Note: It must not make me watch the cutscene again even if I start a new game. The "has been seen" data must be stored globally. I often watch my friends play a game like Final Fantasy before I play it, so I have already watched most of the cut scenes from *their* playthrough. --and if there is an unlockable *hard* mode or whatever, unless the cut scene is new, make it skippable!

But if you watch your friend play on his machine, you'll still be forced to view it on your machine. Just make every cutscene skippable.

Re:Thank you!! (2, Interesting)

Chris Burke (6130) | about 7 years ago | (#20931115)

Heh, yeah I know, there's nothing worse than a non-skipable cut scene.

Oh, wait, I can think of one thing, though it's more a variation on a theme: The un-skipable Summons in a Final Fantasy.

FFVII's summons were absolutely awesome... the first time. They were still pretty cool up through let's say the twentieth time. But after the thousandth time you've used your summon you'll just want to gouge your eyes out waiting. Especially since the power of the summon seems to scale with the length of the cutscene. Okay, Bahamat Zero, would you mind flying to our planet from outer space a little FASTER maybe? Or how about just sticking around in orbit above my head, since you know I'm going to need you again soon...

Re:Thank you!! (1)

Fallingcow (213461) | about 7 years ago | (#20931961)

FFX had normal and shortened summon/overdrive animations, selectable in the menu. Did FFVII not have that?

Re:Thank you!! (1)

bigstrat2003 (1058574) | about 7 years ago | (#20932047)

No, it didn't. FFIX had short animations most of the time (it was random, and the first FF to have shorter summons), but summons also hit noticeably harder when you got the full animation, so you felt gypped when the animation was shortened.

That said, I never had an issue with the summon animations in FFVII, and I've played it tons of times.

Fr1st pr0st (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 years ago | (#20930827)

Sometimes I play the slashdot game, and very often I miss the fr1st pr0st because of a usability issue.
There should be a large button that automatically posts a random troll, without the need to fill in a catchpha.

Thanks

Cutscenes MUST always be skippable (4, Insightful)

_xeno_ (155264) | about 7 years ago | (#20930835)

I don't think that's very controversial. Cutscenes really must always be skippable, simply because it's foolish to assume that everyone is playing for the first time. Even if the game "knows" it's a new game (think DS game fresh out of the case) it can't be sure that the player hasn't played the game before and therefore doesn't want to see the stupid cutscene for the fiftieth time.

Don't get me wrong, I generally will allow the cutscenes to play. But some cutscenes are just annoying. For example, when you start the Legend of Zelda: Phantom Hourglass, it gives you a recap of the events that occurred during Wind Waker. However I've already played Wind Waker and would have very much liked to skip past the recap to the new stuff.

Massive bonus points for any developers who add TiVo-style controls to their cutscenes. Sometimes I just want to jump back and rehear a line I missed.

In fact, I'd say that the first item, "Never ask a player if they want to save their game" is much more controversial. In a perfect world, that works (when there are enough save slots that auto-save is possible) however the world isn't perfect. In Phantom Hourglass I might not want to overwrite my save slot just because I hit a "save point." This is a limitation of the DS - there are no memory cards, so you're limited to whatever space the game gives you.

However for something like Half-Life 2, the autosaves work well. I don't need to be asked if I want yet another autosave, so it doesn't bother asking.

Otherwise I generally agree with the list.

Re:Cutscenes MUST always be skippable (1)

CastrTroy (595695) | about 7 years ago | (#20931083)

The game where I hated cutscenes the most was Final Fantasy 7. Every time you attacked, it would show a very long cutscene. After seeing the same cutscene 700 times, this starts to get really annoying. It's kind of cool to see the attack sequences the first time around, but after that, I really don't want to see them. The only other thing I should add, is that if the cutscene is that important to me progressing in the game, like in many RPGs, make it so that I can replay it by pausing the game and selecting the cutscene (never seen this actually done in a game), or make it require confirmation to skip the cutscene. The only thing worse than not being able to skip a cutscene, is not being able to progress in a game, because you skipped a cutscene, and don't know what to do.

Re:Cutscenes MUST always be skippable (1)

oncehour (744756) | about 7 years ago | (#20931739)

There was the theatre in FF10 where you could replay cutscenes. It was more interesting than useful, unlike your example. I think allowing control over cutscenes would really improve a lot of their use as well. Some cutscenes can be incredibly powerful, but if someone around you ruins the mood you either have to restart without saving or play the entire game over again. Imagine getting a phone call just seconds before Sephiroth kills Aeris. The impact is dead. Gone. With a bit more control you could pause it and even rewind it just as you get the interruption. I notice with Tivo I now tend to pause shows that I watch as soon as someone interrupts me. Not only does it let me give them more of my attention, but it also lets me focus more on the story and really totally enjoy it. More control is a good thing.

Re:Cutscenes MUST always be skippable (1)

oncehour (744756) | about 7 years ago | (#20931771)

Whoops. Forgot newlines don't count as newlines on Slashdot.

Re:Cutscenes MUST always be skippable (1)

Adradis (1160201) | about 7 years ago | (#20931177)

If there is space for it, even simply having a simple "overwrite" autosave would be nice. Die without saving your game recently? You can reload from the saved file, and possibly change your choice, or reload from a recent autosave that's much closer to where you were.

It shouldn't take much more space than a standard save, and would allow you to bring it back to it if your game were to suddenly crash/shutdown/various failures.

Having it overwrite YOUR save files is a bad thing. Having an automatic save system that is used as a temporary backup type save, however, can be a very GOOD thing when implemented properly. The extra space it uses would probably be worth the potential redundancy, especially when it saves you an hour of work because you didn't save, and the game crashed (Computer games especially).

Re:Cutscenes MUST always be skippable (1)

tepples (727027) | about 7 years ago | (#20932277)

If there is space for it, even simply having a simple "overwrite" autosave would be nice. Die without saving your game recently?
Better would be to automatically save after dying. You could even skip the cut scene of your character's funeral.

[Quicksave] shouldn't take much more space than a standard save
Yes it would. Sometimes the serialized state of a game including the AI state of each enemy unit is several megabytes, but the only part that persists between maps is a few kilobytes. Besides, wouldn't quicksaving in, say, Tetris make the game way too easy because you can always undo a bad piece placement?

Re:Cutscenes MUST always be skippable (1)

ArmyOfFun (652320) | about 7 years ago | (#20931849)

Massive bonus points for any developers who add TiVo-style controls to their cutscenes. Sometimes I just want to jump back and rehear a line I missed.
Absolutely, in addition to having rewind, pause and fast forward I really like games that let me play cutscenes I've already seen whenever I want. It's crucial when 5 minutes after watching a cut scene, I realize there was some info mentioned that I'd like to revisit. There's also times where it's been a couple weeks between play sessions and I'd like to watch the last cutscene or two to refresh my memory as to whats going on.

Re:Cutscenes MUST always be skippable (1)

Ant P. (974313) | about 7 years ago | (#20931889)

A thing that annoys the hell out of me are games where you can only see the full story + cutscenes again if you delete the single save file that also contains all the high scores.

It seems to be stretched out to 10. (1)

mr_mischief (456295) | about 7 years ago | (#20930895)

The first 8 are a hit with me. I'm not sure about 9. I definitely don't think 10 is a big deal unless jumping out of the game engine is entirely disruptive.

An in-game tutorial is a good idea for lots of games. Sometimes an out-of-game tutorial as a separate program or perhaps a manual and web site make more sense.

For a FPS, stay in the game engine and allow the respwan from there. That's standard. If it's a memory or logic puzzle, then the player shouldn't be allowed extra time outside the level to look at the screen. In a RTS, your game is often over if you've lost, and there's no point to staying in. The choice to kibitz, if available, can be just as effective from a menu as from over the top of your headquarters exploding.

It feels much like many other "Top 10" lists. It feels like it started out strong and was rounded out to finish with mediocre follow-ons. That's a shame, because the title didn't even say anything about 10 things, and the subtitle/synopsis could have left that word out.

Another thing that's a bit silly, but understandable, is the console-specific tilt. I'd say the first 8 features they list make as much sense on the PC or any other platform, but they don't mention that.

Re:It seems to be stretched out to 10. (1)

DoomHaven (70347) | about 7 years ago | (#20931255)

Number 10 is actually my biggest beef thus far with the Wii. I like the Wii. I *love* the Wii. But, I hate that there isn't a good way to exit from any game to the Wii menu without hitting the "Home" button and getting that "All progress made up to this point will be lost" warning. I'd like a way to leave the game, that's consistent among the games, so that I know if I do that sequence, I'm saved, I'm going to exit, and I'm good.

NOW LOADING (1)

tepples (727027) | about 7 years ago | (#20932347)

I definitely don't think 10 is a big deal unless jumping out of the game engine is entirely disruptive.
It is, especially on a system with a slow optical disc drive as the primary storage medium, where the RAM cannot hold both the assets for the menu and the assets for the game engine.

Always let players... (5, Insightful)

AKAImBatman (238306) | about 7 years ago | (#20930909)

...skip cut scenes using a non-gameplay key. There's nothing more annoying than missing an important cut-scene because you accidentally hit the Fire button. Especially when the cut scenes intrude on the game suddenly and unexpectedly.

There is one of the items I disagree with:

8. Never use insipid, indefensible enemy attacks.
"It's impossible to get out of the way every third attack!" I shout at the on-screen boss in despair. Ah, the indefensible enemy blitzkrieg. This technique was more prevalent in the age of quarter-munchers where arcade makers needed to extend profits at the expense of cheap gameplay, but any remnants of this move should be completely abolished from interactive entertainment.

One man's "impossible" is another man's "challenge". Just because it's impossible for you doesn't mean that it's truly impossible. Go check out some Youtube videos of people playing a Bullet-hell shmup on one life. Inspiring feats, to say the least. Yet I know that I need infinite lives to pass these games because I'm simply not that good. Therefore, #8 should really say, "Know thy audience." That way you'll make sure you put the right level of difficulty in the right game.

Re:Always let players... (2, Insightful)

revlayle (964221) | about 7 years ago | (#20931033)

like for example, Kingdom Hearts 2, not necessarily it is the best game in the world (I enjoyed it however), but there was always a way to skip any cutscene: Press start, and confirm the skip (also, that provided a way to pause cutscenes without having to skip them - esp. long ones, which this game had).

Re:Always let players... (1)

Floritard (1058660) | about 7 years ago | (#20931063)

Actually I think a better idea is to do the 2-3 second wait before accepting input. Lots of games do this, so that skipping is possible but not accidental. Gives you a chance to retire that trigger finger and decide for yourself whether you want to watch this particular cutscene or not.

Re:Always let players... (2, Insightful)

roadkill_cr (1155149) | about 7 years ago | (#20931333)

I think the idea behind the article is that there are still games which guarantee you will be hit - for example, where it'd be impossible to go through bullet-hell on one life. In fact, the bullet-hell you reference is exactly what he is asking for - not impossible, but very challenging.

Re:Always let players... (1)

Bobfrankly1 (1043848) | about 7 years ago | (#20931355)

...skip cut scenes using a non-gameplay key. There's nothing more annoying than missing an important cut-scene because you accidentally hit the Fire button. Especially when the cut scenes intrude on the game suddenly and unexpectedly.
Couldn't agree more that being penalized for accidentally pressing a button (especially after an intense boss battle that took 10+ tries to complete) but some games have givin the option to skip, but with a confirmation dialog. Xenosaga was a pretty great game, but some of the cutscenes were long-winded, and playing through a second time, you could press start, and then choose b (i think) to return to the cutscene or press x to skip. Give the player a choice, but make sure it's the player's choice with a confirmation.
-
I've been known to have intelligent thoughts on occasion, I just need my first occasion...

Re:Always let players... (1)

ucblockhead (63650) | about 7 years ago | (#20931537)

Better: DON'T MAKE CUT SCENES THAT APPEAR IN COMBAT!

Of all the things wrong with Lair, this is the worst. Why on Earth they think I need a 10-second cut scene to show the thing I just blew up blowing up is beyond me. All it serves to do is make it even more confusing where you actually are in relation to everything else. Cut scenes should only appear in periods where there is no action, like between levels/missions.

Of course, the ideal is to go the Half-Life route and design the game so you can tell your story without cut scenes.

Re:Always let players... (1)

bigstrat2003 (1058574) | about 7 years ago | (#20932209)

Agree and disagree. Agreed that cut scenes should always be in between missions or at breaks in the action, but Half-Life's refusal to use cut scenes is bloody awful. There are things I like about Half-Life, and others I don't, but Half-Life's storytelling is crap because they don't have cut scenes. Games without cut scenes are cool if there's no story, but if you want to have your game have a story, they're mandatory, imho.

Subtitles! (5, Insightful)

machinecraig (657304) | about 7 years ago | (#20930975)

Subtitles for most (if not all) spoken content would be awesome, even better is when it gets kept automatically in an in-game journal as in Deus Ex. This could be considered more accessibility than usability - but it's very nice when you can pull up that critical conversation that you had a few days ago.

This helps solve one of the biggest gaming problems:
"Am I supposed to escort the Foozle or KILL the Foozle???"

Re:Subtitles! (1)

sanosuke76 (887630) | about 7 years ago | (#20932641)

Absolutely one of my big points. Subtitles are important if you've got people constantly chattering away in the background, or you don't want to have inconvenience friends by pausing the movie you're all watching, just because you're at a cutscene in your turn-based (i.e. perfect for doing while watching something else) RPG.

I would also add that, even if you don't have a full journal, at a bare minimum it should be possible to access your current objective and any supplemental material (i.e. tactical maps in the SOCOM series) from the pause menu.

Of course, I will have to say that the one game I feel does the best at keeping track of your objectives so far, is Oblivion. It keeps track of everything, in a really nice interface, even when you've got 14 quests which are all active to one degree or another! And once a quest is over, it gets archived over into a 'completed quests' tab, so you never have to go through a gameplay guide racking your brains to figure out if you've done all the side quests or not.

But also let us pause the cutscenes... (4, Insightful)

Ted Stevens (1166671) | about 7 years ago | (#20931011)

If time is put into the cutscenes, make sure we can watch -- and pause -- them. John Woo's Stranglehold for Xbox 360 is an example where this fails. The game claims to be "cinematic." Please, developers, let me watch the cinema even if the pizza arrives during a cutscene!

Yes, but.. (4, Interesting)

\\ (118555) | about 7 years ago | (#20931039)

Let me skip any and every single cutscene/tutorial, but also give me the opportunity to replay them at my convenience.

If I've decided to skip something that actually has important information, or I decide I want to watch something later because I'm in a groove, where is the harm in letting me access it when I want to?

Re:Yes, but.. (1)

Seakip18 (1106315) | about 7 years ago | (#20931753)

I can see this easily being done, unless the scene is rendered by the engine. I think Deus Ex and Bioshock had it dead on. Miss something? Just jump to your screen and re-listen to it while you happily blast away.

Flip side of the coin. (1)

Commander Doofus (776923) | about 7 years ago | (#20931069)

Always let players repeat any cutscene previously viewed. Sometimes they accidentally skip it by slipping and pressing a button, sometimes they want to review a scene for a possible clue, sometimes they just think it looks cool.

Re:Flip side of the coin. (1)

SnoopJeDi (859765) | about 7 years ago | (#20931439)

Sometimes, I'll boot up Perfect Dark, play a few rounds of deathmatch, and then watch all the gameplay cutscenes in one long go, like a short film.

Awesome feature imo.

Re:Flip side of the coin. (1)

Higaran (835598) | about 7 years ago | (#20931567)

Project Slypheed is a good example of this, there are certin wepons that you will can not get enough points to buy during your first pass trough the game. It lets you play the game again from the beginig with all the stuff you have, and let's you skip all the cutscenes, or you can go back and watch anyone you want again, some look bad ass with this giant space laser destroying the surface of a planet.

A good example of piss poor usability in a game (1)

TobyWong (168498) | about 7 years ago | (#20931173)

A good example of piss poor usability in a game:

The Battlefield series.

Fantastic core gameplay. Horrible menu system/options etc. Take 2142 for example. Who's brilliant idea was it to force users to redo their kit loadout EVERY SINGLE TIME THEY CONNECT TO A SERVER. This is shit that is obvious after using the game for 10 minutes. Also how the key assignments for assault rifle and rockets change depending on which team you are playing for. Ummm hello?

I remember reading a quote along the lines of "It's a good thing Battlefield is such a great game because it really blows". This really sums up the dichotomy that is the BF franchise.

Re:A good example of piss poor usability in a game (1)

chriskovo (1011723) | about 7 years ago | (#20931897)

actually they are changing this with the next patch you can now save your fav kit loadouts.

I'd Include (4, Interesting)

Greyfox (87712) | about 7 years ago | (#20931189)

Never throw the player into a boss fight they absolutely can't win. The JRPGs in particular are fond of making you fight a boss early on in the game with absolutely no possible way you can win. It's annoying and unnecessary to do so. It's strange how this is handled with varying degrees of competence in the same game. Suikodan III, for example, lets you level up early on and win several of those fights you're supposed to lose. One of the characters will call you a cheater if you beat him. Later on in the game though you fight a duel with a guy and it's impossible to win it.

So if you put a fight in the game that the party is "supposed" to lose, you should either include the option of them not losing or make it a (skippable) cut scene because no degree of interaction from the player is going to change the outcome at all.

Additionally, do not kill members of my party off without giving me some way to rescue them. If I completely dominate the boss that was supposed to beat my party and kill that guy, don't kill that guy.

Re:I'd Include (1)

ElleyKitten (715519) | about 7 years ago | (#20931497)

Never throw the player into a boss fight they absolutely can't win.
I second that. I hate running through all my potions and phoenix downs just to find out that if I had stood there and done nothing it would have had the same effect. Also completely aggravating? Working my ass off to beat the boss, and then watching a cutscene that assumes I lost. GRRR!

Yep (1)

Sycraft-fu (314770) | about 7 years ago | (#20931613)

Note: There are some spoilers here, but only for really old games.

Always been a pet peeve of mine when the story is forced with a battle that you have to lose. I've got no problem with the fact that many games stories are mostly or totally linear. However what I do have a problem with is when they want to do that by putting you in an unwinnable situation. Do better writing instead, don't expect me to play along.

This is especially true because in some games you find that the situations ARE winnable, but then it doesn't work. Deus Ex was like that. There's a situation where you are supposed to either stand by your brother, or try to run away. Either way you get captured. Ok, except that if you are like me and are good at that sort of game, and take proactive steps to defend yourself and don't do things the normal way, you can win.

When I was playing through it the first time I really suspected an ambush there, so I'd gone to lengths to sneak around and plant proximity explosives and was prepped for a fight. Sure enough, you talk to Paul, a fight breaks out. I was ready and took all the bad guys down. However then there was nothing to do, the game didn't acknowledge that contingency. I either had to blow my self up, or go "run away". There was no "You killed the forces that were after you," option, even though it was perfectly feasible to do.

You are absolutely right in that any time you let the player fight, winning needs to be an option. You can heavily stack the deck against them if that's how it is supposed to be, but have the code in there to deal with a win if it happens.

Chrono Trigger did that really right. You encounter the big boss in the game way before the end, and he kills your lead character. However the battle is NOT forced that way. It is how it is going to go the first time you play the game through probably because it is so stacked against you. However, if you went really insane on level grinding, or if you do the "replay the game with your existing characters" mode, you can kill him right there and then, and win the game.

THAT is done right. You have an expected outcome, you stack the deck to try and ensure that, however you have the game prepared to deal with the alternative.

Re:Yep (1)

lgw (121541) | about 7 years ago | (#20932019)

I thought Deus Ex was pretty good about that. The scene with attempting to rescue Paul, for example: if you ran away (leaving through the window was the trigger), Paul was dead for the rest of the game. If you won the fight (or at least left through the front door of the Ton, the other trigger) Paul was alive for the rest of the game.

The only unwinnable fight I recall from that game was the one where Gunther ambushes you in the subway - you may be remembering the wrong fight.

Re:Yep (1)

kat_skan (5219) | about 7 years ago | (#20932233)

If you had the micro-fibril muscle aug you could avoid Harmann and just move one of the concrete barricades out of the way. Not that it did you any good, of course. You still had to get captured. :P

Re:Yep (1)

Fallingcow (213461) | about 7 years ago | (#20932125)

If you survive the apartment battle you just get captured by Gunther when you leave the subway station in Battery Park, which is where Jock is supposed to try to meet up with you (so you have to go there). The difference between running away and fighting and winning is that if you run away, Paul just dies, but if you fight and win, he gets captured "off camera" after you leave, and you can save him from the MJ12 facility on Liberty Island when you break out.

TFA mostly right (1, Redundant)

vux984 (928602) | about 7 years ago | (#20931225)

#1 - save games automatically - good point. do it. But don't overwrite their last save. Create a new one.

#2 - always say "press any button" to start game. whatever. I'd say its more important to just work with the common ones. Nothings more annoying than games with non-standard or backwards 'menu navigation'.

#3 - go one further - acknowledge left handed players and design a map, sure it won't match every lefties preference but nothing sucks worse than having to remap a game from SCRATCH because its totally unusable for a lefty especially since at this point we haven't played it yet and don't really know which commands are most important, a lefthanded-template to start from would be nice. (This applies mostly to keyboard / PC games of course)

Also let us save and restore our control maps on the fly for crying out loud. More than one player plays the game, and my brother uses some whacky options. And don't lock it up in some player profile we select when we start the game. When I play NFS carbon for example my friends and frequently just hand off the controller between races in career mode, we don't want to each run our own separate career, and we want to be able to swap control preferences easily.

And for those new 'games for windows' that apparently have to support xbox controllers, if i don't have an xbox controller don't effing show me what my control layout looks like on one. And don't prompt me ingame to push xbox controller buttons. (I'm looking at you Lost Planet!!)

#4 - cutscenese - yeah we need to be able to skip them, especially the long one at the beginning, and doubly so for anything we might see -during- gameplay. ESPECIALY the one right before the boss fight that you'll have to redo a dozen times or so. I've given up on games because I couldn't handle the cutscene between dying and trying again. And seriously, get rid of those cutscenese that are 4 minutes long, then require you to manually walk forward 3 feet, open a door, and then launch into another 4 minute cutscene.... that's just retarded.

#5 - good camera controls - obviously

#6 - good controls - obviously

#7 - accessibility options - meh, this is important, but not top 10.

#8 - cheap enemies is an issue. cheap level design is even worse.

#9 - always present in game tutorials - god i hate these. When the first 5 missions of a cmapaign are really the instruction manual/tutorial. Yes, have tutorials in the game, but give players the option to skip the 'learn how to move my units' missions, or set them aside as the "Tutorial Campaign".

#10 - let players in and out of the game painlessly. obviously a good idea.

Backwards like O vs. X? (1)

tepples (727027) | about 7 years ago | (#20932515)

#1 - save games automatically - good point. do it. But don't overwrite their last save. Create a new one.
And then do what once the player has exhausted the space on the memory cards? Offer to rent the player more space to save games on the Internet?

Nothings more annoying than games with non-standard or backwards 'menu navigation'.
Backwards like O vs. X in PlayStation games from different regions, or the placement of A and B buttons on Xbox vs. DS? And what happens when the player has remapped the buttons such that the menus become useless?

And for those new 'games for windows' that apparently have to support xbox controllers, if i don't have an xbox controller don't effing show me what my control layout looks like on one.
Then what graphic is the game expected to use to represent your controller? Most players don't know where "Button 0" through "Button 15" are. Or should we expect players to use a digital camera to produce a photo of their controller?

Good ideas, bad attitude (0, Flamebait)

Sciros (986030) | about 7 years ago | (#20931327)

Most of what the author says is obvious and a waste of page space ("don't ship with a bad camera" uh-huh thanks Capt. Obvious), some of it is of no concern ("press (A) to start" on the title screen is just fine, even newbies aren't that retarded and if they are they have no place using a controller with more than 1 button in the first place), but FREAKING ALL OF IT is written with the attitude of "screw you, game DESIGNER, I am your audience and you will bow to me." That's the mentality of a spoiled little brat. Sure, cutscenes being skippable is a good idea, IF coupled with the ability to go back and re-watch these cutscenes on-demand should you skip one by accident. Because, you know, not ALL of us have the "stop showing me story and character development I wants to mash some buttons NOW!1!" mentality when we're enjoying a video game.

Even though the core *ideas* are generally fine, I wouldn't want this guy designing games for me, ever. The best games come from people who love their craft and the characters and story they are presenting to you, not folks who keep driving home the point of how much they DON'T.

Re:Good ideas, bad attitude (1)

lgw (121541) | about 7 years ago | (#20932163)

Screw you, game designer, I am the customer and if you want my money you will bow to me.

Feels good to say it. These 10 points were basically all the same thing: give the player as much control over the experience as possible. I agree completely: when I want a passive non-interactive experience, I will watch a movie. Gaming should be, as much as possible, interaction between player and designer, not merely the player consuming the designers narrative.

Re:Good ideas, bad attitude (1)

Sciros (986030) | about 7 years ago | (#20932707)

I don't follow that all-or-nothing logic at all. Visual entertainment does not need to be so divided into the fully interactive and the fully passive. A movie where you get to choose between alternate progressions for the plot, or a game where the exposition is presented via non-interactive clips -- there is nothing inherently bad or, rather, unenjoyable in these per se. The important thing is quality, and even that is relative and depends greatly on the subject and audience.

As for the principle of a game designer catering to a "customer," that completely disregards games being art, and I imagine you would agree that an artist is just as understandably a servant of his own inspiration as he is of his patrons.

Re:Good ideas, bad attitude (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 years ago | (#20932637)

Ironically, the mod who got to you is one of those spoiled little brats. I personally agree with you, but I don't expect to see much support for those opinions on /.

Game design is hard from the ground up, and most of the audience thinks you can magically add anything to a game with your developers wand, just that you CHOOSE not to. That's what the article is like -- completely arrogant gamer mentality with no insight whatsoever.

one to add (1)

doctorzizmore (999192) | about 7 years ago | (#20931335)

I just finished Odin Sphere and one feature I liked was the ability to change difficulty at any point. I know this is kinda lame for hardcore gamers, but if you're a real hardcore gamer then you would just ignore this anyway. I loved the game and story, but towards the end there a fair amount of level grinding you had to do. I'm not as young as I used to be and I felt like I had better things to spend my time on, so I just set the difficulty to easy and finished the game. I don't think I would have gotten to the end otherwise, so for game writers who would like their stories to be appreciated by all levels of gamers this feature is a great idea.

Re:one to add (1)

JoshJ (1009085) | about 7 years ago | (#20931519)

I just found Odin Sphere "too weird" and had to stop playing it. I'll get back into it at some point, but does the combat ever get better than "hack at the enemies and hope you don't get hit, then back off and charge back in again"?

Let Them Eat Cake (1)

SonicTheDeadFrog (1155815) | about 7 years ago | (#20931339)

I'm one of those geeks who actually likes watching cutscenes...the FIRST time. I absolutely hate having to sit through a cutscene - great and wonderful though it may be - for the fifth time because the developer decided to put some difficult boss fight or other obstacle directly after it with not possibility to save. And while we're on the subject of skipping cutscenes, I think it can go too far in the other direction. A couple of times I have been engrossed in a cutscene and I sneezed on the controller and the cutscene ended midstream, cutting me off from important or enjoyable story bits. I also hate it when games don't allow you to pause cutscenes. Blue Dragon and Final Fantasy XII are great examples of how cutscenes should be done. Now if we could just do something about those lengthy battle animations...

Re:Let Them Eat Cake (1)

Sciros (986030) | about 7 years ago | (#20931441)

Yeah, skippable battle animations ftw. That would be really nice in FFXII. Though that game also really needs a "theater mode."

The two I disagree with. (1, Redundant)

apparently (756613) | about 7 years ago | (#20931479)

1. Never ask a player if they want to save their game.

Because the office world has taught us that auto-save never, ever ends up writing over data we wanted to keep. Ditch the word "never", let players save when they want to, but also auto-save to a different save file.

2. Always say "press any button" to start a game.
So after years of having to press the Start button, gamers can't seem to remember where that button is located? Weird. What if the main screen has some different options that the player needs to choose? Perhaps the user wants to select a different keymapping (rule #3!)? Wouldn't that necessitate that the press a button other than Start? I always assumed that the wii requires specific button presses to start games so that games don't accidentally start because the wiimote got dropped, etc...

controls (4, Insightful)

JoshJ (1009085) | about 7 years ago | (#20931489)

I find it strange that he complains about "17 buttons" on the PS2/PS3 and Xbox.

L1, L2, L3, R1, R2, R3, triangle, O, X, Square. That's ten. Start and Select make 12. The "analog" button isn't used in gameplay, but that's 13. Then what? Counting the d-pad as 4 buttons is silly because in MOST games it, like the joysticks, simply serves one purpose.
Most games ignore L3 and R3, or use it for some function that's tied to the joystick it's on (e.g. using R3 to recenter the camera when the right stick controls the camera).

The start button has done the same thing in every game since the Super Nintendo era, so complaining about it is silly. It's standard. It pauses the game and/or brings up the menu. Period. Select is rarely used and could be gotten rid of. Analog was used on the PSX and some PS2 games for toggling the controller mode (again, standard among every game because it actually applied to the controller), but it had no role in game.

The joystick or d-pad is always used for movement. Granted, some FPS's use the d-pad for things like "switch weapons with left/right and zoom with up/down" in which case it's really two additional functions. (not 4! It's a logical pair and if you know that "right on the d-pad is next weapon" it's obvious that "left on the d-pad is previous weapon"!)

Ultimately, I think the most complicated console game I've played in terms of keymapping are the FPS'es like Timesplitters where all 8 shoulder+face buttons were used and you used the left-right and up-down pairs for weapon swapping and zooming, and the two joysticks did move/strafe and turn/look; making for a total of 12 functions- counting "fire" and "secondary fire" as different concepts.

I don't think 12 functions is too much to expect someone to know for a complicated game.

Compare this to a fighting game, say Virtua Fighter, which technically has an 8-way joystick (or uses the d-pad for 8-way movement) and 3 buttons. Kick, punch, guard. That's simple, right? Well, there's kick+punch, punch+guard, kick+guard, kick+punch, kick+punch+guard, down-forward kick, etc, making for movelists with over 100 commands. Almost every modern fighting game (minus Smash Brothers) has upwards of 50 commands and even Smash Brothers has quite a high number of moves with just "attack, special, shield" thanks to being able to smash them, smash in the air, smash while running, etc.

Shoot, compare it to Nethack, which used nearly every button on the keyboard (lower AND uppercase) for something.

Complaining about console games having "too many buttons" is absurd. PC games are where this "problem" really lies, and if done right (such as Civilization 4- all the buttons were really just shortcut keys to something you could get at through the GUI somehow) it's not a problem.

Granted, if every direction on the d-pad and the 8 general directions on each joystick did different functions that weren't even logically connected, he'd have a complaint, but I'd argue that such a design would be a bad user interface in general because it's not using the expected behavior of the joystick/d-pad.

He's spot on about allowing controller remapping, subtitles for deaf people or kids whose parents make them turn the volume off, forced-death boss fights (I remember one in Chrono Cross where I used a massive number of potions, curative spells, ethers, etc to survive and continually damaged the boss, ultimately giving up and letting him kill me just to see if I was "supposed" to lose it- and promptly reset so I could redo it without losing all the items.)

Also, tutorial levels should damn well be optional. Cutscenes should be skippable (though make it buttonmasher-proof like Xenosaga did) and re-viewable. Not everyone is playing the game for the first time.

I fully disagree with "never ask the player if he wants to save his game", as does anyone else who's ever gotten stuck in Riovanes Castle in Final Fantasy Tactics without a backup save. (Yes, I got through. Yell and Auto-potion are a ridiculous combination.)

Camera control is a no-brainer. Playing the N64 I was amused by the "lol everything's hollow" realization, but it's old now. Also, every single action game that doesn't allow you to change the camera angle can fuck right off, because they invariably pick some shitty camera angle in a particular level to artificially raise the difficulty level through the "WTF IS GOING ON HERE I CAN'T SEE A THING" bullshit.

Re:controls (1)

Tyler Eaves (344284) | about 7 years ago | (#20931815)

Some games DO use the d-pad as buttons. Forza Motorsport 2, for instances, uses them to scroll through live telemetry overlays while racing. Project Gotham 4 uses them to manipulate the in-game radio.

Re:controls (1)

JoshJ (1009085) | about 7 years ago | (#20931881)

I assume the radio one does something like left/right is previous/next station and the Forza one has either left/right or up/down as previous/next overlay? My point is that the d-pad (whether in pairs or as a whole pad) is typically used for related functions. It'd be like declaring that the c-buttons on the N64 pad are "4 separate buttons" in a game like Mario 64 where they all serve one shared function- moving the camera. Sure, the PS2 technically has 17 buttons plus two joysticks. They're NEVER used for 17 functions, so there's really only a dozen or so functions at most you have to learn. It's not "buttons" that the player memorizes, after all, but functions.

Subtitles for deaf people vs. for foreigners (1)

tepples (727027) | about 7 years ago | (#20932693)

I don't think 12 functions is too much to expect someone to know for a complicated game.
I think the gist is that games should be less complicated, at least through the early levels. Using features on the other buttons should be an option, not a requirement. For instance, I've seen a video on YouTube of someone beating Super Mario Bros. without pressing the B button (except for one "press B to continue" screen).

He's spot on about allowing controller remapping, subtitles for deaf people or kids whose parents make them turn the volume off
He doesn't mention deaf people or the Deaf community. Instead, he mentions speakers of a different language. Sometimes, excluding non-native speakers is intentional, as many video games are based on intellectual resources originally developed for books, movies, TV series, or other video games. These resources are often licensed with exclusive territorial limitations on grounds that a particular license broker knows a given market better. If a game can be run in any region, then the game can be imported into markets where you lack a copyright license for the resources used by the game. Besides, it's expensive to translate a game's text into the 23 languages of the European Union, especially for text-heavy RPGs on handhelds. It's even worse for some E-rated games, where you can't expect the player to have learned how to read even his or her native language.

Also, every single action game that doesn't allow you to change the camera angle can fuck right off
Should games designed for a first-person view be required to allow for out-of-body experiences? And do games where all the action takes place in a plane, like New Super Mario Bros., need to have camera controls?

2 things not on the list. (2, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 years ago | (#20931671)

Fast main menu load times. HL2 based games are serious offenders here.

Allow fast alt tabbing. Basically every PC game needs to function like World of Warcraft in "maximized windowed mode" I simply can't stand games that hitch and make your PC nearly freeze for quickly changing to another task while you are playing. LET ME READ THE WEB WHILE YOUR GAME LOADS!

YES (1)

Fallingcow (213461) | about 7 years ago | (#20932379)

Step 1 to properly enjoying HL2 is to turn of that goddamned scene that loads behind the menu.

Re:2 things not on the list. (1)

mdarksbane (587589) | about 7 years ago | (#20932709)

Problem is that the game itself takes a performance hit when you do that.

A lot of games are running in a special full screen mode and at an increased process priority - this gives the game a larger than normal portion of your CPU time, increasing your frame rate. Running it in windowed mode makes it behave a little more like a normal app, making your web browsing and switching faster but slowing your frame rate.

A few links on gaming usability and accessibility (2, Interesting)

hansamurai (907719) | about 7 years ago | (#20932021)

Here's a great article [ua-games.gr] and "game" that I found a while back. The author calls it the world's most inaccessible game where each level breaks a cardinal sin of game design. The designer them goes on to describe how it's broken and how to avoid and fix it in the future. I thought it was a great idea and it applies here.

The site [thefirsthourblog.com] I write for also deals directly with usability and accessibility in video games. I think these aspects of gameplay are often overlooked for various reasons and things like unskippable cutscenes and unskippable story sequences (not necessarily cutscenes but just long drawn out blobs of text - see my First Hour Okami review next Monday) are just plain foolish and obnoxious to the player!

The KoTOR Scenario (4, Interesting)

GMFTatsujin (239569) | about 7 years ago | (#20932059)

I'd add a major rule, based on my experience with Knights of the Old Republic. After watching my character whip ass in lightsaber duels with poise and confidence, he was suddenly a complete klutz at a particular challenge.

The challenge was the podrace. My character has the reflexes of a trained Jedi; I do not. Yet *I* had to drive the pod with my pitiful skills. My character's 18 DEX was nowhere to be seen.

So the new rule is:

In a game where the action is judged by statistics based on the character's abilities, such as a role playing game, never add an arcade element that depends on the player's abilities. Or more generally and colloquially stated: remember who is in the driver's seat for a particular style of gameplay.

Article is a little flat (1)

grumbel (592662) | about 7 years ago | (#20932111)

While many points in the article are valid, it fails to discuss that some of their "solutions" have severe negative consequences, which can do far more damage then the original problem:

1) Auto-Save: In Halo this works because you have clear cuts between the levels, so when you mess up the checkpoint you can resume at the start of the level. Other games don't have such clear cuts, so you really don't mess up a users game-state without asking first. Another solution would be to have special auto-save slots beside user created ones or just saving to a new one instead overwriting an existing one. But the good solution depends heavily on the game in question and with a lot of non-linear ones, just letting the user do the saving is still the best, a little auto-saving as backup when the game crashes or such can however always be useful.

2) Kind of a non-issue, if a user doesn't know where the start button is he likely will have huge problems in the game, so just forcing him to look at the controller right at the start doesn't really sound like a bad idea.

3) Remappable controls are nice, but not without its dangers, since in quite a few games you might end up with custom configurations that just don't work for the game and makes certain special moves or combos impossible, something that might be impossible for the player to know right at the start, when those combos are only available much later in the game. I would however still allow it, since without it some input devices might be unusable with certain games. On consoles this is generally a much smaller problem then on PC, since on consoles the games tend to be optimized for exactly that controller, while on PC you really can't know what kind of input one might through at the game. The best solution trouble caused by custom config is of course to have a default config that is so good that the user just doesn't see a need to mess with it.

4) Skipable Cutscenes: Good idea, but can easily lead to people skipping cut scenes by accident, thus missing important pieces of story unintentionally. Solution would be to make cut scenes skipable, but making the skipping hard so that it isn't triggered by accident (i.e. use 'start' instead of 'a', press that skip button twice, require the player to use the option menu for skip, etc.), especially on the first play through. Also cutscenes should be visible from outside of the game if possible, quite a few games already feature a menu option that lets them rewatch past cutscenes, but by far not all.

5) Cameras can get annoying, quite true, so getting them right is important. One thing I am wondering: On a TV/movie set walls are often removed to make room for the camera, allowing the camera to be placed in location that are outside of the room itself and would be physically impossible if the room would be real. Games on the other side basically never do this, instead they let the camera collide with the fourth wall. Any reason for this? Or any games that do otherwise (aside from top-down RPGs that leave away the roof)?

6) Not sure I agree with this, having button that do nothing can often feel wrong and as games aren't designed in a vacuum, but always for a special machine with a given controller, I think the extra buttons should be taken into account. Of course one shouldn't change the game all that much for it, but sometimes non important additional functions can be nice (i.e. in Ico you could zoom onto your character with a button, nothing relevant to the game, but a nice additional function). Ability to quick-change weapons or such can also be done with buttons that don't have any real use otherwise.

7) Speaking about closed captions, turning them of is ok, but nothing that important. What I find much more important is to allow mixed languages for captions and speech, some of the few games that do this are Dreamfall and Fahrenheit, which allow you to independently select language for subtitle and speech. Its a little thing, but its great to be able to play a game in a foreign language and still be able to read the subtitles. DVD have allowed this for years, so should games.

8) Undogable attacks: Big issue for sure, but I haven't really seen all that games that do that lately.

9) Speaking of tutorials: One big failure in many games is that you try to teach you all that stuff right at the beginning, so at the point where you need it in the game, you might already have long forgotten about that special button combo again. To fix this its really important to teach the player the stuff right when he needs it, not just in a often boring tutorial before the game. Option screens that display button mappings and combos in-game are very welcome as well.

10) Nothing wrong with easy navigation.

Some points to add not discussed in the article:

11) Allow the player to change difficulty in the game. At the start of a game its impossible to tell how hard 'hard' is and how easy 'easy' really is. In some games 'hard' is easy and in others 'easy' is already hard. So allow the player to change this when already in the game itself without replaying from start again, way to many games still fail here.

12) Move character customization into the game, not out of it. Nothing annoys me more then being forced to select character attributes in a RPG before the game has even started, how shall I know what influences those have in the game? Shall I be forced to study a d20 rules book before being able to even start the game? This just makes those games very inaccessible to people new to the genre, often for little reason.

13) Don't dumb down your game. Usability is one thing, but one really shouldn't drive it to far. Not every game must be playable by everyone. Some games require learning and are fun exactly because of that, dumbing them down would do nothing but ruin them (i.e. flightsims that automatically land your plane, etc.). Games should be kept accessible, by having tutorials, manuals, in-game helps (auto-breaking in GrandPrix) and all that stuff to teach the player how to play them, not by removing important features, which make the game more complicated, but also more enjoyable. Many games these days fail here.

ONCE! and again on demand (2, Insightful)

tgibbs (83782) | about 7 years ago | (#20932167)

I'm willing to be compelled to watch the logos, cut scenes, etc...ONCE.
What I do object to is having to watch them over...and over...and over. After I've seen them once, I should be allowed to skip them.

However, there is a reciprocal issue. I want to be able to see any cut scene again if I want to.

I can't think how many times this has happened:

I've finally reached a major cutscene, the reward for the last two hours of play, that finally explains critical plot points.
And the phone rings.
So I hit "start" to pause the game, which works everywhere else in the game.
But because it's a cut scene, it thinks that I want to skip instead of pause.
So now I've missed the cut scene, and the only choices the game offers are to start at the beginning of the next level (missing the cutscene)...or go back to my last save and replay part of the level that I JUST BEAT, just to see the cutscene.

Or sometimes, somebody comes in and interrupts me while the cutscene is running, and there is no way to pause it. And then when I want to go back and watch it without interruption, I find that I can't.

The "skip cutscene" button should NEVER be the same as the button you use to pause the game--and that button should pause the cutscene, just like it pauses at any other point in the game. And if you do somehow miss the cut scene, there should be a mechanism for seeing it again without having to replay the entire level.

i think the best cutscene option would be this... (2, Interesting)

PJ1216 (1063738) | about 7 years ago | (#20932351)

1) allow cutscenes to be paused. i hate it when the phone rings in the middle of one and i can't pause it. who knows how many phone calls from hot women i may have missed when i chose to watch the cutscene instead =P
2) allow cutscene skipping BUT don't make it so easy to skip. i hate when i accidentally hit a button and skip a cutscene and all of the sudden i'm in a situation that leaves me with a "wtf?" expression on my face. i think it was one of the xenosaga movies, i mean games, that when you paused the cutscene a little note at the top said "press x to skip" or something of that nature.

i know many people want to be able to skip it very quickly, but you don't want to punish the ones the game was targeted at (those who want the story line). if you want, you could go as far as making it an in-game option to allow quick-skipping or forcing the pause plus an extra button to skip. I think this would satisfy everybody. everybody could set it to what they want.

on a different note, i think saving should be allowed at *any* point in the game. sometimes you just *have* to stop playing but hate it cause you'll lose like an hour's worth of work just because you haven't reached a savepoint yet.

Good Article. I'd like to see one per genre (2, Interesting)

tieTYT (989034) | about 7 years ago | (#20932673)

I like the idea of this article. I think it would be a good idea to make more that are specific to genres. I'm a hardcore fighting game player and here is a list of things that are really annoying when not followed:

#1 If you want your game to have longevity, make sure you get the best players to spend a lot of time beta testing it. Soul Calibur 3 is a good example of what goes wrong when you don't have good players test your game. There is a character in that game with a move that can instantaneously reverse almost all attacks without risk and leads to a followup that does >50% damage. Most other characters can do a max of 25% after doing a RISKY juggle. Any mediocre player would notice this as a problem immediately. Soul Calibur 3 was popular for about 4 months and then totally died. Soul Calibur 2, which did not have any obvious problems like this, was popular for over 2 years.

#2 Have a great practice mode for the console version. The Soul Calibur 2 practice mode is seriously lacking and there are tons of basics that require another person to help you test. It should be possible to do every basic system feature (rolling, 'tech rolling', laying on the ground and getting up as soon as possible, etc.) without needing a friend to come over. The Japanese console version of Tekken 5: DR doesn't even have a practice mode. When the normal version of Tekken 5 does, this looks like a step backwards and pisses off the hardcore gamers.

#3 Update your game to fix problems. Virtua Fighter 4, the most popular fighting game of its time in Japan, updated its game more than once and fixed a lot of balance problems each time. In the original Tekken 4, the biggest balance issue was a single attack by a character named Jin. Tekken 4 was updated at least 3 times and this attack's properties were never modified. This pissed off the fanbase each time. Tekken 4 is currently ridiculed as one of the worst in the series.
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