Friday, 24 May 2013

Task 20: Interaction Design

When you’re so focused on the visual side of games it’s easy to forget that, at their most basic level, games are built on interactivity. It’s easy to measure visual quality by what you see on the screen, but how easy a game is to interact with is much harder to quantify.

Certainly, it’s easy to tell when a game responds badly – to someone used to playing games it can be obvious within a few minutes of gameplay how responsive the controls are. However, this assessment is hardly objective, because it’s based on the perspective of someone biased toward games they have already played.

There are certain controller mechanics that have become standardised across multiple games, but it’s unclear whether these continue to be used because they’re the best way of doing things or simply because they’re what people are used to. Nobody likes change, gamers less than anybody.

Even with PC games that all use the WASD movement keys, something as simple as a different key from jumping can feel off-putting when switching from one game to another. In something as diverse as combat mechanics, what one person finds fluid might feel clunky and restrictive to another, but that doesn’t mean those mechanics are bad.

The question is, what do we really mean by intuitive? For someone used to using a computer, when they’re controlling the cursor, they decide where they want it do go and move it – they don’t think about the mechanical aspects of their hand pushing and pulling the mouse. For someone used to playing a certain kind of game, the controls may become second nature. For someone who is not familiar with games, almost any game will feel clumsy at first.

Possibly then, one measure of how intuitive a game is could be how quickly the average person can get acclimatised to it, but that is difficult to measure. Simple games might be learnt in a few minutes, but then be limited to very basic input, while other game could take several days to learn fully, but once everything is learned fully and being used in the right way, be a lot less frustrating and a more enjoyable experience. Think of it as comparing ‘Rock, Paper, Scissors” to Chess.

Of course, this is where a good tutorial can help to ease someone into the controls, allowing them to learn simple interactions at first such as movement and working up to more complicated functions such as hotkeys and the like.

Personally, I can’t stand using a console controller. I made it through Assassin’s creed II on the PS3 simply because I wanted to see what happened, but found it a lot more enjoyable playing subsequent games on the PC, simply because I wasn’t fighting with a controller that felt like it wanted to jump out of my hands.

On the other hand, playing the first Assassin’s Creed game on PS3 for a short while was what convinced me to actually get the game for PC. I managed to actually pick up the base mechanics pretty quickly. Assassin’s Creed did actually make an attempt to change the way its mechanics worked, with the context-sensitive controls, and compared to other console games I’ve tried playing I found them fairly user-friendly.

Its controls are certainly different; if I play assassin’s creed and they switch to a more typical game, it takes a while for me to stop pressing the mouse buttons trying to sprint.

There have always been attempts to introduce new ideas into gaming mechanics, especially in the early days of consoles; it’s just that few of them have been financially successful. The few that were successful carried on and evolved.

This could be taken as proof that the most common mechanics we use now are just the best way to do things, but equally those consoles’ failure could be down to the limitations of the technology of the time, or the limited market back then. Look at the Virtual Boy for an example, which was basically the Oculus Rift MK 1, and was a commercial failure.
More recently there have been innovative new consoles which have been a success, such as the wii. One thing to note though is the audience for these games is somewhat more broad than for other consoles – in particular, it targets families and children, people who are less likely to have tried more generic consoles, and experience the games without preconceived notions.

However, perhaps it’s more fair to attribute the wii’s success simply to how easy it is to use. Compared to other console handsets, with buttons on every available surface, the WII controller looks relatively unintimidating.

The games are fairly simple, if the one game I’ve played is anything to go with (Wii bowling, for ten minutes or so while I was doing work experience) and tend to have easily understood concepts, such as sports, which people are already somewhat familiar with.
Kinect, like the Wii, is another non-typical method of controlling games. It detects both movement and voice commands, and can be integrated into some pre-existing games.

The oculus rift is another recent introduction. It’s mainly caters towards immersion, but it also allows the player to look around my moving their head. This is obviously a much more instinctive way of looking around than manipulating a joystick or a mouse, and it frees up part of the control for some other use, such as moving around of selecting objects in-game. It does, of course, completely obscure the player’s vision. While there are plenty of people who can use a keyboard or controller without looking, many can’t, especially if trying to use hotkeys, or buttons that are used infrequently.

Sometimes it simply comes down to whether you want a simulation that mimics reality as closely as possible, or something with more options. Not all games are looking for the same things.

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