Apologies for the radio silence!

I've been busy this December, and really since late September, so I haven't had much time to write. Here's what I've been up to:

View from my desk.



I started a new job as a User Experience Researcher with Fidelity Investments in Boston in late September, so I've been busy learnin' and getting up to speed with a myriad of tools and methodologies. I've decided that UserZoom is annoying, and have learned that anything that can go wrong probably will when you're moderating or seconding usability tests. To be honest, being a Dungeon Master/Game Master for Pathfinder games taught me some valuable skills that I've been using in my professional life -- namely dealing with uncertainty (best laid plans and all that), improvising, devising creative solutions for complex problems, and knowing when to help participants and when to let them struggle.

Also since late September I've been involved in a performance called the Boston Christmas Revels. Today is performance 12 of 17. Over the last four days (12/18 - 12/21) we've had seven shows. I'm in the picture below (all the way to the right with the plank and a sweet bonnet.) We've been getting great reviews from the critics, so that's nice.





I've also been working on a board game in my spare time -- whatever and whenever that is -- and have been making decent progress on that. My friends and I have been working pretty steadily on it since February, but we're now starting to involve a graphic designer and potentially an artist starting in January. Here's a picture of a playtest below taken at the Game Makers' Guild in Boston a few months back. The game is a co-op, resource management, survival game set in the post-apocalypse that sets itself apart with its sheer difficulty -- similar to Pandemic, the game hard to win, but the struggle is part of the fun. Hopefully by summer we'll have a print and play version of the game available for the public to play. Right now it's paper prototypes and clip-art. If you're interested in learning more about the game, you can check us out on Facebook or Twitter.



I haven't had time for my other hobbies -- painting, namely, but also D&D -- but I guess that's the sacrifice for having too many other hobbies and obligations. Alas, alack.

I hope all of you are doing well, and that you're having excellent holidays. I'll be back to a regular schedule in 2016 (!!!). If you'd like me to test out any particular games, feel free to ping me on Twitter (@keshiekay). On the docket are potentially:

  • Evolution
  • The Magic Circle
  • Offworld Trading Company
  • Roguelands
  • Shoppe Keep 
  • The Talos Principle
  • Fallout 4 
Or if you know any designers who might want some feedback, feel free to send them my way! I love giving feedback to those who are hungry for it.

Thanks again.

This'll be a different kind of post, so bear with me here.

I've started conducting user research for Idle Action Studios, the creators of Paper Shadows. After some discussion with the team, I decided to run some co-creation sessions to help make Paper Shadow's UI elements (of which there are few) more intuitive. This post is about the process and results of the co-creation study.

First, I'll give you some context about the game. Paper Shadows is a highly stylized and artistic platformer built in Unity where the player controls two characters: the masked character and the lantern-bearer. On its website, Idle Action Studios describes Paper Shadows as a game about "separation and reunion," a theme strongly supported in the game. In order to progress in the game, the player must frequently separate the two characters. The tall, masked character can jump much higher than the lantern-bearer, and so often must go ahead to activate levers so that the lantern-bearer may continue. But some platforms are only revealed when they are within the lantern-bearer's light radius, so often the masked character must return to the light.

In later levels, the player finds talismans, ability-giving items that the characters may carry and trade. Up until the introduction of talismans, Paper Shadows is simple -- the player is easily taught that the arrow keys and WASD control the two characters.

Talismans throw a wrench into the works: to access talismans, the player has to press and hold spacebar to open the talisman menu, and then use the arrow keys to activate, swap, or deactivate talisman abilities. The developers, knowing it to be unintuitive, asked for my feedback on the talismans. I decided to put together a co-creation session to help brainstorm a new UI for the talismans.

  1. Research Questions
    The developers and I created a list of four research questions to better understand how players expect to be able to interact with the talisman menu:
    • How do players imagine being able to equip/activate talismans?
    • How do players imagine being able to swap talismans between the characters?
    • What do participants think the inability to exchange talismans due to distance would look like?
    • How would the participants show that only one talisman can be active at a time?
  2. Acquiring Participants & Setup
    I gathered three participants familiar with platform games, gave them access to the demo level, and asked them to complete the first level. I also asked the participants to write down any "passwords" they saw in the level so that I could tell whether they completed the level (there was one at the halfway point, and one at the end).
  3. Scenario Development
    To answer the research questions, I developed scenario-based tasks for the participants to complete. These were:
    • You just acquired your first talisman. Is it automatically equipped to one of the characters? If not, what happens to it?
    • The tall character has the monkey talisman, and you want to give it to the short character. How would you do that, and what would that look like?
    • A character can hold multiple talismans at a time, but can only have one ability active at a time. How would you switch the active talisman?
    • How would you visually display which talisman is active?
    • Visually, how would you indicate that you're too far away to swap/switch talismans with the other characters?
  4. Explaining Talismans
    Since I didn't want to explain talismans in the context of opening menus (how it currently is), I decided to use pens & pencils as props to explain how players can interact with talismans. 
    • Giving/taking talismans: I gave one of the pens to a participant, and then took it back.
    • Swapping talismans: I exchanged the participant's pencil for my pen.
    • Talisman distance restrictions: I moved backwards and tried to exchange pens with the participant, but couldn't reach far enough to switch (and thus the exchange didn't happen).
    • Activating talismans: I could hold many pens, but could only write with one at once. 
    • Deactivating talismans: I stopped writing with the pen and went back to holding it.
  5. Session Overview
    The co-creation session ended up being about two hours long and was conducted with three participants and one of the developers in attendance. I prompted the participants to draw their ideas on paper, writing down both what they thought it would look like and the buttons they would press to accomplish the tasks. At the end, I let the developer who attended the co-creation session ask additional follow-up questions.

Now for results. 

How do participants imagine being able to equip/activate talismans?

Scenario 1: You just acquired your first talisman. Is it automatically equipped to one of the characters? If not, what happens to it?

The players imagined that it would be automatically equipped to the character who first interacted with the object (pressed the down arrow/D key when next to the talisman). 

Scenario 2: The lantern-bearer is holding the bat and monkey talismans, and has the monkey talisman active. How would you activate the bat talisman instead? 

All three participants said that they would open a menu to change the active talisman. The three menu buttons they suggested were Tab, Spacebar, and T. Pressing this button would pause the game and add a faded overlay showing the characters with the talismans displayed horizontally over their heads. The players would then use the character's respective movement keys to navigate the talismans.
  • Press Spacebar, Tab, or T (for 'talismans') as the menu key
  • Horizontal bar with talismans
  • Left/right keys to select a talisman
  • Down (arrow or D) to activate a talisman
  • Up (arrow or W) to deactivate a talisman
  • Press the same menu key to accept the change and close the menu

Follow-Up Question: Would you want a way to quickly change what talisman is active?

Participants said no, they wouldn't feel the need to quickly change the active talisman. Since the game is slow-paced, they said they would not feel the need for some kind of shortcut to quickly swap/activate a different talisman.

One participant's sketch of the talisman menu

How do participants imagine being able to switch/swap talismans between characters?

Scenario 3: The lantern-bearer has the bat talisman, and the masked character has the monkey talisman. You want to swap these two talismans. How would you do that?

Participants would first open the menu to switch/swap the talismans, and then use the arrow keys to select what talisman they wanted to trade. The participants did not reach consensus on how they wanted to accomplish this, but some themes appeared:
  • When choosing what talismans to send over, they use the arrow keys to highlight a talisman. The highlighted talisman would be the talisman that would be given or swapped. 
  •  The 'highlighted' talisman could either by marked by a colored aura (glowing), raising the talisman above the talisman bar, or otherwise separating the selected talisman from the rest. 
  •  The talismans would also be swapped by either pressing a specific swap key (such as T) or by using the arrow keys again to move it. One participant suggested pressing the 'up' key twice: once to move it above the horizontal bar to say that it's selected, and then using the 'move' key to give it to the other person. 

The three 'selection' visuals by participants

Follow-Up: Let's say the lantern-bearer had the monkey talisman active when you decided to swap it. Once swapped, is the monkey talisman now active on the masked character?

Participants said that a talisman, when swapped, would not automatically become active. One participant compared this process to World of Warcraft saying, "In WoW, when you trade a pair of gloves, it doesn't automatically get equipped when it goes in your inventory. You need to equip it." 

What do participants think the inability to exchange talismans due to distance would look like?


Scenario 4: The characters are too far apart to swap items. Visually, how would you indicate this?


Participants agreed that there would need to be a clear way to show that distance affects the ability to trade talismans. One of the first suggestions (before participants agreed the either Spacebar, Tab, or T would be good keys to open the menu) was that the menu could only be opened when the two characters were close enough to press their 'down' keys together. If the characters were too far apart, and X would appear.
Upon learning that the menu can be opened when the characters are apart, this simultaneous down arrow idea was scrapped.

How would the participants show that only one talisman can be active at a time on a character?

Scenario 5: The monkey talisman is currently active on the lantern-bearer. How would you visually indicate this?

In the talisman menu, all three participants agreed that the active talisman would 'glow.' Only one talisman can glow at a time. If a player highlighted another talisman and activated it, the previously-glowing talisman would stop glowing.
Outside of the talisman menu, participants said they would want a visual indication on characters what talisman was active. So the character with an active monkey talisman would have a monkey tail as part of its silhouette. If a talisman is not active on that character, there is no such visual indicator.


Recommendations:



  1. Use the Spacebar as the 'talisman menu' key. It's a good mid-point between the two control schemes, and players can easily tap it with their thumbs, rather than reaching for the Tab. The 'T' key could also work. Let this be a 'press' button, not a 'press and hold' button. It's more easily discovered that way.
  2. Display the talismans horizontally, rather than vertically. All three users drew out the menu this way, and said it was more intuitive than a vertical design.
  3. Each talisman could have its own location (for example, the monkey talisman could always be the first circle). 
  4. When a character is not holding a talisman, grey out its location. 
  5. Use the left/right keys for each character to highlight various talisman slots.
  6. Use the down arrow to activate a talisman.
  7. Use the up arrow to deactivate a talisman.
  8. When a talisman is traded, do not activate it on the other character, let the player decide what to activate or deactivate.
Since Blogger is bad at entering photos in between bullet points, here's a few images I drew out:







________________

Thanks for bearing with me, folks! This project was rather fun to undertake, and it's possible I may run another co-creation session in the coming months. It is still to be seen. 

I apologize that I've been writing far less frequently -- I started a new job in late September, and have been super busy since then. I'm also going to be in a play in December (17 performances, whee) so my blogging time will be limited then, too. I hope to return to a regular, bimonthly schedule by January. That's the goal, at least.

Thanks again to you, my readers, and to Idle Action Studios for letting me run the co-creation session!


If you like quick puzzle games, Fingerprint Studio's Triangle180 is a game for you. Match colors to create triangles, and build up combo points by creating same-colored triangles consecutively. Triangle180 is the kind of game where you'll keep pressing the 'play again' button after each one-minute game saying, "I can do better than that!"

Yet the problems I found in the preview version of the game (thanks, Fingerprint Studio!) are as follows:

  1. Even after 20-or-so games, I don't entirely know how the game works.
  2. The UI is so minimalistic that it leaves out important elements.
  3. The scrolling is the very, very frustrating.
  4. Some of the game's settings are likely superfluous.

What is that?

So, at least in the 'dots' version in the preview game, there are five different colors to play with and four 'special' icons. Look at the bottom row of the picture below. What do you think each icon does?




The first icon is likely what you expect: when captured within a triangle's area, the clock icon gives the player extra time. But what about the second - fourth special icons? What are they, and how do you interact with them? After playing quite a bit, I know a little about the second, next to nothing about the third icon, and know that the grey icon is a 'wild' bonus that connects to any color.

After being exposed to the special icons, I hunted around in the settings of the game to see if I could learn what the icons did -- but couldn't find any explanations.

And that knowledge gap is an issue -- until I know what each of the special icons do, I can't play optimally. And as a player, that's frustrating.

Recommendations:

  • Either explain these in the initial tutorial (I like how short & sweet it is now, but it's too brief to the player's detriment), or in the 'settings' section allow players to click on the icons and have an explanation of the icon's purpose/effect pop up.
  • The 'spike' design of the makes-dots-disappear effect is confusing. It's more like a bomb, in a way -- why not use a more intuitive icon?
  • I have no idea what the pink does. This is the icon that needs to be explained the most.
  • The grey color is not intuitive as a way to express 'wild.' Consider showing something akin to a pinwheel with multiple colors to better demonstrate what it is.


Minimalist to its detriment

When I'm reviewing games, I like to pause the game so I can take notes. But I couldn't find the pause button anywhere. Only later, when I was showing the game to a family member, did I learn how to pause the game (she paused it accidentally).

The way that one pauses the game is by clicking on the grey bar that shows the remaining time, points accumulated, and triangles made.

Triangle180's design is truly sleek -- but it leaves out features that I as a player would like easy access to. Since this is the kind of game I'd play while waiting for the bus, I'd like to easily be able to find a button that allows me to pause or quit the game. Until I stumbled upon the pause's location, I would press my Android's home button, and then close all apps to shut down Triangle180.

Recommendations:
  • Unless the "number of triangles created" notifier is important (I don't know why it would be), I would put a 'pause' icon on the top bar instead. 
  • Also regarding pausing/closing, I'd add a 'quit' option to the main menu page. I still don't like needing to do the 'close all apps' workaround on my phone in order to quit the game.

Scrolling scrolling scrolling, why can't I go scrolling

DOOMED!
In Triangle180, not all of the dots you want to interact with are on the screen at the same time. As such, the player must scroll around the page in order to find same-color-dots to continue building combos. 

But the scrolling is not only slow to move, but sometimes is not responsive. And when you're playing at 150% zoom (hint: never play at 150% zoom), sometimes you can get stuck on a screen devoid of dots. I frantically tried to navigate to another area with dots as the time ticked down, but couldn't.

Even at other zooms (the game's settings allow a range between 50% - 150%), scrolling proved a pain. Not only because the scroll speed is slow, but also because the game can be boiled down to a game of chance -- not being able to see the whole screen, you may spend precious time scrolling to a location where you may not find dots of your ideal color.

Recommendations:
  • Allow players to set the scroll speed in their settings.
  • Potentially, when the game first loads up, show a fully-zoomed out version of the screen to give players a rough idea of what the board looks like. Sure, more dots will be added over time, but to at least have the opportunity to see a brief overview would make it feel like the player has more control.
  • I noticed that the menu screen interacts with the phone's accelerometer, making the background move slightly. It might be a design challenge, but it could be helpful if there were an option that would enable players to use their accelerometer as a scrolling mechanism rather than their finger.

Why 150% zoom?

I wonder if you put in the 150% zoom version for people with limited vision (and if so, that's great that you're thinking about accessibility) -- but with the scroll version in its current state, I believe that anyone using that feature is at a serious disadvantage. Unless you change the scrolling, I think this zoom% is superfluous. 

Final thoughts

I really enjoyed playing Triangle180, not only because the music is quite beautiful, but also because it encouraged me to keep pushing myself to get better. I got better after each game, learning the strategies and knowing when to switch to another color to begin combos. Once it comes out for wider use, I'd recommend you all try it.

A few final things for the developers:
  • On the menu screen, it could be nice to separate the options vertically on the screen a little more. For small fingers, it's easy to select, but not as much for people with larger hands. This may also enable you to design it such that a player doesn't have to click on an option other than Play more than once in order to activate it. 
  • The top bar location on the game screen is inconvenient - since I can see the dots slightly above the bar, I would try to tap the dot, but when I then tried to scroll down to then create a triangle, I would accidentally activate my Android's pull-down menu.
  • Thanks for using well-sized and colored fonts. I complain about that in nearly every review, and I'm happy to say that you get an A+ on that front.









No Pineapple Left Behind, currently in alpha, is a fun construction and management simulation (CMS) that doubles as a dark criticism of contemporary American schools. The player oversees a school and has the goal of making as much money as possible. How? By converting students into test-taking automatons, called pineapples, and essentially draining the school of any fun.

Students learn when influenced by a teacher's magic spell.
Using magic spells, teachers can end a child's friendships or stop them from being teased -- removing any distractions from learning whatsoever. Teachers gain experience based on how well their students are learning, and can learn different teaching/discipline skills over time.

While the gameplay itself seems pretty polished, there are some navigational and informational architecture problems rooted in its UI. In this post, I'll highlight some of the issues and provide examples of other CMS games that have organized their content more clearly.

In terms of UI structure, NPLB's problem is threefold:
  • The game breaks CSM conventions to its detriment
  • The color palette and contrast level of the menus muddy important information
  • The game doesn't take advantage of shortcuts
_________________________________________

Breaking CSM Conventions

Evolution of CMS Games (A Brief History)


Though the first CSM game dates back to 1968 with The Sumer Game, the sub-genre did not take off until 1989 with Maxis' SimCity. Following the success of SimCity, Maxis soon released other iterations of CMS games, including SimEarth (1990), SimAnt (1991), SimLife (1992), and many others.

SimCity Screenshot
SimCity (1989) Screenshot

Now, let's take a look at SimCity. The topmost bar includes the game information (system, options, disasters, and windows), followed by the city's name, population, and funds.

All along the left are the tools that the player needs to help their city grow, and some additional information exists on a bottom bar. Note the the entire right-hand side of the screen is devoid of menus. 


http://www.mobygames.com/images/shots/l/254412-age-of-empires-ii-the-age-of-kings-windows-screenshot-a-bustling.png
Age of Empires II (1999) Screenshot
Over time, the UI of CSM evolved to remove the left-hand bar, moving important tools to either to top or bottom of the screen, and framing the rest of the game clearly. Age of Empires II (1999), for example, showed the player's resource count, civilization age, and various menus at the top, and unit and map control on the bottom.

Now, in 2015, the UIs for CSMs have become a lot cleaner and condensed. See the screen for a new load for Cities: Skylines below. Skylines has streamlined its UI such that a top bar is hardly needed, only used for updates and easily finding the settings. 


Cities: Skylines (2015) Screenshot









NPLB Diverges


NPLB breaks from the trend of CSM framing, instead presenting information in all four corners of the screen, and along the sides as well. 



There are two primary problems with this strategy. First, condensing all of the important information into one or two locations makes players' lives easier, in that they don't need to work as hard to inform themselves about the status of their game. Second, eye-tracking studies of web sites have demonstrated that users heavily favor one side of a screen, depending on the site's language (particularly whether a language reads right-to-left or right-to-left). In one study of English-speaking participants, participants spent more than twice the time looking at the left side of the screen than the right.

While I understand wanting to look different from other CSMs, NPLB can benefit from mirroring certain aspects of its predecessors.

Recommendations:
  • Refrain from putting important information on the right-hand side of the screen, particularly if the player needs to click on it. (More on this later.)
  • Considering using a top and bottom bar, leaving the left and right sides clear without player intervention. 
  • When a player opens any menu, have it appear in the top left side of the screen. Then can they reposition and pin it if they so desire. 
  • Repositioning the tutorial textbox, as Cities: Skylines does, will allow you to remove the white arrows you've been using to call out certain elements of the screen.
  • Essentially, don't try to reinvent the wheel! CSMs have evolved over time to make it easy to review minute details -- as is, you're making it a lot more difficult than it needs to be!



Designing the game such that most menus open by default on the left-side of the screen will prevent this from happening. The picture is a worst-case scenario.

_________________________________________

Color and Contrast Choices


One of NPLB's problems is that its color palette is so similar that it's difficult to pick out the most important information. Everything is so attention-grabbing that nothing is.

Thinking of that, let's talk briefly about what makes images 'attention-grabbing' (salient). The more an image differs from its surroundings, the more salient it is (source). Objects that differ significantly in color, size, shape, brightness, texture, motion, or other low-level features, pop-out to viewers. If you want to grab someone's attention, add a dash of contrast or a bright color -- but woe be to those who overuse these low-level features.

NPLB currently has the problem that nearly every menu features high contrast in the form of bright white, red, or green text on an opaque black background. Such a design not only obfuscates the important information, but also is overwhelming to the viewer's eye.

Consider the following picture -- where do you look first on the screen? (I'm curious, tell me in the comments!)


When an image/screen looks much the same, important information can be lost. At first glance, I didn't know what I was looking at, and wasn't positive where I should be looking. If you want a player to do a task, make sure they can find it without prompting!

Recommendations:

  • Very seriously consider changing your color scheme entirely. The sea of black and white is overwhelming.
  • In general, people find reading black text on a lighter background easier to read than inverted color schemes. White on darker colors is typically used to signpost information -- so at the moment it looks like everything is important. 
  • For the map, consider shifting the map to the right, placing the 'achieve' box on the left (and changing the colors!) I'd also have the map fit the same color palette as the school itself (the light grey, reds, greens, etc., not black/white). 

_________________________________________

Shortcuts


Like many simulators, NPLB allows players to fast-forward time and take very detailed control over the sims' lives. But at the moment, navigating all the various menus and controlling time is clunky, due to a lack of keyboard shortcuts. While NPLB allows the player to pause and unpause the game with spacebar, it doesn't offer the navigational nuance that it truly needs.

One of the better sim navigational setups I've seen are from Banished, a medieval city sim that came out in Feburary, 2014. Players can open any menu and sub-menu using the function and number keys. In the picture below, for example, I pressed F1 to open the time menu, and 2 to pause it.



Now, one of my earlier suggestions was that NPLB shouldn't concentrate information on the right-hand side the screen. The exception is for a menu bar, as Banished does.


So long as players don't need to click the menu buttons to get them to open, a menu bar can be put in the right-hand side of the screen. The reason behind this is because not only is a keystroke faster than a click, but a player won't have to look at the right-hand side to activate the menu. If a user presses F2, 4 to open the workers page, he or she can continue to look at the left side of the screen (as it will open top left).

_________________________________________

Final Thoughts


NPLB is quirky, and I like it. It's a bit depressing, though! I don't want to break friendships and make kids lose their humanity (that's how they become pineapples). I also want the game to be organized more clearly and easier on the eyes. 

Oh, if you're asking yourself, "Why pineapples?" The designer told me that it references a bizarre test question given to New York State students in 2012.

And after this long post about color and font and such, I think I'll actually look more into color theory, organization, and fonts in game design. I think it'll be a fun topic to explore.

Thanks for reading!


Evolve, by Turtle Rock Studios, is an asymmetrical shooter where players can either play in a team or as a terrifying monster whose goal is to eliminate all of the Heroes. Simplified, Evolve is a complex 4 v. 1 cat-and-mouse game where the monster gets stronger as the game progresses.

A game published by 2K, a publishing company with dedicated user researchers, Evolve is sleek, easy to learn, and difficult to master.

__________________________________________________________________

Sleek and Clean


Menu navigation is clean and intuitive in Evolve-- every option is easy to find, understand, and use. Part of the ease of use can be attributed to the size, type, and coloring of the fonts used on Evolve's menus. The fonts are easily read from a distance (as is necessary for console versions) and clearly mark cursor location by highlighting the menu bars as the cursor passes above them.

Starting Menu, with the cursor hovering over 'Solo'
Where I think Evolve excels is its use of contrast (colorful/monochromatic, bright/dark, text/no text, etc.) in establishing screen architecture. For example, the starting menu uses bright hues on the left and muted, faded, or dark colors on the right. The bright red creates a focal point on the left, establishing that important content is on the left.

__________________________________________________________________

Easy to Learn, Difficult to Master


I was *terrible* at the monster tutorial.
Evolve is quick to teach new players the basic controls -- as soon as a new player begins the game, they are moved into the monster tutorial. The game incentivizes tutorial use in the form of badges/achievements -- the faster the player moves, the more badges and XP she or he gets.

Later, after players have picked a character to play in a match (that they have not played before), they are shown a quick tutorial video about their selected character's abilities.

Players are also able to find additional, advanced tutorial videos for every available character. From what I could tell, each character has its own quirks and challenges.

__________________________________________________________________

One issue... Bots? What Bots?


Really, the only issue I had in Evolve was knowing if or how bots would be joining the game. Not the kind of person who enjoys highly competitive games, I decided to invite a friend and play with two other bot AIs.

... Problem was, we weren't sure how to start a bot game. Unlike other games (such as DOTA 2), which clearly label bot matches, we just had to muddle along hoping that bots would join. In the following screenshot, for example, we were seven seconds until loading into the unknown (into the game? into another screen? We weren't sure, since it was our first time playing) and we didn't have bots assigned.

Loading map with 7 seconds left.

I was genuinely concerned that I hadn't pressed the correct button somewhere, and that we'd load into a map two players short. We didn't -- thankfully, because even with a team of four we got curbstomped by Goliath -- but for a minute or so, I was more concerned than I was having fun.

Recommendation: instead of assigning bots at the end of the map setup process, put 'bot' nameplates into the 'empty' slots on the match screen shown above. If a new player joins, one of those bot plates can be removed and replaced with the player's badge. This serves the purpose of showing the players that bots will be joining the game.

____________________________________________


Happy Labor Day, all. I have an idea for a non-review post -- specifically about the role and importance of clear typography in video games and elsewhere. I know I talk about font sizes, colors, types and such a lot in my posts, so I think I might explore that topic a little further.

Thanks again for reading!


RPG MO by Marxnet is a free browser-based multiplayer RPG reminiscent of early Runescape. Playing the role of a nondescript fightin' man, you can explore 25 different maps, fight a variety of creatures, and craft your own weapons, jewelry, and more.

RPG MO "Tutorial Island"
Big-picture, RPG MO is very similar to classic Runescape in aesthetic and player activities (fishing, mining, crafting, cooking), but differentiates itself partially with a gridded-map and a hybrid WASD/point-and-click movement scheme.

As an early access game, RPG MO has ample room for improvement in its accessibility, clarity, and accuracy.





_________________________________

Accessibility Issues


Players with poor eyesight may have difficulty playing RPG MO due to its widespread use of small font (definitely less than 10 pt. font, smallest probably 4 pt.). Even as someone with decent vision, it was uncomfortable to read even the largest font RPG MO offered.

Recommendations:

  • Increase the font size to at least 12 pt., ideally 14 pt. 
  • Try not to use neon-colored fonts (like lime green and bright red -- they're uncomfortable to read on a dark background.


_________________________________

Clarity

There were a few game elements that confused me. First, the difference between 'use' and 'equip.' In some cases, right-clicking and selecting 'use' equips an item, but in other cases 'use' consumes an item. This gets tricky for cooking: in order to cook a fish, for example, the player must equip (actual word used) the fish and then click on a campfire. But in multiple instances, when equipping an item (by left-clicking in the inventory), I ate the fish raw rather than equip it. This ended up being pretty quirky -- before I completed the tutorial successfully (still not exactly sure how I did that), my avatar probably ended up eating four fish and a frog raw. Yum.

Second, the mage tutorial didn't make a ton of sense. In order to cast a spell, you had to equip/use a Magic Bag, and then equip a spell. It wasn't clear where I could find my spellbook (if there is one?), if I could eventually equip more than one spell, or if I could dual-wield a spell and one-handed weapon. In the inventory, it appeared I had both a spell and a 1H dagger equipped, but I couldn't figure out how to use both in combat.

Third, it wasn't clear how to turn quests in. After killing a few giant rats, I automatically received a new quest to kill chickens (?) from an NPC (that I didn't remember talking to), and couldn't see any chickens.

Recommendations:

  • Equipping a fish to cook was really weird. Why not use a format similar to the anvil-activation? Have a table where you place the item you'd like to cook, plus any other ingredients? 
  • Separate out 'use' and 'equip.' One way to do this is to have a separate character page that shows what items a character has equipped (as is done in Diablo III, WoW, and so many other classic games). When a player 'uses' a weapon/armor/trinket/whatever, it appears to be removed from their inventory, and is added to the character page. That way you know that you've used the item properly.
  • The magic tutorial needs to be clarified. Can I duel-wield? Can I equip more than one spell? The cooldown icon is also really small and in a strange place. Can you move that to next to the health bar or something?
  • You could use the typical '?' and '!' icons to signify which NPCs are giving/accepting quests. Other icons could also be used -- just having something to easily determine who you should be talking to is nice.


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Accuracy


Movement in RPG MO was not as I expected, and often acted opposite to what I (thought) I had commanded. Unlike Runescape, where movement was governed alone by pointing & clicking on the map, this game combines the point & click movement with the WASD navigation scheme.

Now, imagine you're pressing 'D' to go right. Would you land on the circle or the square in the picture on the left?

You'd land on the square. (For those who haven't played many games, WASD typically moves an avatar in a '+' shape, but in RPG MO, it moves the player in an 'X' shape.)

Now, I'm sure I could get used to moving in X-shape with some practice (even though it feels like trying to hold a pencil and write with my left hand, being right-handed), but it's the combination of using both keys and a mouse to move that's killer.

When I would move to the wrong spot, I would use the mouse to compensate and relocate. But -- the mouse isn't used for relocation alone -- it is also used to interact with objects. So navigation in the mining tutorial section went something like this:

  1. Try to move using WASD, moving to the wrong spot
  2. Compensate movement with mouse
  3. Move to intended space, but have accidentally activated a mining node
  4. Use mouse again to move to a different space to spot mining (and sometimes accidentally activate another node)
I ended up with an inventory full of clay, which isn't necessarily a bad thing, but I ended up feeling very frustrated with the game. The thing is -- I believe this issue can be easily resolved.

Recommendations:
  • I would love it if movement was +-shaped instead of X-shaped (or at least if there was a way in the options to alter how WASD functions)
  • Consider having an 'activation' key (such as E), rather than automatically initiating combat or using Mouse 1 to activate a mining node/campfire/whatever. 

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Final Thoughts


  • I understand wanting to prevent players from moving on in the tutorial without learning certain skills (the gates work for that), but I don't understand preventing players from going backwards through the gates. The options were 'use' and 'inspect' for older gates, but I couldn't actually return to earlier areas. I found this out after receiving the chicken-killing quest -- I thought maybe I could return to the first penned-in area to talk to the first quest-giver -- but then was prevented from leaving. I thought this was very odd.
  • I really wish you would put a way to make a female character. I doubt it'll take much effort to make a female-shaped model (different body shape, no option to change facial hair). I'm always disappointed when there's no options when it should be *so* easy to implement. Just don't make a way to change breast size, or add skimpy clothing, and you'll be all set.
  • There are quite a few grammatical errors throughout the tutorial text. Broadly, numbers under 10 should be spelled out ("two items", not "2 items"). If you're talking about something that would be tangible (like items), spell it out. If you're talking about something intangible (like HP, or mana), use the numerical format. Other errors include missing words (usually 'the,' 'your,' and 'a') and missing kernings between words and parentheses.

All-in-all, it isn't bad for an early access game. While there's certainly a lot of room for improvement, it's very apparent that Marxnet is listening to its fan-base and is dedicated to adding to RPG MO over time. If you're wanting to go on a nostalgia-kick, and don't want to spend money, I'd recommend this game.

I'll see how this game grows over time.

GamesCampus' Karos Returns (PC only) is a free, fantasy MMORPG which hosts an open world and PvP system. The game has not been well-received, and currently holds a 37% approval rate on Steam. Including this, and six other, "positive" reviews:


Reading through the reviews, the primary complaints are that the graphics are outdated (think ~2003), the UI is clunky, and that the game offers little autonomy to the player. And I'm very inclined to agree.

From a usability, and really a fun standpoint, Karos' shortcomings stem from a design that is simultaneously constricting and hands-off -- an unpleasant cocktail that has driven players away. I'll cover how Karos is limiting its players, and what GamesCampus can do about it.

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Locked In!


One way that Karos limits players is through its character creation. For the last few years, most RPGs have introduced increasingly detailed character customization menus, allowing players to alter anything between a character's eyelash style to their voices. As time moves on, the more nuanced character creation menus become.

Of course, not all studios can keep up with this rate of change, or effort: the more customization a game offers, the more developers must work on model development and animation. And with a limited budget, as many indie companies have, it doesn't make sense to spend oodles of time generating content to enable customization.

Karos Returns opted to limit the number of character models players can use. The only aspects a player may alter are their character's class, hair, and facial structure. Each class has a predetermined gender and race, set in stone and unchangeable by the player. Though rationally, I understand why GamesCampus might choose to lock gender and race, my first reaction as a player was, "Hey, that's not fair."

With introspection, I've realized that my knee-jerk reaction can be attributed to how Karos' character selection screen is set up. Right now, Karos' screen follows convention, placing the character model in the center of the screen, with customization options presented on a side banner. As comparison, I've provided a screenshot from the character creation screen from Elder Scrolls Online.

Karos Returns: Character Creation Screen
Elder Scrolls Online: Character Creation Screen
While falling back on the classic character creation UI makes page wire-framing easy, it has one major downside: using the most common creation setup confers with it certain expectations. Coming into Karos, I subconsciously compared the character selection screen to previous games (such as ESO), and made specific assumptions about what options I would be provided. And when I discovered that my assumptions were wrong, I was not only disappointed, but almost felt slighted.

As the character selection is currently set up, Karos Returns seems to be a hybrid between Diablo III/Path of Exile's strategy of presenting players with a specific cast of characters in that world, and RPGs method of allowing extensive character customization. In linear stories such as DIII/PoE, race and gender locking a class makes sense, as players are assuming a specific role. But players in Karos Returns aren't playing specific story heroes -- and so race/gender locking a specific class doesn't make sense.

Recommendations:
Fixing this issue, assuming adding more models isn't an option, is tricky. My suggestions hinge not on adding more models, but instead fundamentally changing how character customization is presented.
  • For example, you could take a route similar to Diablo III, where each class has a male and female model (and there's little customization on top of that). You could still have the race locked for each class.
  • Scrap the classic character model in center, customization bar on the side. While character creation is presented in this way, players are likely to make assumptions about what options they'll be given. How you then choose to configure characters is your choice -- maybe even placing the character customization on the left (instead of usual right) might be different enough to break expectations. Testing would be needed.
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Too Hands-Off

There are some people who enjoy figuring out how to play a game through reading the rules. I'm the kind of person who likes to pick it up as I go along. Karos is strange in that it tries to teach you how to play by bribing you with quest rewards to read the rules.

This could have worked okay had the rules and explanations been clear. But instead, the rules are poorly organized (have no flow of what information you need to know first) and rambling.

Really, part of the problem is that it seems the developers put the game together and assumed players would understand what was going on or even read the rules. As a fledgling boardgame designer, I've learned that it's best to blind playtest your game and rules (give it to someone who hasn't played the game before, and have them learn from the rulebook) before sending it out into the wild. It feels as if GamesCampus didn't truly think about how the game would be taught -- and so they shoehorned some incomplete ideas together. Instead of writing the rules more clearly, they opted to bribe players with items instead to learn to play the game.

I question how effective this tactic actually is, and wonder why the developers decided to put it in place. Did they not want to devise more clever ways to introduce players to the mechanics? Did they assume players would pick up the game easily?

Either way, my recommendation here is simple: streamline how the game is taught.

  • Remove the "Entire Interface" tab in the rules --  I think anyone who has played games recently know what a minimap and a chat bar look like)
  • Instead of having the beginning quests require players to kill a bunch of spiders and owl bear cubs, develop one that is built to level the player, and then send them to an NPC that teaches them to assign fletta points.
  • In general, use the starting quests to teach beginning concepts and mechanics. TERA (also F2P) does a good job with this.


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Other Features I Find Odd

"Auto-Pilot":  If someone is playing for lore -- Karos really isn't the game for it. Players can opt into what is essentially auto-pilot for their character: once activated, their character will automatically attack nearby enemies and loot them. It's strange -- because though the game advertises itself as "hardcore," even a mindless AI can accomplish the same task that I've been sent out on.

Confusing Map Icons: Looking at the mini-map is absolutely baffling. In cities, there are dozens of icons on the map that aren't explained, or self-explanatory, and clog up the screen.

Playtime Rewards: The game rewards players with items for playing for more than an hour, or for logging in a few days in a row. If developers need to bribe players to continue playing the game, they should probably consider and explore why players don't play for extended periods of time. Sure, just giving players a flat reward is easy on the developer's end -- but it's not a sustainable way to retain players.

No Differentiation: I'm not entirely sure how Karos Returns varies from other MMORPGs in its mechanics, story, or really anything. Nothing feels innovative (except maybe the auto-pilot feature, but I'd say that's a poor design choice), or really challenging.

No 'Interact' Key: Karos differs from recent RPGs in that it doesn't give players an 'interact' key (such as E in Fallout/Skyrim, F in TERA, etc.). Instead, players must click on NPCs to speak with them. I think this is another poor design choice: using an interact key feels less error-prone. When using a mouse to click, players can miss, and just spend more time trying to line up their cursor with the NPC. Interact keys ask less of the player.

Font and Spelling Difficulties: At times, the font is difficult to read (too small, bad coloring) and there are occasional spelling errors peppered throughout. There's really no excuse for that.

______________________________________________________

I feel like there could've been a lot more to write about with Karos Returns (I could've expanded upon the previous section), but the game just feels so rough, and the problems so deep, that this post could've been thrice the length.

All in all, I don't recommend Karos Returns. From a non-usability standpoint, the combat is boring, the graphics are terrible, and it's just markedly worse than any MMOs I've played. If the game was in alpha, maybe I could see it being this rough. But in full release, this game is just entirely sub-par. Good thing it was free.

0/10 do not recommend.
(No Steam trials this weekend, so I thought I'd review another mobile game. Thanks to Johnson 'Blue' Siau for the recommendation!)


GungHo Online Entertainment's Dokuro, available on the PS Vita, PC, iOS and Android, is a cute and quirky puzzle platformer in which you play as a skeleton worker trying to save a weeping princess from marrying the Dark Lord under duress. Flip switches, fight monsters, drink form-altering potions, and use magical chalk to guide the princess to safety.

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Brilliantly Simple

Teaching the jumping skill.
The mobile version's controls are wonderfully clear.

Each of the buttons are well-placed (so I'm not pressing jump when I mean to attack, &c) and made big enough to press but not so large that they obscure the screen.
'Use' icon example

And, when you're trying to learn a new skill, the game displays a chalkboard in a Portal-esque fashion to demonstrate the new feature or explain a mechanic better.

Dokuro also succeeds in conserving screen space -- when the skeleton can interact with an object on that level, the sword 'attack' icon is replaced with the use 'hand' icon. Since the skeleton can only interact with specific items (chalk, potions, levers, &c), it makes sense to remove the 'use' icon as a permanent fixture on the UI.


____________________________

Clean Menus


In addition to having easy controls, Dokuro's menus are also nice and clean. As shown to the left, the main menu clearly displays what options players can select -- and the pictures are pretty darn cute.

One thing that I liked -- although didn't try out -- is that the game also allows the players to change the button layout on the screen depending on device.

 ____________________________

 Conclusion


Writing at length is trickier when reviewing simpler games, I've found. The issues I've uncovered in many other games (namely, convoluted controls and redundancies) are absent entirely in the mobile version of Dokuro. The game is as lean as its skeleton protagonist -- everything stripped down to bare bones while still looking and feeling good. I would have liked to compare the Android and Steam versions -- but the PC version is $9.99 (!!), and I didn't feel like buying a second copy of the same game.

While reading other reviews on Steam and Google Play, it sounds like others feel that some of the game levels are needlessly difficult -- but that hasn't been my experience at all. The levels felt balanced to me -- with enough practice, skill, and timing, really any level can be beat. Just be prepared to die -- and see the princess die -- in numerous ways.

After tax, you can buy Dokuro on Google Play for $2.15. It's very good -- I highly recommend it.


The Flame in the Flood, currently in beta release for Kickstarter backers, is a rogue-like, exploration-survival game that is rewarding and challenging. Within the 2 hours I've already played, I've died  from dysentery, hypothermia, sepsis, wolf attacks, drowning, and starvation.

Truly, I found few usability problems in TFIF: its UI is sleek and minimalist, and has one of the better HUDs ('Head-Up Display', for you non-gamers out there) I've seen in a game for a while. The Flame in the Flood shines in its simplicity of both game and interface design.

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Simplicity


Top: starting status, bottom: nearly dead

Playing TFIF is, in a way, a matter of balance: the more depleted your needs-meter (More accurately, deathometer), the closer to death you are. You are also shown status effect markers, which are explained on-screen as your status changes (so my character is wet, suffering from hypothermia, and has two lacerations).

The simplicity of the deathometer HUD is fool-proof: there are no numbers to read, no percentages to calculate. There is no "oops, you die" in TFIF-- you see your impending doom quite clearly on the screen. None of my deaths felt unfair (the speed at which the character starves and dehydrates is shocking at first, but you get used to it).

Recommendations:

  • If there was one thing I might change about the HUD, though, it's the color of the temperature and sleep markers. My brothers are red-green colorblind, and one (thanks, Carson) said that the sleep and temperature brown/orange colors over a green background would be "bothersome" and "annoying" to look at. dd

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A Different Perspective


For curiosity's sake, I put TFIF in front of my boyfriend and asked for his opinion. His was very different from mine. So, here are some of the highlights.

 Crafting
Since the icons above each crafting topic (clothing, consumables, &c) are all [ - ], rather than [ + ], he assumed that all of the menus were completely expanded. He was surprised -- and frustrated -- when he couldn't figure out how to make tinder because he thought he didn't have the materials.

Also, "Select Item To Craft" is missing the T in craft, a matter of spacing I'm sure.

Gear

It's also likely a matter of missing content, but he expected to see more descriptions (like written for the Light Boots) for other items when he clicked on the icons.

Also, "bare foot" should be "barefoot."






He also thought that the rafting tooltip ought to have mentioned that you'd see orange markers for upcoming landmarks, and that he could only visit islands with docks (he said otherwise he'd first run into any island, thinking he could get on it), but I think for both of those the player just needs to run into the island once or see the orange markers to understand what they are. Trial and error.

I also found it interesting that he preferred the status bars (as displayed under the journal) more than the HUD that I raved about above. He's a precision gamer, and likes to know exactly how much time/health he has at any given moment. (I'm more fluid 'bout that. Ehh, if I die, I die.)


___________________________

I highly recommend The Flame in the Flood to my readers. It's great fun, and reminds me hardcore of playing Oregon Trail when I was younger (survival + fording rivers + dysentery + the game is wicked fun). If you buy it when it comes out, I hope you have as much fun as I have.

Thanks for reading, all. It's a pleasure to play these games and know that others are enjoying the reviews.

Final notes about the game:

Additional Notes to Devs

  • "Anonymous" is misspelled on the consent page.
  • Also on consent page, "first 2 biomes" should be "first two biomes."
  • The materials stack number doesn't decrease when crafting an item (such as tinder). So before crafting the it's 5/1, after crafting it's still 5/1 but you have tinder.
  • As has been mentioned by other reviewers, it'd be great to be able to skip the animations. While they're cute and the music is great, it gets repetitive (especially as you're just learning the game and dying every 10 minutes or less). 
  • When closing tutorial bubbles or loot lists, it shows the Esc key, but sometimes when you then press Esc it closes the bubble and then opens up the Instructions menu.
  • I'd love for there to be a 'loot all' shortcut button.
  • On the Instructions menu, "open up addition crafting" should be "open up additional crafting"
  • Currently on the beta, it says 'press L2 to set traps' (or something similar). ...what is it for the PC? In a couple places there's language for consoles, and others PC.
  • I had all the materials to make the metal hammer, but the game kept saying that I was missing mats.


(Breaking from my history, I'll be reviewing non-PC games until I get a new laptop. Which is hopefully soon.)





Ingress is a massive, multiplayer mobile game where two factions -- the Enlightened and the Resistance -- battle over portals for the fate of humanity. It's a game that fosters communities, encourages healthy competition, and motivates players to walk/bike/travel more. The three biggest actions in Ingress are hacking (getting gear), deploying (placing gear), and recharging resonators (maintaining gear). 

As much as I enjoy this game, Ingress' usability needs some work. For a Google product, Ingress' UI is surprisingly unintuitive. 

This review will go through some of the most confusing/frustrating aspects of Ingress' UI.

__________________________________

Clunky Controls


One of my biggest pet peeves about Ingress relates to the floating portal menu -- when you're not in range of a portal, the left-most option is "Navigate." When you are in range of a portal, the left-most option is "Hack."

Portal outside of player radius
Portal inside player radius
I dislike this switch for three reasons. First, from a pure gameplay perspective, Navigation is not an integral part of the game. Putting it in the same spot as Hack (albeit under different circumstances), artificially raises the importance of Navigate when the feature is not needed to play the game.

Second, Navigate doesn't really provide navigation as one might understand it. Despite using Google technology, Navigation doesn't give the player directions to the portal -- just distances until reaching the portal. Here are some comments from members of my Boston playgroup:
"I use it to keep track of portals.especially in low signal areas, Figure out distance for communication. But it's not really navigate, as folks might understand that button." - S 
"I have used Navigate on purpose when I am in a wooded area and the paths are not clearly defined in order to stay on track finding a portal OR even my way back out if I am parked near a portal. BUT mostly I accidentally click it 90% of the time." - B
Third, using contextual buttons in a game where the player isn't stationary leads to much human error. Players might blame themselves when they accidentally swipe left too early, activating Navigate instead of Hack, but it's truly an issue with the design rather than the player. It's not that players are swiping left too early -- it's that Ingress is switching from the Navigate to Hack button too late. Since my brain processes location faster than my phone (hey, it's talking to space!), I'm going to swipe left before Ingress processes that Hacking is now possible.

I've used Navigate once on purpose -- and nearly daily by accident. As someone who plays Ingress primarily on public transportation, I find the Navigate-Hack switch frustrating because by the time I'm able to disable Navigate, I'm out of range of the portal and unable to Hack.

In summary, Navigate is a useful, but not integral, feature of Ingress that is currently more frustrating than it is helpful in its current location.

Recommendations:
  • Keep Navigate as the left-most option on the floating menu that pops up when the player is not pressing a portal. 
  • Continue to allow players to activate/disable Navigate on the portal information screen.

__________________________________

Outdated Carousels


Current Power Cube Item Screen
One of the UI elements widely used in Ingress is the carousel. While the carousel certainly allows players to quickly scroll through their options, it also requires players to be very precise with when and how they swipe the carousel. If a player is not fast or precise enough with carousel navigation, he or she will often misplay.

In addition to contributing to inaccuracy, carousel navigation also slows down how quickly a player can react. The carousel hinders more than it helps: even if a player does swipe precisely, the carousel adds an unnecessary layer of complication to item navigation. Sure, using a carousel allows the designers to show off nice pictures of what the items look like -- but those images need not take up most of the screen.

Currently, the carousel works better in some places (deploying resonators, firing weapons) than in others (items, keys) as it space-efficient on the screen. But the point holds true -- carousel navigation lends itself to inaccuracy, sinks time, and can lead to player frustration with themselves and the game.

Item Screen Example
Recommendations:
  • One potential replacement is the tried-and-true list. The designers can shrink the size of the power cube images (or remove them) and stack the item names vertically to make item navigation faster and less error-prone.
    • Something that might also be nice would be to allow players to long-press on one of the power cubes (using a similar animation to long-pressing "Recharge") to use that item without pressing "use."
  • A version of this screen for Portal Keys would need to be closer to a table than a list, allowing players to sort keys alphabetically, by distance, and (what I'd love) by how much energy a portal has remaining.
  • This list strategy isn't a universal fix: it works less well for Weapons and deploying screens as they are currently designed. Using a list as shown to the right would crowd those current designs, so some other non-carousel workaround would be needed.
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Similar Pages Ungrouped



Another feature of the floating-portal menu is the option "Resonator Status." This option allows players to quickly deploy and upgrade resonators on a portal. But players who want to recharge a portal need to work a little harder. To recharge portals, one must:

  1. Click on the portal, wait for the animation (~1.4 seconds)
  2. Click on 'Recharge Resonators', (~0.4 seconds)
  3. Either click on 'Recharge' repeatedly or long-press 
    • Long-pressing on Recharge can fail -- saying that the user doesn't have enough XM (essentially mana) to complete the action. In that case, the user has to long-press on Recharge again for it to work, wasting precious time.
If an in-transit player doesn't have a key to that portal, he or she only has a limited time to charge the portal -- and every second counts. That player must sometimes judge whether to upgrade/deploy or recharge, because there isn't enough time to do both.

Why must the recharge page be separate from the upgrade/deploy page, when both deal with maintaining portals? Keeping the pages separate slows down navigation and complicates the game.

Recommendations:
  • Redesign the upgrade/deploy page to also allow players to recharge the portals.
    • This could be adding a 'Recharge All' button on the page
    • Or allowing the players to long-press on any one resonator to recharge it, and long-press on the portal itself to recharge all 
  • If a player long-clicks on 'Recharge,' don't give an error message -- drain the XM tank entirely. Personally, I know when I long-press I am committing to draining the tank entirely. Perhaps give an option in settings where players can disable/enable this error message.

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Convoluted User Path


In addition, Ingress does not make item use easy or fast. Take, for example, recharging a portal remotely. Below are screenshots of the user path to recharge a portal once. Here's a list of the shortest path to recharging a portal.

  1. Press 'OPS' on the main scanner page.
  2. (New page) Swipe to reach the desired power cube.
  3. Tap on correct power cube.
  4. (New page) Tap 'Use'.
  5. (New page) Tap 'OPS'.
  6. (New page) Tap 'Power cubes,' which opens the item menu
  7. Tap 'Portal Keys'
  8. (New page) Swipe to reach the desired portal key.
  9. Tap on correct portal key.
  10. (New page) Tap on 'Recharge.'
  11. (New page) Either long-press 'Recharge All' or press multiple times.
  12. Press 'Done'
It takes twelves actions (long-press, clicks, or swipes) to recharge a portal once. To do it twice, repeat steps 7, 6, and then steps 3 - 5 again.

Considering how vital recharging portals is, it's surprising that the user needs to jump through so many hoops just to recharge.

Recommendations:

  • Significantly simplify navigation by removing carousels (eliminates swiping action, as well as removes issues mentioned before)
  • Simplify how users navigate between item screens
    • One potential way to simplify would be to allow players to swipe left/right on the item screen to access different item menus, putting a bar on the top to show what page they're on and what pages are adjacent.

      (I'm sure there are better ways to accomplish this -- this is why I'm a user researcher and not a designer).
  • Remove landing pages (screenshots 3 & 7) to easily reduce the number of pages that need to be rendered




__________________________________

Final Notes


And then, finally, the things that I would like to change for convenience:

  • Cut out (or down) the animations for zooming into portals. It's currently ~1.4 seconds long, and time is precious when you're in-transit (on public transportation. Don't hack and drive!)
  • Cut out (or allow people to disable) lengthy hacking animations. I'm assuming that reducing the number of objects my phone needs to render might help its battery life.
  • Better explain how to complete missions that require the user to read a Wikipedia article (or something) to complete that mission task. I had to Google how to even open up the piece I was supposed to read.
  • Enable a way for players to turn on and off notifications for specific portals. That way a player can set it up such that they only get notifications about their guardian portal (instead of having to disable notifications altogether).
  • I have an Android, but I've heard from multiple iPhone users in my playgroup that Comms on the iPhone is finicky. Here's one quote:

    "The iphone comms don't load.. they reload only when I restart, even though I see them light up and flash on the bottom if I want to read the whole thing, I have to force quit the game and restart it." - S

Since I started playing in March, there have been a few updates to Ingress -- some better than others. I like that picking up dropped keys or capsules is now far easier, but think that even that can be simplified.

The beauty about Ingress is that it isn't a complicated game -- it's easy to pick up, and is a great way to meet others in your community. But for such a simple game, Ingress is surprisingly difficult to navigate and often frustrating to use. The current design -- while quite beautiful -- is not practical in its use. I highly recommend that Niantic enlist the help of a user researcher and really work to simplify the game's UI, rather than complicate it further.

I love this game, but man, is it frustrating! Please, Niantic Labs, do something. (Also while you're at it, simplify the Intel map on the web browser, too.)

Now, if you'll excuse me, I'm going to go capture some portals!