Ultra Street Fighter IV UX Review

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Ultra Street Fighter IV, released on PC August, 2014, is a solid fighting game. The most recent addition to the Street Fighter series, which premiered in 1987, USF IV benefits from a legacy of fine-tuned fighting mechanics. That said, USF IV's main usability issue on PC is inconsistency in its navigation scheme.

As with any game, navigation is key. Navigation requires six necessary actions:

  1. Select and go forward (Confirm)
  2. Clear selection and go back (Return/Back)
  3. Scroll up
  4. Scroll down
  5. Scroll left
  6. Scroll right

USF IV's navigational issues can be attributed to two things: multipurpose keybindings and overbound actions. I looked at 10 different game screens to see how the game's navigation worked.


Multipurpose Keybindings

In this game, no one keybinding can be guaranteed to work on every page that action is allowed. Experimentation revealed that there are four different ways to Confirm in USF IV: Enter, Q, O, and R. Not one of these keys can be reliably used in the game to Confirm a selection.

Green = used; Yellow = different action; White = unused; Grey = not usable

What I found interesting is that Enter is used inconsistently as an all-encompassing "see more" button, like (A) in Nintendo (it's my go-to example because I grew up playing Pokemon & Golden Sun). Enter allows players to see more by selecting an option, zooming into document, or expanding details about a certain player.

  • Keep it simple. Set Enter as the default button for "seeing more"/confirming. This reduces the number of buttons players need to care about.
  • Further simplify by only choosing one secondary Confirm key (either Q or O, not both).

Overbound Actions

In my experience, most games assign 1-2 keybindings to a specific action. The PC version of USF IV assigns:

  1. Four to select and go forward (Enter, Q, O, R)
  2. Five to go back (Esc, W, P, ;, \)
  3. Four to scroll up (Up arrow, Insert, F, X+Up arrow)
  4. Four to scroll down (Down arrow, Page Up, V, X+Down arrow)
  5. Five to scroll left (Left arrow, B, Page Up, Page Down, Insert)
  6. Four to scroll right (Right arrow, C, R, Page Down)
In total, there are 22 different keybindings to accomplish six actions, with Insert, Page Up, Page Down, and R programmed to accomplish different navigational tasks depending on the screen.

  • Consistently bind keys to similar actions and names. Why does Page Up scroll down? Why does Page Down scroll right?
  • Make navigation easier by assigning 1-2 key bindings to each action.

For a series which started with six buttons in 1987, I'm somewhat amazed that 22 buttons are mapped for navigation alone on the PC. I'm curious to know how the controls vary across-platforms -- considering that the XBox 360 controller only has 15 buttons, I'd bet my hat that console-versions use fewer buttons to navigate. (At some point I'll get around to testing games on consoles -- for now I'll continue using my dinky $500 laptop.)

In summary, Ultra Street Fighter IV's keybindings can be streamlined and simplified by:

  1. Keeping button use consistent: If "Enter" can be used to confirm/see more on one page, it ought to be usable on any page where that action is possible.
  2. Limiting keys-per-action: I don't want four ways to scroll up -- I want one or two that will work reliably.
It's a bit unfortunate that I spent most of the USF IV trial time writing notes on page-specific keybindings rather than, well, actually playing the game. But it was a fun little puzzle.


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