(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.

  • 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
  • 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.

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.

  • 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.


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.


  • 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!

Orcs Must Die! Unchained is the third installment in a franchise of tower-defense games. Unlike its predecessors, which focused solely on fending off waves of orcs and other nasty creatures, OMDU is a MOBA-esque game that stays true to the flavor of its previous installments.

Unlike my previous reviews, which I reviewed from a fresh perspective, I'm very familiar with the Orcs Must Die series. As of now, I've spent 107 hours in OMD 2. And after playing OMDU, I can see myself spending quite a few hours in that game, too.

But this is a usability review, so let's get to it.


Good Tutorial

I enjoyed the tutorials, honestly. I thought they were clear, concise, and good introductions to the game. Weaver's speech bubbles were helpful, and the in-game advice was spot-on as well.

Tutorial selection
It wasn't perfect, though. One thing I would change is how the 'tutorial arrow' is used. To guide players in the correct direction, the game hovered a giant, downward-facing arrow on the top of the screen which moved as the player approached it.

Instead of really directing me, and teaching me where I ought to be going in game, I felt like a cat trying to catch the dot of a laser pointer.

  • Instead of having a down-arrow to guide at the top of the screen, consider using a left/right arrow that floats in the middle of the screen, or even the blue 'path' lines that were used in OMD 2. That way users can keep their eyes on the game more easily. 
  • Another thing to keep in mind: the first time the Leveling Up screen appears in the tutorial, it pulses and glows a few times. That feature made it difficult to actually read the abilities -- consider displaying this menu more subtly. 


Inconsistent 'Close' 

One thing that I noticed was the inconsistent use of the Escape key to close menus. War Camps seem to be the only location that Esc can be used to close a menu -- everywhere else one must click 'Close' or X-it out.

Something that confused me momentarily was that the Close button on the War Camp is essentially displayed "[ Close ][ X ]." Upon seeing the X displayed as it was, I assumed that the key X could be used to close the menu (it didn't). I'm not sure if others would come to the same conclusion. 

  • Keep navigation tools more consistent. I'd lean more towards allowing Esc - and maybe the X key - to close menus in locations other than the War Camps. 
  • I'd personally like to see more keybindings for menu navigation. At the moment, the game is very click-heavy.


I really enjoyed testing out OMDU, and I plan to play it more at a later date. I'd have more to write now, and some screenshots to share, had my computer not just died. I thought it was time to stop playing when my computer started smelling like burning plastic.

A few final notes for the devs:

  • I'd like to be able to change the screen size in the main screen (when one first opens up the game). The current window size is bigger than my computer screen, and I couldn't figure out a way to shrink it so I could see all of the game's buttons.
  • I wish I had known that clicking on some menu items would pop me out of the game and into a browser. It's a pet peeve of mine to suddenly be ejected from a game. I don't know if you'd like to denote that it'll open a browser, perhaps with an icon.
  • When reading Hero information, I found this reference to a (string?) on each Hero stats tab: "CardDetails2_WhosSSTATS"

Football Manager 2015 is a detailed, complex, and highly technical game which allows the user the play the part of a coach and manager of a soccer team. FM enables players to tweak nearly every aspect of their team's performance and positioning, from their training to what mentalities the athletes ought to have in any one game.

The game's menus and toolbars are easy to navigate, and most of FM 2015's UI is sleek and clean. But I didn't find FM 2015 fun -- I found it overwhelming. I attribute this to two things:
  1. FM is very hands-off in the teaching process, possibly assuming that players read their online manual or have played the game before. Few concepts are taught in depth.
  2. The main game's UI crowds the page, buries information, and is over-stimulating.

Sleek Design

I'll first start off with some positives -- I really enjoyed how organized and clean FM 2015's Start Menu is. The terminology used, the layout, and the colors all worked together and gave me a great first impression of the game. FM has a truly intuitive layout and uses unambiguous terminology throughout the game, for which I commend it. Looking through FM 2015's credits, a significant amount of research was put into this game -- and it shows. On terms pure ease of UI use, I give FM 2015 an A.

Difficulty selection overlay
I also appreciated that FM 2015 steers players away from selecting game options that will lower their game speed and quality. Considering my computer can't handle much, I liked the warning. And of course selected the least resource-intensive options.


Sink or Swim

In my mind, teaching someone a new game is somewhat like teaching someone to swim. Most games start new players off slow, starting in shallow water and teaching the foundations. FM 2015 drops its new swimmers into deep water with a half-deflated flotation device and asks them to swim ashore. 

I'll explain. First, the deep water.

There is a lot of information players need to process in order to play optimally. Assuming the user comes into the game familiar with the sport's rules and general tactics, there is still much to absorb. You need to know how to transfer players, how to position your players, how to balance your budget, when to fire a staff member... and so much more. Unless you like reading manuals to learn a game, FM 2015 provides very little guidance.

FM doesn't let you drown completely -- it gives you enough information to stay afloat via tooltip bubbles, which open into paragraphs of text. While the advice in each bubble is clear and concise, most pages host two or more tooltip bubbles. If you want to learn how to play the game, prepare to read extensively. Thus the deflated flotation device -- you get enough information to play the game, but in a very limited, ineffective way.

Sub-Menu in Tactics with tooltip bubbles (yellow) active
I find this confusing and intriguing for a specific reason: for a such visual medium, FM 2015 doesn't adhere to the "show, don't tell" adage. Why ask the user to read walls of text when you can show examples instead? What I found interesting is that while FM 2015 taught most of its concepts through the tooltips, there was at least one instance of a 'wizard' tutorial in Tactics.

Set Piece Creator Wizard
Though tricky to see in the screenshot, FM 2015 walks the user through a 12-step process of setting up their Set Pieces. I found this tool immensely helpful. Instead of flooding me with information as the tooltips did, the Set Piece Wizard allowed me to learn the concepts at my own speed on a very uncluttered screen.

  • Please, please create more learning tools like the Set Piece Creator Wizard. As a player completely new to the game, I found its clear-cut manner and step-by-step organization far more helpful than all of the tooltips combined.
  • At the very least, consider swapping the 'Tactics' to 'Training' section with the 'Squad' to 'Reserves' section. Since you need to establish Tactics before adjusting your Squad, it makes more sense to me to put Tactics first. 


After viewing the minimalistic Start Menu, I was surprised to see that nearly every screen following game selection was crowded, busy, and packed with information. 

Club Profile

The Club Profile page (above) and many others displayed chunks of text and data without explanation. While I'm sure the data are intended to help players better-manage their teams, I found opening a tab to a full, unexplained screen overwhelming.

Every time I stumbled across a wall of text, I kept asking: what is this information for? Why do I need it? Am I being shown it because it's vital to know? And even after scrolling through the menus, I'm not really sure if I really need to know all I saw. Was it interesting? Yes. Helpful? Not really.


  • Don't begin with all of the information windows open on every page. This ought to reduce some of the overstimulation, as there will be less to process all at once.
  • Potentially allow players to pin windows that they find helpful and remove/collapse ones that they don't.
  • You could also potentially have a 'summary' page where a player can pin and easily review the information they find most helpful.


Without fully understanding how to play the game, let alone play it well, I found myself more lost and confused the longer I spent playing FM 2015. Page after page, tab after tab, had information I didn't have the foundation to process. By the end of the trial, I felt that FM 2015 was more frustrating than fun.

That being said, I can see how this game could be very fun. I think my learning barrier would've been lower if I knew more about soccer or had played earlier versions of the game.

Even so, I think it's important for Sports Interactive to know that there is a high learning barrier for those who are less familiar with the sport or previous iterations of the game. There's a lot to learn, and I feel like it's strange that FM 'tells' more than it 'shows.'

Chivalry: Medieval Warfare is another multiplayer, First Person Shooter (in this case, with a crossbow), which pits two teams against eachother: the Mason Order (red) and the Agatha Knights (blue).

Unable to do much more than the tutorial (I'm looking into buying a new computer in the coming weeks, because I can't blog effectively without a functional computer), this entry describes a number of usability issues I uncovered during the tutorial section.


Text Issues

The game's primary text issue is legibility. Prior to loading into the tutorial, the player is shown a few sentences describing the plot. But if you're not paying close attention, you might miss it: the words change so swiftly that even fast readers may find reading difficult. While one's success in CMW does not hinge on their knowledge of the story, timing the text too quickly denies many players early access to lore.

Another problem is text color. To represent whether the character you're addressing is an Agathian or Mason, CMW displays that character's name either in blue or red. But the default font color and thickness nearly obscures the character's name.

The trainer's name is "Captain Neckhole."


  • Time text transitions more slowly and let players control when they move onto the next text bloc. The current text speed makes lore acquisition tricky for fast readers, let alone players with reading disabilities.
  • Change the default name font. At the very least, bolding the words can improve legibility.
  • Some other notes: 'feint' is spelled incorrectly in the Advanced Combat section at least once. That, and the teacher says, "See how I swing my blade back and forth?" -- but he's actually wielding a club.


One of my biggest pet peeves as a player is losing the ability to control my character. While I understand there are some benefits to restricting player actions -- such as ensuring that players don't wander off in the middle of a crucial cutscene -- I believe CMW restricts movement to the player's detriment.

In the first five minutes of the tutorial, I lost control of my character at least thrice. The degree of agency varied from being unable to move at all (just as you load in), losing an ability (be unable to use 'kick' after learning it), and being 'teleported' to an objective (rather than walking 10 feet). After leaving the first tutorial section, I thought the game would allow me more agency in my actions. I was very wrong.

Interested in learning more about the various classes CMW has to offer, I wandered off to Class Training next. Most interested in ranged combat, I completed the Archery Training first (one complaint about that training: I wish it told me that crouch improves accuracy *before* having to shoot distant targets). After completing the training, I moved towards the archery targets to practice the class before moving on -- but couldn't actually practice. Leaving the Archery Training tutorial removed bows from my arsenal, leaving me unable to practice.

My next thought was, "Well, that doesn't work, so I'll talk to the tutor again and he should give me the weapons back." But the game did something I didn't expect -- it restarted the Archery tutorial completely, dialogue and all. After re-doing the target challenges, and uninterested in replaying the entire tutorial, I tried to exit the Archery Tutorial.


What I discovered is that there are only two ways to stop a tutorial: either by completing it, or quitting the game/program altogether. During my playtests I exited the game prematurely four times. Not only did the inability to restart or end tutorial sequences hinder my learning, but the frequent removal of player agency made me feel trapped.

And feeling trapped is decidely un-fun.


  • Allow players to quit their class training tutorials prematurely. One method to accomplish this is to create an additional dialogue option with trainers.
  • Shift how class training works so that players can practice the class further without restarting the tutorial and all of its dialogue.


While I would've liked to have tried out the actual game, not just the tutorial, I'm positive I wouldn't have bought the game. Not because I didn't enjoy the combat -- I actually really liked how CMW utilizes the scroll wheel and how clearly it lays out its control scheme --

CMW's loading screen.

but because I was so turned off by the lack of player agency demonstrated in the tutorial. Had I been able to try the multiplayer, I'm almost positive I would feel underprepared after completing the tutorial series. Which is really a shame.