Thursday, September 17, 2020

What Does My Kitchen Have to Do With Game Design?

I have this experience every time I go into my kitchen because I hear a series of beeps:

What's that beeping?

Was the fridge left open? Because that beeps when it happens. Let me check, nope.

Is the microwave beeping for some unknown reason? Someone else's food is done? Someone left the door open. All communicated with a beep that sounds like all the other beeps. Nope, the microwave is fine.

Is it the oven? Did someone press a button on it? Is it preheated? All told via beeps!

Does the clock on something need setting? Is a battery low somewhere? They beep at you!

The only thing that seems to have a distinctive alert sound is our dishwasher. When it is done, it plays a tri-tone melodic beep-like tone. I have learned to recognize it means the dishwasher is done, but my sweetheart hasn't. So, it's better than the plain beeps, but could be better still.

And the kitchen is only one area where there is bad design...

I have dreams where I am flipping a light-switch back and forth, and each time it does something different, and I can't figure out what it is doing.

I ALSO have several real-world appliances that have one button on them that does different things each press! It's like a user interface nightmare. Maybe it is easier to construct, but it is much more of a pain to use.

There's my bike light that you have to cycle through all the modes before it goes off. How many was that again? Oops, I pressed too many times! Got to do it again. Where was the bright light setting? And one of the settings is a flashing light. So you pull into the drive way, start a strobe light for a second, then the light goes out. It draws a lot of attention to yourself.

And there is another light I think that cycles through settings, but also has a weird setting that flashes SOS, which I activated by accident once and couldn't find again. Was it a long press on the on/off switch? Maybe. There was only one button. And it did all that!


How does this apply to game design? The basic lessons are:

1) feedback from a system or device needs to be clear and understandable. Oh, that noise, flashing blip, word, or whatever, means X and nothing else. Different subsystems need different names for their parts, and different, unique ways of telling a player that something happens. 

So, for example, if you have a real-time game, the sound for a unit is ready and the sound for a building is ready need to be identifiably different. In a physical game with cards that represent different things, the layout for each class of things should be different. Items go sideways, people go upright, legendary items have special outlines around the picture. Maybe different cards need to be different sizes to help emphasize their function or theme.

(an example from Star Realms by White Wizard Games. Bases go sideways and ships go upright, in order to help remind players of their different functions.)

2) controls (ways to interact with a system or device) need to be understandable and easy to remember. Not as simple as physically possible, but as simple as possible to avoid confusion by having too many controls or few controls which have overloaded functions. 

Long-presses in a game or app on iOS are terrible. Reminder text and/or icons on cards in physical games is very helpful if you have room.