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Editorial Chris Taylor - Hand of Gosh Darn Good Design

Discussion in 'News & Content Feedback' started by Saint_Proverbius, Dec 6, 2002.

  1. Bird Novice

    Bird
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    Interface is important too...

    I'd like to comment on a different aspect of CRPG - something that has not been mentioned here at all.

    Most CRPG's have lousy user interfaces. A poorly thought out interface prevents the gamer from experiencing the story in the way that the author intended, effectively forming an opaque filter through which the real game can only be dimly seen.

    So, not only must the game have a good story, it must also have a good Interface or you're screwed.

    Bad experiences with interfaces in recent games drove me to venting my feelings in an article on my website - I'd appreciate some feedback on it, especially from Chris.

    The URL is:
    http://www.acquerra.com.au/personal/bird/rants/uipaper/

    cheers, Bird
     
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  2. Hierophant Novice

    Hierophant
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    Let me speak plainly. I was not sure how to procede in my first post; now that that is out of the way, I can just get to the interesting bits. Also let me point out that I am in good humor while writing this post, so please respond in kind. :D

    I did not intend to attack the members of this community. My point was not that role playing is unimportant; I was trying to point out that other people value story, approachability, and other qualities in a game. That does not make those people idiots, as Rosh's post implies.

    My first point: I think understanding what about Diablo, Sims, American Idol, etc draws a market is a critical requirement for game design. I think it is important for a game designer to understand what different people perceive as fun. That doesn't mean that you make a game like Diablo; rather, I mean to say that designers can learn new tricks, and how to broaden their audience, without sacrificing their vision of what makes a game like Fallout great. I was replying to a point made by Chadeo and echoed by others: I, too, find The Sims dull and boring -- but I still look at the game to figure out why other people are attracted to the title. Hence the "zen" point: games are not intrinsically fun or boring.

    My second point: Fallout is held as the definitive RPG by members of this community. Allowing players to assume a role, and having meaningful decisions that depend on that role, is in high esteem. That is what sets this site apart, but I meant no judgement by saying that. It was mere observation, to set up the next point.

    Point three: It is trivially true that there are other audiences out there. The point I was trying to communicate is that some people like more story and are willing to give up a little role to get it; others want a lot of expressiveness in character creation; others want an immersive world; etc etc (and Chris's feature touches on these issues in better detail than I can give here).

    The next interesting bit (to me) was the conclusion to draw from this: there is no "perfect" RPG defined outside of a standard. A standard has to be set by one person. (Other people can agree to that same standard, of course.) SP says that role playing is "the real important part" for him, but he doesn't go so far as to say that it is the sole defining element. Chris mentions five elements, and I think the implication is that they must all be working in concert (one at times stronger than the others) in order to produce a great game. There can be many great games, but this site -- which I find to be a great resource -- is devoted to studying and enjoying the games that focus on playing a role.

    The last point that I was trying to make was a marketing subtlety. Personally, I think the evil marketing goons have taken the moniker RPG and dragged it through the mud. I will agree that the "hardcore RPG market" resents that moniker being appled to Diablo, just as P&Pers still hold a grudge against M:tG. But there's a lot more of "them" than of "us" -- and I think that if we introduce them to Fallout (etc) without pissing in their cereal, we can help build a larger audience for our games.

    -Hierophant

    P.S. Bird's post just showed up. I think it points out a good example of the difference between the hardcore market and the mass market: many people will not get past a clumsy user interface, no matter how cool the underlying game mechanics.
     
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  3. Saint_Proverbius Arcane Patron

    Saint_Proverbius
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    That's a damned good article with a lot of good stuff in it, Bird. I especially agree with the section about Morrowind. Third person in Morrowind really is unplayable for many reasons, the chief one being that you can never tell exactly what your character is looking at in third person. Since you have to look directly at so many things to use or read them, this forces you back to first person, which I don't like that much. There wasn't much feedback on fighting in third person either, probably to make sure it got that all-important Teen Rating.

    Oh, and yes, I've heard of Angband. :)
     
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  4. Section8 Erudite

    Section8
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    Bird: That is a great article, and you've made some poignant observations, especially covering of context switches. This is one of the many things that broke Deus Ex for me, was the fact that it had a very nice dynamic interface that didn't distinguish between weapons or useful items in any way, it simply rationalised them as items that could be assigned to quickslots. Nifty, easy to organise key binds on the fly, but then...

    For whatever reason, augementations cannot be bound to custom keys. F1-F12 is it, and I found this one of many immersion breaking factors simply because if I'm looking down at my keyboard and shifting my hands, I'm no longer playing the game.

    Whereas, Doom for all it's simplicity, is probably the single most immersive game I've ever played, due to the fact that context switching is minimal. I never have to shift my hands, or even think about actions. Everything is reaction based, and after a couple of minutes of play, your mind becomes completely attuned to it. So much so that even now I find myself ducking and dodging in my seat as fireballs fly past. The other thing that Doom does exceedingly well is keeps the player alive, but hurting, and even if the player does die, load times are almost instantaneous, so it's not too much of a departure.

    A question for you. Have you played I-War 2 or Natural Selection? Both of them use 4 point radial menus, the NS menu being mouse driven, and the I-War 2 menu being driven by a joystick POV hat. Both allow a great many actions to be achieved with a very simple method of interfacing, and once you learn the layout of the menu it is slick like teflon.

    One more curious interface I thought I'd bring up is how Neverwinter Nights managed to completely fuck up a radial interface and force more interface latency than a simple windows popup menu. The whole point of a radial menu is that once you move to one option, it's sub-options are surrounding it and hence every sub-option is as close as it can be. However, some genius at Bioware decided that once an option is selected, it's sub-options are now re-centred around the original menu origin, meaning you have to completely reorient your mind, but also move the mouse somewhere between 0 units and [diameter] units. Not clever.

    But there's nothing I can really add here that you haven't already covered fairly comprehensively aside from more examples of shoddy interface design. Oh, and I've just bookmarked your article as a reference/reminder for next time I have design an interface. :D
     
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  5. Bird Novice

    Bird
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    Hey guys - thanks for the feedback.

    Section8 - yes I have played I-war2, ns and nwn. I wrote that article a few months ago, before nwn came out - so it didn't get a mention :)

    I liked all the quick slots that were provided in nwn, but a major complaint is that once you put something into a slot it usually obscures the label so you can't see the name of the slot anymore. That seemed a bit dumb. Oh, and the way that your companion animal would always stand exactly over something you were trying to click on... hmm, AI - say no more :-(

    I thought ns was an interesting idea, but I found myself losing interest after a day or so... it feels a bit raw yet. I'll be watching to see how it evolves :)

    Saint_Proverbius - good to see some Angband people about. I've been playing that damn game for (literally) about 10 years and I haven't won it yet. I get about halfway down and get my ass smacked every time. grrr.

    Hierophant - it's an interesting question re: casual vs hardcore gamers. It must be a real challenge to develop a game that is both immediately playable by newbies, and also expands as you get more sophisticated.

    I wonder what the ratio of casual / hardcore gamers is? That must have a big impact on the design.

    cheers, Bird
    [/quote]
     
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  6. Saint_Proverbius Arcane Patron

    Saint_Proverbius
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    I've played rogue-ikes off and on since Hack on the Amiga. I suck at them. I'll freely admit that. I look at them more as Coffee Cup games, though. You have 15, 20 minutes to kill, fire up SLASH'EM and see how deep you can go before you die stupidly. :)

    I actually post rogue like news on the front page, but most of that comes from YARNS. I've managed to scoop them once or twice though. :D

    I was thinking of writing an article about the newer rogue-likes with the graphics, to see if I couldn't get more interest in rogue-likes going.
     
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  7. Chadeo Liturgist

    Chadeo
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    I keep meaning to try Falcon's Eye a 3-d graphic wrapper for nethack.

    I know people say that once you get used to the ASCII graphics they are great, but I could never get the hang of them. So I have always played nethack with a tileset, but even that looked rather dated.

    Always wondered why someone did not just do a bunch of music/art and wrap it around nethack and sell it as their own game. Sure they would have to release the source, but they could keep the rights to all the extra content.

    Oh yeah, and I too suck at nethack, but still love the game.
     
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  8. Gimp Mask Liturgist

    Gimp Mask
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    :salute:
     
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  9. ctaylor Novice

    ctaylor
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    Bird: Good article. I'm passing it around to a few people here at work that need to read it... :)

    Basically, I agree with you - the user interface should be unintrusive. It should require the minimal amount of keystrokes/mouse movement/clicks to perform an action. It should be as intuitive as possible. It should not attempt to recreate the wheel, instead it should be as familiar to a player as possible. (That's the mental context you talk about -- don't force a player to learn a new way if there already exists a simple and efficient way of performing that action.) WADS works well for this reason. It's familiar.

    Always allow the player to remap the controls.

    Always test your interface with people not on the team.

    Always track the number of steps required to perform an action. Track the number of times a particular action must be performed. Your most common actions should require the least amount of steps.

    Keep in mind the physical issues that people may have when dealing with your interface (color blindness - TIM!, deafness, right-side vs. left-side visual cues, size of buttons and manual dexterity, and so on.)

    "People should play the game, not be forced to play the interface."

    But certainly a very successful one.

    pax,
    -Chris
     
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  10. Bird Novice

    Bird
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    re: falcons eye and roguelikes

    As a programmer, I had a go at creating a "better" display for Angband a couple of years ago (Angband is my favourite rouguelike). I learned an important lesson at the end of the day - games like Angband & Nethack are very finely tuned to the notion of a rectangular, ascii display. If you change the display then you will upset this balance.

    My grand plan was to replace the ascii symbols in the game with 2D/3D animated graphics, replacing only the "terminal driver" portion of the code - i.e. the underlying Angband engine would be unchanged.

    "Angband with a better display" I thought to myself...

    It took a couple of weeks, but eventually the first version of this new display was working - and then I learned the first lesson. The nature of Angband is to be visually complex - i.e. lots of different types of creature can be onscreen simultaneously, and the gameplay insists that you (the player) must be able to easily distinguish between them. This is a problem when replacing ascii tiles with animations - the animations take up much more space on the screen than the ascii tile, and so you end up with less of the playing map visible because you end up using animated tiles that are 32x32 pixels in size or larger.

    Many of Angbands creatures have ranged attacks that are tuned to assume that you are using the 80x24 ascii display... on a display that shows a smaller region, these attacks can end up coming at you from off the screen. As I said, the gameplay is then upset.

    It was a fun project - there's a version for Linux on my website if any of you guys want to see a different looking Angband, and there's some screenshots there to show you what I ended up with.

    http://www.acquerra.com.au/personal/bir ... s/series2/

    cheers, Bird
     
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  11. Chadeo Liturgist

    Chadeo
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    Looking at the screen shots it looks like you are just using a graphic to represent the same ASCII symbol of the original. I guess I don't understand how a 32x32 ASCII @ is any better than a 32x32 Stick Figure. The same amount of screen space is taken up by both.

    My big problem with the ASCII symbols is that most of them have nothing at all to do with what they represent. Even a badly drawn, static, 2-d, 32x32 sprite is better than a lower case p. I know that people get used to them over time, but it adds a really high learning curve to the game if you ask me.
     
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  12. Bird Novice

    Bird
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    Chadeo - I started out with the intention of replacing all the ascii symbols with animated sprites, but I needed a placeholder to use for the ones that I hadn't converted over yet, so I decided to generate an "ascii" 32x32 pixel tile for those.

    Umm, and I am no graphic artist, so my attempts at drawing animated art, well, sucked really badly :)

    I quickly discovered that "animations" are actually harder to read than the original ascii symbols, so I decided in the end to keep the ascii symbols, but have them dynamically lit by the torchlight.

    I kept the graphical tiles for inanimate things like potions, walls, ground etc.

    I was pretty happy that the end result had a good mix of "graphics" and "readability". If I had been willing to modify the Angband engine code then I could have gone further, but I wanted to keep my display engine modular so I could drop it onto newer versions of the game.

    cheers, Bird
     
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  13. Saint_Proverbius Arcane Patron

    Saint_Proverbius
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    There already is an Isometric Angband, but it's progress has halted. It was being made by the guy who is making H-World. He's done a good deal of work on Isoband, and since he halted it, he might be willing to let someone else continue the project.

    The graphics aren't animated in it, but they do their job in the space required.

    One thing about making a graphical Angband/NetHack/etc. is that the original keyboard controls should be preserved but there should be a mouse interface as well. As long as the mouse interface is intuitive, it should give the players a nice option over memorizing the multitude of keys rogue-likes need. Having to memorize all those keys can be scary for a new player, after all.

    Using type specific pop up menus is the way to go with that. For example, if you right click on your character, it should pop up all the commands dealing with your character. Things such as pray, inventory, wield, wear, remove, cast, and so on. I think Falcon's Eye does a damned good job of this, where as SLASH'EM kind of falls on it's face in terms of a good, accessable GUI.
     
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  14. Chadeo Liturgist

    Chadeo
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    Just thought some people reading this thread might want to go check out this one asl well.

    Nice discussion going about the balance of story and player restriction.

    I could not agree more. Yes the keyboard is a great tool, and once you learn all the commands it is a lot faster than the mouse, but I really wish people would not always overlook the mouse as a solution that can help get you into the game. On the other hand I wish more games also provided a way to stop using the mouse for a lot of things once you got used to the game.

    I have noticed that a few people like to respond rather aggressively, I doubt any of them are trying to attack anyone personally, they just have a rather harsh style, but don't let that stop you from joining in the discussion. If we all agree then its not that good of a discussion ;)

    I think most people would agree that a game that was approachable, had a great story, and had roleplaying would be one awesome game. I think the complaint from Rosh is that some people seem to think NWN has a great single player experience, and he sees those people as idiots. Each to their own I suppose.

    These are key points to any game that wants to sell a billion copies. Some people just want to make a game that has different goals. Also some people are more than happy if they can sell 100 copies, to a very specific target audience. In a general sense though you are correct, as a game designer you need to understand what the people you want playing you games like to play. This might mean making something that you yourself do not love, in order to meet the goals you want to achieve.

    It could also be that the people who love Diablo would never love Fallout no matter how nice we were to them. I still am convinced that the vast majority of the people in the world who would like a "hard-core-rpg" as this community tends to describe it, are also the ones who would never think about getting that kind of an experience from a video game. These are the people who see video games as a child’s domain, and do not think they could offer the same level of entertainment that a good book or movie could. In fact I would claim that a "true hard-core-rpg" will offer far more value than any "non-interactive" medium could. The problem is that right now most people see video games as a bunch of "romance novels" and not a much of "novels", if that analogy even makes sense =)
     
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