Gaming Usability 101
This list of ten features should be embraced by game designers
1. Never ask a player if they want to save their game.
Should you give players the option to save their game (and that’s entirely up to you), don’t ask them if they want to save upon reaching a designated checkpoint. Of course players want to save a game when given the privilege! Asking a gamer if he wants to save his progress is like asking a movie buff if they want to watch subsequent chapters of a DVD. Don’t disrupt the game experience with an obtrusive pop-up. Simply display subtle on-screen text that says “Saving…” as popularized on consoles by Halo and be done with it. To ensure gamers can play back their favorite levels, don’t overwrite level data. Rather, keep tabs on a gamer’s progress and grant them access to the areas they have already visited.
2. Always say “press any button” to start a game.
This may seem fastidious, but in the real world, I’ve seen both casual players and experienced gamers unnecessarily stop and think about the start screen. A game specifically asks a player to “press start to begin.” When prompted, the newbie gamer looks down at a confusing set of buttons, thinks for a second as to which button they need to press, then they hit it. The intimidation process has already begun. This is bad usability. Any button should do. “But I don’t develop games for newbies, I develop them for gamers,” you say. Fine, then you just forced a gamer to unnecessarily think if the actual start button is required, or any button would suffice as is the case with most games. Obviously as a designer you want to leverage thinking to enhance the value of completing a task, but what entertainment value can be found in complicating a start menu? Some games wisely display “press any button to start.” Every game should.
3. Always let players remap controller buttons to suit their preferences.
Certain computer users prefer a mouse at the left side of the keyboard as opposed to the right. Fortunately, they have the option to do so. Sadly, a lot of games don’t let players remap buttons and analog sticks to better suit their likes and dislikes. To rectify the situation, why not bring control options front and center to the pause menu? They’re already an integral part to the gameplay experience. Why bury them in a complicated hierarchy of menu options? This would allow for easy access letting gamers quickly change what they need before getting back to the action. A handy “quick map” of controls as featured on most game demos would also be appreciated. Granted, this takes more effort on the part of developers to facilitate the option, but using controller templates for every console is sure to save some economies.
4. Always let players skip cut scenes no matter how important they are to the story.
What a predicament cut scenes create. As a designer, you want all your hard work to be acknowledged, even the cut scenes. Sadly, interactive entertainment is the name of the game, and it always comes first. That’s why gamers play these things. So rather than assume every player wants to watch your story-telling chops, allow them to bypass cut scenes, tutorials, and even speed up the showing of logos when a game boots up. Tell your story through engaging gameplay, and you’ll easily be remembered and praised regardless of what you accomplished in a cut scene, tutorial, or start screen branding.