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Feature: Designing Games That Don't Suck

In a detailed design article, Griptonite Games' Jason Bay uses classic usability concepts to break down the gamer's use of in-game weapons, objects, and puzzles, s
Designers intend to create challenges for players, but often, players are unexpectedly challenged by aspects that were never meant to be difficult. In a new Gamasutra design feature, Griptonite Games' Jason Bay uses classic usability concepts to break down the gamer's use of in-game weapons, objects, and puzzles, suggesting how this can make everyone build better video games. For example, very minor details can create unnecessary confusion: I once ran across a game that had its sound control labeled as simply "SFX." In the game industry we often abbreviate the term "sound effects" in this way, but what if the player is not in the industry or if he interpreted it to instead mean something else, such as "special effects"? During a play test I observed a user open this menu, examine it for a few seconds, and then ask me what "SFX" meant! This was a failure on the part of the menu's design, because bad labeling of the sound control was thwarting the player on Stage 1; without a good label for the sound control, he could not form the goal to "change the sound volume." If the player had come to this menu already armed with the goal of "change the sound volume" then he would have been stuck on Stage 2; how could he form the intention of manipulating one of the controls to lower the sound, if none were clearly associated with that task? Bay lays out the "Seven Stages of Action" from author Donald A. Norman's Psychology Of Everyday Things, and explains how they can be applied to usability: Stage 1: Form the goal Stage 2: Form the intention Stage 3: Specify the action Stage 4: Execute the action Stage 5: Perceive the state of the world Stage 6: Interpret the state of the world Stage 7: Evaluate the outcome You can assess the usability of any game entity by mentally walking through this list, in order, and examining whether it's possible for a player to engage in each step. If it seems like a player won't be able to perform one or more of the steps, then that's a red flag indicating a usability problem you should address before your design is perfected. Conversely, you can intentionally omit a step in order to create interesting challenges for the player depending on which one you leave out. In the full feature, Bay applies the seven stages to various design process choices to illustrate how common roadblocks to usability can be easily surmounted with a little extra attention (no registration required, please feel free to link to this feature from other websites).

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