Usability for hardcore gamers
Usability is about removing un-necessary actions to support a user’s activity. In games, this means reducing repetitive and boring tasks that don’t add value to the gameplay. Typically, while the gameplay loops include some difficulty, the interaction design of menus, controls and interfaces should be straightforward. Players need to focus on how to solve riddles, beat a boss or master a level, not struggle with menus or try to start up the game. Only few games like octodad can justify that struggling with movement is the fun part of the game. In most cases, it isn’t.
Usability is not about making games or even work easy
A common misconception is that better usability makes games easier. This isn’t true. This belief is based on a misconception that in work environments, usability (and human factors) makes work as easy as possible. In fact, making a work situation efficient adn satisfactory also requires to provide the worker with some kind of challenge. Haven’t you ever felt so bored at work because you were performing long, repetitive, unchallenging tasks? To be efficient, an employee who experiences flow is more efficient that one who works in an uninteresting task with impossible perspectives. Personnally, I prefer to be snowed under at work rather than bored.
Bloodborne’s first player experience is matching the usual behavior of players and it feels good
Things core gamers do when they start a new game
We might spend hours to define core players before generalizing. It is not the point of this article. Let’s just define them as people who play a lot and never give up when facing a challenge, feeling motivated by getting their butt kicked as long as the game was fair and they can overcome it with improved real life skills. Those core gamers tend to have their favorite settings, in particular for controls, and typically go through a similar routine:
- The start the game for the first time
- They go to the options to check basic settings like brightness, camera inversion, game difficulty
- They check out the controls layout to verify how to play before starting and select their favorite layout when possible
- They often don’t need the tutorial because they already checked the controls before and know stardard layouts, though they may need some hints to specific features for the game
Showing the options before the menu while caring for early immersion
When Bloodborne starts up, the player is asked to set up brightness, camera settings before even showing the menu. This answers to the observed behavior of players. The controls displayed are exactly the ones needed.
Hints are visible at a fixed position in the bottom of the screen. They are consistent with the interface, available when needed, but otherwise not intrusive.
The introduction cinematic then immerses the played in the game world. Subtitles are two colors and easily readable on top of the visuals. It provides a little teasing with context and emotion before proceeding to more settings.