Saturday, March 6, 2010

How does I play game? Part 1

I've been noticing a lot of ads on gaming websites.  Quite a few of these ads are promoting new "innovative" gaming controllers.  Looking to "MAXIMIZE" your gaming efficiency.
I said right click! Not 2nd from the right click!

These ads seem to pop out at me more, now that I've completed my Human Computer Interaction course.  Hats off to Professor Curtis Ikehara of the University of Hawaii.  He's actually instilled some knowledge into this nub.  There are quite a few rules and theory on how people interact with computers.  Video game controllers are a type of interface for users to interact with the computer/gaming console.  Not to mention every game has its own unique UI.  All of this needs to work together well in order to create a good game.  If you're actually visiting this site, you've probably played a game that made you think "Man this game would be better if the controls weren't so crappy."   Or even "God I can't see anything with this crappy UI."

Please memorize this in the time span of a loading screen. K THX BAI

Time to hit you up with some knowledge FOOs!  So pay attention.  Basically, there are 8 general rules to Human Computer Interaction(HCI).  Our professor and textbook called these the "8 golden rules of HCI."    No these are not like the Buddhist 8 golden rules/ 8 fold path.  Maybe a little bit...  But not really.  They are as follows:

  1. Strive for consistency (Try to keep things consistent in appearance and usage)
  2. Cater to universal usability (Try to design things for everyone to use.  EVERYONE)
  3. Offer informative feedback  (Give good advice to others when critiquing.  Also receive advise and criticism from your peers.)
  4. Design dialogues to yield closure (Structure your interface messages with proper beginning, middle and end.)
  5. Prevent errors (Can't really clarify this more...)
  6. Permit easy reversal of actions (Allow the user to easily reverse any unintended action.  Think UNDO button.)
  7. Support internal locus of control (Basically keep the interface similar across multiple versions.  Like how every Nintendo controller will always have an A and B button.)
  8. Reduce short-term memory load (Don't make the user memorize small pieces of information that they need to recall later.  Better yet.  Don't force the user to remember anything.)
You might look at these rules and say "Well holy, these seem like common sense."  And they are.  But when you sit down and think about it, not everyone has followed these rules.  And really, some of these rules need to be violated.  For example: "2.  Strive for universal usability"  Lets be real.  It's hard to design a controller for a less than two armed individual.  I mean.  The Wii controller can be used with one arm.  But if you have to use it in anyway other than a remote, it doesn't really work.  Imagine designing a graphical user interface for a blind/severely visually impaired person.  You get the idea.

It's sometimes like this.

I'm breaking this article into two different parts.  WHY!?  Because I need to make it look like we actually put a lot of content up on this site.  Har har har!  But  nawww.  Let me explain it a bit.  From the way I see it, there are two different interfaces in which we(players) interface the games.  One method is through the physical hardware(Game controllers/Keyboards/Mouse/Mind Control Device).  While the other is cognitive(the software/Game UI).  Both hardware and software have their own aspects of HCI.  While completely related, they are also very different.  As such, there exists a lot of content for both.

This is not HCI.

However, the software side differs from game to game, which leads to a retardedly high number of content for me to look at.  The limits of the software UI is based on the creativity of the developer and what is practical.  So I'm going to have to submit to the overwhelming force of software UI and pass on it.

This was me when I was looking for software UI content.

Hardware, on the other hand, has a comparatively lower number of interfaces.  Some of them are very creative and intuitive.  So we're going to stick with hardware in both parts.  This first part will focus primarily on the tried and true controllers that we all know and love.  Part two will delve into the realm of third party and... Uhhh... "unique" controllers.  Yeah I do realize most of you will be looking forward to that.  Just let me butter you up for it.

I'm going to thrown in a SECOND part. Absolutely free.

The hardware aspect of video game HCI is one that must be designed as a one size fits all for any game developed on the system.  Game developers must use the layout of the controller as the basis for how people will interact with their game.  Yes, there are exceptions to that.  We'll see that in part 2 of this segment.  Hardware is relatively more expensive and a lot more permanent.  You can't patch a controller and just add another button through downloads.  Hardware must be manufactured, shipped and sold as is.  Yes, you can argue firmware upgrades.  But the way you use a controller will be the same as when you first purchased it.  The only way to update hardware, is to release a new version.  Which the consumer must go out and purchase a new physical object, at such time they will bitch about how expensive it is.  That being all said and done, lets take a look at some game controllers.

The Joystick

The joystick is probably the most well known game controller.  I actually take that back.  It USED to be the most well known game controller.  You young whipper snappers don't go the arcade any more(Unless you live in Japan.  But that's another story).  For those of you born after 1995, the joystick was one of the very first video game controller interfaces.  If you saw a joystick, and weren't in an airplane, chances are good that it was attached to a video game system.The basic concept of a joystick is as quoted from wikipedia:
"A joystick is an input device consisting of a stick that pivots on a base and reports its angle or direction to the device it is controlling. Joysticks are often used to control video games, and usually have one or more push-buttons whose state can also be read by the computer." - Wikipedia
Probably the most recognized joystick of its time is the Atari 2600 controller.  It was a symbol of video games in the late 70s.  Ahh the simple days.  The controller only had one joystick and one button.  Just one.  And that was enough to fulfil the needs of gamers for many years.

And people still asked what the controls were...

Not to be completely upstaged by the Atari controller, probably the most prolific joystick ever made were found on arcade cabinets.  They are the true joysticks that have lasted for generations.  Always found on those old arcade machines(Yes a few games didn't use it.  I'm just being general here.), these arcade sticks are still in use today.  Where you might ask?  Ask any professional Street Fighter competitor.  The arcade stick is the tool of their trade.  They have tournament grade controllers specifically designed for Street Fighter competitions... HADOUKEN!

Bad Ass Street Fighter Tournaments

For the rest of the gaming population, we have seen the joystick evolve into two variations(Like a pokemon).  The more obvious would be the flight control sticks.  These are joysticks that are meant to help enhance the experience of flight simulator games.  These are still very popular amongst flight sim enthusiasts.  Many of these flight sticks are designed to replicate the general feel of an actual airplane's controls.  Yes.  You will find yourself sitting at your desk screaming "Eagle 20, FOX 2!"  I speak from experience.  

Makes you feel like this

If you own/owned a PS1/PS2/PS3/N64/Gamecube/Wii/Xbox/Xbox360/Dreamcast, you had a joystick on your controller.  No yeah.  You did.  With the exception of the original PS1 controllers, all of the systems above had a joystick in their controller.  I'm sure most of  you get what I'm trying to say, but for the people that need help "getting" things, I'm talking about the analog sticks on the console's controllers.  Yes, those are indeed joysticks.  They have changed a bit in size(you use your thumb rather than the palm of your hand), but they still are joysticks.

Do the red circles make it obvious enough?

Joysticks will probably continue to appear in our controllers in one form or another.  There is just something about the level of control they provide to gamers that keeps it a mainstay in controller interfaces.  It's intuitive, simple and a symbol of gaming culture.  All of which can also be said about our next interface, the "Gamepad."

The Gamepad

Now, when I say controller, I'm most often refering to the gamepad.  What is a gamepad you ask?  Wikipedia to the rescue!
"A gamepad, also known as a joypad, is the most common kind of game controller, held in both hands with thumbs and fingers used to provide input."-Wikipedia
Looking back at how much I just wrote about joysticks.  I'm going to just let a picture explain everything about gamepads.  Much props to Sock Master for putting this chart together.

Click for higher detail.  Or just go to the link above.

Gamepads have basically become the standard at which console games are made.  If you're playing something on the TV, you need a gamepad.  End 'o story.  But lets not forget you PC gaming people out there(and the 12 mac gamers).

The Keyboard and Mouse

Yes, I bundled the keyboard and mouse together.  But lets go through the steps here.  At first, there was the keyboard.  And it worked really well.  Because original computers needed to be a multi-functional device.  It could replace a type-writer for word processing, it also needed to be able to take in all sorts of different input so you can write programs and those programs could do calculations, blah blah blah.  Computers do a lot.  Then some guys at Xerox's Palo Alto Research Center(PARC) refined a prototype device from Stanford's Research Institute and began to integrate it into computer systems, blah blah blah we have the mouse.  Everyone says the mouse is stupid and nobody will use it.  Yadda yadda Apple Macintosh makes the mouse a must use innovation with computers.  Lets get to games.

Proper keyboard and mouse posture

Early PC games were often text based adventures(Because we had no mouse and computer graphics were crap.)  Some games were designed to use the keyboard as a controller to move around a little space ship with the arrow keys.  And the people were happy with that.  Maybe you'd throw in a joystick peripheral every now and then.  But almost everything was done with just a keyboard.  Like most things.

We don't need no stinkin mouse

Jump to the mid-90's.  This little thing tethered to your computer is cool.  You move this little arrow on the screen and you press on it to make a clicky noise.  Bam!  Lucas Arts studio starts making those clicky adventure games.  They become all the rage for gamers.  Gonna throw some nostalgia out there for the old school gamers.  Full Throttle, The DIG, Sam & Max, Day of the Tentacle, Myst, Discworld.  Yup, those were a good time to be a mouse.

Full Throttle.  BAD ASS

I'm going to have to say, it's really hard to write about the keyboard and mouse as a gaming interface.  There's just so much diversity.  They can be used in conjunction with each other, modern FPSs, MMORPGs, and even RTSs(use the hot keys damnit).  They can be used separately, MUDs that are text based adventures that only need the keyboard.  Most casual games are mouse only interfaces(Bejeweled, peggle, Diner Dash, etc.).  Dare I say that the keyboard and mouse are the ultimate interface?  I don't.  It is a very good one though.  As with everything in the computer world, there will be change.  Give it some time.  There's people tinkering and finding new and innovative ways of interfacing with computers.  Actually.  That's what part 2 is for!

This was a lot of typing.

If you actually read through this wall of text and pictures, I congratulate you.  This was just Holy's little introduction to the world of HCI and some of it's history.  In part 2 I'm going after all the goofy devices and interfaces.  But you need to know your roots and understand where these devices got some of their inspiration from.  Hope you learned something.  If you didn't, either you didn't pay attention or you're a NNNNNNEEEEEEERRRRRRRRRRRRDDDDDDDDDD.


Post a Comment