Thursday, August 24, 2006

Too Many Clicks! Unit-Based Interfaces Considered Harmful

Reducing the number of clicks to control programs ...

"Computer games traditionally have a player control one or more units on the screen. In early games, each player controlled one unit. As CPU power grew, players controlled more and more units. Today, a player might have hundreds of units, each one of which they must control individually. The unit-based user interface (UI) is no longer sufficient. This article will suggest a different way of thinking about UIs, and will discuss how to compare one UI to another, or one UI to the theoretical maximally efficient UI, to tell if your game can be improved. I’ll use examples primarily from strategy games, but it applies to UIs for programs of all kinds.

... This article is about how to design a UI that lets players communicate their intent with fewer clicks. I’m not going to address UI ergonomics (physical ease of use) or cognitive ergonomics (issues such as eyestrain and human memory and processing requirements). The energetic reader should incorporate those as well into their UI evaluation, but it’s too complex for this short article.

... Computers can now animate more units than any player could reasonably want to control, and the number will continue to increase exponentially. This leads to player frustration rather than fun. In a good user interface design, no player should control more than seven game entities. To enable this, the UI may let the player control something more abstract than an on-screen unit. This requires object-oriented developers to think of code objects as abstractions beyond the mere units on the screen. The UI may also give the player a chance to specify behaviors off-line in order to reduce the amount of on-line supervision needed.

Game developers can evaluate their user interfaces using a user-interface profiling tool, and by computing the work involved in different interfaces. They can even estimate their theoretical efficiencies, to know for sure whether there’s room for improvement. The ultimate goal of game design is to increase the game’s FPS - fun per second. The easiest way to do that is to pack the same action into fewer seconds, and the easiest way to do that is usually to improve the user interface."   (Continued via Gamasutra)   [Usability Resources]

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