#6 [usability review]: Good Pizza, Great Pizza

As part of my challenge of gathering 30 game usability reviews, I’ve been collecting some mobile games (and other games if I have the opportunity to play them) and writing about them as a cool exercise (why not?).

Good Pizza, Great Pizza is a mobile “cooking” game. In the game you have to cook your pizzas for specific customer needs, just like a typical cooking game. Players need to work against time and make as much profit as they can so they can upgrade their restaurant. See gameplay below.

Good Pizza, Great Pizza trailer and gameplay

Note: in the case of this review I have considered the reviews in the app store to base my comments together with heuristics mentioned in my initial post.

Good points

a) Not a typical cooking game. By looking at the reviews in the iOS app store, it was possible to see that many comments were positive towards the characters and the “look & feel” of the game.

b) No IAP options. Again, one comment in the reviews mentioned that are no IAPs in this game and that makes it different from others like Cooking Fever and other famous cooking games.

c) Character’s personality. Based on the reviews, the NPCs personalities were crucial for the game to be considered as fun. However, players mentioned that they would not let their children play because the characters were “very rude”. Although this could be seen as a problem it has still good points since it attracted a specific demographics.

d) Top-down view and controls. With a top down view the movements to make the pizza are different. You have to spread the cheese and tap to add ingredients. This gives a variety on the gameplay in general. Also, the UI works well and it is easy to see the impact of the actions in the general satisfaction bar. However, it might be difficult for some players who might need to zoom in a bit to read.

Things to improve

a) Control the rudeness of the characters. Perhaps in the menu, players could have a meter to control the “rudeness” of the characters. Or maybe this could be something that the player could unlock after a few points.

b) Balance between upgrade and gameplay. Since it is a repetitive game, it can become a bit boring if the upgrades are difficult to achieve!

c) Business model. Since there are no IAPs in the game, devs could think about how they are monetising from this game since it is a free game. Of course, there are ads between some interactions, but perhaps players could have the chance to give a “tip” to the devs. This could fit the narrative of the game.

d) It is comics sans. It looks like comics sans and it might be. No problem (apparently) with this font, but perhaps it could have an option of not having too much text in the HUD area. This could be very difficult to read, especially if you are targeting “older” demographics.

e) More options for clients. NPCs asked for vegetarian pizzas, and many other options. What about adding more of these crazy diets, low-carb, keto, vegan, pescatarian, and many others? It could give an extra element of “fun” for players. This could give an extra difficult for the game and comments that players could relate to.

Overall, it was a fun game to play and from this review many of the reasons are due to the NPCs and the visuals. Hope devs consider improving the game, it has a lot of potential!

#5 [usability review]: Oxenfree

As part of my challenge of gathering 30 game usability reviews, I’ve been collecting some mobile games (and other games if I have the opportunity to play them) and writing about them as a cool exercise (why not?).

Video: Oxenfree gameplay by Polygon

This game was a wonderful surprise. Oxenfree is a game about supernatural events that are all related to emotional triggers from the character choices. In this case, the player needs to give these choices during the game. You are Alex, the main character, and you use an old radio to navigate into this supernatural world, opening portals and interacting with present and past. The game can be downloaded in Steam.

Good things

a) Sense of control. The game provides the player a sense of control over their actions. For example, you can select the answer you want to give in a specific dialogue. Players might feel that depending on their choices it will change the overall plot of the game.

b) Look & feel. This can be a bit subjective but this game has 2D elements with a sense of 3D, creating some depth in the game. This could be a good feature and in terms of usability it doesn’t distract the player from the choices made in the dialog bubbles (which are 2D). With that, there is a sense of depth but also elements that are 2D that overlap with the environment and in some parts of the environment the player needs to move across a “z” direction (not just x, y).

c) End screen with % of overall choices. Looking at the balance between your choices and other players’ choices is a very nice touch for players, reinforcing the idea of control over the game. Through this comparison, the player can see the impact of the choices and the other possibilities missed. This could make players feel that they could play the game again to see the impact of the other choices in the gameplay.

Things that could be improved

a) Controller precision. Since sometimes players could navigate in the “z” direction (or at least have a sense of depth), it is not clear when they can do that and the precision of these movements are not very good. This could make the player a bit lost and stuck in parts. One way to do this could be having the avatar talk to you and say “jump here” or “walk through a path”. The game could give feedback to help players if they are stuck.

b) Radio visualisation. The radio was a small object that guided the whole interactions between the player and the game plot. The radio could have some variations, particularly in the numbers and in the precision. Although the player could get feedback from sound and visuals, it was very difficult to get the “right” place for the radio to work. Thus, the variations of the radios could be in format. The character encounters a “better” version of the radio, but this is just to get another colour combination. Perhaps it could have been interesting for players to see another version of the radio. This could have helped to create curiosity and balance in the game.

c) Timing to choose the speech bubble. Sometimes players could “miss” the opportunity to choose the speech bubble and that could be a bit frustrating. This overlapping of choices could give a lot of cognitive load for the player. Thus, perhaps it could have a longer time to choose the speech depending on the player interactions.

Conclusions

Overall, the game is fun and has a lot of good elements regarding payer choice. However, for example, even in the graphs below, players could see the other possible “results” of their actions. This could help them go back and play the game differently. As you can see from my results I kept a strategy, which was no conflict, no emotional blablabla – just the supernatural!

My results after gameplay. Yes, no conflict this time, thank you.
My results after gameplay. Yes, Clarissa was a boring character but I really didn’t want to fight anyone. I just wanted to explore the supernatural.
My results from the gameplay. Again, no conflicts and no emotional attachment here. What about the supernatural?

#4 [usability review]: Beat Saber VR

As part of my challenge of gathering 30 game usability reviews, I’ve been collecting some mobile games (and other games if I have the opportunity to play them) and writing about them as a cool exercise (why not?).

Video: Beat Saber gameplay

Yes, I got THE game! Now that I am getting used to VR and all the awesomeness related to it I had to buy Beat Saber just because it sounds very very cool. For a usability point of view, I thought it would be nice to test the game, looking at principles of heuristics and accessibility. More info about the game can be seen in this link. Note: I only played the solo version of this game; however it should be enough to get an idea of the overall gameplay.

What is the game about: this is a “Guitar Hero meets Just Dance” style dynamic game in VR in which you have two light sabers in each hand. You have to cut flying boxes with the swing of the sabers and doing this in the rhythm of the music. The songs follow a “EBM” style and have a electro-industrial feeling as well (that brings me memories, anyway!).

Good things

a) Gameplay. The game has a very good pace and as a beginner the player might not feel tired with so much new information. The tutorial is optional.

b) Visual consistency. Colours are the same in most of the interface design. This is also used in the walls and they reflect the lights from the sabers/controllers. There is always the use of 2 colours in the interface. This is good because it allows the players to keep the attention into a specific point.

c) Field of View. Since we are talking about VR, FoV is very important and the game has a good use of space and perspective. Since the game is a fast-paced game, there is little head movement, which helps players to concentrate on the other movements required to win the game. Thus, there is little potential for cyber sickness.

d) The tutorial. This tutorial is very simple. Although it can feel a bit unrealistic since the game has so many things going on at the same time, it still brings an element of surprise when the wall comes towards your face. See this video below:

Things that could be improved

a) Balance. The game could have more balance. As a beginner, I was slaughtered by the first song and couldn’t do much because I was missing the boxes a lot of times.

b) Controllers. It might be the way my VR headset is positioned, but the precision of this game should be improved considerably. Perhaps in the tutorial it could have a way to calibrate the game according to the settings of the headset. Also it was not clear if the player needed to click on the button to make the saber work (of course you don’t have to do that but since the player needs to click on buttons in the interface before the main gameplay scene, then it can be confusing). Precision is also not very great.

c) Colours. When you are not doing so well, all the scenario becomes red. It is not very clear if it is red because of the colour of one of the blocks or because the player is losing points.

d) Fail sound. Once immersed in the song it might be that players are not expecting that the sound ends like the end of a record. The sound can be too loud and it can break the whole experience at once. I suggests devs look at this as a potential improvement for this game.

e) Overall sense of control. Although players can choose the settings before the gameplay, it is not evident how to pause the game. Also, it is difficult to check and look at the scores all the time. This might be secondary, but for some players who are trying to beat their own scores, then this might be an issue. A suggestion could be “curving” the environment a bit more and having another distinctive way to give feedback to the player if the player has been keeping a “non-stop round”.

Best practices in VR and recommendations

According to this post, best practices in VR start with the physical environment and it is crucial that the play area is well determined beforehand. This definitely impacts the overall experience. Therefore, although it might sound boring for the player it is crucial to have some “house keeping” practices in order to ensure the best experience for the player. I am sure devs tested the game for cybersickness and I can say that personally I did not feel anything. The game gave me a sense that I was doing some real exercise. However, for players with more sensitivity, this should be mentioned. There is one screen at the beginning of the game that shows the possible complications of this game if the player is sensitive towards movements.

The tutorial could have different levels. For players who are not yet familiar with the technology, it is still necessary to have very simple and small paced tutorials. Another aspect to mention is that perhaps the game could give a feedback if the player is out of the play zone. Of course players can see the grid around the play area, but the position where they should be is not very evident. For example, in the game there is a mark on the ground with footsteps. Players might not remember to check the mark and that can influence their performance. The tutorial could also include a way for players to go back to the “mark zero” and experience this idea of coming back to the same space. For example, the game could have another way of showing that the player is out of the “perfect” spot by highlighting this on the top of their heads of just showing an invisible line on the middle of the horizon line.

The UI on the left in the menu sometimes could be overlooked. The tutorial could also show that could can change the settings of your game by selecting specific aspects. This was not evident in the beginning. And it might be that players who are not used to a 360 experience might miss these features.

Another aspect to mention is sound. As Casey Fictum mentions in this book VR UX, sound is most of the VR experience and should be considered as a key element. The fail sound could be improved since it breaks the continuum of the experience drastically. This can be because players might not be expecting it to end like a broken record since no one actually experience this sound anymore. Other sounds should be considered in order to improve the experience.

If we consider making this game more accessible, then there are a lot of elements that might need to be revised. However this would be related to a different research question! :)

#3 [usability review]: SenSense

As part of my challenge of gathering 30 game usability reviews, I’ve been collecting some mobile games (and other games if I have the opportunity to play them) and writing about them as a cool exercise (why not?).

Figure 1. Tutorial screenshot of the game SenSense (by Jus So)

What is the game about
This is a mobile game designed for iOS by developers Just So. The game is originally a 3-player game in which you should solve puzzles together. However the difference is that each player can only work with one sense: one deaf, one might not speak and the other one can’t see. Clearly, it was inspired by emojis 🙈🙉🙊 – which is cool and current. This means that many people might fee attracted to this type of game.

Link: https://itunes.apple.com/us/app/sensense/id1448612001?mt=8

Figure 2.: App store page (by Jus So)

Pretty good things:

a) Attraction

The tagline of the game is simple as it says: a three-player puzzle game. This is not something that you can see everyday in games. Being 3 game players makes it different and solving problems together sounds a lot of fun. The icon is simple, black and white and because of that, the game itself has a good marketing and “attraction” in the app store page, making it stand out.

b) Simplicity

The game is to the point and using the monkeys based on the emojis can make people feel some kind of familiarity with the game. Also, the proposition is straight forward. The tutorial is also simple, with black and white colours and small chucks of text. Players can skip the tutorial if they wish.

Things that could be improved:

In this case, it should be most everything. I couldn’t play the game without having people around! So devs should think about how to add random people to the game (without having to access a room through a code). Also, it should have at least 3 gameplay options – single player, 2 players and 3. Sometimes couples could play together and the other missing monkey could be computer generated.

via GIPHY

I have not played the game itself because I didn’t have 3 people whilst I was doing this review. But I thought that devs could definitely consider this. I had the first “wall” when playing this game in the beginning so devs should consider those small things as soon as possible. I didn’t find a gameplay video and that might be the reason why.

#2 [usability review]: Tape it Up!

As part of my challenge of gathering 30 game usability reviews, I’ve been collecting some mobile games (and other games if I have the opportunity to play them) and writing about them as a cool exercise (why not?).


Figure 1. First screen of the game Tape it Up! Dev: Devsisters corp.

What is the game about
This is a mobile game designed for Android and iOS platforms. In the game you are a “tape” and you need to run through the boxes in a “factory” (Figure 1). In order to win the game you have to swipe left/right and avoid falling in the empty spaces. Sometimes you can fall into boxes with prizes and you may collect letters that would give you a limited power-up/advantage. I’ve tried this game in an iPhone.

Link: https://itunes.apple.com/us/app/tape-it-up/id1147622827?mt=8


Figure 2. Gameplay

Pretty good things:

a) New characters = new assets. The utilisation of characters and assets is very good and the changes in the game scenario, sound and character makes it more interesting for the player, particularly because those changes are not predictable. For example, when the character is a film, the whole scenario changes to “film” (Figure 2).

b) Ability to try new characters. After losing, players can try new characters for free. However this is only temporary. If the payer doesn’t play attention, after using the new character she will be charged.

c) Visualisation of achievements (from Game Center). Although it would be good to see this in the game itself, when the player receives the notification that she has collected a number of points or coins without stop, it is very gratifying.

d) Game goals are clear and easy to play. When the player starts, there is a small tutorial that is part of the game and the controls are very simple. With the swipe and tapping to get some speed, players might feel very familiar with the controls. It works well in a mobile phone and players could play with both hands or one. Since the gameplay is short, the game could be suitable for people who doesn’t have enough time to engage with long gameplay.

e) FEVER. Collection is a key component is this game and it is what makes it pleasurable. The FEVER letters are fun and the changes in the scenario and music are very well-designed. It would make players collect more letters.

f) Question mark boxes. All question mark boxes are very good since it makes the player more curious. When the player unlocks a new character, there is an animation of the boxes and the character appears (Figure 3). Although the player knows the selected character, the idea of something being “hidden” is very pleasant.

g) Collecting daily gifts. The idea of collecting gifts is very good and the animation in the street makes it more special (Figure 4).


Figure 2. New scenario for the “film” tape. Dev: Devsisters corp.


Figure 3. Unlocking a new character. Dev: Devsisters corp.


Figure 4. Getting your gift in the middle of the street. Dev: Devsisters corp.

Some design aspects that could be improved:

a) Why do I get a “reward” that is a video that stops my experience? When you jump in the box with the question mark, there is the possibility to get a video jumping into your face. Suggestion: I would remove this. Personally, I think it takes the fantasy away from the game and it forces the player to accept the video after playing very hard in the game.

b) What is the real reward of the game? Not sure if the scores matter as much as getting new characters or unlocking new content. You can see the scores, but there is no real comparison since your position might be very far from the top ones. Suggestion: At the end of the game, maybe the comparison table could appear in order to show the player that she is almost there. Or maybe the scores could be more obvious. For example: beat your score to unlock xxxx. If the player is playing with Facebook integration, maybe the screen of comparison could appear after gameplay. With that, players would be able to compare their scores easily.

c) The game gets repetitive. The gameplay is very simple and repetitive. Although this is not an issue, in this game it is very obvious. Since the beginning is the same (always), it can become a bit boring. Suggestion: once the player unlocks new characters, designers could not only change the scenario and assets, but also give the character new features or change the position of the boxes for a while.

d) Jumping into another level. This feature could be good in order to make the player pay with virtual money to jump into another level. However, since the gameplay is the same (maybe just harder), this function might lose its purpose, unless the player can see the progress from other people.  Suggestion: add something for the player to look forward to in the higher levels. Maybe in the level 10, the factory is prettier or there would be a “boss” there or something that actually requires the player to jump to another level. For example, Temple Run used to do something like that in their first game, in which players could see the distance of their friends.

Have a look at the gameplay here:

#1 [usability review] Lost Maze

https://itunes.apple.com/us/app/lost-maze/id1130186793?mt=8
Copyright: ZHIPENG WANG

Recently, I’ve been playing and testing a few apps and games for fun. This week, I’ve tested the mobile game “LOST MAZE”, from the developer ZHIPENG WANG. While playing the game I was looking at elements that were good and easy to use and elements that could be improved. The structure of this post is composed of a small description of the mobile game, followed by good and bad points and a few recommendations. I’ve played this one in the iPad. Hope you enjoy it! :)

Description
The game is a 3D mobile game in which you have different levels of a maze to decide the best way to your home. The narrative is about collecting items that were stolen by “darkness” (represented by black and white interface). You start as a girl and during the game you can buy new characters. The maze is 3D and you can drag the best “way” for your character to pass. This maze is like a “cryptex” and you have to choose the best combination for your character to pass safely. The character walks through the maze automatically. You have the option to “stop” the character and then choose the best way in the maze. You win each time you pass a level. There are many ways for you to lose: you can be eaten by a flower or jump in a wrong way. This changes according to each level.

Good points

The points that I’ve enjoyed in the game were actually the animation and the little story. I think when darkness goes and steals things from the girl’s place it’s quite interesting. When you have to collect the items to put them back to the “map” is quite unusual as well for a mobile game (this one was played in iPad). The music is good too.

IMG_0629

Not so good points

a) In-app purchase surprise

My first comment was: “Why do I need to buy more energy?”. It is not clear what this energy is about. I didn’t realise the moves were related to energy and it took me 4 levels to find this out.

b) Font, typography quality

The button “stop” has a very poor quality, which could give an impression that the game has poor graphics. The same happens in the screen when you click in the red stone to buy more energy. I understand it was a way to create a shade because of the background, but it didn’t look nice.

c) Timing to stop and change the way

Around level 3, when you start having the “jump” I took a long time to stop the character and move the bits to the right position. It could be a bug or something, but it made me feel very frustrated.

d) Win scene

The win scene does not fit the overall style of the game. The graphics look very different and distorted. The idea is good, but the integration was not well executed. I’ve showed other people and their comments were: “the graphics are not good, right?”. You can also see how many steps you’ve taken in this screen, which doesn’t mean anything in terms of the game.

e) IAP icons and red stone

What are the red stones? I think the screen for the IAP is problematic and the icons do not fit the 3D style of the game.

IMG_0630

Recommendations

a) Evidence of energy

As a player, you want to know the consequences of your actions in the game. You could show to the player that when you stop and walk you lose energy. This is not clear in the whole game. Maybe in the first level, when you do the first challenge, it could be evident that you lose energy. Maybe the steps that you’ve taken could show how much energy you lost.

b) Integration of the graphics

The stones and the other icons don’t look 3D. You could redesign those icons for a 3D style. The stones could also have a purpose and integration with the narrative.

c) Stop and walk

This action is not consistent as sometimes you can’t stop and the game forces you to lose. It is important to solve this type of bug very quick!

Conclusion

I would say that it was a good game, but the IAP integration was very frustrating and the bugs made me feel without motivation to continue playing it. In sum, it is possible that those games might need a kind of heuristics of usability related to IAP. For example, as the game as IAP structures, the user should be aware of that. I strongly suggest that UX designers and researchers could come up with ideas to analyse and measure the effectiveness of IAP in games like that.

Game link: https://itunes.apple.com/us/app/lost-maze/id1130186793?mt=8 / Played in 28th August 2016

The 30 game usability reviews personal challenge #30GURchallenge

That’s it! I’ve decided to populate this space with some game usability reviews, considering many aspects of the game. It includes: usability in general, gameplay experience, IAP design, interface design, mechanics, purpose and so on. And I will tell you why I’ve decided to start this challenge. Eventually I will also discuss inclusive design and accessibility.

If you want to get into the Games User Research world, you need to be fluent in gaming. That is, you need to be able to evaluate, talk and discuss aspects of games. As Seb Long said in his talk in 2016, the hiring process of a GUR professional in the industry includes a usability review task!

So, what is a usability review of a game? In the talk, Seb mentioned words like knowing the audience and sharing best practices. That is, if you’re going to write a game usability review, you need to consider that developers and designers will read your report (they are the audience!). So the communications of the findings is crucial at this stage. Also, we need to highlight good and bad things as well, and provide recommendations.

Considering this, for my personal challenge of 30 (quick) game usability reviews, I will try to use the following structure:

  • Description of gameplay to situate the whole experience
  • Good practices
  • Not so good practices
  • Design recommendations/suggestions for improvement + priorities
  • Conclusion

For the best practices, I’m looking at heuristics of usability evaluation from Desurvire and Wiberg (2009) and Korhonen and Koivisto (2006), especially for mobile games. Since I will be looking for usability aspects, playability will be the key aspect of the game experience.

For the priorities, I will consider the elements that are more urgent and that impact the user experience directly.

The selection of games is a bit random, but I’m trying to play mostly mobile games, tablet games, online and different varieties/purposes (serious games could be part of this list too!).

Why 30? Well, since I am over 30s, I think 30 is a good number (this means that 30 works and it is also part of the Central Limit Theorem and researchers (apparently) like this number.

#1 [usability review] Lost Maze

#2 [usability review]: Tape it Up!

#3 [usability review]: SenSense

#4 [usability review]: Beat Saber VR

#5 [usability review]: Oxenfree

#6 [usability review]: Good Pizza, Great Pizza

References:

Desurvire, H. & Wiberg, C., 2009. Game Usability Heuristics ( PLAY ) for Evaluating and Designing Better Games : The Next Iteration. Game Studies, LNCS Volum, pp.557–566. Available at: http://www.springerlink.com/index/CL1W17LP067K39Q1.pdf.

Korhonen, H. & Koivisto, E.M.I., 2006. Playability heuristics for mobile games. Proceedings of the 8th conference on Human-computer interaction with mobile devices and services – MobileHCI ’06, p.9. Available at: http://portal.acm.org/citation.cfm?doid=1152215.1152218.

Kultima, A. & Stenros, J., 2010. Designing games for everyone: the expanded game experience model. In Proceedings of the International Academic Conference on the Future of Game Design and Technology. pp. 66–73.