#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?

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.