• Immediacy of gaming - back to basics

    Here’s a suggestion for game developers and whoever stands over them with guiding hands, and to console manufacturers: Speed things up! There is so much useless fluff in many games that it’s often tedious enjoying all the great bits in between.

    So what has prompted this mini-rant? In this case, the spark was an online gaming experience. After 1 minute 30 seconds of awesome fun gaming (in this case driving), the wait for the next race to get under way was 2 minutes 15 seconds. This process cannot be sped up – it’s literally the same every time. Loading menus, waiting a set amount, waiting for voting (do we really need this?), waiting for loading, see the race grid flyby, and at the end, waiting for points / unlocks / fluff to be displayed. End result? More time sitting doing nothing than having fun. This is not fine. This is not cool. Gaming time is limited. So, please, Speed things up! Reducing the lobby time (like Team Deathmatch Express in COD) is not enough, but it’s a start.

    This isn’t an isolated incident though. No. Ladies and Gentlemen, I present to you: Fancy Menus. It’s like the entire user experience is designed to be pretty above all, with little thought for usability, from the front end of the console and then on into the game menus. Waiting for stuff to fly around the screen and eventually seeing the menu text is frustrating and with each menu selection a different background appears, like anyone (anyone = me) actually cares. Maybe some people revel in this fluff, but for me, there must be a better way.

    Another aspect that grates is the restart – in a driving game, you often have the ability to restart half way through a race, and hopefully it will be fairly swift. If it’s Trials HD or Evolution, it’s perfection and almost dangerously easy, so you can get stuck in a loop seeking the perfect time. However, three microseconds after the race has finished, it often becomes a laborious process to restart, with lots of loading time that wasn’t necessary three microseconds. I don’t pretend to understand the intricacies of console development and memory limitations, but pllleeeeaaaase fix this. I want to be able to restart immediately after crossing the line without having to endure more fluff.

    In the single player progression, a new event type appears and the description isn’t skippable. Unless it’s an event that involves performing differential equations whilst driving with one tied behind you back, surely a “skip: A” after 5 seconds would suffice. Please let us speed things up!

    Yeah, easier said than done though. What gets in the way for one player (me) might be an essential part of the experience for another. Some people love sitting through hours of cut-scenes and game intros and adverts for Dolby Digital. I have no idea who is the minority, but currently it’s the latter “must see everything” people that are being catered for. So how can this dichotomy be worked around?

    For inspiration, we can look to the Samsung Nuon. This is a Samsung DVD player / games console. One of its great features is that when playing a DVD, it analyses the menu structure and allows you to completely ignore the normal annoyingly slow whizzy menus (sometimes they even have spoilers in the menu video snippets!) and instead use a basic textual tree all displayed on the one screen so you can get to when you want immediately (so I’m told – I’ve never actually seen this in action – I was too busy playing Tempest). What a great option eh? Could we possibly transfer this to the game console experience. Rather than doing away with the fancy menus and everything else I’ve whinged about above, how about somewhere in the console options for “faster menu”. Maybe go one step further and have a console level “I like all the fancy pampering stuff” vs. “My gaming time is limited and I want to progress as swiftly as possible without missing anything important” vs. “I want to be able to skip whatever I want, even important plot building cut-scenes.”.

    Online, this might a bit trickier to implement, because people with varying options selected would be playing in the same lobby, but what if I could choose to only play with like minded people that wanted maximum game-play time and minimum wastage in the same way that you can sometimes choose to only play against local players for better pings? That sounds like bliss to me.

    If you have any suggestions along the same lines, I'd love to hear them - please post in the comments.

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    Comments 4 Comments
    1. averybluemonkey's Avatar
      averybluemonkey -
      100% agree with every point made. What I find particularly agravating these days is the use of 3D assets in main menus, it's completely unnecessay to have a loading screen in between the title's splash page and the main menu. Personally I just think it shows a lack of design skills on the parts of the developers that the only way they can bring visual appeal to a menu screen is by utilising game assets.

      I think there needs to be a greater reach out to graphic designers for such portions, case in point being Wipeout 3 which was done by The Designer's Republic. Utterly beautiful, minimal design aesthetics carried out through the whole structure that mixed perfectly with the in game art design without loading times. Through the use of procedural design elements that don't require slow disk access I think developers could create far more effective visual appeal.
    1. nakamura's Avatar
      nakamura -
      The menu system it Wipeout 3 was sterile and utterly disgusting.
    1. charlesr's Avatar
      charlesr -
      Your two entirely opposing points there perfectly demonstrate the need for my user-tailored solution.

      Although I think something we can all agree on (not mentioned in the article) is that surely there is no need for a "saving" screen when you first load up Forza2 the game. There isn't a big enough font for WTF on that one.
    1. nakamura's Avatar
      nakamura -
      I totally agree with the article mind. The screens need to be heavily streamlines but certainly more like Wipeout Pure than 3. I hate laggy menus.