UI&us is about User Interface Design, User Experience design and the cognitive psychology behind design in general. It's written by Keith Lang, co-founder of Skitch; now a part of Evernote.  His views and opinions are his own and do not represent in any way the views or opinions of any company. 

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Entries in gaming (6)


MacDevs, meet GameDevs

I'm no hardcore gamer. I own a Wii and PS3, but they mostly gather dust. I've enjoyed some time playing Spider and Field Runners on the iPhone, but that's the limit of my attention. And occasionally I dust off Age of Empires on the Mac. Oh, and I strangely enjoyed playing Ramp Champ on the iPhone. What an odd game, there couldn't be anything simpler* to play the game at some level, just flick your finger up the screen. To play well, of course, is another matter.

So I'm as casual gamer as anybody. But I am desperately interested in gaming, and game development—game development is about building fun, engaging experiences, using motion, art, sound and flow. That's what we application creators want to do too, right?

Mac developers have always prided themselves on great looking graphics. And now we enter an age where that UI includes the subtle and practical use of animation and real-time graphical effects. Game devs have been working on making artistic, believable, fast and fluid OpenGL-optimized stuff for years, yet I've personally seen very little cultural crossover to date. I would love to see more cross-polinization from the game development community and Mac App development.

Tools-wise, I've been looking into Unity, a game-creation engine and development environment that seems to have become the winner in the space for creating physics-driven games. It seems like it could be a useful tool for mocking up and testing interfaces.

Now, of course, the 'game' experience and the App experience can be totally different things. Gaming can be all-encompassing, Apps simply a piece in a puzzle. Learning the interface of a game can be a fun experience, having to work out the interface of an App, an infuriating one. The same bright, loud and novel interface in a game might be completely tiring in an App, which instead aims to focus your attention on your content. Although, there are many hours spent in WoW (etc.) where I suspect any novel/distracting interface elements create the same annoyances as in an App.

I welcome the game developers** who are sniffing around after the iPhone App Store explosion. Come, share your wisdom.

*Ok, there is an interaction which could be simpler: a single button. And I'm proud to say I know a guy who's build an awesome game (Fishie Fishie) using just that.

** Oh and I should add that there's some great Mac Game dev houses, bust 'serious' gaming is still very much on the PC, afaict

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Zen and the Art of Controller Mapping

Good Game is a great Australian gaming TV show/podcast by the ABC. Even if you're not a 'gamer', you may like to watch the podcast for industry news, history segments, in-depth UI discussion and interviews. Is good. Recently, GG featured local software developer Farbs, big-studio guy turned solo-game-producer. Fishie Fishie is one of his great Flash-based 'casual' computer games. The basic objective of the game is to catch and eat the small fish, while avoiding the nasty big fish. It's much fun and unexpectedly challenging. Download Fishie Fishie for free!

What's interesting from a UI perspective is that the entire game is played with a single key. Let's say you prefer the spacebar. Normally, your fish character slowly rotates in one direction. Pressing and holding the spacebar key makes the fish spin in the other direction. If you repeatedly tap the spacebar, the fish swims forward. So simple and so effective. I'm interested to hear what people think. What other examples are there of zen-like controller mappings?

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Project Natal on the Jimmy Fallon show

My previous post on Microsoft's 3D system gaming system 'Natal' questioned the 3D system's latency. In this fresh real-world demo on the Jimmy Fallon TV show, Kudo specifically aimed to demonstrate the 'low latency' of the system. I'm not sure if the red jumpsuits were related to demoing the system, but the system seemed very robust, and responsive enough for fun gaming. I think Microsoft has a winner here.

UPDATE: Via Engadget Apparently the red "suits were just for fun" UPDATE 2: Video got pulled down, sadly. I'm trying to find a replacement to embed.

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Microsoft Announces 'Natal' 3D System

Microsoft has announced at this years E3 Games conference a new peripheral/system coming next year for the XBox called 'Natal'. They've got some slick prototypes/ studio mockups which show people interacting with games and other applications in a very convincing manner. The technology is based on 3D camera technology which I've previously discussed, and it's good to see it coming to the fore. Microsoft certainly thinks it's a big deal, pulling out Spielberg and Peter Molyneux to talk up the future.

The promotional material implies that they've got some extra processing turning 3D camera bitmap images into models of the human body to be passed to the game itself. Perhaps this processing is the source of the lag between the person and the on-screen action in the video on this page, which I'm guessing is a real prototype. And too much lag and you end up with a cognitively tiring game. The system also boasts speech recognition — I'm skeptical on how effective that will be you're yelling at the screen. Overall, this new 3D system promises awesome new interaction possibilities, but given the huge hype, expect some post-natal depression if it doesn't meet expectations.
UPDATE: Natal now has a website.

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Mind-reading Interfaces

The Neural Impulse Actuator, by OCZ Technology, lets you interact with the contraction of various face muscles. From Wikipedia:

The name Neural Impulse Actuator implies that the signals originate from some neuronal activity, however, what is actually captured is a mixture of muscle, skin and nerve activity including sympathetic and parasympathetic components that have to be summarized as biopotentials rather than pure neural signals.

So I'm a bit confused myself on whether to call this a 'mind-reading' interface or a 'muscle-reading' interface. Perhaps it's something in-between. What is clear is this genre of interface appears commercially viable for the mass market; sold first as hardcore gaming interface, later to infiltrate mainstream OS usage. This is a whole new world of Interaction Design.

A nice intro to what I'd call true 'mind-reading' technology in the following 60 Minutes story:

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Ignoring the Gaming Elephant in the Room

FX on mouse Yes! People play games. Computer+Video Games. Why aren't they studied more in 'serious' interaction design? The menu systems, sound and graphics and responsiveness of good games are often a world above anything on a desktop. Microsoft's Shane Morris has a nice short post on Gamer-influenced Design. If you're not a 'gamer', and I'm certainly not, then like me you'll surely find some seriously good insight in the Play Value podcast series. Each show is personal, quick, well-produced and well researched. Skip some TV and watch this. Games like the Nintendo Wii are finally pushing alternate controllers and contexts, whereas games like Grand Theft Audio IV are pushing consumer graphics and simulation technologies harder and harder. I've recently started to seriously research (ie play) games with the intent to find fresh, brilliant UI designs and would love to hear from you if you have ideas.

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