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What can games teach us about human-computer interaction?

By Puchitao in Technology
Sun Apr 15, 2001 at 05:59:40 PM EST
Tags: Software (all tags)

There are countless details that go into the creation of a game. Characters, worlds, 2D or 3D graphics engines... sometimes even plot! But an unusable interface can do more to ruin a game than poor characterization, grainy sprites, or a hokey plot. We play games to have fun; no one is forcing us to play them. I can deal with -- I have to deal with, in some cases -- the mammoth complexity of, say, a badly designed IDE. But when manipulating a game world becomes a chore rather than a diversion, I'll sooner chuck the thing than continue playing...

Many discussions of interface-design focus almost entirely on the Mac/Windows "desktop" metaphor, as if folders, drop-down menus, dialogue boxes, and button-widgets were the alpha and omega of human-computer interaction. When discussing the history of graphics user interfaces, the progression goes something like Xerox, Macintosh, Windows. I suppose NeXT is in there somewhere to, and the KDE/GNOME "wars" somewhere towards the end. What is often ignored is the fact that video games, for example, have been giving us GUIs for two decades now, and have evolved some of their own idioms and metaphors to deal with their specific issues.

My question is: what can designers of "productivity" software interfaces learn from the game industry? In this article, I'll look at three genres of games and suggest ways that their interface designs might inform the designs of "real-world" projects like shells, programming environments, and desktop environments.


The text adventure era was a little before my time; I was alive, yes, but the games were generally too hard for my little mind. Even so, some of my earliest memories of computers were trying to figure out how to kill some stupid alien in a cave on Mars before he killed me or my oxygen ran out. I'm sure many of you have similar memories:

  • > kill alien
  • Be more specific.
  • > shoot alien
  • I do not understand "shoot".
  • (after looking though the list of actions) > blast alien
  • Blast alien with what?
  • > blast alien with gun
  • I do not understand "gun".
  • > run away
  • To where do you want to run?
  • The alien's hideously long claws puncture your spacesuit. Your oxygen supply quickly escapes into the thin Martian atmosphere. More importantly, so does much of your blood supply and several of your internal organs.
  • You have died. Your score is 8.
Anyone who has played text adventures probably has memories like this. But these memories aren't exclusive to text gamers; watch your average computer user struggle with the command line and flashbacks of Martian Adventure (or whatever that stupid game was called) appear unbidden. In many ways, text adventures were easier; at least the commands (and, importantly, the error messages) were in English!

So it comes as no surprise that folks have tried to create CLI (command line interface) shells with Adventure-like interfaces. The most famous of these are advsh, the Adventure shell by John Coker, and a bash-script version by Doug Gwyn. (I'd pick up Gwyn's; I hear that Coker's won't compile on a modern *N?X without hand-modification, although I haven't personally tried.) A similar project is the MUDShell, which simulates the interfaces of MU*s.

Do these projects succeed? As with nearly everything, in some ways they do and some they don't. Like any good interface, they introduce some useful metaphors. For example, directories are rooms, and special permissions might be "magical artifacts" or "keys" that some users possess and others don't. Moving a file consists of literally "picking it up", carrying it around, and dropping it in some other room. On the other hand, the idioms for doing things can be unnecessarily verbose. Walking from room to room is intuitive, but takes much more typing than a simple "cd". Likewise, both the "room" and the "file folder" metaphors for directories are equally valid, but it's a lot quicker to move "papers" from folder to folder in a Mac/Windows interface than to pick up "objects" and carry them to their destination. (Maybe "throwing" these objects to distant rooms would be a suitable metaphor; at least that way you can stay in the same place.)

The biggest problem, in my opinion, lies not in any fault of these shells but in the intended userbase. These days, anybody who's familiar with the various of text adventures and MU*s is already pretty comfortable with a completely textual environment. I've never met a MU*er who claimed that a shell was too difficult. I'm sure most of the downloads of these shells are former (or current) text gamers who play around with it briefly for nostalgia's sake, rather than true newbies looking to learn about CLI. Adventure shells are a bit friendlier than sh, but to the modern, GUI-fed newbie, the difference is negligible.

But even if there are some difficulties with these particular shells, there are still some lessons to be learned from adventure-style CLIs. For one, English is a bit wordy, but it's a lot easier for a newbie to understand than cryptic UNIX monosyllables. Also, never discard a good metaphor; the "files/folders" metaphor may reign on the desktop, but "people and objects in rooms" is useful, too. (Chat rooms, anyone?)

Can an Adventure-CLI paradigm be applied to any other applications, other than shells? Perhaps interactive command-line programming environments might benefit from a (limited) dose. I've always been a big proponent of interactive programming environments like you might find for LISP, Forth, Python, Haskell, etc. I cannot speak for anyone other than myself, but I always notice much higher productivity when such an environment is available. Incremental development and testing help me find more bugs sooner, and these sorts of environments support these practices in spades. (Decades before the term "silver bullet" was coined, Forth zealots were reporting doubled productivity... and I doubt that Forth's beautiful syntax is the cause. ;)

I can picture several (mild) applications of the "objects/rooms" metaphor. Modules are rooms, linked by "include/import" dependencies, and can be explored like rooms. Classes, objects, and functions are objects: Examining a class or object gives you, say, its member data/functions; and "looking" at anything (a class, a function, an object, a module) displays whatever commentary is associated with it. Maybe spiderweb filaments between objects indicate functional dependencies. ;) Essentially, something similar in functionality to the class browsers popular in graphical IDEs, seen through the metaphor of objects in rooms. Something like this would be great for introducing certain programming concepts (especially OO) to programming neophytes. Objects are objects; Classes are blueprints for objects. Functions are... umm... maybe friendly NPCs who do specific things for you: Constructors who make objects, Accessors who tell you what's inside an object, Mutators who modify an object, etc.


The design of console-RPG interfaces was informed by one specific problem: How to navigate lots of options and data with only a "primitive" controller, containing at the very least a directional pad and two buttons. This problem exists for console games of all genres, of course, but the problem is most evident in RPGs, since they tend (to a fault, sometimes!) to provide the greatest amount of options and data to peruse. (Many console sports games are similar, but it's not a genre with which I'm familiar.)

The usual solution offered is the obvious one: many mostly linear menus navigated by the player by means of the directional pad, with the primary button indicating "confirm" and the secondary, "cancel". These menus are usually brought up by a third button (start or select, for example) which, in many cases, is used only for this purpose. Granted, there's nothing particular "clever" about this interface -- it's an obvious solution -- but it has served the genre for many years.

There are good and bad aspects to this interface, each of which is magnified immensely when considered as a computer UI interface. Even the most limited of computers (say, a simple palm organizer) must deal with far more data and many more options than even the most baroque of RPGs. The bad points first:

  • Once tasks reach a certain complexity, this sort of interface rapidly becomes a hassle. Modern console RPGs are rapidly reaching this point; the player of, say, Final Fantasy VIII (the Windows Registry of the series) might have to root around in the menus for a half hour to properly configure his party. And if a six-character party is a hassle to configure, I would really hate to configure XEmacs this way.
  • The flexibility of this interface is limited; even though you could, say, configure what's in the menus through some sort of meta-configuration menu, there's really only so specific you can get. It would be difficult -- in the case of a shell with this sort of interface -- to pipeline procs, or to grep things. (Of course, this just says "Don't make a shell with this interface".)
Some good points... or, rather, one good point that is spread across two bullets:
  • A pointing device is not needed; it doesn't require a mouse, a stylus, or a grubby finger mashing the screen. This is a bigger benefit than one might at first realize. Your desktop may have a mouse, but not every computer will; this paradigm is as applicable to your computer as it is to a mall kiosk, a video game, your fancy new VCR, or the armrest-controlled personal-entertainment-thingy you might find on a nice airplane.
  • And even when a pointer-device is available, you don't always want to use it. Anyone who does a lot of text-heavy work knows it's nice to have keyboard shortcuts to do common tasks than have to switch to the pointer device and select "save" from the toolbar menu. It's faster, and (at least in my experience) isn't as stressful on your hands. Sometimes the pointer device is awkward; I still have trouble doing any fine pointing with a laptop nipple mouse, and the touchpad on my current laptop took some getting used to (although I'm quite fond of it, now).
So how might this interface paradigm be used in general computing tasks? Well, large parts of it already are... In many programs, if you press <ALT-F>, there's a good chance a File menu will show up, which you can navigate via the arrow keys if you so desire. So there's nothing truly new here for the computer interface designer to learn. There are, however, still good lessons to be learned:
  • These "arrow-key-menu" interfaces are good for tasks involving small numbers of options that must be accessed regularly. To give a Windows example, pressing and holding <ALT> and hitting <TAB> brings up a foreground-task-switcher that is much quicker to use than pointing the mouse at those taskbar tabs at the bottom of the screen.
  • However, menus with many items -- especially ones in which some of these items are themselves menus, can be quite frustrating. Once in awhile, no prob, but doing it regularly would be a big hassle.
A sample project using this sort of interface:

A classic example of (somewhat non-traditional) RPG menu design can be found in Square's Secret of Mana, released for the SNES. It was also used to good effect in the sequel, Seiken Densetsu III, but was left out of the recent Legend of Mana for the PSX. It is also used by the excellent Nintendo emulator FWNES.

While playing, pressing the (X) button darkened the screen and brought up a transparent menu screen. Instead of the more tradition vertical or horizontal box (with choices like Equip, Magic, Status, Save, etc), a circle of icons would appear in the middle of the screen. (Left) or (Right) would cycle through the icons, and (A) (also the "attack" button") would select the highlighted icon. There were four different circles: An "item" circle showed your current inventory (luckily, the number of sorts of items in the game was limited, or else this would have become quite cumbersome). A "weapon" circle let you choose you current weapon. A "magic" circle let you choose what sort of magic to use (i.e., water, stone, wind...). The last circle was reserved for less-used options like equipping armor, configuring your party's AI, etc.

To my taste, there were several virtues of this interface:

  • It didn't clutter the screen with menus (the usual "Fight", "Magic", "Item" suspects) which would have been out of place in an action RPG.
  • It was relatively painless to switch, say, weapons during a battle, or use an item or magic.
  • It would remember the last cycle you used; pressing (X) during play would bring you to that cycle. This was useful if you were, say, trying out different weapons against a boss, or casting spell after spell; you wouldn't have to wade through all the menus to get there.
  • Although this is purely a matter of personal taste, I found it more aesthetically pleasing than the blocky traditional menus.
What sort of computer tasks might this interface be good for? A lightweight window manager might be able to make use of it. Eliminate desktop icons, taskbars, "start" buttons, and related clutter from the desktop. Keep the desktop free for applications. Reserve a button to bring up the menus; something useless like that "flying windows" button you often find on new keyboards, or scroll lock. Upon pressing it, the foreground darkens and a circle of icons pops up, along with a caption box. (The circular orientation, of course, is purely cosmetic.) The various circles might be:
  • Tasks: the applications (both visible and minimalized) that the user is running.
  • Shortcuts: one or more circles of commonly used programs/documents. One of these would always, of course, be an xterm or equivalent.
  • Recent: the most recently used documents and/or programs; maybe the last dozen by default.
  • Options: change your background, your screensaver, modify what's in the other circles, etc.
This would have several virtues: it would encapsulate the functionality of the start button, the taskbar, desktop shortcuts, etc, and furthermore it wouldn't clutter up the screen in doing so. It wouldn't require switching to the mouse to operate, either. Now, there's nothing revolutionary in its design -- in many WMs, you can get the same functionality by right-clicking on the desktop -- but I still think it's worth implementing, if only for aesthetic variety. (I had planned on maybe doing this as a pet/educational project, but I'm still too much of a *N?X newbie to roll my own WM just yet.)


There was a time when graphical adventure games -- now nearly extinct -- ruled the roost. What contributed to their demise? 3d-acceleration or other computing advances, maybe? The fact that, after many years of inventory-based puzzling, game designers had to resort to very counter-intuitive puzzles in order to have anything new? I dunno; anyway, it's not the subject of this article. (However, it is interesting to note that, in the near-vacuum of inventory-adventures, console RPGs are making more use of useable inventories of objects and more item-based puzzles. Perhaps adventures and RPGs are finally reconverging?)

Much of what I said above under Text Adventures applies here, as well; the "rooms/objects" metaphor remains unmodified. However, the interfaces of Graphical Adventures have their own idioms and deserve to be treated separately.

The first graphical adventures were pretty much just text adventures with graphics; think of the early Sierra games or the Legend classics. Later, they developed their own idioms, like LucasArts' SCUMM system or Sierra's SCI. SCI games tended to use different cursors for different actions, while games using the SCUMM (Story Creation Utility for Maniac Mansion, IIRC) engine generally had a list of verb-buttons along the bottom of the screen. Clicking on the verb and then on an object in the game window (or an object in your inventory) did the chosen action to the chosen object. Mid-period SCUMM games like Indiana Jones and the Fate of Atlantis or Day of the Tentacle managed to provide rich puzzles using a mere 9 verbs. Later SCUMM games had different takes: Sam 'N' Max Hit the Road used a verb-cursor similar to that of Sierra's SCI, and Full Throttle and The Curse of Monkey Island had the user right-click and choose an action from a little pop-up kinda interface.

Why might this sort of interface be a useful in human-computer interaction? For one, it maintains the "doing actions to objects" metaphor of text adventures, but there's no CLI to frighten new users. Several desktop environments, in fact, have used this metaphor, although none that I've encountered do so satisfactorily. Packard-Bell, for one, used to ship its PCs with a program that made your computer interface look like a (very yuppie-ish) house with which you interacted in a sterile, Myst-like fashion. Its biggest flaw was the fact that you really couldn't do anything with it, and it was about as lightweight, customizable, and extensible as Stonehenge.

One might take the comparison between Myst and SCUMM/SCI a bit further. Myst was extremely simple as regards object interaction. For each object, one thing could be done with it. You clicked on it, and it did something. What that something was was outside of your control. On the other hand, each object in a more traditional graphical adventure had several things you could do to it (although some might not be valid for that object). Modern file managers do a bit of both: most of your actions consist of clicking on a file icon, and the file manager guessing what you want done with it. But there's usually a way to circumvent this: right clicking often gets you a menu of possibilities, limited though they may be.

A proposal for a file manager with somewhat more complexity: Most graphical file managers take very seriously the metaphor of "objects"; the actions you can do to these objects, however, remains limited. (This is why some people -- probably much of the k5 population -- prefer CLI shells; you are able, in a certain sense, to "define your own actions".)

This file manager might consist mainly of two parts: An object-style view of the file system, and a list of "verbs" (represented, perhaps, as labeled icons.) How the file system is viewed isn't an essential feature; you could have a tree-view a la Windows Explorer and its relatives, a view of a room with object icons lying around, a cushion treemap a la Sequoia View, a topological-view thingy with files and directories as vertices, etc. By default, the "view" verb is active -- perhaps the cursor assumes the aspect of an eye -- but right clicking cycles the cursor through the verbs. Nothing here that can't be done in any graphical file manager. However, a big shortcoming of most file managers is the inability to "create new verbs". One of the reasons I still use a command line is because you can't "gcc <file>.c -o <file>.o | less" or something similar. There is no real reason why you should be able to customize the verbs, adding new verbs to your vocabulary (or forgetting ones you never use) as your needs dictate. Behind those "verbs" could be simple shell scripts in a simple shell language (or a full fledged one, if need be). (BTW, if anyone knows of a graphical file manager that can do such things, I'd really appreciate a link.)


The above lessons are, of course, not the only ones we can learn from game UIs; they're simply the first that came to my mind. I've only attacked three genres, after all. God games would, I imagine, be a fruitful source for interface ideas. I haven't even touched 3D games or VR interfaces. (For example, here's DOOM as a tool for system administration.)

What lessons (good or bad) have you learned from the interfaces in your favorite games?


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Best user interfaces
o Text adventures 16%
o RPGs 14%
o Graphic adventures 11%
o God games 19%
o FPSs 21%
o Platformers 9%
o Sports 0%
o Inoshiro 6%

Votes: 61
Results | Other Polls

Related Links
o advsh, the Adventure shell
o bash-scrip t version
o MUDShell
o "silver bullet"
o early Sierra games
o LucasArts' SCUMM
o Sierra's SCI
o Sequoia View
o DOOM as a tool for system administration
o Also by Puchitao

Display: Sort:
What can games teach us about human-computer interaction? | 105 comments (90 topical, 15 editorial, 0 hidden)
SCUMM (4.00 / 1) (#5)
by evvk on Sun Apr 15, 2001 at 05:44:53 AM EST

I'm quite certain that SCUMM stands for 'Script Creation Utility for Maniac Mansion', not 'Story ...'. I must say that the old SCUMM (before Sam 'n Max Hit the Road) was my favourite adventure game interface (and those games my favourites; and humorous too.) SCUMM wasn't fast, but it was much clearer than the others. Nowadays I'd opt for something more keyboard friendly.

SCUMM (4.50 / 2) (#8)
by Puchitao on Sun Apr 15, 2001 at 06:41:35 AM EST

I must say that the old SCUMM (before Sam 'n Max Hit the Road) was my favourite adventure game interface (and those games my favourites; and humorous too.)
I wholeheartedly agree. A couple things in particular stand out in my mind:
  • Your possible actions were unambiguous; there was no question what "Push" or "Open" did. The SCI's "Hand" cursor -- used for pretty much all object manipulation -- was a far second IMO. I was kinda disappointed that Sam 'n' Max took this route, and further ambiguated it with cryptic icons like "Squeeze Doll" and "Ducky".
  • Due to the caption line above the verbs, you always knew what things were and exactly what you were doing to them. This was a big shortcoming of SCI; I remember being stuck in a Space Quest game because I didn't realize that some 6-pixel red patch was an important button. (Of course, this was before the internet walkthru boom, and hints could only be purchased in book form from Sierra or through their 900 number...)
  • Your inventory was always on-screen.
  • You always got to choose what you wanted to say.
Sure, it took up a big chunk of screen space, but the usability issues outweighed, IMO, the smaller graphics frame.

Perhaps we can do *snappy fun* with you everytime! -- Orz
[ Parent ]
Your .sig (none / 0) (#29)
by fluffy grue on Sun Apr 15, 2001 at 09:30:25 PM EST

After seeing your .sig, I just want to say...

Hello *HAPPY CAMPERS*. Do not make Orz *FRUMPLE*!
"Is not a quine" is not a quine.
I have a master's degree in science!

[ Hug Your Trikuare ]
[ Parent ]

OT: Orz (none / 0) (#56)
by Puchitao on Mon Apr 16, 2001 at 05:37:55 PM EST

That is *funny*. You think you *see* Orz but Orz are not *light reflections*.
Maybe you think Orz are *many bubbles* too. It is such a joke.
Orz are not *many bubbles* like *campers*. Orz are just Orz.
I am Orz. I am one with many *fingers*.
My *fingers* reach through into *heavy space* and you *see* *Orz bubbles* but it is really *fingers*.

Perhaps we can do *snappy fun* with you everytime! -- Orz
[ Parent ]
Oh, man (none / 0) (#76)
by DJBongHit on Tue Apr 17, 2001 at 11:29:27 PM EST

... I ran across a site the other day which was a bunch of people who were writing a game from scratch, but based on Star Control II's characters and plotline. Apparently they thought SC3 sucked (I did too :P ) and wanted a new game that had the same qualities of SC2. It looked really cool, but I didn't find any sign of a Linux port, so I left. I lost the URL though :\

Anyway, up until a few months ago I still had a 100MB DOS partition simply for SC2 :)


GNU GPL: Free as in herpes.

[ Parent ]
Timewarp (none / 0) (#78)
by fluffy grue on Wed Apr 18, 2001 at 01:13:49 AM EST

While looking for somewhere to download SC2 (I lost my copy years ago, unfortunately) I ran across this thing - probably what you're thinking of. BTW, SC2 runs under dosemu, or at least it used to (though DOSemu's sound is seemingly irreparably broken).
"Is not a quine" is not a quine.
I have a master's degree in science!

[ Hug Your Trikuare ]
[ Parent ]

You make Orz *frumple*! (none / 0) (#77)
by fluffy grue on Wed Apr 18, 2001 at 01:02:24 AM EST

You are cheaters from *outside*! You use *camper* words said by Orz to look like Orz *fingers* when you are Arilou *child*! Do not make Orz *frumple*!
"Is not a quine" is not a quine.
I have a master's degree in science!

[ Hug Your Trikuare ]
[ Parent ]

Ducky, confusing? (none / 0) (#30)
by ksandstr on Sun Apr 15, 2001 at 10:14:42 PM EST

Didn't it say in the manual that "the 'ducky' verb won't cause you to magically advance in the game", or something to the effect that the ducky verb is a no-op? (besides, how can you get confused by a rubber ducky?-)

One of the Leisure Suit Larry games (LSL6 or LSL7?) had the "two hand icons" problem. The two "hand" icons were "pick up" and "manipulate" (although "grope" would be more accurate... ;-), which would probably have worked just great if the game designers hadn't gotten confused too - the "pick up" icon looked like it could also represent the "squeeze" action, which is how it was used a couple of times during the game.

[ Parent ]
SCUMM was quite keyboard-friendly (4.00 / 1) (#26)
by fluffy grue on Sun Apr 15, 2001 at 09:23:45 PM EST

Every verb label corresponded with a key on the keyboard. For example, if you had the layout:

take eat push pull
open close kick use

then 'take' would map to Q, 'use' would map to 'F', and so forth. This wasn't very well-documented in the SCUMM games I played, unfortunately, but I do quite clearly recall it working in the C64 version of Zak McKracken, at the very least. I believe it also made a similar allowance for inventory items.
"Is not a quine" is not a quine.
I have a master's degree in science!

[ Hug Your Trikuare ]
[ Parent ]

The latest Lucasarts games are pure keyboard (none / 0) (#40)
by Nicodemus on Mon Apr 16, 2001 at 10:24:06 AM EST

With the newer 3D engine that I first saw in Grim Fandango, and in the very new Secret of Monkey island, the entire interface is keyboard driven. I don't use a mouse at all, and I don't think there is any way to use the mouse. It makes for the most comfortable and immersing interface. I never have to move my hands, such as in a normal 3D shooter, only my fingers. This minimizes any kind of external interruption to the game, which I think is vital for these kinds of games. Both of which were excellent. I don't know why I keep seeing 'Adventure is dead.' It seems alive and kicking and getting better and better.

(If you don't know, the keyword interface I'm talking about works like this: You control a character from static third person camera angles. You have a move forward, move back, turn left, turn right. So you basicly 'drive' them around the world. When you get close to an object that you can interact with, the character looks at it, and in Monkey Island text appears across the bottom describing what you can do with it. So you have 2 more keys: action and inventory. Quite excellent, imo)


[ Parent ]
Dead as they were known (none / 0) (#43)
by evvk on Mon Apr 16, 2001 at 10:56:50 AM EST

[The interface] I think this is too simplistic; what's the different to a first person shooter? There you have one action key too for pushing buttons et cetera. One of the joys of adventure was to discover the command or verb that works in that particular case. And I don't like the current 3D graphics either. Monkey Island 1&2 were much prettier (even if low-resolution) than the horrendous screenshots I've seen from the latest three-dimensional defilement. (For some reason, I didn't like the graphical style of monkey island 3; or the game to great extent either.) Infact, older games seemed to have not just better graphics and everything but better musics too, even if the hardware didn't allow for much. (ummm... SIDs...)
For all this a blame the fact that games have become popular entertainment, that hollywood-filtered hang-your-brains-in-the-rack-while-you-watch crap, and are made for the masses. (There are always few exceptions, of course.)

[ Parent ]
challenge (none / 0) (#65)
by Puchitao on Mon Apr 16, 2001 at 09:43:20 PM EST

Infact, older games seemed to have not just better graphics and everything but better musics too, even if the hardware didn't allow for much. (ummm... SIDs...)
There's something in the challenge of working with a limited palette (both literally and figuratively) that leads to artistry. A portrait of Abraham Lincoln made out of exactly one set of dominos (sorry, can't find a pic of it online) has a much lower resolution than a photograph of him, but is many leagues more impressive. (Not that photographs from that era were easy, but...) Likewise, beautiful graphics in Mode 13h have that sort of wow, how'd they do that effect.

Not that they're only good because they're more difficult, mind you. I think a lot of modern games simply don't try as hard. More frames per-second and more polygons onscreen are nice, and not to be sniffed at, but its what you do with those polygons that count. Pixels, polyogons, or pen-and-watercolor (my personal favorite) don't matter, so long as someone obviously put a lot of time into making it an aesthetically pleasing experience.
Perhaps we can do *snappy fun* with you everytime! -- Orz
[ Parent ]

Areas not yet covered (3.66 / 3) (#9)
by Miniluv on Sun Apr 15, 2001 at 06:56:30 AM EST

One of the most interesting paradigms in gaming that has yet to enter the UI world is the 3d one. I don't mean 3d in the first person shooter (Doom'n'Quake) style, but rather than of games such as SimCity, Populous, Homeworld and most recently Black and White.

The last one is probably the absolute best interface I've seen for a game to date. It's not hugely versatile, because it only has to types of interaction with the world, motion and action. This probably wouldn't work for the UI, however it could be cautiosly expanded. How much do you really need from any given section of your desktop, honestly? You want to move around it, so one interaction type. You want to launch applications, open files, activate devices, so two interaction types. You want to rearrange the layout, so there's three. And perhaps you need some form of meta-access to files and apps and devices, so that'd be a fourth. I believe this could easily be done with a three button mouse, or merely by adding a fourth button for people who don't like clicking two buttons at once.

The hard part comes in determining how to represent apps, files, devices, and meta-objects in this 3d space in a way that is intuitively meaningful to a basic user while also efficient in use of space and resources (cpu, et al).

I look forward to the authors treatment of these more "advanced" interface types, and will continue pondering how the paradigm might advance so I'll have some form of useful comment when the time comes.

"Its like someone opened my mouth and stuck a fistful of herbs in it." - Tamio Kageyama, Iron Chef 'Battle Eggplant'

SimCity (4.00 / 1) (#11)
by Puchitao on Sun Apr 15, 2001 at 07:31:16 AM EST

Come to think of it, a "SimCivic" atmosphere would mesh very nicely with something like SequoiaView. Simply make the rectangles into buildings and the "cushions" into streets, and allow the user freedom to "fly" above the city. Different sorts of files might make different sorts of buildings... help files and manpages might look like schools, executable files might be taller (so they stand out), etc.

The hierarchical directory structure could be mapped onto neighborhoods; after all, there are many "levels" of neighborhood from borough to block. (Manhattan contains Downtown contains Chinatown contains Little Saigon.) The big directories might be boroughs: I would make my home directory in the shape of Manhattan; Brooklyn and Queens could be /bin and /lib (where the real work gets done) and Staten Island would be, of course, the trash bin ;).

If I had the resources for it, this would be a fun thing to play around with... it would even have useful qualities, since SequoiaView's cushion treemaps are very helpful in determining which files are wasting your disk space.

On a slightly different note, I found the following excellent article in a search for "SimCity UI". It's a synopsis of CHI conference on "Fun", focusing on game interfaces. The following paragraph is especially interesting:

Matt suggested that the principles in these software toys may be most easily transferable to non-entertainment software applications, perhaps creativity tools like Photoshop or Word. Instead of a dumb authoring toolset, such applications might include an inspirational mechanism which employed "game-like" (or "toy-like") simulation theories to inspire users to more creative possibilities.
Reminds me of certain creativity packages for kids (like Mario Paint and others whose name escapes me); does anyone know of any packages like this for us so-called adults?

Perhaps we can do *snappy fun* with you everytime! -- Orz
[ Parent ]
Sensiva (none / 0) (#16)
by Puchitao on Sun Apr 15, 2001 at 03:36:58 PM EST

I've been hearing lots of good stuff about B&W's interface; wish it would run on my old computer. In the meantime here's a neat application launcher that kinda resembles B&W's "spell drawing" idiom (as it's been presented to me). By drawing special scrawls on the desktop, common tasks can be done. Minimizing a window is a downward-right slash; quickly accessing the desktop is a lowercase "phi" (if I remember my Greek alphabet correctly); launching MS Word is a big W. (The specific symbols may be different whether you're on Windows or Mac or Linux.)

I doubt it'll replace the start button any time soon, but I'm always happy to see some innovation.

Perhaps we can do *snappy fun* with you everytime! -- Orz
[ Parent ]
Maybe time to do away with the mouse? (3.00 / 2) (#24)
by Miniluv on Sun Apr 15, 2001 at 09:13:02 PM EST

Symbols for quick actions seems to make more sense as a paradigm for non-mouse interfaces such as tablets. I actually used a Wacom tablet (Intous 8x6) as a mouse for several weeks with a great degree of sucess, and I think it would've been even better had it been in conjunction with something like the symbol recognition you mention.

"Its like someone opened my mouth and stuck a fistful of herbs in it." - Tamio Kageyama, Iron Chef 'Battle Eggplant'
[ Parent ]
B&W's interface (4.00 / 1) (#21)
by BigNachos on Sun Apr 15, 2001 at 08:44:14 PM EST

Funny you should mention B&W's interface. Based on the title of this article, I was hoping it would be a discussion of how appalling the B&W interface is. I've never seen a worse interface for a game in my life. All the effort to do away with icons and immerse the player in the game only resulting in an interface that you have to fight with to get anything done.

A lot of people seem to be able to deal with it. But, I think you're the first I've seen that actually likes it.

[ Parent ]
I've seen a lot of people that like it. (none / 0) (#37)
by retinaburn on Mon Apr 16, 2001 at 08:51:31 AM EST

The ones that don't often want simple buttons matched to complex or hard patterns. Thus removing themselves from complex movements = powerful spell.

The are often the same people that want cheats and hacks a day after the game is released because they are 'stuck'.

I think that we are a young species that often fucks with things we don't know how to unfuck. -- Tycho

[ Parent ]
The mouse, the pain (none / 0) (#38)
by evvk on Mon Apr 16, 2001 at 09:01:40 AM EST

I haven't tried any such interface but I can guess that I don't like it, mostly because of the mouse and the strain on wrists. But I hate touching the mouse anyway. As I have earlier proposed, some gesture- and perhaps touchpad- or stick-based interface could very well complement the keyboard; if we could just get rid of widget-based interfaces that require a precise pointing device (at which the touchpad, for example, is not very good at.)

[ Parent ]
Interesting Idea (5.00 / 1) (#45)
by jonnyq on Mon Apr 16, 2001 at 12:30:14 PM EST

I would absolutely love something like this for use with one of the kinesis keyboards that have the touch pad built in right next to the index finger. The only reason why I shy away from the touch pad now is that I have absolutely no accuracy with them whatsoever.

[ Parent ]
That's a lame response (4.00 / 2) (#41)
by BigNachos on Mon Apr 16, 2001 at 10:42:21 AM EST

But playing video games shouldn't cause pain and tightness in my wrist from doing acrobatics with the mouse. I'd rather save my wrist for masterbation, thank you.

I am not the type that wants cheats and hacks a day after a game is released. Far from it. I have no qualms with learning a difficult interface, if it allows me to be more productive in the long run. I am a linux user, after all.

I define a good interface as one that doesn't get in the way of what I want to do--one in which I can express exactly what I want to get done with minimal hassle. This is one thing I love about a CLI. It is very explicit and allows you to tell the computer exactly what I want it to do.

B&W's interface fails in these regards. You will never be able to effeciently tell the game what you intend to do because you need to do repeatedly mouse acrobatics to get it right. No amount of practice will help either.

A good game should require me to make use of complex patterns within my brain, not with its interface.

Please please please don't say transpose your thoughts to something like, "The more difficult the task you're trying to accomplish on your computer, the more difficult it should be for you to execute it." Like, if you're trying to format your hard drive, you should have to draw a skull and crossbones on the screen with your mouse pointer and then type supercalifragilisticexpealidocious. If you make a mistake, you have to start over.

Computers are supposed to make accomplishing tasks *easy*. That is why we use them.

Therefore, B&W interface sucks.

[ Parent ]
Magic, (4.00 / 1) (#47)
by inpHilltr8r on Mon Apr 16, 2001 at 02:15:54 PM EST

It's a game, you're casting complex and powerfull spells, it's not supposed to be trivial.

Personally I love the gesture system. They we're a pain to start with, but after a little practice, I've found them relatively easy to pull off.

That said, I really, really want to buy a pen/tablet now.

It's going to be interesting to see how they pull off the interface on a console though.

[ Parent ]
You're missing my point (none / 0) (#49)
by BigNachos on Mon Apr 16, 2001 at 02:43:59 PM EST

It's perfectly fine that complex and powerful spells to be difficult to cast. However, the interface is the wrong place to implement the complexity.

The complexity should be within the game itself. It shouldn't be a function of how talented I am with a mouse. That's just dumb.

Maybe I'm just biased because I'm a linux user and I love my keyboard and typing commands/shortcuts. I find mice to be horribly imprecise and difficult to use. I've been using mice for years and I still can't make it go exactly where I want.

I think the real issue is that most Windows users have tunnel vision, and view the mouse as the only way to use a computer. They've grown accustomed to pointing and clicking their way through everything and don't realize how inefficient a mouse is for most tasks.

[ Parent ]
console? (none / 0) (#55)
by Puchitao on Mon Apr 16, 2001 at 05:25:28 PM EST

The closest they could probably get on a console is using those analog sticks; I believe they're packaged with the PSOnes & PS2s now, for example, and N64 always had 'em. Not nearly as agile as a mouse for that sort of thing, though, but whatcha gonna do.

On the subject of the dual analog sticks, Ape Escape for the PSX had some cool uses for them; swing a propeller around your head to fly, row the two oars in a raft, pull back and release a slingshot, etc. IIRC, the game was original intended to release alongside the Dual Shock controller, to show off its capabilities, but was delayed for quite awhile.

Half the reviews of Ape Escape loved the innovations in control, the other half hated them. But then again, it's a game, and a big part of the game; if you don't like it, don't play it. It's just a matter of taste. It's not a voting interface. From what I've heard, the big thing about B&W is its interface; take away that interface and you lose half of what makes the game unique. But I haven't played it, so don't listen to me about that; maybe the interface is indeed horrendous, but it seems to have picked up at least a few fans.
Perhaps we can do *snappy fun* with you everytime! -- Orz
[ Parent ]
Jet Grind Radio (none / 0) (#87)
by fluffy grue on Thu Apr 19, 2001 at 12:46:23 AM EST

Jet Grind Radio, on the Dreamcast, uses analog-stick gestures for painting graffiti. Every skater has a different set of moves they go through in doing different graffiti of different sizes. Granted, the gestures are broken down into simple strokes and arcs, but it's still a similar sort of thing.
"Is not a quine" is not a quine.
I have a master's degree in science!

[ Hug Your Trikuare ]
[ Parent ]

Street fighting man (none / 0) (#93)
by inpHilltr8r on Thu Apr 19, 2001 at 06:53:02 PM EST

It's pretty much the same approach as Street Fighter's quarter circle's and the like. Jet Grind/Set Radio just does it with an analogue stick instead of a digital one.

Expect to see a similar system in a certain exoskeletal bike racing game coming to the PS2 this fall...;)

[ Parent ]
Dual Shock (none / 0) (#94)
by inpHilltr8r on Thu Apr 19, 2001 at 07:36:08 PM EST

Ape Escape was the first title to actually recquire a DualShock (in the UK at least, it initailly came with a DualShock). Dualshocks are now standard with PS1's (have been for a while now), and DualShock 2s (analogue aftertouch on virtually every button) are standard with PS2s (although the old digital pads still work).

We had similar acceptance problems with Alien Res on the PS1. Basically we had to build an FPS control system for a dualshock, when everyone knew that the best system would involve a mouse and a keyboard (AR does support mouse and joypad, which is as close as you can get on a PS1).

Some people got the control system I designed (shaped left stick move/strafe, adjustably damped right stick look/turn, with fire and the other high use actions on the shoulder buttons), others didn't (unfortunately our external producer didn't). The magazines were about 50/50 split on the system, although I suspect some of them were using the noddy system that our publisher forced us to add as default (turn and move on left stick, no use of second stick), but the designers and testers were sniping facehuggers at long range fairly quickly, and it was the preffered system with the rest of the team.

The main problems were to do with damping the look stick. DualShocks have quite a bit of dead space at the centre, and not much usefull physical range to play with. I ended up letting the player toggle the spring & damper system on the vertical axis with a button, although in retrospect, I prefer the Quake 3 PS2 solution (at least on the 'advanced' setting) of only applying the springs when you move (something I found irritating, and thus turned off, when playing Quake on the PC).

Black and White's interface is pretty cool, but the game's the thing. I don't think it'll lose much from moving to a pad (at least, not the PS2 pad, DC pad stinks, X-Box one just looks nasty, high hopes for the GC one).

[ Parent ]
Acrobatics with the mouse ??? (none / 0) (#50)
by retinaburn on Mon Apr 16, 2001 at 02:48:57 PM EST

Perhaps your zealous use of the mouse is the reason for your sore wrist and having to repeat patterns to get them recognized.

With regards to the 'complexity' (which is bollocks) problem. In FPS you get to a point where to have to do a long far jump a certain way to reach the other side, this requires a complex manouver, skill and patience. There is not a 'DO HARD JUMP' button, or 'KILL BAD BOSS'. Being a Sniper in any game often takes a lot of practice to master, so why not make a 'INSTA-KILL BECAUSE IM LAZY'.

The B&W designers have intergrated the gameplay features into the interface. I do the spells slowly until I have the motion down then I can get up to a good clip solely from memory.

I can see people with RSI having a valid complaints, but chances are if they do then they should already be using an alternative to a mouse anyways.

Practice does help. It helps many people, maybe not you, but most others.

I think that we are a young species that often fucks with things we don't know how to unfuck. -- Tycho

[ Parent ]
Poor analogy (none / 0) (#51)
by BigNachos on Mon Apr 16, 2001 at 03:04:58 PM EST

First of all, I know how to use a mouse just fine.

Secondly, your analogy is poor. In a FPS, the interface is still quite simple. On key moves forward, another strafes, another jumps. With some practice, you can control your character exactly how you want to with instantenous response.

In your examples, the complexity is within the game. If it were within the interface, you'd have to do something like: tap forward, tap back, do a circle with the moule to do something trivial like doing a jump or pulling the trigger. How annoying would the game be if you had to play like that?

[ Parent ]
Hmmm (none / 0) (#53)
by retinaburn on Mon Apr 16, 2001 at 04:55:07 PM EST

First of all, I know how to use a mouse just fine.

Contrary to this: But playing video games shouldn't cause pain and tightness in my wrist from doing acrobatics with the mouse.

In Quake 2, you had to pratice (or cheat) to do a rocket jump. It involved a series of timed moves to work correctly.

Casting spells in B&W is not complicated.

Hmm i need a fire ball. Spiral, up-down-up-down-up-down ahh fireball of destruction that was sure difficult.
I need some water. Spiral, a big W. Ahhh thats better. Ohh my creature is on fire I need some more water. Big R. There web go...boy this game sure is tough.

In B&W there are no complicated moves for a something trivial. In fairness I have heard that some people with slow computers find it hard to trace the shapes...they just have to do it slower. When my machine grinds to a halt I still manage to do the spells, no mouse acrobatics for me.

I think that we are a young species that often fucks with things we don't know how to unfuck. -- Tycho

[ Parent ]
Keep going... (none / 0) (#59)
by magney on Mon Apr 16, 2001 at 06:59:16 PM EST

I need to heal my creature. Spiral, a heart... whooops, didn't work. A heart... no, dammit, not a house, a heart!... shit, my creature's already dead.

Fire's pretty easy, wood, food, and water aren't too bad... but heal's a bloody pain in the ass.

At least it's pretty good at telling a spiral from a squiral. Grabbing the leash when I'm trying for a different miracle would drive me nuts.

Do I look like I speak for my employer?
[ Parent ]

Key to Cure (none / 0) (#60)
by retinaburn on Mon Apr 16, 2001 at 07:31:04 PM EST

Start at the point, then up to the left, and do the heart, then come back to a sharp point.

I think that we are a young species that often fucks with things we don't know how to unfuck. -- Tycho

[ Parent ]
Yeah (none / 0) (#66)
by ZanThrax on Tue Apr 17, 2001 at 12:42:08 AM EST

I finally figured out that the detection routine for the heart starts at the bottom, rather than the middle as the icon implies... Sometimes it is annoying to cast the spells if my mouse isn't tracking well, but for the most part it works good, even on my (getting old) PII 400.

Before flying off the handle over the suggestion that your a cocksucker, be sure that you do not, in fact, have a cock in your mouth.
[ Parent ]

I don't like it. (none / 0) (#42)
by sugarman on Mon Apr 16, 2001 at 10:45:48 AM EST

It has nothing to do with cracks or patterns. As it currently stands, the PoS is unplayable. The tutorial can marginally be played through, but as soon as it ends, the hand will either grind into the earth, or scroll off the island and lock into the edge of the zone.

The keyboard provides some respite (I can use the space key to get back to the temple before them PoV locks into the ground), but the game was not designed to be played without a mouse. It sucks. Hard.

[ Parent ]

Unplayable to some ...yes (none / 0) (#48)
by retinaburn on Mon Apr 16, 2001 at 02:40:23 PM EST

It works well on ever machine I have seen so far, about a dozen. Some of these machines were gigahertz but most were slower.

Because the performance of the interface on some systems due to either HW conflicts, system performance (shutting down CPU intensive processes like Virus scanners and the like), or the network connection problem does not mean the interface sucks hard.

If it was unusable by the majority then I would agree but as it looks right now its the minority that seem to have a problem.

I think that we are a young species that often fucks with things we don't know how to unfuck. -- Tycho

[ Parent ]
Populous and Powermonger reminiscing (4.00 / 1) (#46)
by spitboy on Mon Apr 16, 2001 at 01:47:25 PM EST

I don't know whatever happend to Lionhead's plans to release this game on several major personal computer and video gaming platforms, but I do seem to recall that Black & White was supposed to run on more than just Windows systems; Mac, PS2, Dreamcast were amongst the platforms I remember being thrown around. I'm guessing they repeatedly missed deadlines and eventually had to release the version for the biggest potential market, alas no non-Wintel versions of the game are out currently.

In any case, my point here is that I imagine that Peter Molyneux devised a UI that would work roughly identical on keyboard/mouse and game controller environments.

And I haven't played the game myself, so I wonder whether the UI shares any similarities with Populous and more importantly Powermonger, which was akin to a next step in god games.

Powermonger was a significant advance, as it was featuring 3D-rendered landscapes (combined with little sprites for humans, sheep, resources, etc) as opposed to the tiled landscape of the Populous worlds. That was a small step back in aesthetics from Populous, but the 3D engine allowed you to zoom in and out as well as rotate, which enriched the gameplay greatly. The UI of PowerMonger was all too reminiscent of Populous, though...

And the classic Populous interface was a little cumbersome, as it took up quite a lot of screen real estate, but it did a nice job of visually integrating certain status display functions with GUI widgets. I especially remember a linear arrangement of different disaster buttons: Flood, fire, and earthquake were on the low end (and required less energy to unleash,) and big things like spontaneous volcano erruptions were on the high end. A little marker would travel along the row of these buttons to indicate to you what sort of disasters you could currently afford (anything to the left of the marker, including the button the marker currently was at were available, anything to the right required additional energy.) In addition to that, the UI layout contributed to the impression that the game world was a kind of board game, as a static set of interface elements would remain on your screen at all times with the section of the game world you were currently viewing occupying its center.

Powermonger added avatars for the adversary gods you were competing against (sitting at the edge of aforementioned game board) and it also changed the way you could influence the game play. Instead of shaping the environment and triggering natural disasters you were in control of little leader avatars that would influence the game world by assembling gangs and waging war on the enemies (amongst other things.) The game had nice touches such as carrier pigeons transporting messages between the gangs you controlled...all these developments appear precursors to what Molyneux did with Black & White.

But enough of this digression. I shall have to play Black & White before I can make any other contributions on the subject of its UI design.

[ Parent ]
Black and white makes me see red (none / 0) (#75)
by hellorob on Tue Apr 17, 2001 at 10:05:07 PM EST

Having spent a number of hours playing B & W I now consider it unplayable. RSI cause by the mouse gymnastics required to control this game has severely affected me, I say no more! In my opinion, this is a great example of a lousy interface. The visuals are superb, but at what expense?

[ Parent ]
Opera 5.10 (4.33 / 3) (#32)
by Dekaritae on Mon Apr 16, 2001 at 04:10:32 AM EST

Opera Software recently released a new version of their browser than utilizes a gesture browsing system, where by holding down the right mouse button and moving the cursor in various ways you can perform functions normally reserved for the toolbar, such as back and forward, reload stop and new window.


[ Parent ]
Simple, hierarchical and keyboard-friendly (4.00 / 1) (#12)
by evvk on Sun Apr 15, 2001 at 07:37:27 AM EST

One nice thing about game user interfaces has been --- at least in the past, I haven't really kept up with the scene after the advent of 3D and games moving (from DOS) to the windows 95 platform; I don't care for most 3D games, hand-drawn graphics are prettier --- that even when the games represented WIMP-like constructs, such as dialog boxes, the dialogs were often designed to be used from the keyboard by having a nice linear layout so one could easily move between the controls with the up and down arrows. Current WIMP dialogs often have a fancy ("nonlinear") layout and using alt-tab to move between the controls is not intuitive. Other nice thing is that there never could be more than one active menu/dialog/window, whatever one wishes to call those, at a time (often they could occupy the same space of the screen if not all of it); the menus were a tree that you could expand from the root and the topmost was always the active; escape would bring you the previous. Often in the game there was one special key (often the escape key) that would bring you the menu. Nice, easy and clear. Also the controls were limited in variety and simple. In current WIMP interfaces there's a wide variety of complex controls (widgets). The screen can get crowded with many different windows and you never really know what dialog applies to what and what is the "parent" of that.

I'm quite certain that this kind of simple hierarchical interfaces could be used in many programs too. Minimize the amount of widgets and instead put things behind a context sensitive menu hierarchy and keyboard shortcuts to most commonly accessed features. The interface should try to teach these shortcuts to the user; maybe even learn and suggest to map a feature the user commonly accesses to an unused key combination; but never without the user's consent. The keys should be consistent between programs and user configurable. One of the problems with keyboard-based interfaces has been that the keys have rarely been the same between different programs. In addition to the menu key, keyboards should have other special keys, such as a context-sensitive help key (as on meny Sun keyboards.) Why waste screen space and complicate the interface by having help buttons everywhere?

Of course there are tasks for which a (still simple) widget-based interface may be the best --- namely those where you need to use a pointing device anyway, such as drawing, etc. --- but why should all interfaces be like this? Why not fully support or design the interface for the primary input device for that specific task.

Vile widgets (none / 0) (#34)
by Holloway on Mon Apr 16, 2001 at 05:25:51 AM EST

Alien I hate how widgets keep infringing on the document space. The window title, then drop down menus, then icons below those menus, then many rows of icons in rows of dragable trays, and with MS Outlook an area to the left with icons, and Nautilus with sliding tabs of many icons. Good grief!

== Human's wear pants, if they don't wear pants they stand out in a crowd. But if a monkey didn't wear pants it would be anonymous

[ Parent ]
Myst killed the graphical adventure genre (3.66 / 3) (#14)
by gblues on Sun Apr 15, 2001 at 02:33:55 PM EST

Or rather, the success of Myst did.

Myst itself is a very good game. The world is fleshed out and interesting. Myst gets blamed for having illogical puzzles, but in fact the puzzles solve themselves if you approach it logically. I'll bet most of the people who thought Myst's puzzles were arbitrary didn't realize that the solutions are provided within the game and were trying to "brute force" them.

However, after Myst sold a bazillion copies, everyone and their mom tried to clone it. The SCI and SCUMM type games were considered to be "old" and were summarily dropped in favor of making Myst clones. Except none of the Myst clones were any good. They didn't sell, and that is why the graphical adventure genre has been declared "dead."

... although in retrospect, having sex to the news was probably doomed to fail from the get-go. --squinky
First person and God game (3.33 / 3) (#20)
by Scrymarch on Sun Apr 15, 2001 at 08:26:27 PM EST

FPS as a tool for system administration is amusing, but I suspect that it's better as a entry-level CLI. It's a very direct metaphor for beginning users, and I think having a DOOM interface for finding applications to run would work well. Unfortunately expanding to directories / rooms could be difficult as the number of rooms and number of objects within it expands with little regard for a two-dimensional map.

God games could work as a metaphor for monitoring system activity. Maybe SimCity could work for computer systems. Traffic flowing in/out = network traffic. Road width = bandwidth. Disk capacity = space on the ground, buildings = directories on disk domains, building height = space consumed. Groups of cities = groups of servers. I think you could have great fun, and also see at a glance what's happenning on your system.

Scale Issues (none / 0) (#44)
by jonnyq on Mon Apr 16, 2001 at 12:02:08 PM EST

Being moderately interested in computer design, I would love to see this, especially how the roads would be laid out to map with the various data buses. I think it would also be amusing to see and compare the road width inside the city (system) with that between cities (network).

[ Parent ]
Interesting old book on the subject (3.66 / 3) (#22)
by fluffy grue on Sun Apr 15, 2001 at 09:01:42 PM EST

As part of my predissertation research (one of the avenues I was exploring was HCI issues in virtual reality environments), I stumbled across an interesting book... look up the book "Human factors in Computer Systems," (c)1984 (sorry, i don't have a full cite with me, though that should be available from the NMSU online library; look for call number QA76.9.P75.H86). One of the papers in it is "Heuristics for Designing Enjoyable User Interfaces: Lessons from Computer Games," by Thomas W. Malone. It details the use of positive reinforcement as a means of learning a user interface, using the classic educational game "Darts" as an example, as well as Breakout (you know, the game that Arkanoid is based on).

It's a different angle to attack the problem from, of course, but it does bring up some still-valid points - a good interface should positively-reinforce correct behavior, while being somewhat neutral (but still encouraging) on incorrect behavior - "No, that's not quite right, please try again" and otherwise being polite on failure.

For what it's worth, my ideas for a 3D interface is to be third-person (camera is detached from [optional] avatar and moves intelligently) and command-oriented (actions, rather than motions, being the control structure). Action-control seems to work out much better in general than motion-control when dealing with complex systems; Starcraft would be pretty much unplayable if you had to directly control the units, for example. FPSes use the motion-control paradigm, which is fine for such a simplistic interface, but any sort of more-complex-than-running-around control gets cumbersome (even things like using items, pushing buttons, etc. - notice how in FPSes, any time that there is such a thing, it's a HUGE and singular target, and even then it's frustrating to try to control).

Unfortunately, as much as I'd like to develop my VR HCI ideas, I'd rather do algorithmic research (specifically on a promising dynamic spatial-partitioning algorithm I came up with a while ago), as it's easier to get a CS PhD out of that than from something squishy (a.k.a. Psychology-oriented) like HCI. :)
"Is not a quine" is not a quine.
I have a master's degree in science!

[ Hug Your Trikuare ]

You missed an important interface adaptation. (3.75 / 4) (#23)
by Inoshiro on Sun Apr 15, 2001 at 09:03:19 PM EST

The piechart menu. They allow you to provide more options to the user without increasing the distance they have to move their mouse (as much), while ensuring that it's not easy to misclick and get the wrong option.

I continue to be baffled as to why people ignore this obvious and useful tool in modern graphical environments. A modifcation of the piechart menu which is keyed towards control by a SNES controller exists, as you said, in the Secret of Mana. But it's still ignored. Try to get a nice piechart popup out of the GTK+ widget set, or the QT one. Good luck!

[ イノシロ ]
Pie menus (3.50 / 2) (#25)
by fluffy grue on Sun Apr 15, 2001 at 09:19:16 PM EST

Unfortunately, pie menus are looked down upon, even by people in HCI research, because they're seen as, if you'll pardon the expression, "pie in the sky" research. Basically, HCI researchers seem to go, "Oh, that is contrary to 20 years of GUI research! It'll never catch on!" when really it's never really been tried on a large scale.

That said, there are a few places where it shows up, specifically in games. I don't recall Secret of Mana's interface having that, but Turok: Rage Wars and Perfect Dark, both FPS games on the Nintendo 64, use a pie menu for weapon selection. T:RW's implementation is quite good (within a single mission, things will always be in the same place, and between different missions, each slot is at least the same kind of weapon), whereas PD's is somewhat lacking (distance matters as well as angle, and things move around greatly between missions).

I seem to recall, also, that on NeWS (Sun's predecessor to OpenWindows) there were pie menu widgets, and the NeWS version of SimCity used them quite effectively. There's also been a version of twm patched to have pie menus, though its implementation is a bit... sub-par, IMO (and personally, I prefer pwm and cursor navigation of menus anyway; for me to launch XMMS, it's just M-F1 J J L K Enter :)

Hacking GTK to have pie menus probably wouldn't be too difficult (replace the GTKPopupMenu (or whatever it's called) widget), but there's the problem that GTK programs tend to have REALLY big menus, making it horrible for pie menus (pie menus work best when there's 6-8 items per level as a maximum). KDE apps are even worse in that regard (since the top-level menu structures tend to be extremely broad).

Oh, one other place where pie menus exist in real life is with Logitech wheel mice; their driver comes with this stupid "webwheel" thing which is so poorly-implemented as to be almost unusable. The menu itself is pretty well laid-out, but the fact that it takes something like 5 seconds for the damn thing to pop up when you want to access it makes it worse than useless, since the whole point to pie menus is that they're fast and rely on tactile memory (and having to wait even one second for it to come up is just unacceptable).
"Is not a quine" is not a quine.
I have a master's degree in science!

[ Hug Your Trikuare ]
[ Parent ]

Just thought of another one (none / 0) (#27)
by fluffy grue on Sun Apr 15, 2001 at 09:26:47 PM EST

The Dreamcast webbrowser, flawed as it is, uses pie menus for its context menu, which is one of the few things they got right in it. :) (And that was also pretty badly-implemented, making it cumbersome rather than convenient.)
"Is not a quine" is not a quine.
I have a master's degree in science!

[ Hug Your Trikuare ]
[ Parent ]

Logitech MouseWare (4.00 / 1) (#31)
by fsh on Sun Apr 15, 2001 at 10:15:31 PM EST

The latest version of logitech mouseware has a fairly nice device they call the WebWheel, accessible by clicking on the scroll wheel. It has ten links, 5 of which are the commonly used internet commands (back, forward, stop, favorites, and, er, something else; back is the default, so if you doubleclick the button it goes back automatically), while the other five are user selectable weblinks.

[ Parent ]

Another use of pie menus (none / 0) (#54)
by RHnateDogg on Mon Apr 16, 2001 at 05:19:28 PM EST

Unless I'm seriously mistaken, the "Runewheel" in shadowbane's "Arcane3D" engine is another pie chart... They've created their website with an example of the wheel as the front page. It takes awhile to load, being a web page, but it seems as if it's something I'll appreciate in the actual game. If it ever comes out. [Bah, it looks like they changed the front page to load faster since last time I saw it... oh well]

[ Parent ]
HCI Link (5.00 / 8) (#33)
by 0x00 on Mon Apr 16, 2001 at 04:27:40 AM EST

I have hunted around my old e-mails and found a link too one of the most interesting articles on HCI I've ever read.

A Quiz Designed to Give You Fitts

One of the most interesting points the author makes is how software developers misuse the edge of the screen, because if you place buttons right up against it they become infinately larger and therefore the seek time for the user with the mouse becomes less (Fitts Law, iirc). Anyway, read the article.



So many clowns, so few mildly amusing rubber chickens.

Application of Fitts'; critique (4.00 / 1) (#83)
by ubu on Wed Apr 18, 2001 at 05:21:19 PM EST

Given that Fitts' Law wants edges, and given that a screen has only four edges (and therefore a finite and fixed amount of edge space), consider a "mode" key for windows that allows their boundaries to act like virtual screen edges. For instance, 'ESC' toggles "Fitts' Mode", allowing the app developer to put toolbars all along the edges of the document window while retaining the part-time benefits of multiple window interfaces.

What are the disadvantages of this approach?


As good old software hats say - "You are in very safe hands, if you are using CVS !!!"
[ Parent ]
Task switching (5.00 / 2) (#85)
by fluffy grue on Thu Apr 19, 2001 at 12:27:29 AM EST

Mouse-only interfaces are great.

Keyboard-only interfaces are great.

Mouse-keyboard interfaces only work well, however, if only one hand is needed on the keyboard. The majority of non-game applications do not fit this criterion.
"Is not a quine" is not a quine.
I have a master's degree in science!

[ Hug Your Trikuare ]
[ Parent ]

Criteria (none / 0) (#88)
by ubu on Thu Apr 19, 2001 at 11:02:13 AM EST

Meanwhile, a long way from the world of interface dogma...

Does adding the artificial edges to windows with a mode switch...

  • Slow down the interface
  • Speed up the interface
...for a given task?


As good old software hats say - "You are in very safe hands, if you are using CVS !!!"
[ Parent ]
Good question (none / 0) (#89)
by fluffy grue on Thu Apr 19, 2001 at 11:40:23 AM EST

I don't know, but my hunch would be that artificial edges would indeed speed things up if the user is already using the mouse when the edges are brought up. I guess that I had missed the 'artificial edges' thing, and thought you just meant that hitting some key would bring the app's toolbars around the edge of the screen.

If the mode switch were something as simple as the shift key (hold it down), then I'd say that yes, it'd be a really good thing, without polluting the keyboard too badly (since normally you don't hold down shift while moving the mouse between applications). Maybe shift and then mouse movement will bring it up though, or shift only imposes the artificial edges and the toolbars are always up or something, since otherwise it'd be really annoying to have the toolbars flashing in and out while typing text. :)
"Is not a quine" is not a quine.
I have a master's degree in science!

[ Hug Your Trikuare ]
[ Parent ]

Clarification (none / 0) (#90)
by ubu on Thu Apr 19, 2001 at 01:09:58 PM EST

I didn't explain very well. The idea was that the mouse would be bound within the window itself. I think the old game 'xmrid' used to act this way based on user preference. In any case, within Fitts' Mode the mouse wouldn't run past the window edges, which would make those boundaries effectively infinite in size (according to Fitts' Law). The whole idea is to increase the amount of Fitts'-appropriate screen area by subdividing the screen per-window.

I chose the 'ESC' key simply because that's the key used for vi mode switches. Perhaps a mouse gesture of some sort would be more appropriate.


As good old software hats say - "You are in very safe hands, if you are using CVS !!!"
[ Parent ]
Yeah (none / 0) (#91)
by fluffy grue on Thu Apr 19, 2001 at 01:38:55 PM EST

I figured out what you meant after your response.

Esc sucks because it's got the 'cancel' connotation (and actually, in vi, it's not the mode switch, it's the mode cancel - it cancels whatever edit mode you're in and goes back to the main command mode). I don't think a mouse gesture would work that well because that adds state and modality to the mouse itself, which is rather circular and would lead to a lot of confusion IMO. I think that holding down a key would be better (that way the mode is also easy to cancel - just stop holding down the key). Preferrably it should be a key on both sides of the keyboard (Alt/Meta would probably be the best choice, given that it's not typically used in normal typing), so both left-handed and right-handed users could use it effectively, which was where my dogmatic rant on mouse-keyboard interfaces comes in. :)
"Is not a quine" is not a quine.
I have a master's degree in science!

[ Hug Your Trikuare ]
[ Parent ]

Misguided (none / 0) (#102)
by Dwonis on Wed Apr 25, 2001 at 12:28:25 AM EST

The things you guys are talking about sound like they'd be a pain in the you-know-what. What's wrong with the all-menus-at-screen's-edge approach that was used on the Mac & the Amiga?

[ Parent ]
Alternative (none / 0) (#95)
by carlfish on Thu Apr 19, 2001 at 11:56:34 PM EST

Use edge-resistance, rather than a keyboard toggle. By default have the mouse-pointer bounded within your application window, and increase the "depth" of the edges of the window by having the mouse-pointer stop at them, and require additional effort to leave.

You wouldn't get the "infinite" depth of Fitts' Law, but you would significantly increase the effective size of any control at the edge of the window. The resistance could be configurable, so that the more accurate you are with a mouse, the less resistance you'd need to find the controls.

If you want infinite depth, have the mouse bound within the window, but after you've reached the edge, any new mouse gesture can take you outside it.

This would be a lot more condusive to normal use of the mouse than moving the mouse with a modifier key held down, where the fraction of a second you'd save finding the right control would be lost finding the right key on the keyboard. (anecdote in place of experimental data :) )

I've always found that behaviour requiring simultaneous, coordinated mouse and keyboard just "feels wrong", which would explain why when I'm far more likely to use the right-click context menu for hyperlinks in my browser, than take advantage of shift-click and ctrl-click.

I don't have this problem with games that require mouse and keyboard, however. I think the reason for this is that game interfaces and desktop UIs have a marked difference in the amount of concentration you pay to using them. Games tend to be immersive - you pay most of your attention to the game, and react to the rest of the world in short bursts. This means that you can immerse yourself in the UI as well.

With a game your hands stay in whatever configuration is suited to the game, which generally means "hovering over exactly the right keys." In non-game, typing use, modifier keys such as ctrl, esc or shift are usually a stretch, even if your spare hand is on the keyboard at the time.

One of the primary goals of non-game UI would have to be ease of recovery from having your hands away from the keyboard, since the computer shares your attention with the coke bottle, the phone, the pad of paper, and gesturing at the guy in the next cubicle. I find that I can find the keyboard easily, find the mouse easily, but finding both at the same time in a coordinated fashion is a lot harder.

Charles Miller
The more I learn about the Internet, the more amazed I am that it works at all.
[ Parent ]

Excellent (none / 0) (#98)
by ubu on Fri Apr 20, 2001 at 10:02:57 PM EST

That's brilliant, an excellent compromise that doesn't require a mode switch. Someone needs to critique this idea.


As good old software hats say - "You are in very safe hands, if you are using CVS !!!"
[ Parent ]
Mouse control in Opera 5.10 (2.00 / 1) (#35)
by vr on Mon Apr 16, 2001 at 05:37:57 AM EST

As a side note, check out the new mouse gesture control in Opera 5.10.

Sensive (none / 0) (#36)
by JohnIII on Mon Apr 16, 2001 at 07:42:47 AM EST

I've been using Sensiva (on Windows) for this sort of thing for a few months now. It's fairly forgiving and you can create your own gestures easily.

[ Parent ]
Logitech's POINT editor (none / 0) (#84)
by anonymous cowerd on Wed Apr 18, 2001 at 09:42:24 PM EST

Back in 1988 when I first got an AT-clone PC I bought a Logitech mouse to go with it. Besides being unusually good-looking for a computer peripheral in a minimalist way, and having what I still think is the most comfortable mouse case I've ever used (no doubt I feel this way because it was the one I learned on, but I do like the old Logitech shape a lot), the Logitech mouse also came with a bizarre editor for MS-DOS called POINT that I used for several years. Among its other virtues, it could load several files simultaneously in resizable overlapping windows and it was very customizable by way of editing a file called POINT.INI. It also had built-in parenthesis matching, which I thought was the greatest thing, as I was writing a lot of LISP at the time. Oh yeah, it's worth mentioning that I used POINT every day for years and I don't recall it ever crashing.

Another cool feature to POINT was you could program it to do this and that - basically everything in its command set - by holding down a button or two and moving the mouse in various directions - i.e., I made it save a file by holding down the right button and moving the mouse to the northeast. At the time I had relatively few programs with mouse support at all, and I thought something like an IBM CUA-compliant interface with mouse-accessible pull-down menus was a terrifically sophisticated interface.

Editing with POINT was a lot like the way Jackson Pollock used to paint, real physical. You tended to shout "zoop!" and "ha!" as you gesticulated various commands, and you needed a fifteen-inch square clear space on your desk if you really wanted to wail. It took a long time to learn the click-and-swipe command interface for POINT, and I made it worse by constantly dicking with POINT.INI. To tell the truth, I wouldn't have the patience these days to do it, but then again back in '88 I used to love computers, whereas nowadays I'm slowly recovering from a bad case of computer burnout, the hack equivalent of writer's block, and the thought of learning something new and arcane gives me the same queasy gonna-ralph feeling as sniffing a bottle of tequila. But anyway POINT was a ton of fun to use.

Yours WDK - WKiernan@concentric.net

the Earth's blue as an orange

[ Parent ]

OT; crashy (none / 0) (#86)
by fluffy grue on Thu Apr 19, 2001 at 12:31:57 AM EST

You know, it's pretty sad these days how even remembering that a text editor didn't crash is something phenomenal. I mean, seriously, text editors are one of the most simple, basic applications out there, and yet mentioning that a text editor never crashed only points out that these days, people expect everything to crash - text editors included.

I wish I could say I've never had XEmacs crash on me, but that'd be a lie. At least no version of vi ever has, for whatever that's worth (and on the contrary, vi does a great job of session recovery, be it the terminal HUPing or the entire system freezing). Though I'm sure that vim will happily crash if you end up doing something really stupid with its higher-level functionality too. (XEmacs loves to crash for me on things which require sockets - NNTP and Emacs-W3 and such.)
"Is not a quine" is not a quine.
I have a master's degree in science!

[ Hug Your Trikuare ]
[ Parent ]

Related MLP (1.66 / 6) (#39)
by Zapata on Mon Apr 16, 2001 at 10:02:06 AM EST

Doom as a sysadmin tool.

"If you ain't got a camel, you ain't Shiite."

pie menus, angular memory (4.00 / 4) (#52)
by adrien on Mon Apr 16, 2001 at 04:16:46 PM EST

I remember reading somewhere that we have an easier (and more accurate) time remembering angular coordinates (for a 'pie menu' that could mean remembering that ItemX is at "5-o'clock") than we do remembering X-Y rectilinear spatial coordinates (for a pull-down menu: ItemX is howevermany pixels down and howevermany pixels to the right from ItemY).

Pardon my uselessness, but I cannot remember where I read this, and so cannot supply you with any concrete stuff written by "professionals" (thinking, it might have been Tufte, not sure). If anyone can come up with sources, it would be cool...

The circular orientation, of course, is purely cosmetic.

The whole "angular memory" thing would suggest to me that, if implimented correctly, and of course only for certian applications, that a "pie menu" or other such system might be more efficient/easy/precise than our standard "rectangle" based system.
Of course, imlimenting this on a rectangular screen with rectangular pixels, in a rectangular world means going against the grain somewhat (in my opionion a bad thing to do if you want good interfaces, unless you are prepared to take it all the way), and at least wasting a bit of screen space somehwere - which is probably why it is unpopular.

Clocks, Full Throttle (none / 0) (#57)
by evvk on Mon Apr 16, 2001 at 06:00:38 PM EST

> I remember reading somewhere that we have an easier (and more accurate) time remembering angular coordinates

Maybe this has something to do with analog clocks. Personally, I hate them. I think digital (HH:MM) clocks are much easier and faster to read. (And one doesn't have to look outside to know whether it is day or night. pm/am are nonsense.)

I don't like pie menus either. True, the entries may be faster to access supposing a mouse but I don't like mice. You do not want to browse a circular menu with the keyboard and with more than just a few entries the menu will get too crowded to be usable at all: you must move the pointer far from the centre to get precise positioning.

Oh, IIRC Full Throttle (the Lucas Arts' game) had a sort of stylized pie menu (was it a skull?) for selecting actions. I hated it.

But why do menus have to have just one column? With more columns, however, I think they should be somehow grouped other than arbitrarily.

[ Parent ]
hierarchical pie menus (none / 0) (#58)
by Puchitao on Mon Apr 16, 2001 at 06:50:06 PM EST

The excellent article posted by 0x00 had a wee bit about pie menus; for those unwilling to read through the whole thing (tho' I suggest doing so), here's the part about pie menus:
Question 7
Name at least one advantage circular popup menus have over standard, linear popup menus. With the options displayed around you in a circle, you need only move a pixel or two to enter the "slice of pie" you want. Less travel, good target size. Good design.

They have a second advantage of feeding not only distance, but direction information into your motor memory. As long as the options are few enough, you will soon learn to move your mouse up and to the left to print, down and to the right to fax, etc. In fact, once these simple gestures are learned, you needn't even display the menu anymore, unless the user hesitates long enough to indicate they may be unsure. (This was borne out during the course of the Fabrik project at Apple in the late 1980s.)

One drawback, of course, is that it's tough to put these sorts of menus at the sides of the screen (as the article suggests is the best policy); perhaps half-pie menus would work, if the menu depth was only 1.

I wonder if any research has been done into implementing hierarchical pie menus. (I think Seiken Densetsu 3's circle menus might have been hierarchical, with new circles popping up around selected submenus. I don't really remember, however, and SD3 would have lost the angular-memory thing anyway since it was the menu that rotated, not the cursor. There are good English and French ROM translations of it out there, but (legal disclaimer) delete them as soon as you're finished studying the interface ;)

Hierarchical pie menus would, however, take up a lot of space; I can't really see them working within current widget frameworks. It would really need a screen for itself. However, there would be nothing preventing my hypothetical ManaWM from implementing nested pie menus: whenever the user selects one, slap on another layer of dark translucency and draw the new circle around the old icon.

As you note, however, pie menus are only good for certain applications; I fully agree with evvk that Full Throttle would have been better off without it.

Perhaps we can do *snappy fun* with you everytime! -- Orz
[ Parent ]

Another computer game innovation... (none / 0) (#70)
by Office Girl the Magnificent on Tue Apr 17, 2001 at 09:41:32 AM EST

Anyone who plays "The Sims" (AKA Digital Crack) frequently can attest to this. Maxis uses a circular "pie menu" interface, and the mouse movements become so ingrained that the user doesn't even have to read the menus past a certain point.

Incidentally, other aspects of the game have become a part of my kinetic intuitive memory. For instance, I often try to center images on web pages by left-clicking and sometimes even try to zoom in with the + and - keys. But that's just because I'm a dork.

"If you stay, Infinite might try to kill you. If you leave, the FBI definitely will. And if you keep yelling, I might do it myself."
[ Parent ]

games retraining your use of the web (none / 0) (#79)
by eudas on Wed Apr 18, 2001 at 06:35:46 AM EST

that happened to me as well because of Black & White. i keep wanting to rotate the mouse roller in the opposite direction that I want the page to move.

"We're placing this wood in your ass for the good of the world" -- mrgoat
[ Parent ]
Oo-topos(sp?) (none / 0) (#61)
by Jimbalaya on Mon Apr 16, 2001 at 07:35:18 PM EST

I believe that's the name of the game you're thinking of, with the martian et al...

Lack of originality in computer games (2.00 / 3) (#62)
by sanity on Mon Apr 16, 2001 at 08:22:43 PM EST

One thing which annoys me is the lack of originality in computer games. All games seem to fall into one of a small number of categories - with little to distinguish them other than the choice of graphics. These categories include:
  • The God Game
    This includes everything from Populus to Red Alert 2
  • The 1st person shooter
    Doom, Quake, even the original Dungeon Master
  • Sports sims
    Car racing games, soccer etc
Where is the originality in the computer gaming industry?

dominant genres (2.00 / 1) (#63)
by Puchitao on Mon Apr 16, 2001 at 09:23:08 PM EST

The recent stagnation of computer games has been kinda disheartening lately; the lack of new ideas -- along with the insane price of a modern gaming rig -- have pushed me pretty much completely to consoles.

Consoles, of course, are stuck in their own genres -- roll-playing games, platformers (rarely 2d now), fighting games, sports titles (common to both) -- but there seems to be less fear in releasing something completely different. Probably something having to do with the differences between the computer game and console industries. I read a good article (can't find the link, sorry) awhile ago on why the current state of the games industry is causing stagnation. Basically, there're still plenty of creative designers and even creative games, but the big publishers -- who buy the shelf space at your local gaming store, and whose games the magazines review -- feel it's better to release a carbon-copy of already popular games (or at least games in the same genre, for which there's already an audience) than to risk a huge loss by funding something totally new.

But, at the same time, the current stagnation can't last forever; someone, after all, had to create the first God game, empire builder, FPS, etc, and break the stranglehold of whatever genres were dominant at that time. Five years ago, I never would have guessed that animal husbandry would be a dominant genre for kids games, but we now have Pokemon, Digimon, Monster Rancher, and what-have-you. The Sims didn't really fit in any genre, but it sold tremendously well; I have the feeling, however, that it'll be another Lemmings: great sales, but fails to launch a genre. And even if it does, in five years we'll all be complaining about Sims clones....

Perhaps we can do *snappy fun* with you everytime! -- Orz
[ Parent ]

Insane price (none / 0) (#96)
by CAIMLAS on Fri Apr 20, 2001 at 12:49:45 AM EST

Insane price? I don't know about you, but being able to buy all the hardware for a decent game system (something that will play the latest games w/ good framerates) for around 800$ is not exactly 'expensive' by gaming terms. This is definately the lowest prices ever for a game PC. Remember your 'sub-1k$ computers' a couple years ago? That's right, they were crap, even for then. Nothing you could feasably shake your fist at without laughing. Then, a 'game system' cost about 1.7k+$. A year before that, a game rig cost twice that.

Try and be a little more factual.

Socialism and communism better explained by a psychologist than a political theorist.
[ Parent ]

one man's decent (none / 0) (#97)
by Puchitao on Fri Apr 20, 2001 at 05:12:17 AM EST

is another man's expensive. I still consider $800 a laughably high price for a system that will be out of date in a year or two. (Now, if I needed a whole new computer, I would happily fork over $800, but not just for games.) You note that a couple years ago, $1.7k-3.8k was a more standard price; while that makes $800 a lot more palatable, it doesn't bring it down to Christmas-feasible for a lot of families. That's still 2-4 times what a modern console costs new; if you go used, the price drops to almost nothing. (I got a PSX for $40 when it was still king; you can get a Dreamcast -- still a fun system -- new for $100, used for half that.)

There's nothing "factual" about a system's price being high or low. To some, used to paying 2-4x that for a rig, $800 is a godsend. To others, it's 2-4x what they'd be willing to pay. To me, it's 16x what I'd pay for a game system (damn you, rent!). It's all relative: You note that $800 dollars is not exactly "expensive" in gaming terms. Maybe not to a PC gamer. But to a console gamer, used to limited-purpose systems and artificially-low prices, that's still a rip-off. But this is getting kinda off-topic, so I'll close here.

Perhaps we can do *snappy fun* with you everytime! -- Orz
[ Parent ]
Just because you can categorize something... (none / 0) (#69)
by Pedro Picasso on Tue Apr 17, 2001 at 08:23:00 AM EST

...doesn't mean it's stagnant. Game designers will often allow marketers to thrust their game into a specific genre category even if it doesn't quite fit, because if you can't say what a game is in ten words or less, you're going to have a hard time selling it.

Are videogames stagnant? It's possible. They're not all out to reinvent gaming. Some just put a new twist on an old genre. Like a pet creature in a god game (Black and White). Some just rework an old idea better than anyone who came before them (Balder's Gate II). Games aren't great right now. There's a lot of places left for them to go, but they're not stagnant. Turn-based combat in RPGs like Final Fantasy; now that's stagnant.
-the Pedro Picasso

Cult of the Flaky Hardware
[ (sourceCode == freeSpeech) | kakkune.com ]
[ Parent ]

minor correction (none / 0) (#101)
by sesquiped on Sun Apr 22, 2001 at 09:01:58 PM EST

"Turn-based combat in RPGs like Final Fantasy"

Just FYI, Final Fantasy games haven't been turn based since before FF3 in the US (FF6 in Japan), which came out in 1994.

[ Parent ]
I must not have been looking hard enough... (none / 0) (#103)
by Pedro Picasso on Wed Apr 25, 2001 at 02:08:24 AM EST

...because during the brief time I was playing a borrowed copy of FF7, it seemed pretty darned turn-based to me. I've heard there was an option to set a time limit on your turns. I'm not sure this is true, but even if it is, it's still just turn-based with a time limit.

I really am curious about this, because I do enjoy the Final Fantasy stories. Please edjumukate me further on the subject.
-the Pedro Picasso

Cult of the Flaky Hardware
[ (sourceCode == freeSpeech) | kakkune.com ]
[ Parent ]

turn-basedness (none / 0) (#104)
by Puchitao on Wed Apr 25, 2001 at 09:37:01 PM EST

Yeah, it's a sorta turn-based system -- well, it's not exactly real time -- but it's not the traditional you move, they move thing of console RPGs. Essentially, each time a character does an action, they have to wait a certain amount of time before doing another. (The time depends on the character's speed stat.) And if they're ready to do an action, and you don't give them a command, nothing waits for you to do so. If you put the controller down and go make a sandwich, the enemies won't wait for you to move; they'll just keep attacking. So it's kinda "real time" in sorta the same way that certain RTSs are real time, but not the way an action game would be real-time. Essentially, it's a compromise to add a bit of urgency to the traditional turn-based systems. (The toggle you mentioned is, iirc, an option to "stop time" while you're wading through them damn menus, so that you're not killed while you look for a potion or the drain spell.)

Oh, and actually the series has used this system since FF2 (FF4 in Japan)... it's just that 2/4 and 5 hid the "time" bar. And although I'll be the first to say it's becoming a bit stale after six iterations with little change, I still prefer it to a traditional turn-based scheme, since it adds a bit of a sense of urgency.

Perhaps we can do *snappy fun* with you everytime! -- Orz
[ Parent ]
games, browsers, and word processors (3.66 / 3) (#64)
by dlchao on Mon Apr 16, 2001 at 09:40:40 PM EST

When I first hacked up PSDoom, the Doom process manager, I thought that it was cool because it used a game interface. I tried to make arguments about how much more "natural" these interfaces are, and how they can reduce cognitive load. I later realized that it was the combat metaphor that made PSDoom so compelling. After all, sysadmins talk about "killing" processes, "rogues", "zombies", and "daemons". Many of them also play Doom or its descendents. The first-person-shooter seemed like a natural way to represent process management because not only does it use a familiar interface, but the language (killing) carries over as well.

There are many pieces of software that are so frequently used that their interfaces have become a "vernacular", or common language, of the computer world. For example, so many people play games that it seems natural to use game interfaces in many tasks. But there are other places to look. You will not get my mom using a first-person-shooter for anything, but she knows how to use a web browser. Much as I hate to admit it, Microsoft's use of Internet Explorer as its file manager interface may have been more than merely a cynical attempt to shut out Netscape. The web browsing metaphor seems to suit the task of navigating around a file system.

One problem with drawing examples from the gaming world is that they are often violent. It is difficult to come up with game interfaces that are non-violent and would transfer naturally to other applications. I like the SimCity idea, but the mapping between traffic, electricity, and population to files, memory, and other system resources would quickly become baroque. These sorts of interfaces are fine for "calm technology" applications where you are simply presenting a passive representation of system state that stays in the periphery of your consciousness. But once you need to interact with your "city", I'd certainly prefer a command line or simple traditional interface.

So now I no longer feel that I want to stick game interfaces on everything. As fun as it would be to run around my directories, I really don't see the point. However, I do think that we do not pay enough attention to the interface design vocabularies that are already in our heads. I think that using large chunks of the interfaces of games, web browsers, and word processors in other applications will make things easier to use.

PSLemmings (none / 0) (#74)
by Puchitao on Tue Apr 17, 2001 at 02:42:31 PM EST

One problem with drawing examples from the gaming world is that they are often violent. It is difficult to come up with game interfaces that are non-violent and would transfer naturally to other applications.
Although it has its share o' violence, too, I immediately thought of Lemmings when you said this. Maybe a little window at the corner of the screen with little 8 pixel high Lems walking around the landscape. Frozen procs could be blockers, maybe % cpu time would be how fast they walk, and killing the little buggers would result in pixelated explosion goodness. Maybe hard reboot would be Nuke...

Maybe not useful, but cute. Just hack the Pingus source and you have an immediate audience, too. ;)

Perhaps we can do *snappy fun* with you everytime! -- Orz
[ Parent ]
Actually... (none / 0) (#82)
by gromm on Wed Apr 18, 2001 at 04:09:14 PM EST

I think this *would* be useful. It's certainly a better idea than psdoom, since killing a process wouldn't be such a pain. You could also have as many buttons as you like to do myriad process management tasks, while psdoom is (right now) limited to renicing and killing in an awfully inefficient manner.

Added bonuses could be that you could change the color of your penguins' shirts to match different process states, and at the same time have a key right on the screen to help sort that out. Or, you could change the entire sprite - a zombie instead of a penguin for instance. Since these attributes are already part of the game, it would be easy enough to incorporate system administration tasks into it. :)
Deus ex frigerifero
[ Parent ]
Games can teach more than just productivity (4.00 / 2) (#71)
by nichughes on Tue Apr 17, 2001 at 09:42:55 AM EST

Whilst games can surely teach us how to tweak our interface designs to increase user performance, the real lessons to be learned are in user motivation. People play games because they are fun and because they engage their interest - when was the last time a word-processor engaged your interest? The best explanation for this I can think of is at http://www.designhappy.com/ which is well worth a look.

English (none / 0) (#72)
by evvk on Tue Apr 17, 2001 at 10:02:54 AM EST

Games with a lot of textual content (e.g. adventure games when they still were alive) are good for teaching English to us who don't speak English as our native language. Unfortunately most of the current dominant game genres are inherently quite non-textual, except for some god games perhaps. And then there's these japanese games...

Adventure and puzzle games also teach problem solving skills and, most importantly, patience, I believe :-).

[ Parent ]
patience, teaching, et al (none / 0) (#73)
by Puchitao on Tue Apr 17, 2001 at 02:33:48 PM EST

A young friend-of-the-family used to come over my house a lot; he was quite ADHD (attention-deficit & hyperactivity disorder). Not that mild sort of "my kid's uppity; let's sedate him", but a kid with a real disorder. Had a lot of trouble in school; I dunno if he ever finished. Great kid, though; very intelligent with a piercing wit.

It was tough to keep him from tearin' the house down sometimes; his father and his teachers had a lot of trouble controlling him. But put him down in front of, say, Dune II and he would sit there playing for hours. Couldn't even tear him away for meals. In terms of picking off those pesky Ordos or organizing Harkonnen offensives, he had a lot more patience than I.

His father noted that this wasn't odd; he said other parents of AD(H)D kids noticed the same thing. There was something about video games that made them pay attention for hours; something about the constant feedback and reinforcement, and the sense of accomplishment at beating a level. His father said he'd been reading up on using games as education tools -- and even as simple attention-span trainers -- and noted some success. Hell, in our opinion even "non-educational" games had a lot to teach about logic, strategic thinking, etc.

Just a personal anecdote on video games as education and maybe even therapy. But I'm sure there's some interesting research out there that supports our personal experience.

Perhaps we can do *snappy fun* with you everytime! -- Orz
[ Parent ]
The File manager that allows this is: (2.00 / 1) (#80)
by Highlander on Wed Apr 18, 2001 at 08:36:59 AM EST

Windows ! Windows 2000 for sure; others maybe. Do open with/Choose Application/Search App - and select your shell script. One small hassle is that each applicatrion has to have a unique name.

Moderation in moderation is a good thing.
Kuro5hin users (3.33 / 3) (#81)
by lonesmurf on Wed Apr 18, 2001 at 09:39:16 AM EST

First, I would like to say that I really liked your article: it was well-written, thoroughly thought out and, hehe, long! I just have to comment on this. I know that it is off topic, but hey, that is what rating is for, right?

(This is why some people -- probably much of the k5 population -- prefer CLI shells; you are able, in a certain sense, to "define your own actions".)

Believe it or not, the majority of the users I have come in contact with on Kuro5hin are windows users. You say, "But how can he know that?" Simple, says I, logs. When users come to my site through kuro5hin (about ten a week) I get a reference from what site they come from and, among other things, what OS they are using. Out of about 200 hits from Kuro5hin, I would say that 10 of those were using a *nix variant. I do note that you referenced CLI and not "*nix variant", but I stand by my argument: rarely have I used cmd.exe to do anything more complex than pings, tracerts and perhaps some simple shell scripting. Certainly not for file management and everyday tasks. I know that most users don't even use the CLI. Although I don't have statistics on that one.. yet. :)

Please be careful when making overly-broad statements like that in the future, ok? Thanks.


I am not a jolly man. Remove the mirth from my email to send.

Right and wrong... (none / 0) (#92)
by ucblockhead on Thu Apr 19, 2001 at 01:50:06 PM EST

In general you are correct, however, be careful about overly broad generalizations about Windows users. I'm a Windows 2000 coder by day, and spend a good deal of it in a bash shell. I'm a longtime CLI fan despite being a Windows guy, mostly.

And just remember, using a CLI in Windows doesn't mean you are stuck with CMD.EXE! Either bash or 4NT give you a bang-up, full featured shell.
This is k5. We're all tools - duxup
[ Parent ]

Gesture Navigation (2.00 / 1) (#99)
by BierGuzzl on Fri Apr 20, 2001 at 10:57:03 PM EST

Black and White has brought with it the popularisation of "gesture navigation". This has some really nifty applications to the productivity interface of a system....

You could grab a file and throw it across the desktop and try to make it in to the trashbin.

Instead of fiddling with the doubleclick button you just grab a file and give it a "tug" with the mouse and maybe even have it so that the icon starts spinning when you grab it and yank at it.

A circular motion while hovering over a window could send it to the background, while the same circular motion with a mouse button depressed would iconify or close the window...

There's really quite a bit of possibilities to be had....

- doh -

proto (none / 0) (#100)
by fluffy grue on Sun Apr 22, 2001 at 03:28:41 AM EST

The Sawmill window manager (for UNIX) can be configured to let you "throw" a window towards the edge of the screen in that sort of a way. It's pretty badly-implemented, IMO, though it's a very neat idea (though kinda pointless at the same time).
"Is not a quine" is not a quine.
I have a master's degree in science!

[ Hug Your Trikuare ]
[ Parent ]

3D GUI vs Windows. The DOOMed OS (none / 0) (#105)
by guyd on Tue May 01, 2001 at 02:02:02 AM EST

The article mentioned, at www.cs.unm.edu/~dlchao/flake/doom/
is very amusing. In 1995 I wrote on a similar topic:
As for True Names, see everist.org/texts/scanned/truename.zip
if you want it. The pics came out nicely, don't you think?

Since those days, I've thought about 3D interfaces to an OS
a great deal more. Too deep an issue to go into here, apart
from saying that if done right, it would offer massive advantages
over 2D window themes. Both functionally, and aestheticly.

But it seems, Microsoft has also been thinking about this.
Apparently they are running an experimental 3D GUI development
project (about which I know nothing, and care less. Its from MS;
its bound to be insane, restrictive and financially rapacious.)

What is important, is that MS must know that in the OS market
they currently have nothing that gives them a major advantage
over Linux. What they'd _like_ to have is a total open-software
OS killer; something that everyone must have, and open-software
cannot provide. Something they control totally. Something that
would greatly appeal to the appearance-beats-power hordes.
What could that be?

Answer: A fancy 3D operating system GUI. First one onto the
store shelves wins.

So why can't the open software heros get there first, or better?
Or even overtake a prior introduction?

Answer: 3D graphics requires hardware assist. Hardware must be
manufactured. Hardware production is ruled by who holds
the patents. If you are making *very* complicated silicon,
its not so hard to ensure that only you can write the
driver code. (vis the PC chipset manufacturers, and the
BIOS writers' cozy relationships, much to the discomfort
of attempts to write open source PC BIOS code.)
Guess who is acquiring almost all the key 3D patents?
Why.... Microsoft. (Through their partner, nVidia.)

That was the real tradgedy of 3Dfx - they went open source with
their code (Glide, etc) thus demonstrating the whiteness of their
hats. Then died. Having personally ported Glide to a MIPS CPU system,
I know their code was accessible.
nVidia seems to be something else. Much more closed. Seems like
one of those companies you can get real info from - *if* you pay
a boatload of cash, and are somebody they like. Please correct
me if your experience differs.

As for why 3Dfx went from technology leader to failure, seems
like it was a case of bad management decisions. But those can
be 'arranged', if you are big enough, and can put the right people
in the right places.
Anyway, nVidia/MS got what they wanted - the key patents.

Something tells me MS will be making a strong effort to acquire
control of everything else to do with 3D graphical environments,
as time goes by.

Guy Dunphy

What can games teach us about human-computer interaction? | 105 comments (90 topical, 15 editorial, 0 hidden)
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