Game Design w/ Focus on User Experience
The goal of making a video game, in the most general sense, is to create a user experience. The tricky part is, designing mechanics is mostly guesswork until the systems are tested. That said, there are certain criteria we can follow to avoid the biggest pitfalls of negative user experience. In the video game industry, these are commonly called The Keys to Usability. These keys help developers increase quality and reduced development costs by planning ahead.
Keys to Usability
Usability is a term used to describe how fluid and functional a game is to play. It measures consistency, simplicity, and efficiency in design. We can use Keys to Usability as a checklist of broad but universal design goals every game should strive for. They also help define some design standards that can be checked for during usability testing. While different game makers might organize and title them a little differently, the following covers the basic concepts of ensuring usability.
Seamlessness is our first goal for usability. Playing a video game is meant to be an immersive experience. That means we want to avoid things that unnecessarily pull players attention from the game as we want to present it. The most glaring issue that can detract from seamlessness is glitches. Glitches are unintended programming errors that instantly, and often visually, break the spell of the game. Once the veil of the coding is revealed through a glitch, it becomes difficult for the player to get lost in intended design. Poor controller response can also ruin seamlessness. Other non-technical problems can be additional obstructions to seamlessness. Bad storytelling, poor character dialog, or incoherent visual themes can easily jolt a player from their focused engagement with the game. For seamlessness to occur, all of the elements of mechanics, story, visuals, and sound must blend together without showing the audience the man behind the curtain.
Usefulness is another important consideration for any design element put into a game. Concepts should never be tossed into a game with no forethought as to how those concepts will make the game better, as opposed to just bigger. Mechanics that are not useful, or meaningful, become tiresome for the player, as they offer no tangible purpose to master and no reward. Non-mechanical usefulness is also important. Visuals work better if they convey concise messages of the world rather than a random assortment of unrelated or tossed in images. Visuals display their own usefulness in that they help guide the player through obstacles in the game world. Any visuals that confuse that guidance fail in usefulness.
Desirability asks the question: will anyone want to play this? A desirable game will have a sense of something new, be exciting to play, encourage players to play to the end and have friendly, meaningful mechanics. Evaluating desirability is a matter of asking direct questions of the experience. How did x make you feel? What is your reaction to x? With this sort of questioning, developers can evaluate positive and negative areas of the game’s attraction to an audience.
In video game terms, Overall Elegance, is the balance between rules complexity and ease of play. A game is considered elegant if its rule set is simple enough for the player to instantly (or nearly so) begin to play. This is done by giving the player clear options to explore the game without having to work too hard at discovering how they work. Elegance means the game’s design meets the core design goals of keeping a player immersed and learning the game as intended.