When bad interfaces do good things

Title When bad interfaces do good things
Author Tom Chick
Posted in Games
When February 5, 2013

To run in Red Dead Redemption, you can hold down the X button. It's more like a determined trot. But to really run, you have to mash the X button repeatedly. Which is a distinctly Rockstar idiosyncrasy..

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Try Receiver. They do the active run too (tap W) but it's less annoying because you usually want to move slowly and carefully.

Running has about as much in common with tapping the X button as hacking has in common with solving a maze or QTE. I just felt ridiculous in Walking Dead tapping 'Q' to move backwards. It's a key. I'm tapping it. No illusions there.

Receiver, which came out of last year's 7 day FPS (and is now on Steam
Green Light), has an interesting take on what it requires to shoot a gun. For example you have to load each bullet individually, there is no hud to tell you how many shots you have left, you have to turn the safety off to shoot, etc. It takes something you usually pay no attention to in a game beyond hitting r to reload, and makes a large part of the game.

Tom, it's the 'A' button in RDR, GTA 4, Max Payne 3, and Bully on 360.

How does R6 Vegas hold up these days? I've thought about re-buying it just to get some more time in its pre-Horde horde mode, but I don't know if it's worth my time.

This is great. Much like Marston, the player would sooner ride his horse.

Interface design is about efficiency, but playing a game has an almost opposite goal. When we say someone is doing something "playfully" the word can actually mean "less efficiently than normal." If you tried to design a system to get a small white ball to go where you wanted would you design... golf? Never. Gaming is actually about producing that inefficiency for the sake of play. People who design game interfaces don't seem to appreciate this tension at all, but that's what Tom is getting at in this post. Strategic inefficiency that supports the game world. Instead, most game interfaces are absolutely terrible either because they have random inefficiency (that doesn't support the narrative) or they have universal efficiency (that doesn't support the narrative).

There should be some sort of certificate of game UI design and it would teach some of the opposite things that a certificate in UI design would include.

"arguably better game design to simplify running."

"That’s certainly a valid approach, and it’s probably a safer way to make a game accessible to the greatest number of people."

I worry that these two things are too often falsely equivocated to the detriment of game design, I don't think that accessibility = good design in much the same way that I don't think the best writing necessarily has to use the more accessible vocabulary.

Now obviously that's the point of your post, but in trying to argue that point you have made the same mistake of calling designing purely for accessibility "good".

On a different note: Shadow of the Colossus uses a similar system for it's horse riding, though it's likely inherited more from the Zelda inspiration so it's not just Rockstar's stubbornness.

I get what you're saying, and sometimes that is true. Sometimes you want an interface option to present a challenge, like not being able to pause or something. Still, it needs to be handled carefully. Anything a player does most of the time should not be hard to do. ACIII was an example of doing this wrong, I think. I spent far too much of that game holding the right trigger down, which on an Xbox can actually become uncomfortable. It would have been far better if running speed were the default, and one had to hold down the trigger to enter low profile mode instead.

"But in a videogame, the act of movement is a formality."

In most modern games perhaps. Movement in arena shooters like Quake and to a lesser extent UT2KX was a thing of beauty. Design for controllers hurt this aspect of FPS games the most.

So, the green button at the bottom isn't the X button? Excuse me, I'm going to go fire my research team.

Well said, Mr. C. That's some pretty impressive hi-falutin' game theory talk. Please go away. You're making me look bad.

(Note to self: steal niftyc's golf analogy)

Tom, I know you've made some controversial statements in the past, but this is beyond the pale. Any game mechanic that has you hammering a key or button is an abomination. The Rainbow Six example sounds compelling, and the Metro and ZombiU examples are excellent, but repeated hammering of keys deserves to go to the same graveyard as the Atari 2600 joystick.

Man, I hate it when I go to check the mail with a bear in pursuit!

If I recall correctly, the "tap to sprint" was initially introduced to eliminate an exploit of sorts in GTA3. In GTA3, they had just the standard "hold X to run", but if you ran for too long you'd get winded and need to stop for a while. You could get around this by tapping X, which let your stamina recover (since you weren't holding the button half the time), but still kept you in the run animation.

That's based totally on memory though, I could be getting it wrong.

The other instance of this that I always think of is opening doors in the God of War series, where you jam L1 or something while Kratos struggles to lift it. There's some interview where the designers say with something "Lifting a door has nothing to do with pressing a button, but it's hard for the character, so we wanted to make it hard for the player as well"

Another beautiful article, Tom.
Loved the Metro map stuff, I haven't played and didn't know that, makes perfect sense.
Now make a point on launching a mine in Mass Effect. LOL

Your website is crap. Also, your Halo 4 review is total rubbish.

A few Idle Thumbs podcasts ago (can't remember the exact episode), they were discussing GTAIV and how Rockstar is peerless when it comes to creating open world environments that overwhelm the player with a sense of wonder and amazement, such that you could just aimlessly walk along the streets and be fully immersed in Liberty City (or wherever). As inconvenient as "tapping X to run" is in relation to other games, the fact that the default pace of your character in Rockstar games is a casual stroll feels like a conscious design choice to nudge the player in the direction of slowing down to soak up the environment. This is how I've always understood their choice to have characters walk and not run by default (after all, a lot people must put a lot of work into these immaculately realized environments), but I never really thought about how the mechanic contributes to the game's dynamism until reading your piece.

Strangely enough, my first instinct in many games is to at least try and match my avatar's pace with the characters around me. I feel put off by running all the time when everyone around me is walking, even more so when the NPCs fix their gaze on my conspicuously out of place behaviour (the security guards in the first level of Gravity Bone are a prime example). But then again, I am the sort of person who gets a kick out of obeying all the rules of the road while driving in GTA/Saints Row/whatever, so maybe I'm just weird.

Receiver is a perfect example of what the article is addressing. I wish more games made guns the complicated machines they can truly be.

Interfaces are like translators: the best interfaces/translators accurately communicate experience/language A into experience/language B. Ideally, the user doesn't even notice the intermediary.

"It furthers the illusion that you exist inside a this [sic] virtual space"
"Hiding from bullet [sic] is not a natural passive state."