A New User Experience

Posted: April 27, 2010 in Blogroll, interactive fiction, Textfyre

I’ve started the search for a consultant to help develop a new user experience for general IF consumption. I’m flirting with the idea of trying to develop a general guide and leaving it open to the community to use and add onto. To use it for free and commercial works. I’m beginning to lean towards the idea of spending money and time on hobbyist outreach activities and letting the results of that flow into Textfyre organically.

I think I’ve found the right person to help too. Here is her very first take on playing IF:

Hi David,

So I’ve done some reading and tested out a few games–the online demonstration of The Shadow in the Cathedral and two others.

Being a newcomer to IF myself, I can see two barriers to its adoption. One is the hurdle of getting started (and it’s actually not that big of a hurdle) and the other is meaningful progression through a game. To get started, users have to download the correct interpreters or, in Textfyre’s case, Silverlight. These are not difficult steps at all but they add the perception of difficulty to first-time users. So, if this step could be eliminated at all (if users could play directly on the website?), I think that would help.

The help text and text formatting are key to getting someone started, and I think even more could be done with text formatting to help delineate the progress of the game vs. the help/hints. As an example “Remember, you can type “help” if you need assistance” might be put in italics so the user can easily scan a page and see what’s part of the game and what’s technical assistance. Some other suggestions are indenting help text or keeping the actual story in a different color or font.

Once a user gets started, the meaningful progression through the game depends on knowing what to input. In one of the games, Earl Grey, I was given keywords to use. However, it was hard to keep all those in my head. At least for beginners it would be helpful to have the keywords always onscreen (not scrolling off as the users progress) to refer to. It was also difficult to remember my past actions and my progression. Something like the idea of a breadcrumb (although a true breadcrumb isn’t possible since users will be jumping around) would help. Users need to know where they’ve been, where they are and where it’s possible to go. Documenting their past actions on part of the screen (again, instead of keeping it all in one scrolling page) would remind users what avenues they’ve already taken, and what it’s led them to. Combined with the keywords onscreen (the ‘where it’s possible to go’ part), that would cover all three states.

One last suggestion I might have would be short how-to videos for both getting started and what to do when one gets stuck.

One thing I wondered about was whether users and writers preferred the text part of IF, and whether they would resist graphics such as buttons, props or pictures of the scene. Is the point that the user gets to imagine what something looks like? Does showing too much ruin the creative experience of the game?

I think Laura is on the right track and if we go through several iterations on paper, we should have something reasonable on the back end. I’m also considering putting together a sort of usability panel. If anyone is interested, drop me an e-mail.

  1. Dannii Willis says:

    Has she played some of the more newbie-friendly stories like Alabaster? I seems to do much of what she has said would help, for example with the in-game verbs “think” and “topics”.

    Also, does she know of the existence of Parchment? My hope is that it won’t be too long before a game like Alabaster will be playable online, even with it’s graphics.

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