IF Accessibility

Posted: June 7, 2010 in Blogroll, interactive fiction, Textfyre
Tags: , , ,

Emily Short just wrote a nice summary of some of the issues surrounding IF user experience, although she missed mentioning Zifmia.

Zifmia is a plan to implement IF games in a web client/server architecture, leaving the UI of the game entirely in CSS/HTML/JavaScript. The game file, the save files, and the virtual machine would all reside on the host side of the equation.

Anyway, I see the accessibility from a different angle, having looked at this for a long time and in the last three plus years from a commercial perspective.

First of all, I’m really excited that everyone is taking this seriously. I remember not many years ago when I would bring up the interpreter/game-file issue and people would simply shut the conversation down. They would say, “This is the way we do it because we want to be cross-platform. This is the best model.” and I would end up on a channel on ifMUD arguing with myself. I think the casual gaming implementations have shown that any installation complexity is a barrier few are interested in crossing. We still have that barrier and need to knock it down.

The parser and interface aspect has also been something I’ve discussed, but only through Textfyre have I really tried to push the envelope. Even I’ll admit that before Textfyre, I was mostly a traditionalist, favoring a white fixed font on a blue screen. That quickly changed when I started thinking about how I was going to present IF to new players.

My initial thoughts were to implement a book interface. I developed the concept with an art director and Thomas Lynge implemented the complex code to allow for paging. This can be seen in the deluxe version of Secret Letter.

This looks great, but most people thought it was “over done” and possibly detracts from game play. With a mixed response, this implementation is likely to be abandoned until further testing is done.

I’ve since started focusing less on the look and more on the functional side of the user experience. This is why I started talking about simple buttons for common UI actions as well as implementing a “Try” button that might list commands that would work at the current moment in the game. iFrotz has also come up with a few neat tricks that I think are great. You can tap words and watch them slide down to the command prompt. I think more touchscreen and multi-gesture input concepts could be introduced into the user experience increasing usability and accessibility.

But I believe there is a flaw in Emily’s article as well as in my own implementations and ideas. In order to determine what works and what doesn’t work, I believe we need lab rats, guinea pigs, and hyperactive mice to try out our ideas on a relatively large scale, get feedback, improve our ideas, get more feedback, and at some point make a cut that we think can reach as many people as possible. In talking to partners via Textfyre, we probably need several hundred people of varying ages, experiences, genders, and backgrounds to truly determine what works and what doesn’t. And then you have to decide what subset you want to target. Where do we get hundreds of people to use as guinea pigs? When we find them, how do we track their usage? Who will organize/facilitate sessions? How do we implement the results? Who implements the results? Which platform do we choose first? Z-Code? Glulx? TADS 3? (Knowing that the results will be portable to other platforms).

Do you want anyone from 8 to 80 playing your game?

Do you want non-computer users playing your game?

Will your game be on a PC/Mac?
Mobile device?
Does it have a full keyboard?
iPad or multi-touch tablet?

Are you willing to develop content for a deep help/hint system in conjunction with the lab-rat determined user experience?

Are your users avid readers?

Have your users played video games?

These questions are just as important as where to put buttons, what font to use, and how you make games accessible.

* * * *

As much as I struggle with this problem, it’s my number one priority both for Textfyre and for the community at large.

  1. > Die Lüge des Prompts…

    Interactive Fiction verhält sich nicht besonders freundlich zu Einsteigern: Der verwöhnte Xboxler lädt sich eine Spieledatei herunter und erfährt, erst den richtigen Interpreter finden zu müssen. Diesen installiert, lügt der Parser ihm in erhaben blink…

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