User Interface Standards

Posted: October 15, 2010 in Blogroll, interactive fiction, Textfyre
Tags: ,

I’m developing user interfaces for each platform (desktop, various mobile, iPad). In the process, I’ve noted the requirement that the user may be new to Interactive Fiction. This has been discussed in the hobbyist community a lot in the past year and we’ve made strides in agreement on the subject. I think there are basic components to any IF user interface that are required for all levels of play.

They include:

  • An introduction – The Welcome to Interactive Fiction document on the Inform 7 website is fabulous and I used this as a templte in developing the introductions for Shadow and Secret Letter. This should contain information about the game itself, possibly a map, pictures of the characters, and setting.
  • A complete set of hints – Some authors have added hints to their games through menus while others have offered a walkthrough. Textfyre has offered hints that follow a sort of computerized version of Invisclues by offering a topic and a list of hints in encrypted words. Click on the hint and it decrypts for you. I think this should be a standard in ever game and the hints should be complete, meaning a player should be able to complete the game by touching every hint. It’s the players choice to use or not use the hints.
  • A complete set of tips. Tips are different than hints. They are more focused on the beginning of the game and their intent is to educate the player on how to use a standard Interactive Fiction interface. Each device will implement hints in its own way. This could be done with popup balloons, with speech, with a semi-transparent pop up window, popup toast, a highlighted portion of text, or something else. These tips could be relative to a point in the game or tied to command input, but the idea is to help new users through rough spots. It could also be used to point out game-specific oddities for all players.
  • A standard set of instructions or help – This is different than the introduction in that the help is generic and not game specific.
  • Save and Restore should retain scrollback or command+response history. When the player returns to the user interface and starts it up or restores a saved game

I think if all of these items are implemented, the user will have a significantly easier time in playing Interactive Fiction on any platform. They will know to look for certain aspects of the interface and have that “ah ha” moment each time.

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Comments
  1. Rob Lord says:

    Hi, I think you are on the right lines with your developments of commercial Interactive Fiction.

    Some of the amatuer IF already released is of a very high quality, but they are prevented from releasing commercially because some of the interpreters are not very attractive (please note that these are only my opinions).

    There are bits and bobs of good interpreter stuff out there, but nothing killer in one interpreter.

    You are absolutely right about hints/tips etc… and they should be included in commercial releases.

    I also thought the book layout in the Secret Letter was really on the right track, but I understand you are no longer developing in that direction. I still thought it was a great way to bring IF into the modern world though (nice layout/images etc)..

    Items I would like to see to allow IF to once again break through commercially:

    1) Attractive layout/interface.

    2) Use of images to enhance the text.

    3) Hints/tips

    4) A major thing that puts me off playing IF more often is map making. In ADRIFT, there is an automated mapper built in and I think this is an excellent idea. I think one of these would be very beneficial, particularly if you want to break out to mobile devices. I can’t see many wanting to sit with a pen and paper making a map this day and age.

    5) Sound effects. Sound effects and maybe spot/atmospheric music would enhance IF to new audiences.

    6) Talking to characters. Ideally this would be in a menu/tree format (like graphic adventures). Trying to pry information out with “Ask about Shelf”, “Ask about mystery”, just detracts from the enjoyment of a good conversation.

    I think modern audiences would be attracted by these sort of features, in addition to the save feature you are working on.

    I think there is massive potential now in IF, with all the new portable ereading devices, and the work you are doing is very good.

    But to attract modern players to pay money for them, they need to be jazzed up, and dare I say it, dumbed down (gaming wise, not content wise)

    Anyway, those are my thoughts and I wish you all the best.

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