Usability and accessibility

I have a certain reputation with my gaming friends – I am known as Jurie “Died 3 Times During The Tutorial” Horneman. My frustration threshold is extremely low. It can be measured in millimeters (Um. What is that in non-metric? “Toe-nails”. Right.) Not only do I fail comically so early that most people would say that the game hasn’t even started yet, I feel no qualms about publicly blaming my mishaps on some poor game designer somewhere. Thank Donald Norman for that: After he taught me to blame doors, I was completely liberated.

Cases in point:

  • Skate and Burnout Paradise, where I respectively got stuck in the tutorial and failed to find the game.
  • Mass Effect, where I instantly got lost in the first mission. I mean, be serious: Spawn the player in the first level and then point him in the wrong direction? Do you know how much trouble I went through to rotate the camera just so at the start of some of the Manhunt 2 levels I worked on? Maybe this was a glitch – I can’t believe this was left in the game.
  • Assassin’s Creed, which generally befuddled me.
  • Prince of Persia: Sands of Time. Don’t get me started on the first boss battle.
  • Halo 2. I literally got killed by the first enemy in the game. This is a mass-market shooter? I played it again a while later, but the streaming issues, blah graphics, AI problems and a ridiculous cut-scene meant I stopped before very long. (I was expecting a somewhat serious SF story, not some crappy schlock where someone drop-kicks bombs through space.)

Why should gamers put up with it when developers don’t take the time to polish the first 30 minutes or so of their games?

Anyway, I just discovered that Manveer Heir over at Design Rampage ran into a similar problem. He couldn’t even start Metal Gear Solid 3: Subsistence, and he rightly condemns the fabled design geniuses over at Konami for it. Right on!

Comments 9

  1. fluffy wrote:

    I didn’t have any problem with PoP:SoT, but I could never get past the introduction to The Darkness, which everyone says is one of the easiest FPSes around. Personally I felt that the controls and gameplay mechanics were horrible, and while the story sounded interesting, the voice acting didn’t make me feel like getting any further anyway.

    Similarly, I’m still on Act 1 of MGS4, but I’ll probably restart it on easy mode.

    Posted 13 Jul 2008 at 11:21
  2. Jurie wrote:

    Some people had no trouble with that first boss fight in PoP, but I gave up after 10 tries or so.

    Posted 13 Jul 2008 at 11:58
  3. Andreas wrote:

    Maybe it’s that time in your life to turn to casual games and never look back?
    Next stop: retirement… :)

    Posted 14 Jul 2008 at 2:12
  4. Jurie wrote:

    Oi! :P

    Posted 14 Jul 2008 at 3:59
  5. Stitched wrote:

    Maybe it’s like Shawn Elliott (1Up/GFW) says. There are lot of “garbage eaters” out there who will rave about a game without being receptive to critical analysis of same game; to the point of hostility, in some cases. Only by weening people off the junk food and getting them to learn to spot and appreciate the gourmet taste will people shun some of the outrageous stuff you mentioned.

    Thinking on it again, you don’t discover these things until after you, or someone else, has bought the game.

    I’m pretty sure it’s hard to return a game for full price based on “the game mechanics suck”. ;)

    If the game doesn’t have a demo, you have to hope that some unbiased reviewer finds out and calls them out on it.

    This sucks but it’s part of the beast known as the industry.

    Posted 16 Jul 2008 at 10:10
  6. Gareth R White wrote:

    This is great.
    I’m having a paper published in a couple of months, called “Toward Accessible 3D Virtual Environments for the Blind and Visually Impaired”. It was based on a study I did with Second Life. Now that’s a usability nightmare. And accessibility for the blind is non-existent.
    I also keep play-diaries about usability problems in games, so I’m looking forward to reading about Manveer’s experiences.
    If you’re really interested I dump a shed-load of material onto my PhD reading list at but that’s mostly links to commercial databases.

    Posted 16 Jul 2008 at 18:31
  7. Jurie wrote:

    Hey Gareth. Yeah, Second Life is incredibly unusable. By the way, in academia does accessibility always imply for the blind, for the deaf, etc.? I notice you specify it explicitly, but I was wondering if everyone does that.

    Posted 17 Jul 2008 at 1:45
  8. Gareth R White wrote:

    Yeah, it’s usually used in the context of disability, but equally one of my colleagues is researching technology use amongst older people, and he talks about this in terms of accessibility – in the sense that everyone should have access to the benefits that tech can bring, but some minority groups are rarely thought about during design, and so access to that technology for them is limited.

    So usually it’s about disability, and usually about technology, but in general it’s just about maximising access to anything (information, entertainment, physical space, etc).

    Posted 17 Jul 2008 at 3:54
  9. Jurie wrote:

    @Stitched: Yeah, once you’ve bought a game you’re probably less likely to complain and more likely to just stick with the hard part. There’s probably a name for that psychological bias but I cba to look it up.

    I tend to play a lot of demos and borrow games of friends.

    Posted 18 Jul 2008 at 1:42