Horror Gaming Usability – via Amberlight

Posted on January 21, 2011


Horror usability

Don’t be alarmed, fellow UX people, this isn’t going to be a Top Ten UX Disasters that People Make!!!!!!11111; I’ll leave that for the 145th edition of the “Design of Everyday Things”.

Instead, this is actually a little bit about gaming. In particular, “Horror Gaming.”

Over here at Amberlight, we do a fair share of gaming usability and we’re quite passionate about it.

There’s nothing worse than having an interesting game literally crippled before your eyes because every time you try to make your character walk ahead a step, he ends up shooting himself in the legs and then some random European teenager shouts the word “NOOOOOOOB” into your xBox headset, while a big picture of your blubbering face appears on your screen with the word “FAILURE” stamped on it.

We aim to improve those nagging button presses that you wish were just somewhere else or done differently. Most cases, it’s worked nicely. Our work on “LittleBigPlanet” should show you that.

But there’s one area that I won’t touch, because UX people simply shouldn’t be allowed there in the first place. And that’s the lovely world of computer generated terror.

Horror games are far more involving than horror films, as you have an immediate link with the person you’re controlling, whether you’re James Sunderland searching for your dead wife in Silent Hill, Leon Kennedy killing Umbrella Corporation’s finest zombified humans in Racoon City, Miku Hinasaki looking for her brother in the Himuro Mansion or being yourself fleeing a monster in the Tokyo Subway during Hellnight (Dark Messiah).

A lot of these games use slightly varied control systems that don’t fit the norm. And why should we love them? Because they’re an integral part of the experience. They create tension by being non-standard, making a few seconds of fumbling for the right button seem like an ocean of time, which you don’t have at your disposal.

We make a lot of recommendations here at Amberlight for button presses. I’ve taken a “fresh from UCLIC” graduate, Barry and written his UX design choices and then dissected why it wouldn’t work in the real world. I’ve taken some examples from the Horror and non-Horror world.
Ryan Amnesia
Amnesia: The Dark Descent (PC, 2010)
Game mechanic: The mouse is used to move the player’s head around, as well as open doors and lift/manipulate objects. When this happens, a hand icon appears instead of the reticle and the user must replicate the real life movement required (e.g. opening a door requires the user to press and hold the left mouse button and slowly move the mouse away or towards him, depending on the door.)

Why this works: For those of you who’ve at least played the demo, I’m sure you’ll appreciate that when running from a monster, where all you’ve got between you and it is a small block of splintery wood, there is nothing scarier than running to a door and finding at the last minute it’s not a lovely easy push door, but instead a pull one. You waste a precious second pushing it, but the door doesn’t move! Your invisible monster is quickly running to you through the water and you can hear it behind you, almost on you! You quickly pull the door, get yourself in and manage to turn around JUST IN TIME to swing the door shut on your invisible foe. And, OH, how you sigh.

What Barry would suggest: “Door mechanic is too complicated. Consider using a single button to open and shut doors.”

What this would do: You hear a monster. You run to the door, press X, it opens, you turn to see the monster literally 2 miles away and you think that “I don’t even need to shut the door, I can just walk away from this.” THE END. Tension. Ruined.

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Posted in: gaming, usability