Archive for December, 2007

That time of the year

As the end of the year is upon us, all the gaming publications are pushing their “top whatever of the year” or “top X games of the year” bullshit. Next Generation seems to have taken it to an extreme:

Top 10 Blunders of 2007
Top 25 People of 2007
2007’s 50 Biggest Events
Best 30 Games of 2007
Top 10 Game Design Innovations of 2007
2007 Holiday Buyer’s Guide
Japan’s Best Games of 2007

… and finally to solidify the greatness of 2007:
2007: Best. Year. Ever?

I don’t know, maybe I’m just cynical. Maybe these lists do have a purpose, fulfilling some sort innate human desire for yearly enumerations.

The Initial User Experience: Dashboard vs. Yahoo! Widgets

I recently got a Mac Mini and begun playing around in OS X. One of the first things I stumbled upon is Dashboard, which brings up an overlay displaying widgets, small apps that display things like weather, time, calendar, etc. I thought this was incredibly cool (especially because of the weather widget, as I hate going to and having to type in my zip code every time I want to know what’s happening outside). As a feature it’s very well designed; it looks great, it’s easy to get to, it didn’t pollute my desktop in any way, the information was useful and informative, and in less than a minute I implicitly understood how it worked.

I figured there must be something similar for Windows, if not I was even thinking it might be a fun project to make something similar. I did try Google Desktop a while back, but the experience was not the same, and was definitely not pleasant. I didn’t like that it was essentially a panel (a large one at that) pasted into a corner of my desktop. I like my desktop. I want my stuff on it. I don’t want to cede the real estate to a third-party. In the end, I uninstalled Google Desktop, and was left with an overall negative impression of the product. I haven’t used Vista as much, but the Vista sidebar seems to make the same mistake.

After some searching I found Yahoo! Widgets. It seemed perfect. However, after I installed it, I was disappointed, it looked cool, but it didn’t seem to function like Dashboard at all. After some twiddling I did finally massage it into working akin to Dashboard; however, I been less patient or not as tech savy, I would have quickly uninstalled it and deemed by discovery worthless.

So, what’s the point? The point is pretty simple (and I don’t think I’m breaking new ground here): the initial experience a user has with a piece of software is vitally important and if the developer fails to provide a positive experience to the end-user after setup, the software is a failure (users will simply uninstall it), no matter how cool the interface is, the potential productivity gain, or the hundreds of cool features. My experience with Yahoo! Widgets and Dashboard exemplify this perfectly.

So what’s wrong with Yahoo! Widgets? Technically, I don’t think anything is wrong with it. It seems stable, powerful, has nice features, and the widgets seem cool (personally, I really only cared about the weather and a calendar). However, after installation, it stuck this dock panel on my desktop along with a bunch of widgets. Now, as I already mentioned, I hate things assuming they have the right to pollute my desktop. Ownership is important. So I was not a fan of the dock nor the widgets themselves, which, unlike the dashboard widgets, didn’t fade in and out with an overlay. This was annoying. I wanted my desktop back.

So I went to preferences and found out I could press F8 to active the overlay. Great! (however, I’m going into the Preferences window to actually figure this out – why wasn’t this mentioned sooner). The overlay shows up, kinda disappointed that the taskbar isn’t covered, but I can live with that. I deactive the overlay. damn! the dock and widgets are still stuck on my desktop.

I play around in the Preference window for a while and look at the options for the dock. I discover I can get rid of the dock, that’s good, but I’m thinking this isn’t for me, and about ready to uninstall.

I continue playing around. With the overlay off, I close all the widgets. I accidentally hide one of them. I hit F8. Wait! That’s the effect I wanted! But what did I do? I realize that there are 2 options to get rid of a widget, Close and Hide. Close gets rid of the widget altogether and Hide only show the widget when the overlay is active. Why didn’t I know this, like the F8 key, this was never explained to me (remember me, the end-user, the one using the product). It’s not in the product tour, there’s no tooltip, and I certainly didn’t spot anything in the help.

I’m happy now! I customize the system to show the widgets I want and I hit F8 whenever I want to see them 🙂

So that’s the story. Ultimately, from my experience with both applications, I learned:

  • The desktop belongs to the user, don’t pollute it unless they allow you to. (this might be more of a personal preference than anything else)
  • Present important app-specific information ASAP and make things as intuitive as possible. Avoid having users discover features by reading documentation or going into a settings/preferences window.
  • The initial user experience is important. Don’t fuck it up.
yahoo widgets

I do realize there is a bias here as I was looking for something that functioned like Dashboard, but if the default post-setup environment for Yahoo! Widgets is how the developers see others using their application, that seems totally weird to me because it’s assuming a whole lot of users have so much free space on their desktop that they’d obviously want to stick a bunch of widgets on it. Hmm, I don’t know, maybe I’m wrong and most users do have a lot of free space on their desktop, but my desktop certainly doesn’t fit into this category, and even if it did, I’m not sure I’d want a widget on it (I like my wallpaper).

Fallout Tactics and Cockroaches

I’ve finally gotten around to playing Fallout Tactics, which is a game I’ve wanted to play for a really long time. I played the demo when it first came out and instantly loved it, but never bought it (couldn’t afford it) and then for a long time I simply forgot about it or couldn’t find a copy. I discovered the Fallout Collection selling a few months ago which includes Fallout, Fallout 2, and Fallout Tactics and snatched up a copy right away.

It’s an amazing game, I love the Fallout universe and the Fallout-style post-apocalyptic atmosphere. I’m also a big fan of the squad-based tactical combat, and I really wish there were more games that focused on this style of gameplay. The only similar game I can think of is a not-so-popular game called Shadow Company: Left for Dead, I played the demo which was pretty decent and fun, but I didn’t find it incredibly compelling or memorable.

Despite my overall love of FT, I absolutely hated the cockroaches level. Why the hell would you make a level where all you do is kill roaches…

ft roaches

It just seems like total filler, there’s absolutely no substance to this level. It doesn’t really tie in to the overall plot, the combat isn’t fun, your being poisoned constantly, and it sucks being killed by a damn cockroach. You also waste a ton of ammo (a precious resource at the early stages of the game) and you don’t get anything from looting the bodies (well, yea, they’re roaches).

Oh, and at the end of the level, there’s a boss, a really big, master roach *rolls eyes*.