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The Player Becomes The Producer: Natural User Interface Design Impact
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The Player Becomes The Producer: Natural User Interface Design Impact

February 24, 2011 Article Start Previous Page 4 of 4

Second Order Design

So we know about the variety of sensor streams and the fact that the players can do pretty much whatever they want in front of the sensors. What exactly then does NUI design need over and above regular joypad game design?

To be honest, I'm struggling to find a term. In essence it's a true second order design process much like emergent design. There are relatively few basic components but the range of possibilities between player interpretation and system confidence means that the designer must employ some sophisticated techniques to reduce error and confusion.

By combining clear instructions with solid iconography and continual positive feedback, the designer should, and must, be able to channel the player towards an expected interaction that produces a satisfying experience. As the days of pressing X to jump draw slowly to a close, so the days of perceptive design beckon us into a new era.

Predictive Confidence

For situations that require the game to react without user confirmation, it is necessary for the game to predict that the player has completed the action. With the ball-throwing example, there is currently no real way to determine the point of the ball's release.

In this case, if the game has detected a throw, it is reasonable that the player will complete the throw; therefore the game should release the ball at the expected point without player confirmation of the release.

This system is also useful when driving pre-set animations, as opposed to using avateering. If the game has given good instructions as to what it expects the player to do and is waiting for a small set of actions, it is possible for the game to partially confirm player intent before triggering a pre-canned animation.

The key to making sure that this system is transparent to the player lies in listening to the feedback from the players during development; a heavy-handed system or one that suffers marked latency will shatter the illusion very easily.

Focus Testing vs. Usability Testing vs. Analytics

Internally at Blitz Games Studios we use a number of systems to make sure our design and production processes are player focused. These systems have distinct functions as follows:

  • Focus testing - viability consultation of new game concepts and IP with gamers.
  • Usability testing - testing functional game builds on the target market with rigorous usability data recording and analysis.
  • Analytics / metrics - code-based solution embedded in the games that supply play-style data to facilitate player experience improvement.

Whatever these rather evocative phrases conjure up in your head, they mean only one thing: listen to your players. If you're wondering exactly when you should be listening to your players, the simple answer is always. Focus test a feature set with players before you implement those features, then prototype them and let the players give feedback on those features in usability testing.

If you're really smart, you'll have an analytics or metrics engine running in the background feeding your dev team with constructive feedback 24/7. Seek out feedback, listen carefully to it and plug the outcomes into the next iteration.


  • Collaborate: like all quantum shifts in the technology and craft of making games, collaborative knowledge sharing is paramount if you wish to keep up with the pack. Everything from the lessons learned from using iconography to player interpretation during testing should be recorded and passed on. With multiple new data streams and the loss of the certainty of a button press, designers would be well advised to compare notes if they wish to adapt and create experiences that endure difficult market conditions.
  • Guide the player: designers no longer dictate every aspect of the game to the player. NUI experiences afford the player a vastly greater level of self-expression. Whilst this self-expression does massively increase the chances of misinterpretation, the careful designer still maintains the right, and indeed the duty, to channel the player to a desired action.
  • Less is more: in most aspects of design for the NUI, ensuring that the game is only looking for a small number of inputs in terms of gestures, movements and/or sounds is the key to success. Low numbers equal high confidence.
  • Informed iteration: through the use of focus testing, rapid prototyping and frequent usability testing, many design assumptions and omissions can be mitigated. The best people to tell you what is wrong with your game are the players themselves. One easy and perhaps obvious lesson we have learned is to actually listen to and trust the feedback. The age of designers 'knowing better' than gamers is at an end.
  • Innovative tech and design: though it seems obvious, there are always clever ways to circumnavigate bottlenecks and technical cul-de-sacs. As an example, on The Biggest Loser: Ultimate Workout we required the ability to detect floor-based exercises. The Kinect SDK does not natively support floor-based skeletal detection, so we wrote our own system to fill the void. The result was a genre-leading exercise detection system.

The Player Becomes the Producer

A contentious title for sure, but why does it resonate so well now? NUI systems like the Microsoft Kinect have opened up a cyclone of creativity that will continue to sweep through the landscape of game development. The demand for these new gaming experiences will drive developers to seek new genres and in doing so they will have to rewrite some of the rules of game design.

NUI games are a positive because they remove more barriers preventing players from engaging in our experiences. The flipside is that as developers we find ourselves facing ever greater challenges of coping with the random inputs and expectations of a very large and varied game-playing population.

It is clear that as these interfaces become ever more complex and intuitive, so our game designs and processes must become more flexible and able to adapt. Iterative design based on a backbone of usability testing is the only sure way forward.

The age of testing games just before release is gone; in fact the idea of only exposing our creations to the players at the end of the development process now seems positively ridiculous. Social games and NUI games have proven the validity of regular player feedback and in this way the player has indeed become the producer.

As a boy I dreamed of owning a jetpack but sadly, like many other dreams, that dream was dashed on the rocks of slow mechanical technological advance. So I'm now focused on a new dream; now I want my own holodeck. For me, NUIs like Kinect are the next logical step on a line between the potentiometer and the holodeck itself. Being an impatient designer, I want to do as much as I can to bring that day closer.

Article Start Previous Page 4 of 4

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