Sunday, February 2, 2014

Breaking Down UGC - HCI Entry #1

After a long hiatus, I've decided to start posting up some of the blogs I've had to do for classes once again. The most recent class to require blogs is Human Computer Interaction, which is essentially how to effectively created user interfaces and give feedback to users in order to give the best experience possible. The journal entries I will post for these have been done earlier so the date they are posted aren't reflective of the day they were actually done.

HCI Journal Entry 1

January 15th

                After having taken several Human Computer Interaction courses, it’s allowed me to understand more about the concept of HCI and how it’s used in our everyday lives. I specifically want to focus on how it was used in some of past game development projects at UOIT and how well they implemented feedback for players or not.

Ultimate Gladiator Coliseum : 80 AD

                UGC 80 AD was a third person, gladiator combat game based around arena fights created in my second year of GDW. The goal of the game was to fight through several battles, earning gold along the way to purchase items to become more powerful in order to fight more difficult bosses down the line.  I will be taking a look back at the game to compare its use of HCI during combat sections, in the HUD and the end goal of the game. I will judge the extent of player feedback that was provided to see whether or not the game was easy enough to understand. I’m also keeping in mind that the game was developed with a limited time frame and we had a surprisingly large amount of content we had to cover, but this doesn’t mean I can’t criticize it still.

Start Menu
(From UGC : 80 AD beginning menu)
                Right from the start the opening is an eyesore. The logo itself is extremely pixelated and a bit glitch, the stats in the top left aren’t very visible and aren’t visually exciting (the same goes for the text near the middle). The menu in the middle gives a look of simplicity and looks a lot cleaner but clashes with the rest of the HUD elements already on display. Going over the resume, start, controls and exit sections will highlight them which helps give feedback which button you’re on but it’s hard to tell in the first place that they are buttons you can scroll over.

(Controls image)
Going over the controls section will bring up this image, which is highly pixelated and not easy to read due to the choice of font. It explains the basic controls of the game but in a very typical and non-engaging fashion since players don’t get to learn through a tutorial.

During Combat
(First Stage)
In game the HUD elements show player health, stamina (for special power attacks, blocking and other actions) as well as an icon representing your character and weapon. When you get hurt, the health meter will go down, same as the stamina bar when using abilities which are perfectly fine in representing information to the player. The other stats that were on display in the start menu are gone now however. These only show up during the pause menu which actually helps avoid showing clutter during battles. Between showing the stats in battle and during the pause menu, my team actually made the better choice since you didn’t need to know what stats you had upgraded during battle.
When taking damage, your character would make noises when being hurt which helped give the player feedback. However when attacking enemies there was no substantial noise to confirm you were hitting the enemy. It was a simple “swish” sound that occurred whenever you attacked, giving little to no feedback. The only feedback that was displayed was that the enemies would flash a bit whenever hit. The lack of sound on impact hurt the feedback players would get in whether or not they hit an enemy.

(Left: Red screen indicating dangerously low health – Right: Player game over screen)
Further damage taken would also begin to show a red shader effect to represent low health. This was definitely one of the better choices to represent feedback during the game as it clearly showed a sign of danger to inform the player they were close to death. We would also display a message saying that you lost gold and that you needed to press a certain button to respawn. Although it displayed the information we needed, it obviously wasn’t very engaging and obvious to the player. There was no real time update showing your gold going down and we didn’t even show a proper gameover screen or at least a proper respawn screen. Players would just wonder why they were suddenly placed in the middle of the sky.

The image displayed above showed a quest marker which took you to the next area when you defeated all enemies. This was fairly animated as it bobbed up and down. The design of it was fairly effective in comparison to other elements. Although it did not specifically state it would take you to another level, it still drew players in due to its appearance and animation.

Items and Quests
(Side Quest area and shopkeeper on right)
                Our game featured a blacksmith character who allowed you to purchase items and also gave you quests in which you could earn gold. There was an arrow located above the head of the player that pointed you first to the Blacksmith so at least we were telling the players where to go. It would also update to point to enemies you had to defeat should you accept a quest. During a quest, if you tried to accept another quest, the game would inform you should complete your other quest first. This was a good HCI feature to add considering all the other ones the game was missing.

(Blacksmith menu : Quests on left – Upgrades on Right)
                In the image above, in order to even talk to the Blacksmith, you had to attack him. This was an obvious flaw since we didn’t highlight a specific button for interaction with NPCs, nor did we state that anywhere else in the game. We pretty much had to assume people would be confused and eventually just attack the Blacksmith which would finally open the menu.
                From there we at least provided two different menus that the players could choose from to purchase upgrades or do quests for rewards. We displayed the upgrade cost on the right side and it worked on a formula that increased every time to purchased a new upgrade. This system is never explained in game but players can at least see the upgrade cost increase. It worked but it wasn’t the best design for upgrades. We never showed what your upgrade levels were in this menu. You could only see your upgrade levels in the top left corner where the stats are. When you purchased upgrades, players got feedback by the either the sound of gold being dropped (meaning a purchase was made) or the Blacksmith would tell you he couldn’t sell you the upgrade. Although we had a audio component in feedback, we lacked the visual component which hindered the experience a bit,

(The health bar extending over which showed you had more health but looked really ugly)
                Some upgrades did have visual aspects however. The sword when upgraded would turn a different color, up to four times. The health bar would extend and so would the stamina bar if you upgraded those. Unfortunately that also made the HUD look worse since the bars extended over some aspects of the HUD. The speed upgrade didn’t show any visual signs like the others and you could only notice it by watching how fast your character moved.

Judging the Goal of the game

                The last problem we had in terms of communicating the end goal of the game of UGC was that we didn’t. We never showed any proper feedback that players were participating in a gladiator tournament and would be facing harder and harder opponents until they reached the final boss. We just spawned new enemies whenever players entered the arena again. We didn’t even have an indicator saying they had reached a new level. We should have at least had some simple text or image representing that as we had never really shown the progress of players. This was a simple but easy thing we should have implemented but we couldn’t due to time constraints.

Final Thoughts

                Looking back at UGC, we have a fair number of elements that did communicate a lot of information to the player. The amount of information displayed for the side quests and upgrades was more than I remember. The lack of some in game combat visuals and audio as well as the lack of showing the end goal of the game were the worst offences in terms of player feedback however. Overall UGC gave a decent amount of feedback for players but was clearly lacking in a lot of key areas.