Sunday, 11 October 2009

Light of Altair game usability - demo problems

I'll be discussing the game Light of Altair, specifically the game usability issues. This game was first brought to my attention by Gamers With Jobs (thanks guys!)

I really want to like this game. It's sounds great, GWJ wrote "Light of Altair has done a great job of distilling the elements that made games like Sins of a Solar Empire so addictive. If you prefer your strategy gaming in 20-minute chunks, Light of Altair is for you. "

BUT, I can't play it! Why? The demo is just too confusing.

A demo should showcase a game simply and clearly. It should not require the player to study any complex text or manuals, or leave the player confused on what to do next. After all the aim of demo is to ensure players have a seamless experience. They should move through the demo learning about and doing some of the things possible in the game without encountering any problems, otherwise it's goodbye possible sale. Players should see enough of the game to get a taste of what they can do, and be left wanting more. This demo unfortunately leaves me cold... Here's why.

Problems with the Light of Altair demo

Simply, it's confusing. The help messages simply don't tell me what I need to do, or how!

For example, I recieved this message:

"Now that the moon base has grown to a proper colony you need to construct a research facility and the power to support it."

The problem is, it doesn't tell me how I go about doing that. I eventually discovered the "research facility" had become available in the construction list and was able to move on... Why doesn't the game highlight that? Tell me in the message, or highlight the new building option visually.

Further on in the demo a message appeared:

"Commander, the construction of the moonbase is going slower than we planned. Please focus on the objectives otherwise we will be forced to relieve you of your post"

Huh? What was I doing wrong? The game didn't tell me, I was left along to work this out. How? Trawling back through all the messages the game had sent me recently (status reports, updates and crucially, orders). I found I needed a landing area on both my colonies - why not say that? Ok, moving on. Mission complete - next mission.

According to the mission summary at the top of the screen I've got to "Gain an income of $5000 a month". Easy. Wait... how do I do that? I've looked back through the instructions and I think this is the related instruction:

"Now you have an ore supply, you are advised to research and develop an Industrial Centre that can create tradable goods out of the ores on the planets surface. These goods can then be traded via a Starport to generate more income."

Ok, I got it. Build mines, then industry, and I'll make money through the starport. The problem is, I can't work out how! I've got mines, I've got industry, but I'm getting very little trade. I've missed something out. The help text is of no use, they're essentially worthless. The instructions fare no better. So I'm stuck. I've no idea how to proceed and I've just recieved the message of doom again:

"Commander, the construction of the moonbase is going slower than we planned. Please focus on the objectives otherwise we will be forced to relieve you of your post"

I'm out thanks...

What the game should have done
  • Given much clear instructions on how to do the objectives asked, e.g. "generate an income of $5000 a month. Income can be generated by..."
  • Given tips to the player to explain how to complete the objective they're stuck on, e.g. "you need to build a landing pad in all your colonies"
  • Ensuring the help text linked to much more in depth instructions/explanations on how the game worked, e.g. "For each mine, 2 industries are needed in the same colony"

Demos are possibly the most public facing aspect of a game. They cannot be some early levels of the game thrown together hastily. The whole experience the developers want to project to the potential buyers needs to be considered, and then that should be modelled. It will require further development time and resources, but a good demo should pay for itself by encouraging better sales.

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