The mobile game Quento (iTunes link, also quento.com) from Q42 features an exceptionally clever start screen that doesn’t teach the whole game, but it does a wonderful job at introducing the game’s core mechanic to the player. Finally, a game that doesn’t just want us to mindlessly “press start” for no good reason!
Way back in iOS 3, Apple implemented the “shake to undo” feature. This means if you’re typing, say, a text message, and you want to “undo” your text, just shake your iPhone, iPad, or iPod Touch. While it’s a cool trick, this isn’t the most usable feature that Apple has ever implemented. It’s both hidden and unintuitive. And I’ve definitely triggered it more accidentally than I have on purpose.
Quento (iTunes link) is a stylish puzzler for iOS (and Android, and Windows 8, and Chrome) that looks a lot like Letterpress except it substitutes simple math problems for word problems. It’s a good distraction for your brain, but unfortunately it’s also a good example of how not to implement a shake feature in your game. Shaking your phone resets the board, causing you to lose all your progress for that level – without any warning.
Puzzle Craft (iTunes link) is a combination match-3 and town-building game out for iOS developed by Ars Thanea and published by Chillingo (owned by EA, but isn’t everybody?). It was released recently to much critical fanfare as a very effective time-killer, and in my brief stint with the game, I can confirm that it’s quite good at passing the time. This casual game dominates at the “just one more turn” trap that many similar games use.
What it’s not good at though, is following a variety of simple good usability practices, and these cause me a fair amount of mental anguish each time I encounter them. Like Joel Spolsky says, it’s the tiny frustrations that can make all the difference in usability, so let’s talk about five of them in more detail below.
The other day, I was watching a playoff baseball game, and in an attempt to keep my mind off the baseball game, I decided to fire up Civilization Revolution on my iPhone. While it’s a definitely cramped on the iPhone, it’s still a great game for the mobile setting – easy to pick up for just a couple of minutes (in theory anyway), and balances complex gameplay with simple enough controls to make it a fun and rewarding diversion.
While I spent most of the baseball game conquering the Russians (they were in my way, what could I do?), I didn’t get to see my civilization rise to its true glory. Not because the Americans were about to breach my defenses, but instead, the game silently refused to save my game. This is a UX disaster – read on to hear the whole story. Continue reading →
The first installment in Electronic Arts’ Burnout series was way back in 2001 for the PS2 and original XBox. While a lot has changed over the years, the takeaway of the franchise remains the same: drive fast and blow stuff up, a lot. In the latest iteration, Burnout CRASH! distills this formula to an incredibly simple form, and racing is nowhere to be found – just blowing stuff up. I was super excited to see the game released on iOS because it’s exactly the type of quick and simple game I want to play on my iPad.
Earning in-game achievements (represented here by stars) allows players to unlock more content. Each track in the game features five different stars, and when a player meets a specified number of stars, more content appears. So collecting stars is definitely the driving force for players to progress. Here’s the rub: considering how important they are, Burnout CRASH! doesn’t do enough to show players what stars they have left to achieve.