What Can Games Teach Us About UI Design? With Felix Park (Part 2)
Welcome back to Enjoy the Vue with special guest, game designer, Felix Park. This episode continues the discussion about game design and what it can teach us about UI design. Part 1 concluded with a discussion about game flow and guiding the user with affordances and, in Part 2, the panel discusses user testing games and maintaining work-life balance. Felix shares why he believes he number one fallacy of designers in any field is that they extend their personal viewpoint on their design being universal, and how testing extends to both formal and informal settings, as well as how he personally maintains his work-life balance. He also shares his picks, as do the rest of the panel, and this week’s picks include everything from a YouTube channel called Noclip, to two different game engines, and some practical advice. Tune in today!
Key Points From This Episode:
- Felix starts with an example of designing a bench explosion and its unpredictable variables.
- Where to include heavy-handed guidance in a game is usually borne of player testing.
- Felix believes the number one fallacy of designers in any field is that they extend their personal viewpoint on their design being universal.
- Focus testing and A/B testing are ways to create accessible experiences in mobile games.
- Testing doesn’t have to be formal – it can be as informal as asking a friend for feedback.
- Crunch time and work-life balance: How Felix manages it by keeping to his hours strictly.
- Part of Felix’s decision to go into internal tools programming was less of an emphasis on meeting very strict deadlines.
- Onto picks, Ari’s is a little more abstract this week – quit a job you’re unhappy at.
- Ringo’s pick is the YouTube channel Noclip, which presents various game documentaries.
- Felix’s picks are cooking meatballs or a non-meat alternative, and learning the open source game engine, Godot.
- Felix talks about the resurgence of disc versus digital when it comes to installing games.
- Tessa’s picks are all games: Minna no Gorufu or Hot Shots Golf, The 3rd Birthday, Resident Evil 6, and the Ct.js game editor.
“I think the number one fallacy of designers in any field is that the design they've made is understandable and parsable to everyone. They extend their own personal viewpoint on that design as being universal.” — @uhfelix [0:02:52]
“When I say testing, I don't explicitly mean like A/B testing or focus testing. It can also be something as informal as like just asking someone else, a co-worker, a friend, family, to just sit down and play your game and have them give their honest feedback. That’s it.” — @uhfelix [0:06:58]
“I try to keep to my hours very strictly. It’s a lot of discipline to be able to do that and [it takes] a in your employer to recognize that you do have the boundaries and limits you're setting, and they need to respect that. I don't think I would work for any company that would overemphasize the need to stay at work over actual production.” — @uhfelix [0:08:29]
Picks of the week:
Links Mentioned in Today’s Episode:
Our picks this week
[00:00:09] T: Hi, everybody, and welcome back to Enjoy the Vue with Tessa, Ari Clark, guest panelist Ringo Kim, and our special guest for the week, Felix Park, as we continue our discussion on game design. We left off last week with a conversation about game flow and guiding the user with affordances. This week, we'll be discussing user testing games and maintaining work-life balance.
I’m curious to hear more about what testing is like, both user testing, and also if you have a problem that you need to debug. So, for example, to go back to Ringo's question, I feel like this is a situation we don't really design for much in web apps, I think. But like when you're stuck and one of the non-player characters is giving you a hint like, “Oh, I think we need something from the other town,” and sometimes I’ve been in a situation where like I don't know what I’m supposed to do next, but that's the only dialogue that they were given. So, I keep on asking and getting the answer until they're finally like, “You need to pick up the ladder and cross the river.” Then I’m like, “Oh, I failed as a player.”
I'm curious like how designers decide like when those moments need to happen and what they're like? Also, on the other side of things, I remember you telling me the story about how you were trying to get a bench to explode and it wasn't exploding predictably. So how do you go about figuring out how to resolve those kinds of problems?
[00:01:30] FP: So, the bench exploding, the context for that problem was that – the bench explodes during the sequence in one of my prior works where a bunch of zombies are going through a door, and we wanted to communicate to the player that you should not at all go through the door that they are going out of. You're supposed to go through another route. The door is only there to sort of emphasize the danger of your predicament, them bursting through it. We did a lot of stuff. We did a lot of things with that, including adding in a bench that like is situated in front of the door so that when they burst out, like the bench shatters into like a thousand pieces.
The purpose of that, it was also sort of a guidance thing where it's like we're guiding the player to be like, “Oh. If I go near that area, I might be destroyed, much like this bench.” Not as implicitly as that, but it’s more of a hint. I mean, eventually like we literally had a non-player character like huck an incendiary device at the door that left flames there so that, essentially if you try to go through the door, it would kill you. It was very on the nose in that case. But how do you decide what sort of to go about? How do you decide like where to drop like very heavy-handed guidance? That is usually born out through testing.
I think the number one fallacy of designers in any field is that the design they've made is understandable and parsable to everyone. They extend their own personal viewpoint on that design as being universal. A very typical exchange might be a coworker of a designer being like, “Hey, I don't really know how this thing works. Can you explain it to me?” The designer is like, “Well, it's very simple. You just like press the zog over here and insert the capacitor into it. It’s like very straightforward. I don’t know why anybody couldn't possibly figure this out?” The ideal scenario there is to like be able to extend your viewpoint to being like I have to assume that like everything I designed out is not understandable at all and start from there.
But even then, sometimes because of various constraints, say scheduling or like just things are a certain way, you might not be able to change design to the point where like, “Oh, I can make a more parsable and understandable design,” or it's like not really desirable. We still want a level of like learning to go on with people. You want to be able to teach people how to navigate your experience sometimes. In which case, like through heavy testing and heavy like criticism or heavy critique, you can sort of like come to a conclusion of, “Oh, this things needs like a pretty heavy hand,” or this thing is – The player here needs a lot of help. Again, this is also delineated by time, right?
I think in your example, Tessa, maybe the NPC only says that after like a minute of you struggling with this like particular part of the game.
[00:04:32] T: More like 15. I’m not that good.
[00:04:34] FP: Or 15 minutes, right? A lot of times, you’ll come up with these like times because you literally had like four play testers on average take like 15 minutes to get through this space or maybe let's say 20 minutes to get through the space. So, you start like adding this hint in of the NPC yelling like, “Hey, maybe we should use a slider.” You add that at minute 15 and then essentially like – And maybe most of your play testers get through fine. Then the play testers she knows are struggling, when they drop the hint like that, they're like, “Oh, thank God. This is great,” and then they use a ladder. That’s through testing to sort of determine like the boundaries of like when you should do things and even how you should do things, right?
So maybe because if players don't enjoy the fact that like – And not even play testers. If like your co-workers come to you and they’re like, “This is like way too heavy-handed. I don't agree with the design.” You’re like, “Oh, you bring a good point here, yeah.” We shouldn't have the NPC just say out loud like, “Hey, maybe we should use this ladder.” That should be something at minute 40. At minute 15, we should just have –”
[00:05:36] T: No.
[00:05:39] FP: At minute 15, maybe that player character comments to themselves like, “Huh, I think I could put something over this gap.” So through a lot of intuitive thinking and also a lot of like testing, you can sort of arrive at that. Again, like testing doesn't need to be crazy formal, right? There’s quite a resistance in the game industry to making like a game that's essentially designed by focus testing constantly. I mean, some sectors is actually fairly useful like, say, in incredibly widespread games like mobile games where you need like anybody from the ages of 5 to like 95 to build the player game easily. Focus testing and A/B testing like an app design, that's a huge factor in how you can create like these incredibly accessible experiences.
But in other certain types of games where you kind of want a little friction there just to be able to create like a more enjoyable experience, that feels like more of an accomplishment when you're doing it and doesn't require sort of these other goals of, say, like monetization, right? If the players already bought a game, you kind of want them just be able to play the game versus like experience certain friction points in order for them to pay more to continue experiencing the game like in a lot of free to play mobile games.
[00:06:51] T: And some games that you've already bought.
[00:06:53] FP: And some games.
[00:06:54] T: Which everybody loves.
[00:06:55] FP: Yeah, yeah. And some games that you already bought, indeed. When I say testing, I don't explicitly mean like A/B testing or focus testing. It can also be something as informal as like just asking someone else, a co-worker, a friend, family, to just sit down and play your game and have them give their honest feedback. That’s it.
[00:07:16] T: I mean, I do think there's a lot of overlap there with web design, right, because we all want to in theory create new things that are never seen before. But that also conflicts with so-called intuitive design, which is really just, I guess, relying on patterns that people have seen before, rather than being inherently like followable.
[00:07:34] FP: Yeah. There is like I guess sort of a bias towards that just because of probably ego. I don't know. Certainly, in my case, it's ego. Yeah.
[00:07:46] T: I mean, it’s a balancing act. So before we move on to picks, I just want to ask quickly about another point that development and game dev have in common, which is like crunch time and work-life balance. How do you handle that?
[00:07:59] FP: Yeah. That’s a fairly hot topic I think throughout the tech industry generally.
[00:08:04] T: Yeah.
[00:08:05] AC: I’d say it’s a little hotter for your particular sector, just saying.
[00:08:08] FP: There’s been a lot of recent press around that, and I’ve experienced both sides of the coin where I've worked for companies that had a very large emphasis on work-life balance and then companies that did not have such a large emphasis on it.
If you want to ask me personally how do I sort of like navigate that, I have to say that I try to generally keep to my hours very strictly. It’s a lot of discipline to be able to do that and a lot of trust in sort of like your employer to recognize that you do have the boundaries and limits you're setting, and they need to respect that. I don't think I would work for any company that would overemphasize the need to stay at work over actual production. Yeah, I don’t think I would work for any company that would emphasize the time you spend there versus the kind of output you're doing.
[00:09:01] T: So like the perception of work versus the work itself.
[00:09:03] FP: Exactly, yeah. Even companies I worked for that have respected that for the most part, even they have maybe a culture of peers looking at people who are leaving early or who have done their hours but like are not staying until like 10:00 PM where they're like, “Ha, yeah.” The perception is like they're not doing their stuff as rigorously. But essentially, that doesn't really matter as long as like your lead or the person you're directly reporting to has an understanding with you and management also has an understanding that like, yeah, the hours don't equal like work output.
But, yeah, it's like a constant struggle though. I mean, even on my latest work I’ve done overtime. But for what I do nowadays, tools programming, part of my decision to go into tools programming was because I wanted to have less of an emphasis on needing to meet really strict deadlines.
[00:09:59] T: And by tools you mean internal tools, right?
[00:10:01] FP: Internal tools, yeah. So development tools meant for other fellow game developers in order to make their jobs easier. But, yeah, there's like a lot less emphasis there on meeting like very strict deadlines. It’s more of a work in constant progress versus like hitting milestone, which personally I appreciate, and that's kind of what also attracted me to it, as well as like the challenges inherent in designing and implementing tools for your peers, which is its own really incredibly fulfilling beast.
[00:10:32] T: Nice. So, Felix, where can people find you on the Internet?
[00:10:37] FP: I have a Twitter. It is @uhfelix, U-H-felix. It is what you say before you want to talk to me usually.
[00:10:48] T: Just one uh, right? Not uh, uh, uh.
[00:10:49] FP: No, no. It’s not. It’s just uh. It’s not uhhh or uh-uh. It’s just, uh, Felix.
[00:10:54] T: I feel like it’s uh, uh, Felix.
[00:10:57] FP: Uh, Felix.
[00:10:59] T: And with that, it’s time to move onto this week's picks. Ari, would you like to go first?
[00:11:04] AC: Yeah. I literally screwed myself because we did a special episode this week, and I blew both picks for this week on that. So I’m actually going to go with a little more abstract pick, and that's quitting a job you're unhappy at. That is something I recently did, and it made me realize that I had stayed there way too long because they really just don't seem to care that I'm leaving and there was this whole guilt about abandoning my baby. But now, I’m just like, “Nah. If my baby makes me unhappy, I’m going to give away my baby.” So, quitting a job that does not making you happy is a very high form of self-care, and I highly recommend it.
[00:11:46] T: Yeah. I’m glad you're taking that step towards looking out more for yourself.
[00:11:51] AC: It’s worth it. I feel so much better. Even though I still have like a few days left, I already feel better.
[00:11:57] T: It’s close. You see that shining game design door wide open in front of you with no flames on the other side.
[00:12:02] AC: With the sparkle effect.
[00:12:05] T: Yeah, the little glowing platform being like, “Here’s your next quest.”
[00:12:09] FP: Camera's directly pointed to that sucker.
[00:12:13] RR: How about you, Ringo? What are your picks?
[00:12:14] RK: I’ve been watching this YouTube channel called Noclip. It’s about a lot of like game documentaries with different game studios. It’s really interesting, so I highly recommend.
[00:12:25] T: Nice. Felix, do you have any picks for us this week?
[00:12:28] FP: Yeah, I have two. Is that okay?
[00:12:30] T: Yeah, that’s fine.
[00:12:32] FP: My first pick is cooking meatballs or any vegetarian or vegan equivalent of that.
[00:12:36] T: Okay. So you mean like the actual active cooking. I was like, “This is a book.”
[00:12:39] FP: No. It’s literally cooking meatballs. It’s great. Meatballs are very versatile. You can eat one meatball or you can eat three meatballs. Or if you're in my case, you can eat 10 and feel really badly about yourself. They're very easy to cook and assemble. They're fun to make actually because you make those little like spheres. It’s like, “Oh, this is like an activity now,” and they're delicious. Again, this applies to like meatballs, falafel, whatever other sphere you want to consume. There’s a lot of spheres probably.
My other pick is learning Godot. Godot is this free open source game engine. It’s pronounced G-O-D-O-T like in the play, and it's been very fun to sort of delve into like a different paradigm of like game implementation, and it's got a very active development community. It’s in its early days and it creates game executables that are on like the kilobyte/few multi-megabyte level versus like having like an intensely huge five-gigabyte export which is like insane. Yeah, go learn Godot. It’s been pretty fun for me so far.
[00:13:39] T: I’m just sitting here not knowing anything about game sizes and feeling like, “Oh, okay.” Then like thinking back to recent news about that Chrome extension that talks about package sizes, and imagining somebody makes it for like – I mean, you're playing this game but there's this other game that has a smaller package size. Maybe you should play that instead.
[00:13:57] FP: Yeah. Games as much like web pages have gotten way, way bigger in the progress of time in the march of time.
[00:14:04] AC: Like 30 gigs when it used to be you had a 50-gig hard drive period.
[00:14:10] FP: I haven't been to any 30-gig web pages but I assume they're out there.
[00:14:13] AC: Well, no. I just meant the game. Games have gotten just so bloated. I want to say like Diablo at one point was like 50 gigs. I’m like, “Why? Why?”
[00:14:23] T: Oh, my God.
[00:14:24] AC: But I still played it.
[00:14:26] T: Nice. Yeah, we were just talking about games that also like span multiple discs, and I’m like, “I can’t imagine that now but imagine someone else.”
[00:14:32] FP: It’s back, baby. No, it’s back. It’s –
[00:14:34] AC: Oh, my God.
[00:14:34] T: That’s right. But you said one wasn’t installed, is that right?
[00:14:37] FP: Yes. Usually –
[00:14:37] T: Go ahead, Ari.
[00:14:37] AC: That’s the floppies.
[00:14:40] FP: The multi – I think Microsoft Flight Simulator, the new one that just came out this year. It is something like 10 DVDs because you’re going to have to –
[00:14:50] AC: Why?
[00:14:52] FP: Yeah. I mean, well, some people – So actually, discs versus digital is a huge thing now because some people who you might be marketing your game to don't have good Internet connections. A lot of countries don't have very stable or consistent Internet connections, so having a game reliant on a 30-gig download that could take days for some people in other countries. Having that ability to have a disc version is like a huge lifesaver for them. So to be very serious about the 10 DVD thing, yeah, yeah.
[00:15:22] AC: Okay. But if it needs 10 discs.
[00:15:26] T: It’s to fit every story of that really tall building in Australia, the one that goes all the way up into the sky.
[00:15:35] FP: Yes, the Sydney megalith. Yeah, I’m very fond of that one.
[00:15:38] T: All right, I guess all that's left is my picks, and we’re just laughing at Felix being like, “Is it okay that I have two,” because I have four.
[00:15:47] AC: Classic Tessa.
[00:15:49] T: Yeah. But I feel like three of these picks are kind of like I have to give them because Felix is on the show. So they're like my three go-to top ranked games that I talk about every time I talk to Felix.
[00:16:02] FP: I think I have an idea.
[00:16:04] T: I mean, do you want to guess?
[00:16:07] FP: No, because if i get them wrong, I’ll be like the worst.
[00:16:11] T: So the first one is the second to newest in a series of golf games that's called like Minna no Gorufu or like Everybody's Golf or Hot Shots Golf, and this one was the sixth edition which in some locales it’s called World Invitational. It came out for PlayStation Vita and then I think later PlayStation 3. But I only recommend the Vita version because I think that the way the game worked together with the Vita controls, it was just very smoothly executed, and it's just a very relaxing game. We’ve talked in the past about how I don't like going outside. I also don't like golf, fun fact. But I love going outside and playing golf in the Vita on this one game. When I played the newest game, it's not the same. It’s only this game. So that's pick one.
Pick two is called The 3rd Birthday. It was on PSP, which I think is easier to find than a VITA. Felix, would you not have guessed that one? Did you start playing it yet?
[00:16:11] FP: Oh, my God. I don’t think I bought it yet on your recommendation.
[00:17:10] T: Didn’t you, Felix?
[00:17:11] FP: Yeah. It’s also available for Vita.
[00:17:15] T: Yeah. It came out for Vita as well. So if you have a Vita, you can play it on Vita. But I think it might be easier to find.
[00:17:20] FP: [inaudible 00:17:20] people out there, grab this. Yes.
[00:17:22] T: Yeah. I feel like it’s easier to find a PSP. So it’s on PSP and it’s a time travel game where you can like throw your consciousness into people in the past and try to like save the world from the apocalypse or something. But you can only – You’re limited to like people who were in the past, so you can't just bring up a body that wasn't in the area at the time and try to defeat whatever monster is there.
And with that, that's all for this week's episode. Thanks for listening, everyone, and until next time. Enjoy the Vue.