Archive for February, 2007

Updates

Posted in Tales from the grind-stone on February 27th, 2007 by MrCranky

Various updates to the website software this week, nothing major, just security fixes for WordPress and MediaWiki. Dreamhost have also been having some data-centre issues recently which have meant some downtime, but nothing major.

Other than that, the last couple of weeks have involved a bit more relaxation for me in an effort to not go crazy before I see the spring-time. A weekend holiday and more time reading books rather than coding has helped a bit in that respect. I’ve still not had much time to myself though, down to more planning efforts for our educational prototype, and a bunch of other niggling paperwork things that I’ve had to sort out. On the bright side, as we’re coming towards the end of our second financial year, we have a lot more information that I can look back over and see just how much the business costs to run, and so better estimate our finances for the future. There’s still more paperwork for income tax, National Insurance, VAT, corporation tax, and all of the accounting obligations we have as a limited company, but it’s all fairly routine now (if still somewhat annoying).

Coming up over the next few weeks we expect to hear something more concrete about our new project, and so Pete is doing a lot of groundwork around that accordingly. I must say that I’m also looking forward to working more time in the home office, and avoiding the 45 minute commutes to Barco!

Busy week

Posted in Tales from the grind-stone on February 11th, 2007 by MrCranky

Not had much of a chance to stop this week, so this one will be brief. Much of this week was spent looking at a plan for a prototype for our educational title – trying to find out what’s achievable in a fixed time-frame with fixed resources isn’t the best way to make a game, but in some respects it’s good (at least you know when you have to aim for). Add to that a bereavement in the family, a driving test (which I passed), and the usual 6 day week at Barco, and there’s not much time left for fun things!

Hopefully next week will be more relaxed, and will include: investigation of a couple of small games for pitching to XBox Live Arcade or Nintendo’s Virtual Console, some build framework things for our engine re-factoring, and finishing the second dungeon in Twilight Princess .

UI design

Posted in Industry Rants on February 1st, 2007 by MrCranky

One of the many bug-bears I’ve developed working in the software industry is about bad user interfaces. When I was at university I did a course on human-computer interaction, and though I didn’t think it at the time, I realise now just how valuable it was. I firmly believe, now I’ve seen the fruits of so many bad user interface designs, that the course should not only be compulsory, but it should be repeated several times throughout the degree, just to drive the point home.

The particular bit of software that has inspired this rant is the software for this:

my new phone, the O2 Ice. Hardware wise I can’t fault it – sleek, light, good build quality. Software wise, it’s awful. More than awful, its so bad I find myself shaking it in the air and cursing, trying to resit the urge to bash it off the table in frustration. Almost everything in the user interface runs contrary to even basic usability principles. Buttons change function radically as you move between screens, resulting in a single extra accidental button press (of a button that you need to press), will wipe out a laboriously crafted message, without saving it anywhere, or more crucially prompting if you are sure. Conversely, when you are sure about an operation, for example deleting messages, it prompts you, then, just to make you grind your teeth, prompts you to press okay on a screen that says only ‘deleted successfully’. Why do I need to click okay on a message telling me that you’ve done what I asked you (twice) to do. Sure, tell me if it fails, but don’t tell me if it succeeds. I assume it will succeed!

Worst of all though is the behaviour when a new message comes in – I pull the phone from my pocket and see the message prompt displayed on the screen. Great, all good. But because its not a clamshell design, I habitually lock the keypad before putting it into my pocket. And the act of unlocking the phone causes the message prompt to disappear, and I have to go search through three levels of menus to go find the message that’s arrived. And that’s only for SMS messages, if a multi-media message comes in, pressing any key just freezes the display on the animated message icon – no feedback, nothing. Eventually I found out that holding the power key will free things up again, but that was one of the “don’t throw it across the room, it’s the only phone you have” moments.

Fact is, user interface problems aren’t generally hard to solve. Some of them are tricky because you have design constraints (say only being able to use a one button mouse, or limited feedback options. But in general bad user interfaces are down to bad designers, and there is no excuse for it. The end-user does not care, in the slightest, about how good your software is underneath; if it feels like crap to use, then they will hate it, and you have failed.

Games are normally a bit better in this regard, partly because the limited control mechanisms force us to spend more time thinking about input mechanics, but also because a game that doesn’t feel easy to control will drive players away in droves. Even still, it still makes me curse in frustration every time I use a tool that was chucked out of the door with a sub-standard UI, and everyone is stuck with it just because there are no alternatives on the market. (Rational Rose I’m looking at you…)

Wrong.

Posted in Tales from the grind-stone on February 1st, 2007 by MrCranky

I generally don’t publish code from the videogames because I don’t believe that code quality is as important in that industry. Short of the occasional patch, once the product is shipped, it’s done; there’s no ten-year lifespan to worry about.

Wrong. Wrong. Wrong. Wrong. I don’t even know where to start with it, short of saying that if any games developers are reading it, you should cover your eyes, now.


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