I finally managed to get my backside in gear and get to one of the many and varied industry-based evenings that happen around here - UX Brighton. They had a couple of talks on Gameplay Research and Design that I thought sounded pretty interesting.
Two speakers going on, and I was taking notes on my new iPod (about which more in a later post), so I want to translate my brief notes into something slightly more meaningful. Maybe.
First up was GiGi Demming on “Gameplay Field Research and Designing for Kids”.
She was primarily focusing on the testing she did with Sony's EyeToy, which I'd never actually heard of but looked really fun. In a flinging your arms around kind of way! She did a little bit of discussing what the evaluation for game usability testing should be, which at some points appeared to be sort of tying in with Robin Hunicke's talk on making games (and webapps) 'juicy'.
There was an interesting discussion about what age range constitutes 'kids' - they use approximately 5-12. Apparently at 13 there's a noticeable shift in approach to life. There was some discussion about whether that was valid, but what was interesting was that she said the core usability issues tend to be the same across all age ranges. The content needs to vary, but the the mechanics are the same throughout.
She had some interesting stories about problems they had encountered in home visits that wouldn't have come out in a lab. People pulling down chandeliers, plants moving in the background causing issues, etc. And one story about Project Natal from Microsoft, where it didn't work at a tech show when it was used for the first time in less than perfect conditions!
She talked about how to do home visits - take two people, one to talk, the other to operate the camera/take notes etc. We've done the same thing with client meetings quite successfully. It keeps things easy (well, easier) for the presenter. Also about how important it was to find a cafe or pub or somewhere as soon as possible to brain dump everything and get the impressions back to the rest of the team while they were still fresh, or you would forget them. (I promptly ignored that in taking two days to write this up, but there you go.) There are similarities with bug fixing - you should try to replicate a usability problem to understand how it could occur.
And there's the great 'I like turtles' clip from YouTube. Showing that sometimes children have some difficulty expressing what they really mean or answering the question precisely. Frankly, I'm not sure that's just a problem with children.
Nextly there was Gareth White on "User Research and the Future of Gameplay Experience Design".
(I have to be honest, I have slightly fewer coherent notes from this. I'm guessing that may have had something to do with dinner consisting of 4 breadsticks and 2 bottles of beer between talks. Whoops!)
He was basically talking about using all sorts of biometric data to get more insight into what the user was experiencing while they play games. He showed some interesting output from an EEG scan taken while he was playing a game, and how the peak excitement levels correlated with certain bits of action. He was asked if observation wouldn't work as well, which is a good point. I got the impression these extra bits of information (e.g. heart rate, galvanic skin response) would supplement understanding rather than be the only information. Again, it tied in with Robin's talk where she explained they had shown a racing driver's biometric data to doctors with no information about what was going on, who all decided the patient was having a panic attack.
He also talked about how to get usability testing in at earlier stages in games development. That kind of fed into some of the things I saw at NCsoft, where they had the game mechanics sorted a long time before they had graphics and storyline etc.