Lewis Pulsipher
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Jakob Nielsen, the guru of Web usability, posts interesting short articles on his Web site. The following is from:

http://www.useit.com/alertbox/20030825.html

It ought to be applicable to game rules and to rules-writing, don't you think?

"Usability is defined by five quality components:

* Learnability: How easy is it for users to accomplish basic tasks the first time they encounter the design?
* Efficiency: Once users have learned the design, how quickly can they perform tasks?
* Memorability: When users return to the design after a period of not using it, how easily can they reestablish proficiency?
* Errors: How many errors do users make, how severe are these errors, and how easily can they recover from the errors?
* Satisfaction: How pleasant is it to use the design?"

Lew Pulsipher
 
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Justin Walduck
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I had a similar thought earlier this year. Specifically I was looking at applying Nielsen's heuristic evaluation to game design.

http://www.carpe.com.au/blog/?p=70
 
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David Whitcher
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Thanks for the heads up Lewis

I think I board game designers might get something positive out of it. I will post a link over at www.bgdf.com
 
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Melissa
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Re: Are Web usability guidelines relevant to games and rules
I find that "Web" usability guidelines tend to have very direct application to many aspects of my life.
 
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Robert Rossney
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Re: Are Web usability guidelines relevant to games and rules
I think anyone designing games (or web sites, for that matter) needs to get their hands on all four of Edward Tufte's books. Like Nielsen, he's not always right, but even when you can say "No, what he's talking about doesn't apply to my design," you've learned something.

If you only want to buy one, The Visual Display of Quantitative Information is the most ground-breaking, and Envisioning Information is the most useful.

It's instructive to sit down with Envisioning Information and one of Fantasy Flight's lesser games - King's Gate, say - and learn exactly why it is that you don't want to play it. King's Gate was a pretty good game when Ravensburger published it. All FFG did to it was change its theme (it was a Lord of the Rings license) and its physical design. The resulting game is one that no one wants to play. Tufte helps explain why.

 
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Zach Toups
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Re: Are Web usability guidelines relevant to games and rules
Might also consider Norman's Design of Everyday Things (aka Psychology of... or Psychopathology of...). The notion of affordance, constraints, feedback, and making visible are all applicable here.

I suspect the reality is that usability, information design, and artifact design (all of which are brought together in interface design in computer science) are really all generally applicable. Indeed, in the end, it's all design, which has a long and very rich history.

Tufte is an excellent source here, I would add that as well.

-Zach

-----

Zachary O. Toups

Interface Ecology Lab | Computer Science Department
 
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Zach Toups
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Re: Are Web usability guidelines relevant to games and rules
Itten's principles of color theory are also relevant.

It's fun to apply those + Tufte to Carcassonne, for example.

-Zach
 
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Tim K.
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Re: Are Web usability guidelines relevant to games and rules
Yes, Tufte might be more appropriate in terms of rules and their layout.

I think Nielsen's work (and the work of others in the field of interface design) is more about interfaces revealing their function and as such doesn't really apply to games. The application would be something like boardgame pieces that would intuitively reveal what it is you are supposed to do with them on a turn, e.g. Carcassonne tiles would have little indents on them where the meeples could be placed with the indents showing the scoring for that feature. Regular indents would be the shape of a standing meeple footprint and field indents would be a silhouette of the meeple lying down.

Boardgames are necessarily an iterative learning and using experience because only very simple games would reveal how they work without much cognitive work by the user. Operation is the only one that comes to mind immediately, where it is clear what the user will be doing (removing little plastic parts from holes using tweezers).

Anyway, if you designed maximally for Nielsen's criteria you could only have very simple games.

But the 'memorability' criterion reminds me of a rules feature that I really like that I believe Puerto Rico and San Juan (and Keythedral?) have which is the little sidebar shorthand list of the rules that are discussed in the main text, specifically to be used as a refresher once you've already played the game a few times. Very useful! (Geeklist anyone?)
 
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Robert Rossney
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Re: Are Web usability guidelines relevant to games and rules
I can think of a number of games that employ something pretty analogous to Nielsen's "progressive disclosure."

Civilization, for instance: the initial turns are very simple, and very few of the game's rules bear on what's happening. You don't get cities until several turns in; you don't get trading until several cities exist; you don't get civilization advances until people have been trading for quite a few turns; you don't get conflicts or stockpile management until peoples' population has grown; you don't get the more and more severe calamities until later in the game. Of course you can't play Civilization well without knowing all of that stuff, but you weren't going to play well in your first game anyway.

Roads & Boats has the same feature, though less so: the game starts out simple and becomes progressively more complex as the players' positions develop and they can afford to build more and more of the production buildings.

Contrast these with games like Puerto Rico, El Grande, Ra, E&T, or Caylus, where most of game's elements are in play from after the first couple of turns.
 
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Lewis Pulsipher
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Re: Are Web usability guidelines relevant to games and rules
Games that have several sets of rules with different levels of complexity--"Standard" and "Advanced", for example--are using progressive discolsure. It's a common notion in wargames, but I haven't seen it much in "Euro" games.

Lew
 
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