We're talking all about useful design on Built To Play. We explore accessibility arcades, user research, and victorian mansions in our search for better game design.
Anatole Chen is a user researcher in Xbox's natural user interface platform team. Anatole's job is all about making sure that everything around a game works.
He doesn't check for bugs, and he's not searching for new mechanics. User research examines all the elements around a game. He checks things like whether the menus are easy to navigate or whether a game feels fair. That means bringing in a lot of testers to try out new games, and then running them through a focus group afterwards. While Anatole primarily examines the numbers (how often a button is pressed, how long it takes to finish an area, etc.) focus groups allow him to create a narrative and often highlight an aspect of the data.
We first caught him at the PAX East convention in Boston, where he was talking about his job as user researcher. One thing that he didn't have time to explain at his panel was the difference between things like playtesting, games research and user research, which often get confused with each other. We talked to him about those differences, and the benefits of user research starting 23:10.
On April 27, the University of Toronto opened Canada's first accessibility arcade, and we were there to catch it.
Mark Barlet, founder of the AbleGamers Foundation, partnered with U of T's Semaphore Research Cluster to create a place where people who have physical disabilities can play video games. They have specially designed controllers for those with multiple sclerosis, cerebral palsy, or any disease or injury which can make it difficult to use a traditional controllers. At the moment the arcade is within the Robart's Library,and they only have two of these device available, but Mark hopes that Semaphore will be able to help design controllers of the future. Semaphore Research Cluster is part of the Faculty of Information, who have access to tools like 3D printers, robotics and the intelligents minds of people like Sara Grimes. Sara's an assistant professor who brought Mark in to help build an arcade. Mark took care of gathering the equipment. Sara's in charge of growing and evolving the arcade.
Mark's opened three of these arcades so far in the United States, and is working to add a couple more. In his interview, he sounds fairly excited about the possibilities of the Semaphore lab, and what it could do with accessible controllers. He and Sara talk about the potential of their partnership starting 31:40.
Video games have a knack for creating beautiful worlds, which are only possible thanks to effort of environment artists.
Kate Craig is an environment artist at the Fullbright Company, the developer of Gone Home. In Gone Home, you return from a long trip to your family's victorian mansion, to find that everyone is missing. Fullbright co-founder Steve Gaynor may have designed the mansion's layout, but Kate built that house and designed much of the furniture. She's the one who gave the house personality, adding props like the desks, lamps, and beds, or making sure that the rooms don't look perfectly clean. Yet, Kate can't be entirely realistic. The doors are always going to have to be big enough for the camera and the player. Same with the rooms, despite the actual layout of a typical victorian house. Through this, she talks about the relationship between realism and the practicality of design.
But most importantly, Kate does not like the stereotype that character artists have the most fun. Players often interact with the world more than they ever interact with characters. Kate talks about her history with game worlds, and how much she enjoys finding ones with great personality. You can hear her talk about Gone Home and what separates beautiful worlds from boring ones starting 41:50.