Monday, September 14, 2015

fixing the ui in 30-year-old home computer type-in games

I've been really enjoying making my blog going though the games of COMPUTE!'s Gazette, a magazine of the 1980s for the Commodore 64 and related machines... it's so satisfying to know I can put in 30-60 minutes of work on a semi-daily basis and have something tangible and interesting to show for it. Almost addictive!

Recently, I reviewed the game "Switcheroo". It looked like this:
The game is Tic-Tac-Toe variant. Players gold or orange (or as my friend point out, pee or poo) alternate either placing a piece on the 5x5 grid or sliding any row or column one space (with the piece that would fall of the board wrapping around to the other side)

The trouble is, even by 1986 standards, the UI was bad. When a player's turn starts, pressing left or right on the stick selects either the square (representing place a new piece) or the arrows (representing get ready to slide a row or column) Pressing the button reverts control to that round cursor-y thing at top... the joystick moves it from square to square. In "place" mode you press the button to claim the square, in "slide" mode you press the button and then have to press the joystick again in the way you want that square to slide (bring its row or column with it).

So not only was it hard to understand (using color highlight rather than an underline or pointer  or something was confusing by itself) but indicating the direction via a joystick press was unreliable, and the process was rather clunky, switch focus around and having to press the button quite a lot, considering.

For fun, I developed a better (and browser-based in this case) UI:
Players can now either click a blank square or click an arrow to indicate their intent.

I doubt there anything here that couldn't be done in the Commodore 64  program - ditch the mode selector at bottom and decorate the sides with arrows, boom.

I actually made this in part to see if it actually was a good game at its core... the answer is no, not really. My playtesters complained it's a bit stupid because for the first part of the game, you probably don't want to slide at all, since you lose a chance to stake out territory. I've made this 4x4 variant incorporating their suggestion to make each turn be a placement AND a slide... this version hasn't really been playtested yet, but I'm confidant it's an improvement over the original, though I'm not sure if the whole game is redeemable.

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