Wednesday, 4 March 2015

HCI (Human Computer Interaction)

HCI (Human Computer Interaction) By Dave Johnson

Task 1) Blog all the different ways a player can engage with games. What is HCI?

Human Computer Interaction is the study of how humans can interact with a navigate computer games and applications. In the very early days of computer gaming, all games were controlled by basic or keyboard commands. In the early days of gaming in the 1980's, computers were often inaccessible without first digesting a weighty manual, learning to code and developing a basic knowledge of programming. As time went on however, joysticks were introduced to make gaming easier, followed by multi button control pads in the 1990's. Subsequently, the 2000's saw even more technological advances with the introduction of wireless and touchscreen devices. Nintendo and Microsoft both developed ways for the player to engage with a game without touching any peripherals at all - their bodies became the controller, increasing player immersion and interactivity. 

The very nature of HCI in the field of games design is a vital consideration. When a game idea is conceived, the next logical step is what platform it will appear on to best support the gameplay concept. For example, playing Call Of Duty would not work as well on a phone as well as it works on a console. The complex multi button commands required to successfully progress in the game would not translate well to thumb and finger taps and swipes. Similarly there have been notable examples of successful games that have been unsuccessfully ported to other HCI platforms. The survival horror Resident Evil 4 was released to unanimous acclaim when it was released on the Gamecube and Playstation. Critics praised its intuitive controls, menus and combat interface. A year or so after its release, Capcom attempted to port the title across to the Wii which has completely different controls, combining a motion sensor with a traditional D-Pad. Holding these controls gave a completely different feel to an otherwise slick game, rendering most sections extremely difficult to play. Capcom also decided to experiment with motion controlled quick time events, which previously were simple button pressing affairs. These did not work at all, spoiling the experience of a classic survival horror game for Wii users.

Developer platform / HCI considerations are vital when considering how the game will play and offer the optimum experience. Due to an increase in technological methods, there are currently many ways that players engage with games.

  • Push buttons and sticks on a controller This is probably the most common method currently in use. Evolving from the early days of Atari's arcade games 'Pong' and 'Space Invaders', the home versions of these featured a single button joystick to mimic an arcade machine. The joystick method also allowed responsive control / sprite interaction for the player. It was with the advent of the Nintendo NES that the control pad as we know it began to develop. The company pioneered the invention of a less cumbersome eight-way directional pad (d-pad) and a then unprecedented four buttons on the controller. This set the template for controllers across the entire industry, developing over the next 3 decades to become the pads that we use today. Companies have sought to add more buttons, digital readouts and 'vibration' features for special effects. Every major console release has come bundled with at least one game pad. Games have sought to make use of how a variety of buttons can create more complex and entertaining gameplay. Modern controllers can feature as many as 16 buttons, plus a digital readout. Controllers work because they are ergonomically satisfying to hold whilst playing the game. The user can also move around the room with them, adopting a place to play and view that is satisfying to them.
  • Talk into a microphone Games have grown to incorporate the in built microphone to accept spoken commands. Platforms such as the Nintendo DS allow shouting, blowing, whistling and speaking to activate in game events. The hit game 'Skyrim' features a language that can be spoken to cast spells. Originally this was designed around a controller, having the player push buttons to shout at syllables in words. This idea was later expanded to the Kinect and PS3 by utilizing voice activated commands with the microphone. Players can now shout the commands at the screen to increase the feeling that they are in control of magic and immerse themselves more in the experience.
  • Use motion controls such as The Nintendo Wii or Xbox Kinect Nintendo pioneered motion controls with the Wii and later with the Wii U. Both offer players the chance to move their arms, legs, head and body to play sports, run, fight, and jump in real time. Motion controls apply points to the players body and keep track of when and where these points move. This data is directly tied to on screen sprites, which move when the player moves. It is testament to the success of this scheme that the biggest buyer of Wii's has been old peoples homes. They offer the elderly the chance to exercise, play sports and take part in activities that they otherwise would struggle with. This motion controlled experience was later adapted by Microsoft to allow for greater interactive experiences when playing certain games. The XBox Kinect featured launch titles such as 'Star Wars:The Clone Wars' which enabled players to physically use the force. They could do this by waving an arm to knock back waves of enemies or pretend to wield a light saber to attack.

  • Touchscreen controls In may ways touchscreen controls are extremely convenient. They allow devices such as tablets and phones that do not have controller peripherals to have an in-built way of players interacting by swiping and tapping the screen.This technique allow for a surprising amount of interactivity for game play. The system is not perfect however as sometimes fingers and thumbs can obscure key on screen elements in the game. An enemy cannot be killed or the player cannot move if a thumb is obscuring them. Probably the most successful application of touchscreen controls has been implemented by Nintendo with their 3DS series. The bottom screen is available for hand interaction, but the player also has the choice of using a traditional d-pad and buttons. This eliminates any difficult in HCI expanding the possibilities of what games the system can play. Phones and tablets are limited to simple interactions and games as the combined range of traditional buttons and touchscreen movements is not available.
  • Use an in-built gyroscope to tilt the screen Touchscreen systems also have the added benefit of an in built gyroscope to detect how the device is being held by the user. This expands the range of movements available to shaking and tilting the device to achieve a desired effect in game.
  • Typing or pressing buttons on a keyboard Favored by PC and Mac players, the keyboard offers a wide ranging but, in my opinion, slightly cumbersome way of controlling a game. With many keyboards having up to 124 buttons, the range of movements and commands is extremely vast. The downside is a) maneuverability around the keyboard and b) remembering where everything to control the game is. Admittedly this method is the oldest in computer gaming, pre-dating even early controllers and joysticks. It is a preferred method of many and a disliked method by just as much as it requires fine hand eye co ordination skills.
  • Voice activation / Blowing into a microphone Many modern systems from phones to consoles feature an in built microphone. This microphone can be used to accept spoken commands that the game can interpret. Examples of this include the 3DS game 'Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney' during which the player can call out "objection" during a suspect testimony. An ideal method of play for many disabled users, the microphone can also be blown into to achieve effects. Example of this include the 'Professor Layton' games and 'Zelda: The Phantom Hourglass'. The latter features a section where the player must make windmills turn, which of course requires the breath of the player.
    The Oculus VR Headset
  • Virtual reality headsets The latest development in gaming, virtual reality headsets such as the Oculus Rift allow players to don a headset and immerse themselves in a fantasy digital environment. The idea is that the player can use their arms, body, voice and head to control the player character, combining many techniques from the examples above.The display can seen at a 100° Panoramic Field of View (nominal) with amazingly immersive audio and visuals. It is the latest step in creating a total gaming experience for the player, although it is an extremely expensive peripheral. Games have also yet to be designed purely for the Oculus Rift, although many existing ones are significantly enhanced.
Does the same game exist on different consoles/platforms?
The same game can exist on multiple platforms although often the HCI or HUD often has to be redesigned for that format. For example, the Lego games from Travelers Tales offer very different experiences when played on a console as opposed to a handheld. The Lego version of Harry Potter for example switches from a purely 3D world on consoles to a limited isometric plane on handhelds. The instant reaction would logically be that this limits the experience for the player, but this is not necessarily the case. Admittedly some of the puzzles on the console versions that require a finer eye have had to be removed from the handheld versions because of the smaller screen size. However in may cases, original mini games have replaced these creating a unique experience different to it's older sister counterpart. Also the length of the game and replay ability  is much the same on both formats - all the levels and locations are there, redrawn from a more fixed point of view.

Modern Warfare on the DS
Other more challenging ports include ''Modern Warfare' on the DS and consoles. The vast scope of the older counterpart is replaced by a smaller 'lite' version featuring simpler game play and smaller maps. It has the same objectives as the larger game, opting for a shorter campaign, compressed visuals and simpler sound. Perhaps it is worth noting that the platform audience may well determine the HCI - the DS is traditionally a system for younger players who may feel out of their depth on the larger counterpart. Modern Warfare and Call Of Duty require fairly skilled hand eye co ordination that could bewilder a younger audience - plus the DS offers significantly fewer control options. Therefore for various reasons it makes sense to tailor the game HCI to a specific audience. As reported in their review:

"As with Metroid Prime Hunters, you move around with the d-pad and look/aim with the stylus. It's a fairly close approximation of the mouse/keyboard setup, but instantly uncomfortable. One hand is cradling the entire unit while the other moves the stylus. Meanwhile, the same hand that's holding and using the d-pad must also shoot with the L button. It works, but good luck finding a comfortable way to play for more than 10-15 minutes at a time."

Capcom developed an innovative way for players to use the touchscreen to fight on the 3DS port of Super Street Fighter IV
I can think of at least one example where, in my opinion, the 3DS handheld version surpasses the PS / XBox console version: Super Street Fighter IV. The game is an amazing direct port with all the features, characters and graphics of the larger counterpart. The 2.5D graphics style has been faithfully preserved, minus some background animations. As far as I can tell this is the only sacrifice that has been made. What is worth noting is the control interface that makes use of the 3DS touchscreen - SSFIV is a challenging game to control at the best of times. Learning to pull off the larger moves and combos requires a dedication to learning complex chains of stick and button commands. For new to intermediate players, Capcom have introduced a system where the player can set a whole move to one of 4 touchscreen buttons. This speeds up game play and makes the game more accessible and complex for newer players as the off putting learning process is simplified.
What's the difference for the gamer?
Probably none - many gamers are happy to support and contribute to a favorite franchise, regardless of how much better the larger counterparts are. If the core gameplay mechanics are the same, it really makes little difference.

Task 2) Show games that exists on multiple consoles/platforms and describe the differences? Is the gaming experience very different?

Does the experience  for the player differ?
Super Street Fighter IV


Intuitive touchscreen controls to pull off moves on the 3DS - Ideal for beginners to the series or intermediate players who want to improve
Not at all, as all the features are there in the game

Lack of downloadable content on 3DS, although the base game is large anyway

Cut down background animations on the 3DS version
Lego Marvel Super Heroes
Fully 3D interactive environments on consoles, full of secrets and collectables. Absolutely loads to find, see and do.

Different perspective on the 3DS - Fixed isometric viewpoint which reduces the exploration for secrets significantly. However a trophy achievement system gives the player goals to strive for after completing the game
The mechanic of building with Lego to progress is the same . However the puzzles are simpler on the 3DS and the sense of immersion is not there. This is because it would be very difficult to reproduce the scale of the console versions on a small screen. It would get extremely cluttered.

Controls for building, swapping characters feel pretty much the same.
Modern Warfare
XBOX, PS3, PC, 3DS, Wii
The pads of the larger consoles are weighty and are practically designed for FPS use. Makes battles fun and enjoyable.

Significantly limited multiplayer on 3DS handheld

Lack of community on the Nintendo consoles, implying a lack of processing power and gameplay difficulties compared to the XBOX, PS3 versions.

Would also imply the HCI is different and limited due to the layout of pads on Nintendo machines. The nunchuk and controller on a Wii are unlikely to suit FPS games.

Downloadable content and expansions are far superior on the XBOX / PS3
The experience  will be significantly different  due to the processing power a NIntendo machine can offer in terms of handling a FPS.

The feel of the controls will alter in that a 3DS will not offer the speed and flexibility of movement during gameplay. A small touchscreen will lead to fiddly movement during battles.

The Wii suffers from its controls not really suiting the fast paced Modern Warfare environment.

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