Galaxy hopping on a new UI

Most of you know I’m a casual to semi-serious gamer… (Yes, I hear you… “Ah-the-nerd-picture-is-complete-now-monkey-boy.”) Ahem. Anyway, ever since I obtained the Wii few months ago my hands have been glued to the controllers.

There’s something fascinating about encountering a new interface for the first time. Nintendo has taken a large risk in expecting users to learn a brand new way to interface with the console. Gone are the arrow keys, only to be replaced with the Wiimote, which, depending on the software, controls the interface as you physically move the controller up, down, toward, away, side-to-side, or roll it right-to-left.

Rather than enter into the XBox/PlayStation/PC realm of muscle car-like computing power and 3d rendering perfection, the Wii is attempting to blaze a new trail that brings focus back on gameplay. The gamble is that Nintendo has asked their customers to abandon the conventions that they have become quite used to, and re-learn a new way of interfacing with their favorite titles and characters.

A usability research company (Serco Usability Services) found that the Wii offered an opportunity to learn more about HCI. Some initial analysis led them to conclude:

So this novelty may be a double-edged sword… On the one hand it means that there are multiple new ways of allowing users to interact with games, which is a whole new world of fun; a massive potential. But, on the other hand, there are no conventions yet for how users expect the controller’s actions to be used in a game… The last time we remember such a blank canvas for interactive design was in the early days of the internet. Pages were colourful, flashing and had different fonts. Standards… were not in place… Sites were exciting, but hard to use. However, gradually, over the years, the fun of the web remained, but design conventions were derived from the sites that people found easiest to use (and consequently used most).

The company conducted a usability study on the Wii, and their results included the following:

In general, there is a tendency among users to assume that the two elements of the controls are the same as a regular controller, but chopped in half; the nunchuck is the left side of a controller; the Wiimote the right. It’s as if despite the conscious feeling that the controls are completely revolutionary, the user’s motor memory is not fooled by the hype! It treats them the same as if they were a ‘normal’ controller.

Time will tell if Nintendo’s customers stick with the new interface. As of this writing, Wiis are flying off the shelves. But the true test of success with any interface comes with widespread acceptance of it. If customers continue to buy Wii software titles, and the software companies continue to produce them, then Nintendo will be able to declare success.

Serco Wii usability article
Wii web browser usability review
UPA article on Wii usability (membership only)
Super Mario Galaxy review written by yours truly (oh yes, I went there)

6 Responses to “Galaxy hopping on a new UI”

  1. 1 Charles Dec 18th, 2007 at 6:12 pm

    Hah! Monkey, I just did a series on gaming and here you are mentioning it as well.

    I love the ‘ahh, the picture of nerd is complete’ comment - bet your bottom dollar that is applying to me as well.

    Either that, or every guy out there might as well confess to being a ‘closet gamer’ in whatever spare time they have. <- beginning of Halo 3 articles. But the RSS feed will work just as well. I wrote them all a few weeks ago but just posted them today.


  2. 2 theMonkey Dec 20th, 2007 at 11:25 am

    Thanks Charles… I’ve begun reading your Halo stuff.

    Interesting fact about the Xbox controller being used to control the military’s SUGV robot… couple of reasons for that. First, by designing the interface in XNA language, it makes it seamless from the user’s perspective to move from the training sims to the robot itself (since the interface designers need to use game design techniques to simulate real-world environments).

    Secondly, the govt. only has to buy Xbox units instead of complete computers. Significant savings.

    I know this because I wa- ++ END CARRIER ++

  3. 3 Scott Abel Feb 4th, 2008 at 1:51 pm

    Hey Monkey:

    Just wondered if you could shoot me a quick email. I wanted to ask you a question without asking the rest of the internet.


    Scott Abel
    [email protected]

  4. 4 Sarah O'Keefe Apr 8th, 2008 at 12:23 pm

    Monkey, where are you? We miss you…

    More monkey business, please.

  5. 5 theMonkey Apr 16th, 2008 at 2:51 pm

    Sarah - thanks for the kind words. Content to start back up soon, I promise.

  6. 6 Charles Apr 23rd, 2008 at 3:26 am


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An escapee from a government contractor’s test lab, the monkey lives in hiding, hacking away at the keyboard to bring you random thoughts, stories, news, and graphics. Depending on his mood, he may be informative, amusing, obnoxious, or inane.

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