I was invited to speak at the Montreal International Game Summit, which happened earlier this week. My topic was called Every Click Counts. The idea is to OMIT NEEDLESS CLICKS wherever you can.
A video game is a system of rules that are codified in the form of software that runs on hardware. A player is a human being, a separate entity from the game. That player's experience is heavily influenced (even defined?) by the interface--the thing crosses the gap between game and player. We spend millions of dollars on some games, focusing on the development of their systems and their software, but somehow the part where the player actually presses buttons or clicks through a non-terrible menu often slips through the cracks.
Can you imagine if instead of games we were talking about writing, and writers were so busy telling their stories that they ended up with goofy, semi-unreadable fonts and page layout so terrible that you get annoyed just looking at it, much less trying to read it? Somehow the magazine and newspaper industries have figured this stuff out, yet in our industry, I still see lots of wasted clicks in games that should know better.
I started my lecture explaining that I would take the unusual path of telling the audience what they already know. I mean, we all know that making the command to reload a weapon be 5 clicks would be a terrible idea, right? It's like when you go to the dentist and he says, "You really should floss your teeth more." You probably already knew that. So the point of my lecture wasn't to tell you floss more, it was to get you to actually floss...so to speak.
I explained to the audience who made me "actually floss" when it came to concise writing: Professor Strunk from The Elements of Style. I went over many things that annoyed Strunk, things he hated, things he thought showed that a writer didn't understand the craft. Don't say "the question as to whether," instead say "whether." Don't say "used for fuel purposes," say "used for fuel." That's only a savings of one word, but more than that, it shows that you understand your purpose as a writer: to deliver a message cleanly, efficiently, and vigorously. Vigorous writing is concise.
When I see a sentence that's a just a bit bloated, sometimes I think, "maybe that's ok." Then I see my mental picture of Strunk and he says "No! It's not ok." He's a constant reminder to me that in writing we should all try harder. He reminds me that the reader is "floundering in a swamp," as Strunk says, and that the reader needs all the help he can get. If he can be confused somehow, he will be. If he can be annoyed somehow, he will be. Strunk's contempt for bloated or ill-conceived prose keeps me on track, so I prosed to the audience that my contempt for extra clicks could be their tool to do better. Picture me (or Strunk if you prefer) with head-in-hands, or quivering in revulsion at whatever tragic UI decision or game mechanic is at hand.
Armed with that, we were ready to look at examples. I showed an extra click in Burnout Revenge every time you want to restart a mission, then compared it to