The user experience in games

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Recently I had what I like to call a “nostalgic vibe”. Taking advantage of this event, I decided to play some old games again. The first one was Assassin’s Creed. After a few hours struggling to restore the honor and dignity of the great Altaïr (main character of the game), the nostalgic vibe was gone. So, I decided it was time to end my unfinished adventure and call it a day (sorry Altaïr). What I didn’t remember was that my unexpected journey to leave the game was just beggining. Yes, journey.

I pressed the Esc key, to access the game menu:

Menu Assassin's Creed 1

I found the menu option “Exit Memory” (I was hoping to find an option more like “Quit Game”, but ok). By clicking in this option, Desmond (the main character on the present timeline) is brought back from his journey through the genetic memory of his ancestor (Altaïr). After that, the game shows a new menu, this time inside the Animus (machine that allows Desmond explore his own genetic memory):

Menu Assassin's Creed 2

I clicked in the most logical option, “Exit Animus” (no sign of the “Quit Game” option). By clicking on this option, Desmond comes out of the machine and now he’s waiting for a player input. So, I pressed Esc key again. Finally, the “Quit Game” option shows up!

Menu Assassin's Creed 3

Happy to finally have found the light at the end of the tunnel, I clicked in “Quit Game”, hoping to leave the game. Surprisingly, after clicking in “Quit Game”, the game show me the profile selection screen. Yes, you read right. At that point, I stopped and tried to analyze the scenario, hoping to find a logic behind this interaction flow. Took me a few seconds to give up on my analysis and continue my quest to leave the game.

I selected my profile again (because I had already selected it to start the game) and then, finally, the real “Exit” option shows up. Took me almost three minutes to get out of the game.

Menu Assassin's Creed 5

Before you think something like “you could have used Alt + F4 to leave the game, dumbass”, the point here was to analyse the user experience. Yes, there are faster ways to close a game using operating system’s own resources, but, as I said before,  that was not the point. And yes, the game is old (2007) and probably Ubisoft (studio that developed the game) improved the interaction flow of the most recent games in the series (I hope). Still, I believe that the analysis is valid.

Let’s split this analysis in two parts. About the first part (from when you leave the genetic memory to exit Animus): it’s easy to see that the concern of the team that designed these menus was give the feedback of “hierarchy” to the user. You entered in a machine and then in your genetic memory. So, it’s natural the need of getting out of your genetic memory before you get out of the machine. Hierarchically, it make sense. But the process is time consuming (takes about 1 minute until the process is complete), and abandon an application should be a simple and quick task: you question the user about possible information loss, give them the oportunity to save the current state, and that’s it. You should never sacrifice the user experience for design.

About the second part (from the menu available outside the Animus and the game closing): request that the user identify himself again is completely redundant. Redundancy confuses the user. The first thing I thought when the user profile screen showed up was “but I clicked to exit the game, not to change my profile…right? Or I clicked wrong?”. I had a second of doubt. This cannot happen or your user is going to be confused and the experience will be compromised.

Although Ubisoft has sinned in the design concept of some elements, Assassin’s Creed is a fantastic game. I am very eager to play all the other games in this series, hoping that they have hired a better UX Designer in the meantime.

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