Lately, I have put much thought into usability in video games. Back in the days, we were used to games being not-so-user-firendly. Such as Super Mario, a platformer that doesn’t let you save is just as usable as Microsoft Word without save feature. Of course, if you could save your progress anytime in Super Mario, it would be as usable as Word when it comes to saving, but it would take a part of the game out. It would become too easy if you never had to start from the beginning after dying. Therefore, there’s a tradeoff! 🤔
Case: Pokémon Sun
The latest Pokémon game had a nice set of usability improvements over the past generations. You could for example save by answering yes only to one question as opposed to old Pokémon games requiring you to say yes twice every time you wanted to save. Another usability fix is when you catch a new Pokémon but your party is already full, you have the option to transfer a Pokémon in your party to the PC instead of the newly caught one. This also reduces the amount of work the player has to do. One doesn’t need to run to a Pokémon center anymore and boot up the PC to add the new Pokémon to the party. Nice and easy. 😎
So the new Pokémon is more usable than ever before. Everyone should be happy, right? Well, there are usability improvements that have made the game a little too easy. You can see for opposing Pokémon registered to your Pokédex which attacks will be super effective against them and which ones you have to avoid. Surely, this reduces your cognitive load; you don’t have to remember the types of the opposing Pokémon nor the type chart… But that’s part of the game. Part of the fun and challenge comes from the trial and error, from not knowing exactly which attacks will be super effective.
Another usability improvement that had just gone too far is the removal of hidden machines. Back in the days, you had to have a Pokémon in your party that was able to learn an HM to get further in the game. And an HM move couldn’t easily be forgotten. Of course, this is bad from the point of view of the usability, because you are forced to find the HM, find a suitable Pokémon for it and have that Pokémon in your party for as long as the HM is needed. But then again, that’s what adds some difficulty to the game. If you replace a good Pokémon’s move with the crappy cut or rocksmash, you have to live with it. It might be frustrating, but it’s part of the challenge of the game.
Even though usability is a welcome thing in the world of video games, one has to make sure it doesn’t go too far. And these lines are difficult to make. When does a usability improvement just make the game too easy to beat? And when is it truly needed to make the game a hit? 😊