Video Games and User Experience.

Exceptional user experience from Nintendo didn’t begin with the Wii. Two accounts of guiding the user through unfamiliar situations shed light how we can show instead of tell users what to do.

Jono DiCarlo in “A Tutorial Level For the Internet“:

Developing Metroid must have been like developing any software based around a brilliant new idea. You, the developer, know this feature is hot stuff and can potentially change the way people interact with software. But the problem is that your users don’t know this feature exists, and if they did know, they wouldn’t know why it’s something they would want, or how to make best use of it. What do you do?

The first-time player of Metroid will most likely begin by doing what most video games have taught them to do: force their way rightward by any means they can.

The tiny tunnel on this screen is too small to enter, but it obviously goes somewhere. It is a conundrum. It taunts you.

The only solution is to go back to the start and this time, walk to the left. If you do so, you are immediately rewarded with the discovery of this glowing ball (for trivia buffs: it was called the “Morph Ball” in later games, but here it was called the “Maru Mari”.)

When you pick it up, you can then have Samus (your character) curl into a pillbug-like ball and roll along the floor, which lets you get through tiny tunnels like the one that stopped you before. You can now proceed with the next phase of the game.

Shigeru Miyamoto tells a similar story about designing Super Mario Bros.:

But if you avoid the first Goomba and then jump and hit a block above you, a mushroom will spring out and you’ll get a shock. But then you’ll see that it’s going to the right so you’ll think: “I’m safe! Something strange appeared but I’m okay!” But of course when it goes against a pipe up ahead, the mushroom will come back!

At that point, even if you panic and try to jump out of the way, you’ll hit the block above you. Then just at the instant where you accept that you’re done for, Mario will suddenly shake and grow bigger! You might not really know what’s just happened, but at the very least, you’ll realize that you haven’t lost the turn.