Thursday, May 21, 2015

Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons... Heck of a User Experience

Was reflecting recently on a panel I participated on at SXSW this year. I was asked what User Experience means in the context of games. Of course, I said "everything." I was only being slightly facetious.

The basic point I was trying to make was that the creators of games have experiences they want their players to have. When I started in the business, the UX group I worked with focused on "fun". This was always the last question on any benchmark survey filled out to assess game quality. Our goal was to get games to be "very fun" by providing user feedback data to teams throughout the iterative process.

A reasonable strategy.
A profitable strategy.
A boring strategy.

My sons (aged 3 and 4) recently watched me play through Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons. Might not have been the most appropriate game for kids that age. But what an experience. Difficult subject matter. Scary creatures and situations.

And, inevitably, tears.

The Charlotte's Web Moment: Narrative User Experience

I won't spoil the actual Charlotte's Web moment for the 17 folks who haven't yet played it (seriously, go play it...) but part way through the story I had to pause the game and console two tearful toddlers who were invested in the character and distraught to see it pass on.

Of course, that experience really had nothing to do with GAMEPLAY. We have those moments from time to time with books and movies. Sad things happen. Kids get sad. We talk about it. Just so happens that the narrative design of the game was done well enough to achieve this emotional reaction.

The Final Moment: Gameplay User Experience

For the first 95% of the game, the game play wasn't super interesting or compelling to me. The controls were reasonably intuitive but never felt fluid. In such a short game I never really mastered them, but the game was balanced so as not to punish me too harshly for failure and the challenge curve was shallow.

What I didn't realize was that this was actually just a long setup designed to deliver an incredibly emotional experience at the very end of the game.

The transcendent moment occurred when I had to reimagine how I needed to use the controls in order to finish the game after a major plot point kind of... well... broke them. (sorry for the vagueness, but spoilers...) And after reimagining them, I got to play the new control scheme. And boy-howdy was it ever a satisfying game play experience.

The emotional connection between the brothers wasn't just driven through narrative events. It was reinforced and magnified through the deliberate design of the control scheme.


And as elated as my sons were when we "beat" the game (narrative experience), they really only got to experience part of the elation that I experienced as the player (gameplay experience).