Whether it be a dog-walking app, subscription wardrobe service, video game, or e-learning course, nothing can elevate your experience like great design. But is there such a thing as too much? Can a piece of technology be too beautiful? Can it take away from the user experience?
It certainly can if you’ve spent so much time focusing on visuals that you’ve neglected the user experience.
Take a second and look up screenshots from Horizon Zero Dawn, which was released by Guerilla Games this past February. This open-world role-playing game is stunning. The landscapes are breathtaking and the attention to detail is insane. Being immersed in a world like this makes it easy to buy into the story, the basics of which are this:
You play as a young woman named Aloy, who is living in a seemingly primitive world that includes hut-dwelling tribes and bow-and-arrow hunting. As you explore further, you see that some of the creatures walking around are actually massive machines, and those ruins you’re passing by are actually from the world as we currently know it. Aloy navigates this post-apocalyptic world, battling or taming machines, discovering new tribes, and trying to figure out what came before her.
So what’s the problem?
The problem is that in making this game beautiful, they thought that would be enough to make it enjoyable and draw me in. They thought that the beauty of it would make up for how complicated it is to get started.
My first issue was with the heads-up display. There is a lot to take in here. You get two health bars; one that tells you the character’s health, and one that tells you how many power-ups you have available. There’s an area that tells you both which quest and objective you’re working on. You also have your level and XP meter. There’s a compass at the top of the screen as well as a waypoint marker in the middle of the screen that moves as you do. When you pick things up, there’s a message area telling you what and how much you acquired, and if you’ve just destroyed a huge machine, these lists get long. Anytime the game wants to give you a tip or some information, that text appears in the middle of the screen as well.
In a lot of the open-world games I’ve played, the D-pad holds your resources. This game follows that rule, however the way you use them does not. Instead of each button being assigned a task, you can only use the up and down arrow to act. While the up arrow is your health power-up all the time, you have to use the left and right arrow to cycle the other resources into the down arrow position. It’s a lot to remember when you’re running from a mechanical crocodile that’s hell-bent on freezing you to death. This system also lives in the main display.
Then there’s the weaponry. Like other games of its kind, the display shows you which weapon you’re equipped with and how much ammo you have. Where Horizon complicates this is with all of the variables. Every machine in the game has a special way to kill or be killed, using fire, freeze, shock, corruption, tear, and just plain old blunt force damage. Using Aloy’s focus, which is a sort of high-tech x-ray device, you can look at each creature to find out where its weak points are and which type of damage will take it down most effectively. You then have to make sure you’re equipped with the right weapon, with the right type of ammo (i.e., flaming arrow vs. long-range arrow), and with the appropriate modifications. The modifications are a type of power-up found in your wanderings that can increase the strength of specific types of damage on a specific weapon. There are different versions of each weapon to consider, and each type of ammo requires different resources to craft it.
I know I’ve just summarized what would take hours of gameplay so it seems like a lot, but I can tell you it felt like a lot even over several hours. Don’t get me wrong, having a customizable experience is amazing. The problem with this game is something that we occasionally have to tackle here at NogginLabs: how much learning and failure can a person take before they become frustrated? How much setup is too much? At what point do we decide this is overcomplicated or even convoluted?
Creating something beautiful only works if you’ve taken these questions into consideration. While Horizon is stunning, it was honestly hard to appreciate as I tried to figure out what exactly I needed to do. Maybe if I had hours upon hours to devote to it, I’m sure it would be an fun and amazing game but by the time I’ve gone to work, walked the dog, and prevented my home from falling into a state of squalor, my hours are somewhat limited.
So as you work to create a custom e-learning course, keep this experience in mind. The coolest graphics will only take you so far if you’re not considering your user experience.