Monday, 3 January 2011

WP7 Games and the Dreaded Search Button

Happy twenty-elephants! I hate to start the new year with a rant, but I figure why not get it out of the way now, so I can concentrate on some more constructive posts for the rest of the year. Besides, I've only really found how awfully annoying the subject of this rant is over the holidays, as I spent quite a bit of time gaming on my Samsung Omnia 7.

You see, the Omnia 7 has a capacitive search button. The WP7 search button is one of the three hardware face buttons required by Microsoft's hardware specifications for the Phone 7 OS. The Omnia 7 isn't the only phone with capacitive back and search buttons. It's the capacitive nature that means they can be accidentally swiped fairly easily, especially during more frantic gaming moments.

Unfortunately, the default behaviour of the search button is to open up Bing search, even if you're right in the middle of a game. In itself, this wouldn't be so bad if you could simply hit the back button to get back to where you were in game. But due to the application lifecycle on Phone 7, the game you were playing is quickly closed down in the background. The Phone 7 SDK provides ample tools for developers to deal with such situations, but unfortunately - as I wrote about in a previous post - not all developers take the time to make their games behave. As a user as well as a developer, this is extremely frustrating.

So I thought I'd take the time to name and shame some of the games that don't do enough to get the user back in the game as quickly as possible after accidentally hitting search, answering a call, or dropping out to the home screen. And, because I like to be positive as often as possible, I'll also highlight the games that do tombstone correctly.

All of the games I've tested here are full purchased versions of Xbox Live enabled games. This means they are published either by Microsoft or a third-party partner. I test by getting into the game, hitting search, waiting a few seconds, then hitting back.

Puzzle Quest 2
Quite frankly, this is the most disappointing game on the list. I love Puzzle Quest, I've got the game on XBLA as well. The game runs like a dog on Phone 7, with a framerate that looks to be barely in double-digits. The complete lack of tombstoning is the straw the breaks the camel's back. You could be almost at the end of a 5 minute battle and have to put the phone away - and you're completely screwed. Attempt to resume the game, and not only do you have to sit through the splash screens again, you've also got to navigate the menus. The game does save your position in the overworld, but you lose all progress on the battle you were fighting and that, my friends, is highly annoying.

Rocket Riot
A great game that almost gets the tombstoning right. The game resumes with a single loading screen, and gets you right back into the level you were playing. Unfortunately, you have to start the level again and that can be a little frustrating especially in the latter levels where you are required to kill 40+ enemies in a match that could last a few minutes. Close, but no cigar. Just save out the current score, Codeglue guys, and you'll have a winner.

The Harvest
One of the original line-up of games that got some tech sites noticing the tombstoning problems early. I really like The Harvest, but as I went to test it again for this post I'm having serious problems with it. It no longer wants to load or continue games, either from resuming after tombstoning, or from a fresh boot. I even turned the phone off and back on again to clear it out and still no dice. This means I can no longer load or continue my saved game. It never used to be like this, but even when it did all work there were major issues with coming back from tombstoning including multiple splash screens and excruciating load times. Seriously in need of a patch.

Fruit Ninja

Well done to Halfbrick for nailing it. I guess all the time spent developing XBLIGs and adhering to the Evil Checklist rubbed off, as they actually seem to care about the end user experience. Either that or they got fed up of accidentally swiping the search button in playtest! Fruit Ninja resumes perfectly, getting the user quickly back into the game with all the fruit on-screen where they were left. The game's even paused for good measure. If I had to nitpick, I'd say the MGS splash screen is unnecessary - but I have a feeling it's required by Microsoft. If that's the case then they should have an "except in the case of resuming from tombstoning" clause.

Flight Control
Another one that gets it right, save for a couple of unnecessary splash screens. Seriously, if you're coming back from tombstoning, you don't need to let the user know who you are again. Chances are I've already seen your company logo once today. That aside, Flight Control gets you right back into the game with all the planes onscreen where they were left, and your score intact. As with Fruit Ninja, the game comes back to the pause screen, which is perfect.

So there you have it. Two out of five of the games I've purchased behave satisfactorily after I accidentally mash the search button. In time, I expect all the Xbox Live enabled games will pay attention to this vital part of the user experience. Until then, please patch PQ2!

I promise that's the last I will post about tombstoning for oooooh, at least a month. Next monday will be a Team Mango games status update, with a couple of videos of Game 4. Maybe we'll even have a title for it by then!

1 comment:

megame said...

IMHO "Bye Bye Brain" gets this perfectly - no splash screen and game is paused.
Only problem is to get back to the game from pause screen you have to press "back" button, which I have not found to be intuitive