Unintuitive Controls

The recent addition of Steam achievements to Borderlands encouraged me to fire it up and see how many popped up at once (~20). I thought I might blow up a few people while I was there, and I was reminded of how poor the interface is.

Maybe it works better on a console. The very first time I used one of the in-game menus, it felt like a console game ported to a PC incompletely. Menus required some odd, perverse combination of mouse and keyboard, screens that should have accepted either and instead asked for one but only responded to the other. At no point did I memorize which buttons brought up the different menus, instead finding one or two and then clicking between menus once the window was open.

Coming back after a break, I have no idea which button is for melee. “Had?” No, I did not guess it, though I was insufficiently motivated for much trial and error. I normally check that via the screen to edit keyboard controls. Oh, I can’t do that? At least G for grenade is intuitive enough. I can look it up, and I presume that it was in the tutorial, but once I am in-game there is nothing to suggest it. Or maybe there is something, but finding that is unintuitive, which is the same problem one level up.

I am reading The Design of Everyday Things, and I taken by the view that user error is usually design error. If your design does not lead users to the right action, that is an interface problem not PEBKAC. Some things are radically complex, but punching imaginary people in the face should not take planning or research.

: Zubon

8 thoughts on “Unintuitive Controls”

  1. Oh, so true. I also find that it can be really hard, when returning to a game, to remember what everything on the UI does. Sure, it’s fine when you start from the beginning and go through the tutorial steps but you’re stuck if you come back after a long break and decide you’d like to play some more.

  2. Worst. Port. Ever.

    GAWD I have so much rage for the sadistic design incompetence beset upon what is nothing short of a magnificent game of gleeful carnage and humor.

  3. I personally hated the Borderlands computer controls. The UI was so non-intuitive, I honestly believe it was one of the factors why I eventually gave up on the title (I think I was around level 20)…

  4. It wasn’t much better on the console. I remember, playing co-op mode, where they’d made the menus too large to see in splitscreen, so you had to scroll around.

  5. I haven’t played Borderlands, but the last interface I touched that had died because of consolitis was Deus Ex:IW. This was a few years ago and I think I’ve unconsciously tried to stay away from console ports.

  6. I think the Star Wars: The Force Unleashed PC port topped Borderlands for poor QA. Force Unleashed had quicktime events based on pressing the various movement and attack buttons, but these are hard-coded such that if you rebind the movement and attack keys (as I tend to do with games because I prefer ESDF for movement) the quicktime events only ever showed the default keys, thus you had to mentally transfer the default key over to your new key quickly enough to press the key for the quicktime event. Even better, every boss fight was based, in part, on QTEs, so you had a hard fight to repeat over and over because you forgot that ‘E’ translated to ‘W’ in your set-up. Genius!

  7. The Design of Everyday Things is an awesome book, and should be required reading by anyone who designs anything with a user interface – and not just software or gadgets. I’ve never looked at doors or taps [faucets] in the same way since!

    So yes, if the interface is unintuitive, the problem is with it, and not the user – all the more so because there are plenty of examples of games with good interfaces.

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