How to Master Game Skills with Sandbox Practice (Acagamic Tip Tuesday #14)

the acagamic tip tuesday May 17, 2022
Tutorial image of Thomas was Alone.

Welcome back to The Acagamic Tip Tuesday.

Each Tuesday, I will send you a tip from the world of UX Research & Design for games. At my website The Acagamic, I focus on training people to become better researchers and designers for games and beyond.

Each tip will only take a few minutes to read.

Game UX Tip of the Week

Sandbox Practice: Ensure players have sufficiently mastered the necessary skills and knowledge to advance further in the game.

At the beginning of a game, the designer wants to teach the player essential skills but needs to make sure they can practice in a safe environment, a sandbox. These sandboxes are practice levels where players see a demonstration of a required action and then have the opportunity to execute the action in a safe environment. Directly after explicitly learning a skill, players will have to execute the skill correctly to move forward in the game. 

In the game Mortal Kombat, the player has plenty of layered opportunities to practice combos, moves, blocks, and attacks that are all core interactions of the game in a slow-paced, sandbox environment.

The game Thomas Was Alone does an excellent job of onboarding the player to controls, even as simple as jumping (shown in the clip above) with a short story and a challenge that is easy to master. The player practices each skill in a sandbox and continues through the onboarding mode, learning one skill at a time.

Things I said on Twitter

→ "A good interview starts with questions and ends with answers." (Share this on Twitter)

→ "Game developers would have you believe that their success is based on 80% intuition. But in reality, it's 80% user testing." (Share this on Twitter)

→ "Beginner UX designer: I have attempted to redesign World of Warcraft's combat encounters.

Intermediate UX designer: I would never attempt to redesign WoW's complex combat encounters.

Expert UX designer: I only redesign WoW's complex combat encounters." (Share this on Twitter)

→ "Over the past 15 years, I've done user research on more than 100 projects.

Want to know a secret?

I love yellow bricks.

There is something to be said about LEGO's transformation as a company. What LEGO can teach you about User Research. ๐Ÿงต๐Ÿ‘‡" (Share this on Twitter)

Two Links

UX Games Research Tip of the Week

The researchers in this study (my team) wanted to determine what dimensions of realism in games have been studied in academic research. Their method was a systematic literature review with a rigorous methodology that adhered to strict guidelines (e.g., developing an a priori protocol) and used a formal synthesis method for qualitative data. Their paper contains a two-part framework of realism dimensions in games and a discussion of how contradictory the term 'realism' is used in games.

A framework of realism in games. This is the definitive overview of realism in video games and VR.

The framework distinguishes narrative realism, representational/ sensory/ perceptual realism, and player response realism. The image above shows the hierarchies of realism found in the literature. The authors note that we still need a clear definition of realism in games but that this hierarchy provides an essential overview that people can leverage.

Read the full study:

Katja Rogers, Sukran Karaosmanoglu, Maximilian Altmeyer, Ally Suarez, and Lennart E. Nacke. 2022. Much Realistic, Such Wow! A Systematic Literature Review of Realism in Digital Games. In CHI Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems (CHI '22). Association for Computing Machinery, New York, NY, USA, Article 190, 1–21.

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Your UX Professor,


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