A new study: tabletop user experience

Discussion in 'Roleplaying Games' started by Necrozius, Nov 6, 2017.

  1. Necrozius

    Necrozius Well-Known Member

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    Hello!

    This is a sensitive issue and it is quite easy to accidentally offend or upset people. If I do, I apologize in advance: my intentions are good ones.

    I've decided to merge my 2 passions: tabletop gaming and accessibility and user experience design. What does that mean?

    I want to promote better design in our hobby. I'm not talking about game design or campaign writing. I'm referring to how these products are constructed and presented to people; how easily they're consumed , used and experienced.

    It's also about inclusive design. That means keeping in mind people with different disabilities. This isn't about checking off some "inclusivity" box; I want to help bring gaming to everyone.

    Here are examples, big and small, of designs that I've been concerned about:
    • no click-able links in the index of a PDF rulebook
    • Huge PDF file size (slow loading and interactions at the table)
    • crucial rules hidden inside of huge blocks of fluff text (a lack of bolding or use of headings)
    • Confusing, poorly organised and overly elaborate rulebooks (I'm looking at you, FFG)
    • Artwork that either doesn't represent the subject matter at all or even misrepresents important information
    • A dice mechanic where players must differentiate between two dice solely by colour (frustrating the colour blind)
    • Printing rules in such a small or unintelligible font family that people have to turn on extra lighting or slow down the game while trying to decipher it
    • Printing maps with such low contrast that tiny but crucial details are missed
    • Character sheets that are pretty but overly complicated or difficult to scan quickly in the heat of a battle scene
    • Not having wheelchair ramps at a gaming conventions (an obvious one)
    This isn't about negativity: it's about learning from people's experiences and finding ways to share solutions with game designers, writers and con organisers so that we can make the hobby a better experience for all.

    How you can help

    I invite people to please share any of the following information:
    1. example(s) of a good design you've noticed and appreciated (rulebook, components, convention experiences etc)
    2. example(s) of bad designs you've experienced: things that frustrated you, confused you or flat out prevented you from enjoying a game product
    3. Whether you consider yourself as having a constraint or a disability of some kind that caused you some grief in gaming. Examples:
      • Older hardware (eg. Limited technology)
      • Spacial constraints (small table area)
      • Colour blindness
      • Impeded vision or poor lighting
      • Mobility
      • Deafness
      • Cognition (eg. dyslexia)
    My hope is to use these examples (anonymously, of course) to discover trends in good and poor design. I want to improve our hobby and share these insights with the community at large.

    If I get anywhere, I'll do a follow up to ask permission to use these stories in my research.

    Thank you so much!
     
    Last edited: Nov 9, 2017
  2. Baulderstone

    Baulderstone Legendary Member

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    I've been doing some editing work for RPGs lately. While some of these are more on the layout guy than me, this is still a useful list of things to keep in mind when looking over a document.
     
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  3. TristramEvans

    TristramEvans Moderator Moderator

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    What can be done about dislexia insofar as book design?
     
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  4. Necrozius

    Necrozius Well-Known Member

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    Great question. That's what I'm trying to find out. If I could speak with gamers with dislexia who'd be willing to share their woes...
     
  5. Necrozius

    Necrozius Well-Known Member

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    PDF structure and proper tagging are hugely important. My document would eventually include such information: there are some simple steps that can be taken.
     
  6. Ladybird

    Ladybird Active Member

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    I've hacked open FFG PDF's before, in an attempt to make them printable, and it's so much worse than that - in addition to the obvious graphics and watermarks, there were even more hidden behind them that would never be visible. And that sucks up space, as well as making the document slower to render.
    I think the issue is that the PDF's that are sold are basically the same as the ones sent to the printer; they're not optimised / re-designed for screen usage, presumably because it would be too expensive for the publisher. The only publishers I can really think of that do it are Sine Nomine (As, basically, a stretch goal) and Sage Kobold (Because Dungeon World's development structure has a lot in common with OSS). Regardless of people's feelings about books, the screen is here and it isn't ever going away; designing to accommodate it makes life easier for everyone.

    Colour blindness is a big issue that I'm really surprised hasn't been addressed earlier, due to it generally being a male problem and the majority of the RPG market being considered to be male. I've got software on my work machine to emulate colour blindness, but it's a variety of conditions; certainly, colour as an identifier on it's own is poor design. It's an easier fix to do for video games, where it's easy to apply shaders etc on the fly. I have seen games which use multicoloured dice which specify "we say these colours, but you can use whatever you want as long as you can distinguish them".

    I do find looking at the character sheet to be a good way to judge if a new system is worth looking at. If it's not immediately readable, that's a big black mark.
     
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  7. Baulderstone

    Baulderstone Legendary Member

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    Just share, there is nice feature in the recent PDF-only books for Unknown Armies. There is a column of images along the right margin of each page. Each image is the opening art for a chapter of the book. You can click the image and jump right to that chapter. It's not that different than opening the contents menu, but having it right there on the page makes it a whole lot faster.

    On the topic of colorblindness, are there any color combinations that are guaranteed to not cause trouble for anyone?
     
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  8. Necrozius

    Necrozius Well-Known Member

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    This one is tricky.

    The quickest/simplest solution is: don't rely solely on color to differentiate 2 or more elements.

    Use labeling, different shapes, sizes, patterns, symbols etc... to further set things apart. Also, be consistent in how you do present these things.

    There's a lot of documentation out there on the subject. Here's a nice one (first result in Google): http://mkweb.bcgsc.ca/colorblind/ Just scroll through to get an idea. Another one: https://designshack.net/articles/accessibility/tips-for-designing-for-colorblind-users/

    An aside shout out to Sine Nomine: excellently made documents. I haven't scanned them for Accessibility, but they LOOK fantastic (small file sizes, easy to read, scan and find content). The man is a superstar in other things than just Kickstarters.
     
  9. Black Leaf

    Black Leaf Member

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    For dyspraxia, it's reasonably straightforward. The more you can give me things to print out the better (including things like rules summary sheets). The more handwritten notes I need to work from, the harder it becomes.
     
  10. Baulderstone

    Baulderstone Legendary Member

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    I forgot to clarify in my question that I was thinking specifically about dice, but you answered it perfectly. Even with the same die type, it isn't hard to find them in different sizes or shapes (degree of roundedness vs. sharpness of edges, for example). When playing Savage Worlds, use a larger die for the Wild Die. With a game like Feng Shui that uses two six-siders of different colors, you could use a number die and a pip die.

    I wonder of colorblindness was a factor in the creation of those ten-siders specifically for the tens place. When they showed up, I thought of them as a nice idea but inessential. I guess they really did make a crucial difference for a lot of gamers though.
     
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  11. Ladybird

    Ladybird Active Member

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    They also get around the problem of an unscrupulous player cheating by changing which is tens and which is units.
     
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  12. dragoner

    dragoner Active Member

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    What I do with my pdf's: Single column layout, minimal margins, sans-serif font such as arial, and all page numbers (that match the actual page) are in the upper right. You can see it in my Traveller campaign setting here (44mb file): http://dragonersdomain.com/forum/download/file.php?id=784
     
  13. Stevethulhu

    Stevethulhu Well-Known Member

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    I like that kind of layout.

    And say what you like about John Wick, but Houses of the Blooded and Blood & Honour had good pdf layouts.
     
  14. dragoner

    dragoner Active Member

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    There was a time I made them fancier, now, with feedback from players, and using them from my desk top, lap top, tablet, and phone, this is what I have come up with.
     
  15. Necrozius

    Necrozius Well-Known Member

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    That's some good research, actually. User feedback and testing on different devices/screens. More designers need to do this sort of thing.
     
  16. dragoner

    dragoner Active Member

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    I like your idea of "click-able links in the index of a PDF rulebook." That's next.
     
  17. Spinachcat

    Spinachcat Well-Known Member

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    I am surprised how often products use tiny fonts.

    I believe all modern hotels with convention space in the US have wheelchair ramps and elevators. "Con space" is more importantly known as "wedding banquet rooms" which is where the money is at for these hotels.
     
  18. Necrozius

    Necrozius Well-Known Member

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    That's true about more modern hotels, for sure. However sometimes cons happen in other venues (community centres, hockey arenas, curling rinks etc) which might not. It's understandable that organiser get what they can. Times can be tough.

    But anyway: do any forum members have any stories to share of difficulties, frustrations or roadblocks due to game-related design? Could be from 2nd or 3rd hand experiences too.
     
  19. Baulderstone

    Baulderstone Legendary Member

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    This is a big part of why I never picked up the Mythras core book. I am not saying the text is tiny, but one thing I really liked with RQ 6 was the generous font size, and I found some later books in the line had text which was smaller than I liked. When they announced they were keeping the page size down in Mythras by shrinking the font, I decided I was perfectly happy with my copy of RQ6.
     
  20. Necrozius

    Necrozius Well-Known Member

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    Smaller fonts are indeed a growing issue. Especially with aging populations. As everyone gets older, they get challenged by all sorts of new things that didn't before.

    The problem is often that, out of pride, many folks won't admit that they're living with a disability of some kind. For example, if you need some physical object to perform "normally" (eg.: see, walk, speak, read, etc...) you have a disability.

    The amount of people who are legally blind without glasses is a great example.
     
  21. Tom B

    Tom B Member

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    One of the better and more innovative uses of PDF that I've seen has been the books published by Greg Porter (BTRC.) Starting with CORPS and taken even further with his EABA RPG, his PDFs have clickable ToCs, Indices, and within the body of the text. He uses color and blocks for different purposes. He's very concise in his writing, and always provides background on how the rules work. (If there's a table, he tells you how the values were calculated, enabling you to extrapolate to situations not specifically covered.)

    He pushes the envelope of what can be done in PDFs...almost to a fault. Not all PDF readers can handle the features, and the files are somewhat larger than ideal. But he includes things like dice-rollers in the PDF. Definitely worth checking out, though.
     
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  22. Necrozius

    Necrozius Well-Known Member

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    An important aside: this is a sensitive issue and it is quite easy to accidentally offend or upset people. If I do, I apologize in advance: my intentions are good ones.

    (OP updated with this disclaimer)
     
  23. dragoner

    dragoner Active Member

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    Font is another big issue, anything below 12pt is bad.
     
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  24. Baulderstone

    Baulderstone Legendary Member

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    There is also the fact that gaming sessions aren't always ideal reading environments. If you have a group of people all randomly sprawled around the living room for game night, it might be comfortable, but not everyone gets to sit by the lamp. A font can easily go from marginal to illegible for me in that situation.
     
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  25. Necrozius

    Necrozius Well-Known Member

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    Excellent point. In this kind of research, an observation of actual play setups/environmental conditions are crucial.

    For example: some of the works by Zak S, Patrick Stuart and Scrap Princess are cool looking and hell imaginative but plain awful for readability/usability. Vornheim actually gives me a headache whenever I read and use it. I love the content, but I have to copy chunks out and reformat them for actual use.
     
  26. noman

    noman Well-Known Member

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    This is related to one of my pet peeves as well as my only real contribution to this thread.

    Tom's correct; Porter does excellent PDFs with regard to formatting. His approach is my gold standard for RPG formatting and layout. He also, as Tom explained, puts a lot of bells and whistles within his PDFs. I absolutely hate the bells and whistles. It's all useless, gimmicky, unnecessary fluff that does nothing but add bloat to the file. It genuinely pisses me off; he's trying to be "innovative" by being flashy and inefficient.

    But that's just me. The issue on the table is inclusion. The PDFs run fine on a modern system using Adobe Acrobat (AA)...and only Adobe Acrobat.

    I have good hardware, but I don't use AA. Every device I use for home and office, save one, is a Linux system. Adobe no longer supports Linux. That means that I'm using open source PDF readers. They can open the file...after a very long wait...but they can't run the bells and whistles. That crap is specifically calibrated to work with AA, and won't work on another reader.

    Bear in mind that I buy digital format only; I will almost never buy a physical book. I want my PDFs to be well formatted and load relatively quickly (allowing for loading any art), across multiple types of devices, PDF viewers, and E-book readers.

    In practice, this means keeping the stupid bells and whistles out of the document, keeping it as efficient as possible, and testing it on an older computer, running a Linux disto, with an open-source reader like Okular. This literally costs nothing and can be done in less than thirty minutes. Doing this makes sure to expand your market to the minority of users that don't use Windows, iOS, and Adobe readers*. As well as those with aging hardware.

    P.S.

    Porter ships regular PDFs in addition to his "enhanced" PDFs, so I really don't have cause to complain. I love EABA, and have bought almost everything in that line, so I'm not harshing. I just wish he'd get his head out of his ass and drop this inefficient silliness.

    * We're out there, we buy a lot of stuff, and we're growing.
     
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  27. K_Peterson

    K_Peterson Active Member

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    Definitely true. My eyesight has been degrading over the past 4 years, and I only accepted it last year and did something about it.

    I can still mostly get away with not needing reading glasses for most dead-tree Rpg material, but there are some exceptions. There's no way I can read the very small font size that Dream Pod 9 used in some of their Rpgs. Wasn't an issue 15-20 years ago. Now, it's reading glasses or a pdf on a tablet, zoomed-in.
     
  28. Baulderstone

    Baulderstone Legendary Member

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    And thank God for tablets and E-readers. I remember working at Borders years ago, I was shelving the Large Print section with a friend. It was the blandest possible array of "airport novels". She made the sobering observation that one day our eyes would degenerate to the the point that these were the only books we could read. A chill went down my spine.

    I have a lot of friends that mourn physical books entering obsolescence, but I am just happy to know that novels with adjustable font sizes are in my future.
     
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  29. Sosthenes

    Sosthenes Active Member

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    Well, if people would be using the right kinds of fonts, I'd be much happier. The problem is that some of the more old-fashioned fonts were'nt exactly designed for 12pt -- never mind that RPG designers often throw in fonts that are wrong at any size (starting with AD&D and its abuse of Futura, every WoD headline font ever and both RQ6 and Magic World).

    Not exactly helped by the generally rather dreadful quality of most PoD products (inkjet printers).
     
  30. Ladybird

    Ladybird Active Member

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    There are some things that can't be controlled for unfortunately, and that's okay to admit; you can't design a product to accommodate every possible use case, especially not on RPG money. If you make your study and your findings too broad, they'll become just as useless as if they were too narrow.

    I hate Futura. It's such a dull typeface.

    I'm quite pleased with the quality of most POD books from Lightning Source (UK) - colours are good, paper's nice, inks are dark enough, etc. They're not on par with the big glossy WotC / FFG books, but they're plenty nice enough. The most technical book I've got from them is Godbound, and it's great, genuinely nice.
     
    Last edited: Nov 7, 2017
  31. Spinachcat

    Spinachcat Well-Known Member

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    POD is good and getting better, but it not the high grade pro-printing. Much of POD's issues can be solved by using a larger font. Even 11 point covers many sins.
     
  32. Necrozius

    Necrozius Well-Known Member

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    Of course! We can't accommodate every type of person, every type of setup, every context of use. That's pretty much nearly impossible.

    I just want to create a guide which is based on this research. I want to help designers, writers, layout artists, con organizers to be better aware of these circumstances and limitations.

    Maybe we'll end up with fewer poorly designed products.
     
  33. TristramEvans

    TristramEvans Moderator Moderator

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    Its a very worthy endeavour, and one I'll be following with interest as I am nearly finished the writing of two games and will be looking at formatting/design issues in the very near future. Paul Mason lightly tackled some of these issues years ago in Imazine and its something thats always stuck with me.
     
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  34. TristramEvans

    TristramEvans Moderator Moderator

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    The primary example of bad design I always think of is Secrets of Zi'ran, which was over-designed in a way that imposed text on top of imaginary text as a background on the pages that made it practically unreadable.

    [​IMG]
     
  35. Baulderstone

    Baulderstone Legendary Member

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    I think of Kult 2nd Edition.[​IMG]

    This book, Purgatory, was actually more legible than magic supplements. I can't find images of those though. I should also point that the text in these books was around 8 pt as well.
     
  36. Necrozius

    Necrozius Well-Known Member

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    NEARLY OPAQUE WATERMARKS :mad:

    [​IMG]
     
  37. dragoner

    dragoner Active Member

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    That was my first thought at seeing Mongoose Traveller 2e's layout: why is the background not white again, dark blue text on a light grey background, really? A dizzying array of fonts, sizes, and meh artwork that acted as filler, so more pages, but less content.

    2e sample.png
     
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  38. K_Peterson

    K_Peterson Active Member

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    More pages, less content, higher price tag.
     
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  39. Necrozius

    Necrozius Well-Known Member

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    I created a similar thread on RPG.net because it's a large crowd and the members are very vocal about issues such as this one.

    Not a single reply yet, sadly.

    In the meantime, are there any other recommended forums for RPGs (other than Pungency) where it might be worth reaching out to?
     
  40. dragoner

    dragoner Active Member

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    RPG Geek and the various TT rpg groups on facebook and G+.
     
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