Between 8:00pm and 9:00pm today, I had received four emails from people about my Alphanum algorithm for sorting mixed strings and numbers in a natural order (i.e., not ASCII). Weird, I usually get Alphanum emails every season or so, not four times in one hour! Something seemed to be afoot.
Turns out that someone had posted link to my page on Reddit (here’s the link). I think that’s the first time a page of mine had ever been blogged without me expecting it – not that I’m complaining, of course. I’m very glad other people are finding value in this!
Here’s my favorite comment thread.
2006 marks the 40th Anniversary of the first airing of Star Trek. To honor this occasion, Bethesda Software has released three Star Trek games; this year. The one I was most eagerly anticipating was Star Trek: Legacy.
Months ago, I made a note to myself: Check this game out when it’s released on November 7! But alas, the Nov. 7 date slipped, and the new release date was scheduled for Nov. 21. So I eagerly awaited that date. And it slipped again… now Legacy would be released on Dec. 5. At this point, my software sense was tingling. If they had to postpone the release date twice, by two weeks each time, something was amiss.
Finally, the game was released. I checked out some of the reviews. Pretty much everyone agreed [Gamespot, IGN] that the game was only mediocre. While the graphics are absolutely stunning, the reviewers cited frustrating control problems, and the inability to save during long missions.
What went wrong? Why will the cornerstone of Bethesda’s 40th Anniversary offerings, a visually gorgeous game that features the voice talent of all five Star Trek captains, suffer poorly in the consumer market because of something as banal as frustrating controls and an inability to save your place?
And why was the game delayed twice, for a total of four weeks?
I’m sure I will never know the answers to these questions, but I would love to be a fly-on-the-wall at Bethesda’s postmortem. But even though I’ll never what really went wrong, I can offer these tidbits to other software and product developers.
If you need to delay your deliverable, make it count. Don’t ever delay a software release by two weeks. There’s probably nothing that you can fix in two weeks that you can’t fix by pushing harder during the available time. If you do have a lot of stuff you need to do and you really do need to push a release date, push it longer – maybe four weeks. You’ll make changes during that time that you’ll need to QA. You’ll want to make sure you do things right, not just fast. Pushing a release date by two weeks sounds to me like the developers need two weeks more… but what about testing all of those late-night, coffee-induced fixes?
Test the game with users! How could they have possibly missed on frustrating controls? That is probably one of the easiest things to anticipate and fix. Conduct thorough user evaluation; offer people free copies of the software after it is released; don’t be afraid of showing the software before it’s complete. Same for the lack of a “save” option on long missions, and for missions that require superhuman feats – these should have been caught early.
Consider your audience. Hard-core gamers can probably deal with frustrating controls, and probably don’t mind playing through an hour-long mission for the third time. But how many hard-core gamers are interested in a Star Trek game? The market here is probably slightly older and more casual about gaming.
Finally, my own pet peeve that has nothing to do with broken schedules or unflattering reviews, but has everything to do with disappointment: The world isn’t all about shoot-em-ups, particularly in the realm of Star Trek. Some of the reviews (I cringe to go get a copy now) say that, until a point, much of the action is space shoot-ups. But to me, Star Trek was always about diplomacy, exploration, discovering new things. stretching one’s thinking. I would LOVE to see a Star Trek game where you come across some new form of life (viz “Encounter at Farpoint” or the Exocomps) than shooting holes through Klingon cruisers (although there’s a place for that, too).
Well, there you go. Hopefully the next time I anticipate a software release, the developers will have read idea2product first!
I just received a Power-Up! 1GB MP3 Player at the low, low price of (once I complete the rebates) $9.99 from TigerDirect. Hooray! I figured that even if the MP3 capabilities were poor, I’d still have a 1GB USB drive at a killer price. But I didn’t expect the user manual to be so… unusable.
Pass to presss “Mode” key can enter to all level menu, the menu is divided into main course single (the ceasing is to grow to press into), broadcast of submenu (short press into) with submenu (short press into) that stop the hour.
I think I would have had an easier time if they kept the manual in the original Chinese.
Casting the user manual aside, I attempted to figure out the device on my own. I couldn’t get past the first screen – the aforementioned menu with the main courses. Well, the main course I wanted was “Music”, not the Voice Recorder, the Recorded Voice Player, or apparently the Telephone Directory. But I couldn’t figure out how to order the main course.
There are only a few buttons on this device (here’s an image):
– A Hold button, to pause a playing song
– A Volume +/- paired set of buttons
– A big ol’ Play button
– A Mode switch, which rocks to the left and right, and snaps back to the middle when released
It was obvious that the Mode switch lets you traverse the, um, main courses. But I couldn’t for the life of me figure out how to select what I wanted. I tried the big Play button – nothing. Maybe the Hold button? I doubted it, but I tried it anyway. Nope. Couldn’t possibly be the Volume buttons, right? Nope.
Then I re-read the manual. “Short press into”. Could it be… nahhh.. but I tried it anyway. Yes, the Mode switch, which so clearly rocks left and right, can also be pressed in. Where’s the affordance?
At this point, my manual translation skills are finally coming up to speed, and I notice something else: “grow to press into”. Oh no. They can’t possibly mean… Oh, this is horrible. There’s a difference between a long press and a short press of this Mode switch that has no indication that it can even be pressed in the first place.
AND… (ohmigod, I should have been less cheap and bought an iPod)… the function of the short press / long press differs depending on the current mode. If you’re listening to music, a short press brings up a file manager, and a long press brings you back to the menu (you know, with the main courses). If you’re recording your voice, a short press starts the recording, and a long press ends it. And there about 5 modes (i.e., main courses)… so, that’s 2^5 functions I have to remember for this button.
It’s very difficult to press the mode button without inadvertantly moving the switch either left or right. There’s a very good chance I might accidentally “Delete All” instead of “Exit” in the file manager.
Finally, for your amusement, I thought it would be fun to share some other features of this product. The light that shines on the LCD screen cycles through red, yellow, green, cyan, blue, and magenta with every button press. The player came with Lionel Ritchie’s “Say You, Say Me” and The Carpenters’ “Yesterday Once More” pre-loaded – with lyrics, which scroll by on the screen. It takes an insanely long time to copy files over, despite the USB 2.0 interface, and so far I can’t seem to copy over more than 500MB. Finally, the sound quality is abysmal – it’s very tinny, which not good for my hip-hop habit.
But hey – for $9.99, I’ve got a 1GB USB drive!
Paul Graham has posted an essay on The 18 Mistakes That Kill Startups. Graham hits a bullseye when he claims that a big mistake that startups make is that they don’t make something that users want (After all of my usability posts this week, I feel like I want to leap into a Steve Ballmer chant: “Users! Users! Users!”).
If you are creating something that users want, then the 18 mistakes are mostly business-oriented shortcomings: too little funding, too much funding, launching too early, launching too late, spending too much, and so on. (Interestingly, one mistake, “Single Founder”, is not possible in Massachusetts, where a company or LLC needs at least two founders)
As always, I find Graham’s essays to be a worthwhile and informative read. Here’s the index of his essays for your viewing pleasure.
In today’s episode of On Point on WBUR, “Simplicity in Technology“, host Tom Ashbrook interviews John Maeda, whose latest book, “The Laws of Simplicity“, deals with creating simpler products and electronic gadgetry. (I’ll post more about this once I listen to the episode!)
To my surprise, I see that WordPress thinks I wrote this entry tomorrow! Ah, there’s an Option to change the time zone. And I can’t wait until I get more readers – according to the Statistics offered by WordPress, I’ve had NaN visitors so far. I’m not complaining about my blogging tool; I’m just amused by some of its idiosyncracies.
Today is World Usability Day, as declared by the Usability Professionals’ Association. Various events are planned all around the world in an effort to raise awareness about usability – and there are YouTube casts (many from the Boston Museum of Science) and webcasts in case you missed any of the events. Maybe you’ll even get a chance to see our superhero, Usability Man!