Friday, September 4, 2009

Learning Log I: Rock Band 2 and Affordance

As both an avid musician and video gamer, I noticed the effectiveness of a certain popular device as an interface. The game Rock Band (developed by Harmonix) allows four players to mime their way through a diverse array of songs, and this franchise introduced a drum set controller as part of enhancing the realism. Previous games in this style only had guitar controllers, so the developers of Rock Band were venturing into largely unknown territory. Their first model was met with mixed reviews due to materials used and sturdiness. As Norman mentions in The Design of Everyday Things, feedback, affordance, constraint, and mapping are the four essential aspects of any design (Norman xiv). Unfortunately, the first model lacked in feedback due to the use of hard plastic. No bounce came from hitting the pads, but rather a stiff response. In addition, a loud and unpleasant sound often muffled the game’s audio. With Rock Band 2, the next installment in the series, Harmonix decided to improve their design tenfold.
(Rock Band 2 drum set)


The new kit uses rubber pads that allow the stick to bounce accordingly off of the pad. This material change also helps in decreasing the noise that the set outputs while in play. Feedback is addressed both in game and physically. In Rock Band, hitting the right notes at the right time creates sound; playing the part of the drummer, your beat will drop out and leave the band without percussion should you fail to land your parts. Luckily, the rubber allows you to feel the impact of your stick hits without drowning out the sound of the game, creating a nice balance in feedback. The pads are also velocity-sensitive, allowing you to control the volume of your hits when the game gives you a section to "freestyle" over.

Mapping is simple and user-friendly: the set has four color-coordinated pads and a kick pedal (also color-coordinated) that correspond to the notes displayed on screen.

Affordance, however, is where this kit becomes a bit problematic. According to Norman, affordances are aspects of a design that cue the user into the object’s intended use (Norman 9). In order to navigate the menus, one must either cumbersomely use the pads or stick to the little control section. As seen below, this section of the Rock Band 2 controller does have four buttons (A, B, X, Y), an Xbox Guide button, and a D-Pad, but its lack of color coordination with the traditional 360 controller leaves much to be desired.

(Comparison of 360 controller to RB2 drum controls)

When playing the game with friends, I’ve noticed that even those familiar with the Xbox 360 console seem to completely miss the controls on the drum set. Perhaps coloring the section white or changing the buttons to be duplicates of the regular controller would do something. The game allows players to move up and down with the yellow and blue pads, but this is only indicated in very small text on the bottom of the game screen.

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