Interface Metaphors Which Are Out Of Date

Today I was reading a book on UI design in order to prepare for a project I will be doing in a few months which will live or die by its UI. It stresses, as other books in the past have, about metaphors. The most famous metaphore is the Desktop Metaphor. Wikipedia describes it as follows:

The desktop metaphor treats the monitor of a computer as if it is the user’s desktop, upon which objects such as documents and folders of documents can be placed.

However, it occurs to me that interface metaphors which relate to previous ‘ways of doing things’ might soon go out of date. For instance, younger people now will not have seen VCR or cassette players. I’ve personally never seen a card index file system and other methods of manual storage. I’ve never actually used a filing cabinet either!

Another example of a metaphor which may not be seen very often in the real world might be a compass, as GPS devices can show maps in the direction that you are facing. Ledger books, polaroid photos, and physical address books (I even have to specify ‘physical’ now) could all go the same way.

So, when choosing a user interface metaphor, might we need to think if the youngest generation of computer users will resonate with it?

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Sonic the Hedgehog 4 (from the point of view of a Sonic Fan)

I haven’t had time to post anything recently, but I have had the chance to play Sonic the Hedgehog 4. This is a short game available on the Playstation, X-Box and Wii online stores, and it is in the same style as the original Mega Drive (Genesis) Sonic the Hedgehog games. Sonic the Hedgehog 3 (& Knuckles) is my favourite game ever (along with Deus Ex) so I thought I would give my thought on this new game as a big Sonic fan and let you know how similar it is to the previous games and what the levels are inspired from.

I’ve always thought it’d be pretty cool to make a Sonic game, but the physics engine would probably be a pain to write. Just making sure Sonic moves smoothly and appears on the right layer (for example on a loop-the-loop). The Sonic games got this just right, but Sonic 4 does not. The movement is slightly buggy and doesn’t react as you’d expect, a problem the old games didn’t have. This makes the game feel less perfect, and at times when there is careful jumping to be done (which was rare in the older games) it can be irritating, but it doesn’t make it unplayable. A new move, the homing attack, is actually makes the game better too. This means that a target appears on various things and double tapping the action button directs Sonic towards the entity. It does work fairly well.

The music in the Sonic games were always awesome, but this is definitely an exception. It is bloody annoying. I wish they’d got the OC Remix guys to do it instead. Then it would’ve rocked. The graphics are also 3D rendered rather than being hand drawn. I probably prefer hand drawn, especially for the actual characters, but I must admit the backgrounds did look very good.

The first level is basically Emerald Hill from Sonic 2, although there are elements of Sonic 1’s Green Hill (for instance, the pipes in the hills and the walls you can spin through to break, and the boss) as well as Sonic 3’s Angel Island (principally the rope zip-wires, although it is extended to have rope swings too). It is fairly standard though, and there isn’t much that is exciting in it.

The second is a Casino level. The first act is very much like Casino Night from Sonic 2, but as it goes on it has more gimmicks like the cannons from Sonic 3’s Carnival Night and the rolling block things which appeared in that level a lot too. Act 2 features lots of cards which are quite cool – some you sort of run on and it takes you around the level (which is kinda odd) and there are others which when you run through can win you prizes.

The third zone, Labyrinth, is actually less like Sonic 1’s Labyrinth as you’d imagine from its name. It has elements of Aquatic Ruins from Sonic 1 and Lava Reef from Sonic and Knuckles. This zone is by far the best in the game in my opinion. Act 2 of the level is in the dark except for a flame torch that Sonic holds, similar to the idea of Sandpollis act 2 in Sonic and Knuckles (albeit without the ghosts and the light switches). It also includes a little switch puzzle in it which would seem more in place in Tomb Raider, but I think it does work quite well. Your flame can also be used to set things on fire, like dynamite to explode things. The third act has a wall moving in to crush you, like Hydrocity Act 2 on Sonic 3. It feels a little bit more like the Hydrocity zone without actually having many elements from it. It also has minecarts, which when you jump on you ride – this has been seen before on Sonic 2 on the Master System in the Underground Zone, and I guess also in Sonic Spinball, though that one doesn’t really count. All acts include big stones that you either have to avoid when they drop from holes in the ceiling, or that you can run across. That is pretty fun. The end of Act 3 also contains the infinitely recurring waterfalls that appeared in Sonic 1’s Labyrinth zone.

Mad Gear is the final zone and it looks just like Metropolis City from Sonic 2. Despite having the familiar cogs and gears from that game (the interactive screws from the Sonic 2 version replaced with cogs that you can move), it actually plays a lot more like Chemical Plant from Sonic 2. In fact, I didn’t think much of this zone. In Act 3 you are chased by a big… thing… for much of the level (which reminded me of the Bridge level from Sonic 1 on the Master System), and I’m not convinced it works too well. Still, the levels do move quite fast, unlike (say) Scrap Brain from Sonic 1.

The final boss level has you beat all the previous bosses and then fight Death Egg from Sonic 2. It then goes weird and it takes a few times through to know what it does at every stage. Actually, it is just pretty annoying design rather than fun and challenging.

Overall, I got to say I liked it. I even liked it more than Sonic 2. But it is absolutely no where near as good as Sonic 3, especially when Sonic & Knuckles is plugged in to it. But that isn’t so surprising, no game is.

(And, yes, I have gone the whole review without including a single screenshot 😉 You can find those elsewhere.)

Programs for Windows Mobile

I have a Sony Ericsson X1 mobile phone, which is made by HTC and runs Windows Mobile. Windows Mobile is actually pretty good. For one thing, it supports .Net so it is great for writing programs. However, out of the box it isn’t that great. Sony have tried, and failed, to make it more user-friendly and useful. Here are some actual programs to improve it…

Sony X1

Finger Keyboard provides a much better keyboard on-screen interface. Although the phone has a slide out keyboard you can’t always be bothered to use it, and the default on-screen keyboard is horrific. You can also use a program called SIPChange to make this the default keyboard type.

SPB Mobile Shell provides a much better user interface to your handset. The picture from their website shows an example of it, but it can look better than that. It isn’t free, but it makes a massive difference.

acbToggleBT lets you play audio through your Bluetooth headset, if you have one. This is really useful. Watch out though: If you are listening to comedy, you will look like you are laughing to yourself.

OggSync lets you sync Google Calendars with your phone calendars. I have the registered version and it is really worth the money.

Reflection is my favourite of a collection of freeware puzzle games from Jean-Francois Mainguet. In this you must figure out where the mirrors are, given the length of the paths of the lasers.

amAze is some free GPS software which speaks to you. I found it quite helpful, and along with Google Maps can help you out quite a bit.

gAlarm is a much much nicer alarm clock system. It is only £5 to buy and the usual alarm system on Windows Mobile is terrible.

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