Simon Willison’s Weblog


Quasar usability

27th February 2003

I had my first ever Quasar (otherwise known as laser tag) experience last night with the Bath University Computer Science Society (BCSS). Due to various misunderstandings our booking failed to materialise, but Quasar were very nice and said we could play against another group at 7.30pm. They failed to mention that the other group had an average age of about 9. Suffice to say it was an entertaining match, which we won by a very small margin (little kids spend all day running about; lazy students don’t).

Although it was good fun, the first ten minutes of the match were marred by our complete confusion as to what we were meant to do and how we could do it. “Shoot people on the other team and try to shoot their command centre” is a clear enough objective, but the overall user experience left a lot to be desired. Seeing as 10% of the male population are red-green colour blind, red and green are questionable choices for team colours (one friend with this problem could only really tell the difference thanks to the enemy team being about half our height). The interface on the guns was very poor as well—important messages were conveyed by an electronic voice, which was practically inaudible in the loud environment of the game area, and the display on the back proved extremely confusing. The guns have a small digital readout which displays your number of lives and remaining ammo. When you are hit (making your gun inactive for 2-3 seconds) the display changes to a rapidly reducing counter to show that you are unable to shoot. Of course, this also means that while you are recovering you can’t tell how many lives you have left making it impossible to judge whether or not you should head back to base for a recharge.

The other features of the gun, such as the “special weapon” switch on the front (which appeared to change the noise the gun made) and the powerups hidden around the map were completely lost on me as I spent most of my time desperately trying to figure out if I was dead or not.

Despite the interface nightmare, it was great fun. We beat our half-sized oponents by an embaressingly small margin, and stumbled out after 20 minutes looking and feeling like we’d just been through a two hour intensive session in the gym. Hopefully next time we’ll be up against a team with a bit less of a height advantage :)

This is Quasar usability by Simon Willison, posted on 27th February 2003.

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