…buy a Nintendo DS. No, there is no typo in the title. Besides, I'll say it again, with emphasis this time: every UI designer should buy a Nintendo DS. Now, for those who don't know what a Nintendo DS is, I have two hints for you. First, shame on you. Definitely. This is one of the most entertaining game system ever brought on earth. Then, take a look at the following picture:
If you have kids I'm sure you already saw it. Maybe you even offered one to them. If you did, go grab it and pretend it is unhealthy for them to play videogames all day long and that they'd better go outside and play hide. Anyway, the Nintendo DS is a very interesting platform because it provides two screens, one of them being touch-sensitive. Since there is a touch-screen, games developers must use it and therefore imagine lots of innovative ways to use a touch-screen.
So, why should UI designers buy a Nintendo DS and play as many games as possible? Simply because some games are just incredible. Take a look at Yoshi Touch n' Go for instance:
In this game, baby Mario falls down from the sky. You can see him on the upper-screen while you have control on the bottom-screen, the touch-sensitive one. To prevent Mario from hitting vilains you must draw lines of clouds. When Mario reaches them, he crawls (or whatever a baby does) and you can more or less control his moves. The big problem happens when the clouds you drew are not well positionned. Fortunately, the Nintendo DS contains a built-in microphone in which you can blow to blow them away! Isn't that a really cool input method? Next, take a look at Wario Ware Touched!:
In this game, you need to play hundreds of mini-games, each lasting between 3 and 5 seconds. When a game starts, an action word is given and you have a few seconds to understand what do to and how to beat the game. Some games are very classical (“Shoot”) and some are… really weird (“Snort”, “Make bubbles”, etc.). The mini-games use either the touch-screen or the microphone. Even if graphics are ugly, some ideas are just brilliant. Finally, let's take a look at Pac Pix:
As its name suggests, this game is about Pacman. And I'm sure you all know him. This game is very different though. Instead of controlling Pacman directly you must draw him! That's right, you have to draw your own Pacman on screen. It is nothing short of brilliant. You can draw him well, you can draw him bad, you can draw him small, you can draw him large… you are in total control of his appearance, as long as it looks like a Pacman. Once drawn, the Pacman awakes and runs toward the direction it faces. And it is animated. Believe me, this is very impressive. In later stages of the game, you can even draw arrows and bombs.
Now I guess you understand why I think it is important to play with a Nintendo DS. Games designers and games developers are obliged to reinvent the gameplay of every game because of the touch-screen, and in a less important manner the microphone. That is why games such as the ones I just introduced are available today. We've seen some attempt to redefine the way the player interacts with the games but it never took such an extent. We've seen guns, motion detectors, drums(those are really cool :), mics, dance mats, cameras, etc. But none of them ever reach such a large audience. More than 3 millions Nintendo DS units have been sold in 6 or 7 months. This means games editors will continue to create innovative games.
Since games developers can think of creative new ways of inputs, why couldn't we? I had several PDAs and I never saw any creative UI. It was just like having a mouse shaped as a pen. That's a shame because we could achieve great things. Imagine a text processor in which you just stroke the text to erase it. Or a page layout program in which you draw your layout boxes. When I see what Pac Pix developers managed to do with drawing recognition I can only think of the extraordinary things that could happen in regular applications.
Close your browser and go grab a Nintendo DS dammit :)