Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Persistent Usability Fail

I borrowed Metal Gear Solid 3: Subsistence from a friend at work recently, because I wanted to play the original two Metal Gear games before starting the Metal Gear Solid series (I'm a completionist that way). I gave away my PS2 when I bought my PS3, since the original is fully backwards compatible with the PS2, and was worried about the MSX ports of the original games not working on the PS3.

Luckily, the disc loads and the opening trailer plays. Great! I skip past it, and the interactive start screen displays and says "Press Start". After pressing start, the main menu loads and give me five options. I choose "Metal Gear" and press the X button. The menu fades out and then the interactive start screen fades in. I am back where I started.

I then go through all of the other four options available and try to start them the same way. Each time, the game loads back to the interactive start screen. My fears have been realized. The old games do not work on the PS3. I'm a sad panda.

I told my friend at work who loaned me the game about this today, and what he said to me almost blew my mind. "You probably have to hit O not X." What? Hit O? O is back out in games, not continue. First thing when I come home, I try pressing O instead of X on each option and low-and-behold it works. The original games run! However, let's recap something critical about the main menu.

You can back out of the main menu into the interactive start screen, which leads to the main menu. Is there any use for this interaction? Nothing on screen says what to press to progress, so I assumed X. Because I was playing on a PS3, I assumed there was a problem with the way the old games were being emulated.

I realize that in Japan, O is commonly go forward and X is go back, but I don't play many Japanese games and had forgotten this random piece of trivia until just now.

This is just a very simple example of usability failure in the gaming industry. I cannot fathom how many Western games go over to Japan and have X as continue and O as back. Somehow, I am doubting that gets changed in the localization process. If I have time, I'm going to start pointing out some of the more significant usability problems we have in games (I could write an entire essay on Mass Effect and its inventory management). For right now, Metal Gear Solid 3: Subsistence: Usability FAIL.


  1. I have to change my PS3 debug station`s region settings a couple of times a week, and I always keep forgetting what setting I`m on.

    `Continue exit without saving?` it asks me...

    I dare not press any button ;_;

  2. In Japan, it is much more common for 'O" to be 'confirm' than 'X' than in the West. Final Fantasy and Metal Gear Solid games for some reason have not traditionally flipped them for Western audiences.
    From what I've read on the so helpful Internet is that traditionally in Japanese culture, 'O' has been to confirm things, whereas 'X' has been to deny. I think they never thought there would be any need to swap it way back in the day and eventually it just became tradition in those series. I hear they've fixed it in MGS4 though, allowing you to choose. Though obviously, that doesn't help you get past the main menu any easier.

  3. hating on a good game because it uses O instead of X in the MENU?
    jesus fucking christ.

  4. When I said MGS3 FAIL I meant the usability, not the entire game.

  5. This difference in usability is very much dependent on the culture. In Japanese grade schools, circles are used to denote "correct answers" while crosses mean "wrong." You can see remnants of this in WarioWare, in which red circles appear when you pass a microgame, but blue X's show up when you fail. Note how the colors are also similar to the colors of the buttons on the PS controller.

    In Western culture, however, we are used to the phrase, "X marks the spot" and therefore have come to expect the X to be used as confirmation/selection.

  6. The usability issue is not with the O and X buttons, but rather the lack of telling the user which does which, and the X button basically sending the main menu back to itself (why would you ever want to do that?)

    I fully understand the cultural differences and why it is that way, and it's fine... but you need to explicitly tell the player which button does what.

    It's honestly a small issue, but something I found interesting and somewhat funny so I posted it

    This is what I get for writing a post fast in the middle of the night and not really proof reading it too much

  7. Great observation! I probably would have gotten stuck too. And that's why Microsoft requires all games to use A to go forward and B to go back.

  8. This brings up another issue that I've always wondered about. In many RPG games they use a primary face button(usually triangle or whatever is at the top of the diamond) for inventory and then the other buttons (select or start) don't do what they normally do in other kinds of games.

    I always have to go through a process of accidentally hitting the wrong buttons for about 30 minutes when I switch back to an RPG from pretty much any other kind of game.

    In the instance of this game, I'd assume it's just one of those little things that slips through.

  9. I think what's going on here is that when you're as big a Golden Cow as Kojima, you can tell Sony to screw their TRC.

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