danceCentralUI The awesomeness of the Dance Central UI

The Dance Central UI is a usability heaven

I don’t know if you guys have tried it yet, but last night I started playing the demo of Dance Central (which came with Kinect Adventures) and was -immediately- impressed with the game, and I didn’t even start to dance yet…

The Dance Central UI rocks!

The only two games I had played before Dance Central on Kinect were Kinect Adventures and Your Shape Fitness Evolved, both which feature a menu in which you have to hold your hand over buttons for a second or two, after which it will be selected. To me this seemed like a great way to navigate without a controller, but I missed the sort of snappiness of moving quickly through the menus.

The Dance Central UI shows that snappiness and Kinect do go together! The way you can move through the menus of Dance Central is just sooooooo much faster than with the other Kinect menus, it’s a real pleasure. It seems so simple, but the developer, Harmonix, actually tested a whole bunch of other approaches.

How the Dance Central UI works

So how does the Dance Central UI actually work? Well in the menu the game presents you with a list of options, ordered vertically. One of these options is always highlighted, but you change the highlighted item by moving your hand up or down. This means that you don’t have to precisely move your hand over to an option, you just move it up or down to highlight the option of your choice!. This is the first improvement over the traditional approach of hovering over a button and waiting for it to select. The second improvement is that you don’t have to wait for it to select anymore: to actually select the highlighted item you just make a horizontal swipe with your arm to the left. And that is all: vertical swip to highlight the right option, horizontal swipe to select it. It’s super accurate and lightning fast!

The Dance Central UI design process

Ryan Challinor of Harmonix said in an interview that several options where looked at and developed before the actual final one. The team tested a “virtual desktop” with similar buttons as Kinect Adventures, a “push arm to click” which had many problems, “sticky buttons” buttons which would stay selected once you moved onto them, until you hit another button and an iPhone like page flicking method. All of these methods were developed, tested and rejected, before the final UI finally emerged.

Harmonix was able to come up with so many ways of navigating the game by utilizing a “strike team”, a team that quickly had to come up with ideas and prototype them. Ryan Challinor explains why it worked so well:

Everyone all had input, and we had to sort of sell these ideas to get the rest of the team to buy into it. When ideas failed, we had to get rid of it easily. A lot of the code wasn’t going to last more than two weeks.

So their trick was just to try a lot of different stuff in rapid succession and stick with the ones that worked best. Simple, effective and resulting in pure genius! Great work Harmonix! Check for pricing and availability of Dance Central in your region here.

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