Beautifully Simple

Simplicity is a core element not only of video game hardware and software, but cutting edge technology in general. Too often, programmers and tech junkies assigned to make modern conveniences functional forget that most people aren’t half as proficient with controls and user interfaces as the vast majority of the public. The companies that survive and thrive are the ones that prioritize the simplification and usability of their products from the get-go and pay attention not only to what is made, but how. A more modern example of this would be the smart phone, with special credence to the Iphone design made by the late great Steve Jobs. The fact that I can call him late and great for nothing more then limiting phone controls to one button and a touchscreen puts in perspective how much simplicity affects technology development. It’s no coincidence that the same decade Jobs was putting the Apple computer together for the first time was also when Nintendo came out with their first system. It’s even less of a coincidence that both companies are as a result household names. Just looking at the Nintendo Entertainment System briefly can give you an understanding of what made both it’s name and controller scheme so iconic.

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Observe the buttons you use to turn it on; there are only two, and they are right up front and are as close as two peas in a pod. You have power, turns it on, all too close to Reset, which resets the game spontaneously. The use of both proximity and location makes even a casual glance reveal the exact way to do the most important thing to enjoy an electronic toy; turning the thing on! I will be the first to argue that games in general, in particular the classic nintendo titles, are an important artistic and technological achieve to not only  tovideo games but society as a whole. I will also be the first guy to admit sheepishly that despite its place in history, the NES and the numerous content created for it was, out of a brutal necessity, designed and marketed primarily as a toy for children. I’ll cover how and why that is later.

Now, observe the Controller. Yes, the controller of the Nintendo Entertainment System has become as recognizable as the Nintendo brand logo itself, and for good reason. The D-pad is a practical holy symbol of directional control. The two buttons A and B are easy to understand. The start and select button are smack in the middle and are extremely distinctive from the rest of the controls. Each set of controls uses proximity and color to organize their function perfectly, and the controller itself is a perfect rectangle that is literally easy enough for a kid to use; which was the idea, really. Add that to the fact that most of it’s earliest and most successful titles (*cough* Mario) was geared specifically with adaptive learning curve design in mind, and it’s a wonder why anyone wouldn’t think this system would be a hit. Sad truth was, everyone did when it first came out, and even product design brilliance couldn’t rescue it from its flaws.

See “The Bad”

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