I've been playing the Tiger Woods PGA golf game on Nintendo/Wii lately and some things about it strike me as stunningly indicative of what happens to good ideas when they get filtered through the mindsets of people devoted to Windows programming. Thus the game orginator, Steve Cartwright, actually started with a sparse and even elegant product for the Atari - but over time Activision's pursuit of higher volume markets led to what is now EA Sports and a focus on the Microsoft world markets -with the Nintendo and PlayStation ports almost incidental.
A native Nintendo game, like the golf game that comes with the console, starts when you power up the machine and select golf from the menu. Similarly, game shutdown is a one step process followed by power down or the selection of whatever you want to play next.
Not so with the EA Sports product. Here's how you start the Tiger Woods game:
- Put the CD in, and power up the Nintendo
- Press the "A" key on the Wii to acknowledge Nintendo boot
- Use the Wii to locate the Tiger Woods image on screen, click "A"
- When the Tiger Woods game screen comes up, use the Wii to choose "Start"
- When the EA sports screen comes up, press "+" on the Wii to start
- When the golf menu comes up, use the Wii to pick what you want, and press "A" again.
Almost everything in the game suffers from this kind of replicative redundancy. For example, the "Tiger Challenge" games allow your character to build experience points - but only if you save your character after each round. And that takes five steps:
- Press "-" on the Wii to back out of the challenge menu
- use the Wii to select "yes" on save user, click "A"
- use the Wii to select "yes" on save to system memory, click "A"
- use the Wii to select "yes" on over ride existing user, click "A"
- Click "A" to acknowledge "Save" successful
Since you can have up to four players in a game, simply shutting down and saving player stats can take 17 separate steps - all of which could be bypassed through a single "Save and Quit" choice.
All of this block and prompt nonsense became the one right way to do programming soon after Microsoft Windows 3.0 came out - and has been obsolete pretty much since Windows 2000. What happened then was that Microsoft leveraged a human perceptual bug in its Windows 3.0 design: putting up sharply delineated window frames quickly and in primary colors while taking considerable time to fill those in with pastels and text made people think their computers were much faster than they really were.
As a result programmers quickly learned that popping up small boxes asking for user input made their applications seem "snappy" to reviewers and other deeply committed PC people who wouldn't regularly use them -and so today we have an otherwise fun Nintendo game that takes five steps to start and either four or five to save a character before shutdown.
It's terribly wasteful of the user's time, it's wasteful of system resources, and it's completely alien to the underlying Wii technology -but it's so perfectly consistent with the Windows mindset that most people don't even notice.
And it's that inurement to pointless repetition, or more precisely our collective failure to notice the obvious, that points to the real bottom line impact: because the overwhelming majority of business applications, including many never intended to run on Windows at all, have similar, time wasting, inefficiencies built in at every step.