The UX of Solitaire

A while back someone had pointed me to World of Solitaire and asked for some UX advice.  I tell it like it is, so for good and for bad, I will give my best advice.

First, the good stuff.  This is a technical marvel.  Honestly, this is a ridiculously rich experience all done with 500kb of YUI and hard work (and 2 megs of images).  I can’t believe someone had the patience and wherewithal to build this thing.  It’s absolutely marvelous and detailed.  Lots of options for backgrounds, decks and games.  It has more solitaire games than I could shake a stick at.

As personal background, Solitaire and Freecell are two of my favorite games.  When I have a few minutes to kill, I often launch the Windows Vista versions of solitaire and freecell, which are just gorgeous.  Really slick games.  I like breakout on my cheap cell phone too, especially when I am in my favorite thinking spot (the bathroom).

The desktop version of solitaire has some pros and cons versus the online version.  The desktop version is slicker.  Nicer animations, smoother graphics and better interaction.  However, it only works on Vista which is a major drawback.  I would still use it as the gold standard for interaction design of solitaire and try to make the online version almost identical.  Also, the online version has MANY more solitaire versions, so that is a pro over the desktop version.

Some specific advice:

  1. Keyboard shortcuts.  There is no reason not to include keyboard shortcuts in an RIA application.  Control-Z means undo.  Spacebar should throw the card up in freecell.  (Actually, double-click should do this too).  Think about ALL of the ways that a user might try something and make them all work.  Like single click on one column and then click on another.  This should mean “move”.
  2. Bigger canvas.  I think the site wastes too much space on credits and options.  Those things should be overlays and not hard canvas boundaries.  Big cards are a must.  One thing I found annoying is how often the game reloaded the cards in a different size. Very distracting.
  3. Experiment with alternate rendering engines.  Try possibly using the canvas tag or even flash for the main game.  Actionscript is alot like Javascript.  This might be a pipe dream, but it seems that there should be a more cutting edge rending engine that could resize the cards dynamically rather than reload them as images.  I also thought the cards could have more 3D effect, like shadow. And when the cards are dragged they should be “lit” in some way.
  4. Upload your own background pattern.  This is a nice to have, but it might be fun. 

I wonder how this kind of site makes any money.  The author has a blog here, but it isn’t clear how he does this site.  If it is pure love of card games, I stand in awe.  The web is so awesome that someone can just decide to do something fun like this and make it a reality.

Well, there it is.  Definitely a cutting edge RIA, but also still not quite as rich as the desktop.  We are getting closer and closer.  Hopefully, we all keep pushing the envelope.

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