A great user interface is paramount to the enjoyment of any game – You can claim your game has the best art, gameplay, smooth mechanics etc. but if the UI is poor – gamers can’t actually play your game without confusion or frustration.
It’s definitely something to be feared as a game developer, a shoddy UI is more noticeable than sub-par art or chunky mechanics because it directly effects the interaction between the player and the game.
I’m sure we’ve all come across many examples during our off-time sessions of rampant game playing and the feeling of confusion and sometimes rage just doesn’t sit well with the gaming experience.
So when it comes to developing a UI – I try to keep the following questions in mind, I tell myself that even if one of the things on the list below is not properly satisfied, there’s a good chance the UI structure we’re coming up with -is not doing the best job it can, to communicate with our players.
How obvious is the UI on the screen, is it noticeable immediately, without the user having to search for it? Does it take up too little space or too much unnecessary space?
Keeping in mind the unique gameplay of your game, as well as standard placements for games of the same genre or type – what’s the best part on the screen to place your UI – where is it easy for your player’s eyes to travel to when they are looking for key pieces of information. Does it block other pieces of information that are equally important to the player?
Is your UI’s “meaning” clear? Can your icons or buttons be confused for another function than the one they are actually performing? Is it easy to tell when a UI element is active on screen or inactive?
Contrast Vs Blending
Depending on your art style and the functionality of the UI element, do you want the UI to contrast against the game entirely, in terms of shape or color – to attract attention, or do you want it to blend and look to be a part of the gameplay itself? Deciding on this can greatly affect other UI elements like readability and visibility pretty much instantly.
Consistency : Theme and Coloring
Does your UI follow a theme of some kind? Is this reflected on every UI element piece so that it’s instantly clear? Sometimes you want to have a unique color palette for your UI, sometimes you want all your UI to share a similar set of background images or be stylized in a certain way that keeps in the setting of the game and is still robust and beautiful to look at.
Click Count Vs Movement
How many clicks / hovers / swipes does it take to get to key information on a game screen? In some games that display many disparate pieces of information, you can sometimes notice – damn I wish this info was here so I could just see this all at once! Sometimes when adding UI flare like slide ins, fade ins, popups etc. – it’s easy to forget that rather than just making transitions look interesting, it’s important to assess how fast you want to get to the information without extra flare
Do all your game screens behave in a similar fashion, are you making sure to place similar UI elements in the same spot and have them behave the same way, regardless of what’s happening in the actual game?
I think those considerations are a good start, creating good UI is almost an art form in itself! It can get so complicated and overwhelming and definitely daunting however the rewards are seamless understanding from your players and that’s pretty darn important in the whole plane of interaction in general.
Do people still paper-prototype? Even digital-visual prototype?
It’s a time consuming process but at the same time, it forces you to think of visual design early on and helps in planning a structured UI that artists and programmers alike, can aim towards.
UI is something everyone needs to talk about, game designers, artists and programmers, it’s another one of those unique pieces of game development which require all minds to come together and make a decision.
So don’t leave UI to the end, start early – think about your options and discuss the design until you’re past draft 1, 2, 3, 4 and so on! – tweak it and then test it with non-biased eyes.
Never take UI for granted, because it’s a looming monster that can make or break your user experience.
. Amina Khalique | Technical Director .