Gamasutra is part of the Informa Tech Division of Informa PLC

This site is operated by a business or businesses owned by Informa PLC and all copyright resides with them. Informa PLC's registered office is 5 Howick Place, London SW1P 1WG. Registered in England and Wales. Number 8860726.

Gamasutra: The Art & Business of Making Gamesspacer
Game UI Discoveries: What Players Want
View All     RSS
January 22, 2021
arrowPress Releases
January 22, 2021
Games Press
View All     RSS

If you enjoy reading this site, you might also want to check out these UBM Tech sites:


Game UI Discoveries: What Players Want

February 23, 2010 Article Start Previous Page 4 of 4


As I mentioned in the Far Cry 2 analysis, inclusion of non-diegetic interface elements seems almost required to reach the level of playability required in today's competitive market. The opposite does not seem to be true, judging from my analysis of Team Fortress 2.

My conclusion is that there is a fundamental rule for all games that must always be met regardless of the looks and functions of any given interface: The rule of functionality preservation and translation must be met.

The discovery is that the players exist in your game in two instances, the "avatar" and the "organism". The avatar is, of course, what is rendered on screen; the organism is what is left of the player after passing through the plane into the game world -- the preservation the game's functionality and its translation into in-game abilities.

In nature, there is no "avatar", since a creature's body is an exact representation of the organism's capabilities. In games, however, there is an inherent discrepancy between the two -- since the developer dictates in detail the embodiment of the organism. The game might dictate that the hero is a space marine; the challenge, however, is to design a user interface -- or let's call it "organism interface" -- that makes the player feel adequately that he or she is a space marine.

Imagine the opposite -- that the "avatar" is withheld from the player's perception, and that you as a developer are challenged to make the player describe themselves as "space marines" based only on how they feel when they play. The risk is that they describe themselves as hovering box with a mounted machine gun.

Passing through planes

The player becomes the organism when he passes through the plane between reality and your game. The UI is that plane. Take a prosthesis as an example -- a human is robbed of his right arm, a doctor fits a prosthetic arm to take its place. The prosthesis is the interface in this example, and the better the interface, the more right arm functions will be preserved. You could say that this person has crossed his right arm through the plane.

Now imagine the prosthesis designer had decided that preserved functionality was not as important as the authenticity of the rubber skin covering the mechanics. The person with the prosthesis would have a more authentic looking arm, with less preserved functionality. Since UI could be considered a virtual prosthesis, always make preserved functionality your main goal!

Regardless of your overall UI direction, be it immersion or a HUD your first priority has to be to enable the organism to operate in your game world, otherwise all else will fail. There is simply no viable strategy that allow for neglect of this vital aspect.

Designing Your Organism Interface

  • Look at your main avatar - "the hero". Describe how it feels to be the hero
    • Example: Badass, Confident, Fearless, Aware
      • Is your hero "aware" of being an elite soldier? You have to make sure the player feels aware! How do you handle enemies outside the screen, enemies behind the player, enemies behind trees, etc.?
  • List the functions you know must be present in the UI (without regard to how it will eventually be implemented)
    • Example: Crosshair, Health, Ammo, Mini-map, Weapons inventory, Objective locator
  • Start designing a preliminary interface
    • Map your "must haves" to different interface methods, diegetic, HUD, etc.
  • Review your preliminary design by asking: "Will this UI allow me to be aware of 1, 2, 3 and will I feel A, B, C when I do it?"
  • Iterate on your UI design until you can answer the above question "yes!"
    • Remember that UI comes in many forms, Audio, Animation, HUD, effects - mix it up!

(Where 1, 2, and 3 are your must have functions and A, B, and C are how it should feel to be the hero.)

In the last step you are bringing the avatar and the organism together by designing interface solutions that will make the player actually feel and behave the part assigned by the game.

It could be argued that "feeling badass" is not mainly achieved with UI but that depend mostly on the interpretation of UI. It might not be achieved with a 1999 HUD, but with a skillful implementation of various UI components from various categories tailored to fit the experience I would argue UI has everything to do with feeling badass!

Article Start Previous Page 4 of 4

Related Jobs

Gunfire Games
Gunfire Games — Austin, Texas, United States

Senior Boss Designer
innogames — Hamburg, Germany

Senior Game Designer - Forge of Empires
Deep Silver Volition
Deep Silver Volition — Champaign, Illinois, United States

Senior Technical Designer
innogames — Hamburg, Germany

Game Designer - New Mobile Game

Loading Comments

loader image