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The User Interface Continuum: A Study Of Player Preference


April 12, 2011 Article Start Previous Page 2 of 4 Next
 

Different Genres, Different Conventions

Of course, the degree of interface acceptance is a matter of personal preferences as well as the conventions of user interface design related to a certain game genre. Some genres allow the players to interpret the HUD as part of the fiction, and therefore as something that exists objectively in the game environment.

Futuristic or science fiction-themed games typically allow the player to interpret the HUD as something that the avatar sees due to technological enhancements, and first-person view games are particularly good at presenting this interpretation as likely. Crysis, for instance, explains the HUD as a part of the avatar's technologically advanced nanosuit.

However, in other genres the player's positioning or interaction with the game is not set up as "realistic" at all, and in such cases it may be hard to explain interface elements as part of the fiction.

Top-down perspective games such as strategy and simulation games are typical examples of this. In The Sims 2, most players interpret interface elements as information meant for the player only, and it is not seen as something that the sim figures are aware of.

An interesting finding was that the way the game addresses the player affects the interpretation of the interface. Command and Conquer 3: Tiberium Wars, for instance, addresses the player specifically as commander during the cutscenes.

Here NPCs provide the player with information on the next mission by speaking directly into the camera. By using this technique, the game provides the impression that the player is a character in the fiction.

Being addressed as if the game was played from the first-person perspective, many players were inspired to see the overlay interface as belonging to a computer screen in a military centre, and therefore as part of the fiction.

In this situation, the interface supports the sense of involvement and immersion into the fiction instead of being intrusive and alien to the situation. Here we see that how the designers have chosen to explain the interface often is important for how it is interpreted.


The Sims 2

If we take a look at the figure on page 1, we see that the players had a tendency to emphasise the system over the fiction in connection with Diablo and Command & Conquer 3, while fiction was emphasized over the system in Crysis and The Sims 2. The means that there was a tendency for players of Crysis and The Sims 2 to prefer a user interface that could be explained as part of the fictional environment, while the Diablo and Command & Conquer players tended to see this as less important.

Player Preferences: Three Archetypes

However, very many games don't try to explain the user interface at all, and this doesn't seem to bother most players. While they see any way of explaining the interface as a part of the fiction as an elegant way of presenting the interface, it is not necessary to make the players accept it.

In the following I want to separate three groups of players according to how they interpret and accept the user interface. These groups are archetypes that illustrate three different attitudes that game user interface designers must consider when designing game interfaces. The archetypes correspond to the attitudes to user interfaces presented in the illustration above, and emphasize that the presence of the user interface in itself doesn't ruin the sense of immersion and involvement in a game.

The Fictionalists. They see the game's story and fictional world as the most central aspects of video games, and want the game worlds to look and sound exactly like the fictional worlds presented in film. They are negative to all features that disturb the illusion of a coherent world existing separately from our own. They want to immerse into the story world and find all interface elements to be disturbing for the ability to suspend disbelief.

"Peter" represents the Fictionalist view, and his attitude colors his interpretation of all four games that he is discussing in the focus group interview session that he was part of. He is a strong supporter of games as a fictional medium of storytelling, and for him this is a feature that heightens the play experience.

He wants system information to be integrated into the gameworld and made part of the fiction. He claims that first-person shooters are the "closest you get to virtual reality these days" and celebrates their non-intrusive inclusion of the player, as well as the genre's tendency to integrate the user interface seamlessly into the world:

It's so nonintrusive. The focus is always on first-person [perspective], it's you who're looking out. If a score appeared above the monsters' heads when you shot them down [...], then the immersion would disappear immediately.

"Peter" doesn't want system information to reveal itself in the game environment, and argues that such information is unwelcome as it ruins the sense of immersion into the game fiction. Using this argument, he is supportive of Greg Wilson's view that the interface only can lessen immersion.


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