A poor user interface can ruin what would have otherwise been a sublime gaming experience -- and that in return could have a negative impact on a game's critical and commercial reception.
In the latest Gamasutra feature
, Eitan Glinert of Boston-based Firehose Games explains what he believes are the primary components of a friendly and successful UI:
"How are great UIs created? Certainly experience and good instincts are necessary to create a UI which is both highly functional and aesthetically pleasing. It is also helpful to have concrete methods for analyzing usability, and in this article I'll define and focus four dimensions of usability: Learnability, Simplicity, Efficiency, and Aesthetic."
"The purpose of defining such usability dimensions is to provide a methodology for talking about UIs, i.e. user interface X is more learnable, but less efficient, than user interface Y. Keep in mind that these dimensions are not a rating of how "good" a UI is, as sometimes it makes sense to disregard certain principles for the sake of gameplay. What's important is in these cases the game developers are conscious of such choices, and that they are not decided arbitrarily."
He explains the four facets of a successful UI
Learnability: "This dimension mainly concerns novice users. Most developers prefer straightforward UI learning. To this end, tutorials are commonplace, as they provide a safe environment for learning controls and mechanics while providing meaningful assistance and guidance."
Efficiency: "In contrast to learnability, efficiency mainly concerns expert users who want to accomplish tasks quickly. The interface should allow users to move swiftly and effortlessly through the game. Efficient controls become an extension of the user's body, with the user being able to rapidly react to the game without even thinking of how to command the system."
Simplicity: "Game controls should be as simple as possible, but no simpler. This seems straightforward on the surface, as people only have so many fingers which they can only move at a certain speed. However, this frequently results in serious tradeoffs with efficiency. The best UIs are ones that determine ways to keep the game mechanic efficient and engaging but still only use simple controls."
Aesthetic: "Arguably the most important dimension for video games, a user interface should have a pleasing aesthetic that makes it enjoyable to use. This dimension tends to focus on visual and audio output of the interface as well as feedback."
Glinert goes into greater depth on these four components in the full Gamasutra feature
(no registration required, please feel free to link to this feature from other websites).