While many people say that graphics are the game's "first impression" tool, I'd disagree. UIs are the game's true first impression. These are the menus, artwork, and tools that will make a huge impact on how you perceive any game, yet we seem to be stuck in a rut with them as well. Many of today's UIs, instead of taking advantage of new approaches to deliver information in a stylish way, seem to fall flat against the screen.
So this week I'm going after my biggest beefs with the default UIs that games ship with, and how I'd like to see user interfaces improve. Interested? Well then keep up with me and jog past the break!
Beef #1: You're not World of Warcraft
...so stop trying to be World of Warcraft. Yes, I know, WoW has a great and intuitive UI. And yes, of course, I want all of you good UI designers to go out there, take notes on how Blizzard did things, and implement those ideas into your own systems. But that doesn't mean you go into your UI and make World of Warcraft all over again. And for Pete's sake, don't do it with flat graphics and poor artwork.
Designers have already told me that they like to use WoW's UI design to make players feel more at home with their game. The thought is that if you don't have to re-learn the UI, you'll find the game easier and more enjoyable to play. No more sitting down to an unfamiliar and frustrating UI.
"But at the same time, players who are leaving World of Warcraft don't want to have that game handed right back to them with new artwork."
So, go ahead, take a few chances with your UI design. Even World of Warcraft's UI needs improvements.
Beef #2: You didn't pull me in. Why didn't you pull me in?
A friend of mine once described the UI of a game as a window into the game world. The UI is more than just a series of menus and commands that sit on the screen and take up precious real estate. The UI should bleed the theme of the world -- it should resonate with what the game is trying to achieve as much as it should deliver accessible information.
I really miss the days when UIs were slick and cool, sporting clever animations and interesting, game-related ways of displaying information. Maybe that's just me, and people really like every health bar being green or every mana bar being blue, but I loved it when the bars were something more than just bars on my screen. I loved being able to take a game, show it to my friends, and have every aspect of the game ooze something cool.