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Anti-Aliased: UI see what you did there pt. 2


Take Bioshock for example. Everything in Bioshock's interface is related to the city of Rapture -- numbers tick up and down on little flip cards; changing weapons or plasmids literally flips the icon around like it's on a turntable; and the menus you interact with spell out what's happening to Rapture without you even taking a step into the city. It's easy, it's simplistic, it delivers information, and it takes it all one step further by bringing you into the game.

To be quite honest, I'm surprised that both superhero games decided to go the route of futuristic interfaces instead of comic book interfaces. I think comic book-esque icons and style would have really benefited either game. Why not have little comic drawings for your icons, or have the ink spill out of a health bar as it depletes?

Beef #3: Information should be accessible and quickly understandable

This is the big one, obviously. This is everything UI design is all about. If the UI isn't accessible, then it's not worth having in your game.

And, unfortunately, I still witness this in many of the games I play. Champions Online? It was a horrible idea to put all of your menu options jammed up in the corner of the screen with the map. World of Warcraft? Your new talent tree UI is stupidly small and crammed with too many icons, just like your main user interface. (Also, why did you change something that wasn't broken to begin with?) Mortal Online? Well, we won't even talk about you. You're just a scary mess of UI failures. Darkfall? Your quest menu is nothing more than an in-game launch of Internet Explorer. You didn't even code a quest menu. Epic fail.

"Everything in Bioshock's interface is related to the city of Rapture."

When it comes to gathering information, our UIs need help. From the insane screen clutter of World of Warcraft to the pain in the rear menu system of Final Fantasy XI, no one is safe. Everyone's UI is prone to problems because everyone's UI wants to offer 20,000,000 different options for players to utilize. Yet, when it comes right down to it, players really use only a few things on their UI. We all get into the same habits of strategies or patterns. The rest of those icons or options? They sit, waiting to be used, just in case something bad happens.

Sure, it's nice to have those icons waiting in the wings just so you can be prepared for an imminent disaster, but it's just not good practice. This is one of those areas where I, unfortunately, don't have anything useful to suggest. As long as MMOs keep offering players too many options, players will keep requiring that the UI show them every option at once. It's going to take a core game overhaul before this problem clears up. But does anyone want to attempt a core game overhaul? Of course not. MMOs are expensive products, and no one wants to take any chances on an unverified product.

We have a long way to go before our UIs catch up to our games. They're not elegant solutions like those provided by other games, but that's due in part to the inherent complexity of our MMOs. But there's still no reason we can't gloss it up a little and pull players into the game experience.

And you, the grey UIs of low-budget grinders? You're just straight up not welcome. Gaming is about an experience, so why not take the time to add to your game with some clever UI art and animations? I know you UI artists are clever people, and I've seen you guys create some amazing things. Push for innovation. You'll be doing yourself, and the rest of us, a favor. Trust me on this.

Seraphina Brennan is the weekly writer of Anti-Aliased who would like some innovation in UIs. She's all natural. she's rambling on her personal blog, The Experience Curve. If you want to message her, send her an email at You can also follow her on Twitter through Massively, or through her personal feed, @sera_brennan.

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