a guest May 27th, 2018 113 Never
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- The UI of a game is your link to its universe. It's quite literally how you interact with its world! It's a pretty important part of a game. In the 90s, as games were getting more complicated, the UI sometimes didn't evolve with the more complicated game mechanics and we ended up with games that kind of felt like ass or had controls that took several weeks to figure out, but in the last 10 years, we've seen a lot of improvements; developers have been presenting game information in a really clear manner, even for more complicated games, and it makes the game feel great and fun to play.
- But after all the lessons learned about what makes a UI great, it seems like developers occasionally forget these lessons and create an abomination.
- Before we talk about modern games that aren’t so great, let’s go back to roots of gaming.
- Games before the days of 3D were so awesome. Animations were really short and clear. Your dude had at most, a couple actions. Important elements of the game were usually brought out. Everything was so crisp and the HUDs were usually really minimal. Games didn't really have that much information to convey, so what little information it did include was usually oversized and clear. It was a simpler time, but then 3D happened. While 3D doesn't necessitate a more complex UI, it does allow a developer to do so much more, which often necessitates a more complex UI.
- Take The Legend of Zelda: The Ocarina of Time for example. This game was often praised for being not only one the very few games for the N64 worth owning, but still one of the greatest adventure games of all time. While that second point will be endlessly debated on forums everywhere, I want to talk about the more subtle features of the game that made the experience so awesome. Zelda's transition to 3D was among the smoothest. On top of having this cool three-dimensional world to explore with cool three-dimensional dungeons and puzzles, the controls felt great despite the N64 control being an abomination from the 9th circle of hell. Using items was really easy and fluid (most of the time...). The automatic jumping was a brilliant decision that made platforming a non-issue. The controls and interface really did a great job of getting out of the way so you could just play the game.
- But this isn't always the case.
- Several games made some rather poor decisions in their control schemes and HUD, and other games just didn't belong on the console with this piece of shit being it's interface. Remember how much you loved Goldeneye when it came out? That game was so cool at the time but have you ever tried to revisit it? My advice is don't. don’t do that to yourself because among games that aged poorly, Goldeneye one takes the cake.
- Let me ask you this: If a developer pitched an idea for a first person shooter where you could either aim or move, but not both at the same time, would you find this acceptable? Assuming you've played a game since 1999, the answer is probably 'no, that's fucking stupid'. But this is what we dealt with in the days of Goldeneye. Aiming was done with the same analog stick as moving, so you had to choose one or the other at any given time. It sucked and it feels like ass.
- Another game that made mistakes was Turok, a FPS where you shoot dinosaurs with awesome guns (I’m not kidding, this game was fucking cool!). It’s mistakes crept into its design though and the result is you spent less time shooting dinosaurs and more time hoping on square boxes. In Turok, there are several platforming sections, many which feature instant death if you miss a jump. The problem was the game was in first person so accurately gauging the best time to jump was very difficult. This was helped somewhat by the minimap it gave you but even the minimap is ambiguous. You have this triangle thing that represents where you are but you don't actually know where you began or end because the things is so oversized and there is no clear delimiter. So even with the minimap, platforming was often guess work, and it was often somewhat challenging and the stakes tend to be quite high. The real problem is that learning to play should never be trial and error and in this case, it very much is. Look at this map and tell me where your hitbox begins and ends. That was a problem and one that could be fixed with a better HUD (Or just doing away with platforming. I WANT TO SHOOT MORE DINOSAURS!). A lot of people would say that something so minor doesn't detract from the overall game play experience and can be learned (Through Trial and Error), but while that's true, ask anyone what they thought of the platforming in Turok and I doubt they will give you a positive respone.
- As easy as it is to pick on older games, especially games that came at the dawn of console 3D, a lot of modern games still make the same mistakes. Take a look at modern motion controls, specifically from the Wii. The Wiimote controller is by nature, ambiguous. When you are using a traditional controller, when do you perform an action? When you press the goddamn button. The second the button goes down, an action is performed. Alright, now when you swing a Wiimote, to move your sword or to swing your racket, at what point is that action performed? Can you point out in this video when that action is taken? Fuck no! That element, the element of ambiguous control puts the Wii as a console that cannot have games that rely on really tight controls. But every now and then, a game tries to introduce challenges that require tight, absolute controls, and because of the shitty interface the game feels like ass.
- Speaking of Wii games that feel like ass: Fucking Skyward Sword.
- I could lecture for hours on the short-comings of that pile of dung, but I'm going to restrict it to just the interface. To give credit where credit is due, there are some elements that the Wiimote enhances quite nicely. Aiming a ranged item feels pretty natural. It's not perfect, but it feels pretty good and beats the shit out of a stick.
- What it doesn't do well is pretty much everything else.
- Alright, so there is this gimmick in Skyward Sword where you have to hit enemies from a certain direction with the features the Brand New WiiMotion Plus™. When you first see these type of enemies, the penalty for missing is just a failed attack, but later, the guys bring out electronic dildos that penalize you for swinging the wrong way. The idea is fine and presenting a player with this kind of a challenge isn't bad in itself, but the controls make the experience terrible. If you have your Wiimote on the wrong side when you want to swing, it becomes awkward to swing it further in that same direction! But if you naturally pull back the Wiimote as you probably would want to, when you pull back, you'll execute a swing from the opposite direction you are supposed to and then proceed to get penalized for it.
- The game is littered with this kind of stuff! Bombs can be rolled or thrown, but the action to do them is quite similar so which one is actually performed is a coin flip. Item switching is real time and done with the pointer and you can have one item 'active' at once. With the exact same controller, Twilight Princess allowed up to three. So much of this game represents a serious regression from the lessons learned of the past but the game received almost universal critical acclaim. These flaws are obvious, but no one really points them out in the game journalism industry which seems to cement the idea in people's head that sloppy controls are now acceptable as long as the game has the word 'Zelda' in it! (And the journalism industry wonders why it's become hard to take their work seriously.)
- Another modern game that struggles in this department is Dota 2 and before I go into this further, I will say that Dota 2 is still in beta and has a ways to go before release.
- Dota 2 is a special case for me because while I have lost all faith in Nintendo to make a game without janky mechanics that doesn't cash in on it's 30 years old IPs, Dota 2 is made by Valve, a company renowned for it's superb products, that are often so polished and refined that they remain beacons of excellence in design several years after release. But after playing Dota 2, it seems they have kind of forgot how to make a fantastic user experience.
- For the uninitiated, Dota is a real-time strategy game made in 2004 that originated as a custom map in the Warcraft III engine. You play a champion with 4 other champions, each with 4 abilities. With your 4 abilities, you kill 5 opposing champions, their minions and their towers. You do this by buying items that make your champion better with gold you received from killing opposing champions and their minions. The game is really quite brilliant, taking a rather simple set of mechanics and combining them to make a game with a tremendous amount of depth and challenging decision making. The core gameplay was deep enough to justify several clones and spinoffs such as league of Legends and Hereos of Newerth.
- Despite being incredibly popular, Dota 1 had several issues that made it less than welcoming to newer players and a lot of it detracted from the experience. Some of this was the fault of the limitations of the WCIII engine, but some of these issues were design decisions. For example, There were no separate targeting frames in the game, that is to say, if you click on an opponent, your unit frame is replaced with theirs, making it pretty awkward at times to perform actions. To see your opponents available mana, you would have to first click on your opponent who's mana would then show up in the unit frame status box, instead of having it simply show up as an element floating over their head, like the HP bar is. The range on AoE effects was ambiguous. Targeting was unclear. It was difficult to figure out what trees you could walk through and which ones you couldn't and you pretty much had to know the map really well to play it effectively. The game was drenched in this kind of stuff but it was largely forgiven because the game was still quite good despite these flaws.
- After several years of Dota being incredibly popular on Warcraft III, The current Lead Developer, IceFrog, has partnered with Valve to create a sequel built on a much more robust engine. The problem is that several elements of the UI are still antiquated and the game as a whole, despite being very modern, feels like ass. A lot of really awkward UI elements existed in the original Dota that made the game feel less than polished.
- But now that Valve has a whole team of professionals with a budget that could rival that of the US Defense Department and virtually unlimited resources in one of the best studios on the planet, you'd think the game would be polished to a mirror shine, like every other Valve game that has been released in the past 10 years. But it's not. In fact, most of what I just got done bitching about got transferred to Dota 2. There are still no overhead mana bars. The range of AoE effects is still ambiguous as hell. Targeting is still bitch at times. There is still only 1 unit frame that shares time between you and your current selection. The map still doesn't clearly indicate where you can actually go; I mean, the entire thing is so awful that I can hardly believe Valve is developing thing, the company who put out TF2, which has one of the most genius UIs on the planet and is awesome and free and you have even a passing interest in hats, you should play it.
- Anyway, I mentioned that Dota 2 is still deep in beta and that things can change and I'm not going to label Valve as awful (yet) because they do keep making quality of life changes to the game and it does keep getting better, but I find it suprising that company like that would ever release something that feels so terribly unpolished to anyone.
- So why has it become acceptable to have garbage UIs and terrible interfaces?
- Partially because it's what people are used to or what people want. I don't think I'd have too many people disagree with me if I said that the Wii's game library is awful. I mean, the console has been out for like, 4 years, and there are maybe 10 games worth owning.
- At the same time, we have a community of people who swear that change of any kind of will ruin their precious game and that somehow, adding mana bars overhead, or adding a second unit frame for targeting or making the game actually playable will somehow 'make the game too easy'. Let me tell you something: If the depth of a game relys on the interface being needlessly difficult to use, then the game sucks. My pet example of this is Starcraft.
- I'm sure you all know this, Starcraft I was a highly competitive game and played for almost a decade but had a terrible Interface. You could only select 12 units at a time, so managing that giant army you took 20 minutes to build (NR20, right?) is needlessly difficult. You couldn't actually select multiple buildings at once, so if you have 10 buildings that you want to produce 10 units, you have to select each one individually. When your worker spawned, you couldn't actually send him to automatically mine, so every 20 seconds when an SCV popped out, you need to manually tell him to mine. All of these elements suck and all of them contributed to the enormously high skill ceiling that complimented Starcraft I.
- When Starcraft II came along and remedied all these problems, there was uproar in the community that the game would somehow be too easy and diluted to be competitive. Team Liquid played host to several threads that argued back and forth on these issues, but in the end, they stayed in the game and !Holy Shit!, Starcraft II is a highly competitive game with a pretty enormous skill ceiling. This is because the game is what we would call 'deep'. Decision making is very difficult and a misstep now can have serious repercussions on the game 10 minutes later. Screwing up can be punished and to play the game at the professional level requires an absurd amount of practice and experience. The difficulty is not in the managing the UI, but in analyzing the gamestate and making the best decision at the moment. But the real difference is that Starcraft II feels great to play. It's much easier to do what you actually want to do and the game is better for it. Starcraft 1 feels like a mess.
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