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Should my game have a simple or complex user interface?

Posted by Jason on September 9, 2017 at 5:35 AM

As a game programmer, it can be tough to decide how users will be able to interact with your game. Should gamers interact with a complex system when navigating your game, or should it be simple and straightforward? We will be examining what previous game's have done good, and bad, with their user interface design.

It's About Immersion

Good games will envelop the player into a timeless space where nothing else exists except the controller and the story. User interface is perhaps the most important element when discussing a game's immersive qualities. Very few, or way too much information can be absolutely crippling to a game's playability and overall reputation. User interface is the foundation by which your game thrives, or dies.

What is User Interface?

User interface is simply the controls and screens that player's use to interact within your game. It could be the map or inventory screen, weapon's load out, or even attack and block buttons. User interface is everything that composes the game, less the actual story.

Elements of Good User Interface:

-Information is provided clearly and quickly

-Does not take time out of the gameplay

-Easy to use and navigate

User interface is such a crucial element of any game, so do not fret over spending loads of information and resources into developing a rock solid UI system.

Bad UI: A Small Example

If you've ever played Fallout you will recognize this one; the Pipboy. The Pipboy is a small, wrist attached device used in the Fallout games for a variety of factors. It is a well designed element of the game, with one minor flaw, the viewing animation. Each and every time that you need to access the Pipboy, you have to sit through a second-long animation of the on-screen character raising his arm to view the Pipboy. It seems like a no-brainer that this wouldn't be a problem. Except playing Fallout can turn into months of gameplay (it's made by Bethesda), and those one second animation add up to some majorly annoying user interface issues.

Designing the User Interface

The User Interface is absolutely crucial to your game's success. Therefore, the developer with the most responsibility and influence should take on the role of creating the UI. Designing a near-perfect UI requires an extensive knowledge of the game being developed. They know the depths of the game, the information needed to be displayed, and how the gamer should be navigating through the game's world.

Popular Games That Had Bad User Interfaces


Although it's difficult to believe, Oblivion had a fairly painful user interface. This had more to do with transitional compatibility issues, as the game still used a controller based UI despite being ported for computers.

Additionally, Oblivion just had too much going on at once. Players needed to navigate through non-adjustable windows and were plagued by difficult to gather information. Players also had to scroll far too much than necessary, and viewing specific abilities took way more clicks than it should have. So besides the compatibility issues, the UI of Oblivion was just irritably in-efficient.

Oblivion's Other UI Mistakes:

  • No shortcuts, no map button
  • No Quick-Sell ability

Far Cry 3

Similarly, to Oblivion, Far Cry 3 made some basic mistakes for their computer consumer base. The menu's themselves took more clicks than needed, and slow loading times kept many gamers' furiously waiting.

Additional Issues:

  • Overly large minimap, pop ups, and objective goals information.
  • Hit indicators block screen view

These flaws could have been overlooked if Far Cry 3 kept them at bay. Instead, these issues are forced upon the gamer who cannot look away from them. The displays take away from the actual game time and disrupt the in-game atmosphere.

User Interfaces that Rock


A Bethesda classic and one for all time, Morrowind is a highly regarding RPG, and is a shining example of everything right with a user interface system.

Morrowind's UI:

  • Tabs allow quick sorting of items.
  • Information is displayed simple and easy to navigate.
  • Options allow for smooth, relaxed style of gameplay, map window can remain open, as well as additional screens of the player's choosing.
  • Screens can be moved to any location on screen and resized as needed.
  • Beautiful, efficiently designed inventory that can also be adjusted.

For computer gamers, Morrowind's user interface is a masterpiece. Seemingly everything is but a click away. The skills of your character, equipping weapons and reading information can all be accessed quickly and easily.

And Morrowind is a relatively complex game as well, so it's genius that the User Interface is painless to use, allowing gamers to get back to the meat of the game itself.

General User Interface Rules:

Keep text entry to a minimal when designing a controller based game. As a player, it is incredibly annoying to have to type out a long winded sentence using button pressing alone. God forbid you actually spell words incorrectly and have to backtrack.

While it may be necessary to implement text entry into a controller game, try and find a unique, efficient way for players to accomplish this. A hyper sensitive, quick scrolling text input like the Beyond Good and Evil game is a perfect example of this innovative process.

Keep the interface simple – Great interfaces act almost undetected by the gamer; they are implemented in a way that makes using them effortless.

Design with efficiency and purpose – Building on the aspect of quick and invisible UI, gamers should be able to accomplish what they need out of the interface at a rapid pace, this allows for more time to be spent actually playing the game.

Good user interfaces are simple, clean and was not obstructed of the gameplay. Half-Life 2 is a perfect example of a rock solid UI system that also integrates well into the overall artistic qualities of the game itself.

So long as you build from what has worked well in the past, you will have no issues designing the perfect user interface for your game. A relatively simple, efficient and aesthetically pleasing UI will work wonders for your game.

Categories: Gaming and other topics, Game programming tips