Recently - during my research for my Masters Dissertation - I have read through Game World Interfaces by Kristine Jorgensen. It's quite an interesting read - and whilst it's mostly applicable to someone studying to understand games - it also has practical applications and explorations that for developers could prove useful. It is definitely a book I recommend picking up to read.
It's on these practical applications that I wish to bring forward to discuss. Jorgensen spoke of a number of ways to understand the User Interface [UI] within games - I won't be going into Jorgensen's theory of the Game World Interface - I simply want to touch on a few thoughts that came to mind whilst reading. UI could, in a very broad categorical sense - be seen as being a combination of or a single one of the following: Ludic, Fictional and Emphatic.
Ludic refers to UI elements that clearly do not exist within the game world itself. This means that the avatar, characters in the game world, and so on - do not actually perceive the element itself. This common in MMORPGs - where much of the UI consists of action bars, and menus, together with sub-menus that go into great detail on the statistics of the player character.
Fictional refers to UI elements that can be perceived by characters within the game world. These UI elements exist to both serve the player - but also as part of the game world itself. A common instance here is when playing a third-person game, and the avatar begins to limp as they move. This could be a clear indication that the player's avatar is injured. Other characters within the game world can see this - but so can the player - and it gives the player a clear indication on the state of their avatar.
Emphatic elements can be seen as Ludic elements that are explained fictionally. A common instance here would be first-person shooters where the player character is wearing a helmet with it's own interface that the game suggests is the same UI that you, as the player, use.
Each different form of UI element has it's own issues and benefits - depending on the genre in question, some UI elements may be preferred over others. In an MMORPG for instance - it can be difficult to provide all the information a player might need to go through it's relatively complex content in a fictionally coherent manner. On the other hand - a horror game might have a better time using fictionally coherent UI elements to put the player in a position where they feel that they themselves are more within the game world itself.
As Jorgensen points out however - the key points to consider as you work on your UI is to ensure that the information is clearly communicated to the player, and also that the information you provide is context-sensitive. Ensuring the player has the right information in the right situation, and ensuring that they know how to access it and actually are able to notice it, is critical.
The User Interface is a highly important aspect of digital games as they assist the player in being able to both navigate and experience the game itself. As such - it can be highly beneficial to approach UI in a serious manner to ensure that it is both done correctly, both functionally, and aesthetically.
Until next time,