This week I started playing the Division, which is such a contrast to what I’ve been playing/writing about recently. Considering the last few games have had little to no HUD and jumping into the Division you quickly realize that this is such a UI intensive game. Much of it well thought out and even more that’s just fun tech fluff on the screen. In this post I’d like to spend some time to break down The Divisions HUD and usability. While I will be talking about elements of The Division, this post should be devoid of spoilers. Yet if you’re concerned about seeing imagery from The Division, you should stop now!
To start with, there’s a sort of implied complexity when it comes to the name “Tom Clancy.” It often feels like the name has become synonymous intense and elaborate worlds, that borderlines more on simulations than games. Tom Clancy games are often known for their seriousness and that can be a barrier between itself and casual to mid-core audiences. While Tom Clancy’s : The Division, does a lot of things right… there are areas of the game that aren’t particularly user friendly. Specifically within modding your weapons/equipment, but also within leveling your character up. It’s difficult because these are areas that players do inherently look for additional depth, and yet if you’re not interested in these areas or just starting out… there’s a considerable barrier to entry.
the player a sense of what play-style these elements are referring to. I really have to applaud The Division's use of color when it comes to missions, I instantly know if working towards the Medical, Tech, or Security wings. Ideally there would be a similar way for me to classify my mods, so that I could instantly recognize areas that facilitate my play style. I would also argue that an auto-assign or recommendation feature would be very ideal for more casual users.
exciting either. When I mod my weapon, it should feel impactful and like I’m progressing. Perhaps when the user starts seeing higher percentages late game, it will feel like real progress. If the strategy is to keep the values so low early game, so we feel the progression later, we’re really banking on players sticking around long enough to make it worth it. It’s risky to not have the early phases of the game not feel as rewarding as possible. Seeing my weapon stat bars barely move with a new mod, can be very detrimental to initial user experience.
Advance – rolling from one piece of cover to another increase damage done by 2% per meter traveled for a short period of time” or “Death by Proxy – destroying another enemies deployed items (turrets) increases the power of your skill abilities.” While I can, more or less, understand what my talents do… the way these are managed make it very difficult to decide what’s best for your play style. Whereas I’m just happy to unlock a perk, because then I literally don’t think twice about it knowing that it’s just there. I will say that one of the areas that makes this very hard to understand is how you unlock areas in the different wings in your base. Whenever you unlock something in one of the three wings, you can unlock a multitude of Skills, Skill Mods, Talents, Perks (both for your character or the base itself) and it can be a bit much to understand. Instead of writing out each mod I’m unlocking for my turret, maybe just tell me that this will unlock mods for my turret… being concise doesn't mean it has to lack depth. There's also really no substitute for a good Skill Tree, it's always a clear and easy way to illustrate progression to a player.
Going into The Division, I was really unsure how I felt about the floating HUD near my character. It felt weird at first and I was unsure if it would become confusing in the middle of a firefight. Yet the more I played with it, the more I really enjoyed the layout. In an effort to better understand their design choices, I decided to do a bit more research into their strategies as well as their competitors.
which it’s UI hidden on the protagonist’s back. There’s something to be said about doing something as bold as this, thinking about Visual Priority and screen real-estate… putting the player’s info in the center of the screen is prioritizing you and your character. This isn’t a side attribute, this is YOU and YOU should be paying attention to it. I think it creates an extremely positive dynamic and facilitates a higher connection with the player and their avatar. Of course this is just my impressions/take away from comparing The Division's HUD to it’s competitors, but it’s interesting to see how they do or do not relate to each other.
This week I've teamed up with the website GameDais to bring you an article about Visual Priority! In it I take a closer look at games like FIrewatch, Until Dawn, and Outlast!
It looks like maybe the GameDais website went down, as the URL seems to no longer be functioning. So I wanted to share what I had written for them here, below are my notes from the article I created in conjunction with them. I know I also had images associated with this... but can no longer find them. Hopefully GameDais will return in the future.
I went into this entry thinking that I’d like to spend a bit of time breaking down Visual Priority for you. Visual Priority refers to an inherent hierarchy of information on the screen, typically defined by Primary, Secondary, and Tertiary sources of information. These can established through shape/size, color, screen location, and contrast… yet at the end of the day this evaluation is all about taking a step back and trying to analyze where the developers would like us to be looking, and why. Attempting to understand what’s important? What kind of visual real-estate is reserved for this value? Where are my eyes drawn, and why? I think it could be interesting to do a bit of an analysis of strategies used to guide us in our gaming experiences.
Visual priority, and how it’s treated, can change drastically between types of games and devices. Specifically strategies and what’s important to display in mobile games are extremely different than the ones used in console gaming. Interfaces (typically) are much more prevalent on a mobile game, than their console counterparts. I was thinking about this recently as I began to dig into this topic, and began to realize that many of the elements that I look for while evaluating mobile games are not prioritized in the same way as you’d see on consoles. The inference I’d make here is that when you’re interacting with a mobile game, you’re also basically looking at the controler…. so there has to be much more information available for interaction. Whereas the trend with console games are typically leaning more on leveraging the play space, and when you are interacting with something… you’re pushing a button on a controller rather than physically on the screen. In this regard, it makes a lot of sense that the strategies would be drastically different. That being said, I’d like to spend a bit of time exploring how console games are helping users understand what’s expected of them.
To start with, I began to try to think of games that felt instinctual for navigation. Games that I rarely got lost in, and instinctively knew here to go. I know I’ve talked for many posts about Firewatch already but, I seriously can’t help it…. It’s excellent on many levels. The easiest way to evaluate visual priority is just to take screenshot from a game, and take a moment to evaluate what’s in front of you. Where are you eyes drawn and why? In the case of Firewatch, there’s a complete absence of UI… I mean there’s the occasional walkie-talkie, map, or interaction indication but for the most part it’s all about the world in front of you. Upon looking at imagery from Firewatch, you begin to notice that your eyes are guided. There’s always a direction, a point of interest, or natural flow. It allows the user to be guided in a direction without putting them on rails. That’s not to say that you can’t lose your way, but I would argue that through lighting, contrast, and negative space the developers have done what they could to direct the users in the most natural ways possible. (I’ve talked about this breifly in the past, in my post about Visual Affordance : http://www.wesplays.com/blog/visual-affordance) While it’s possible that colors and hue variation can be used, typically I focus more on contrasting tones to evaluate visual priority. For this, it’s always best to desaturate your examples and look at them in grayscale. Sometimes it can be quite shocking what your eyes are actually be drawn to. In these examples, I’ve tried my best to illustrate my meaning… how points of interest, lighting, and negative space can create a natural flow and understanding for the viewer.
In the same vein, I also was thinking a lot about Until Dawn and how the environments often lended themselves to an innate understanding of the space. Granted Until Dawn is pretty structured in the sense that the movement possibilities are a lot less extensive than a game like Firewatch. Yet each scene is definitely crafted, intentional camera angles, lighting, and focal points created to give the player an understanding of interaction/movement possibilities. Upon further investigation into Until Dawn, I really noticed that they used perspective to their advantage in many cases; aligning elements along a vanishing point and facilitating this flow with lighting/contrast. In many cases there’s literally a source of light at the point in which we’re expected to move.
A game that always resonated with me was also Outlast. While there were definitely times of confusion, there was something about the layout of this game that facilitated intentional progression. Lighting placement, points of interests, and elements that specifically catch your eye (blood spatter, creep silhouettes, etc) gave way to player progression in a way that feels more like exploration than developer handholding.
I can’t help but bring up an approach that Splinter Cell : Conviction used, which was to literally project quest objectives on the walls and on the environment to guide the player. This was just such a fun and creative approach to marrying UI within the environment. Not only are you spelling it out for the player, but the placement of the message is also a subtle hint to where you’re intended to go. It goes to show that sometimes that being a little more in your face, can actually be a good thing and not pull you completely out of the game.
Next time you’re playing a video game, take a moment and ask yourself “What’s the intent here?” This will help you to develop a deeper understanding of the clues you’re being presented but also a little more insight into the developers themselves. Conversely, if you’re lost and confused… it’d be interesting to take a moment to attempt to recognize where the design is failing you. This way we can start identifying both strong and weak design principles, that’ll help guide us in the future.
Hey guys! I’m a new guest author on GameDais.com! If you’re interested in reading more about topics like “Visual Affordance,” “Gamifying your Play Experience,” or “Quantifying Art” feel free to visit my original blog at www.WesPlays.com
Thanks for reading!
Today I’d like to talk about something different and perhaps a bit less scholarly than my previous posts. I want to share with you some gaming experiences I’ve had and an idea that my friends and I call “Gamifying your Play Experience.” Have you ever set additional constraints or rules to yourself in a video game? Ideas like, “I’m only going to play non-lethally” or “My character will never use Magic.” I think that adding these types of limitations can add a lot to the experience, and specifically how much you personalize the game..
Which is all interesting but what made my character really intriguing was that I didn’t want him to be Dovahkiin (the main protagonist in the game). My way of accomplishing this was that I never initiated the first quest in Whiterun (one of the cities in the game). Since I never started this mission, within the game my character never pursued the Dovahkiin quest line and there were no dragons spawning in my world. The very thing that Skyrim was marketed with, didn’t exist in my game. My world wasn’t plagued by Alduin (the main antagonist), and I was just a dude. Oddly enough this was the playthrough that really stuck out for me and I put probably another 100 hours into this character that spent the bulk of his time gathering herbs.
Recently I started playing Farcry Primal, and a good friend was telling me about how she was playing the game with no HUD. As I started looking into the HUD options, I had a lot of questions... “Really no targeting reticule? No interaction prompts??” … “Nope, none!” Inspired by my experiences in Skyrim and more recently Firewatch, I chose to start the game this way. I didn’t want to know what I was missing or become too used to playing this game with a HUD.
Something I noticed with Farcry Primal, and Firewatch after removing the location indicator, was that removing elements of the UI forced me to focus more on the game world and I felt more connected to it… less distracted if that makes sense. Something I hadn’t realized that in other games I use the minimap as a crutch, really ignoring the world around me and navigating purely by it. It’s interesting how a piece of the UI that’s meant to aid the player, could potentially invalidate the work of a good level designer. I’m definitely not suggesting we remove UI/HUD elements from our games, there’s a broad spectrum of users (some more casual than others) and you don’t want to alienate you demographic. Yet there’s something really liberating about having to navigate a world by your wits, actually remember how many arrows you have left in your quiver, or manage a headshot without a targeting reticule.
That’s all I had to share with you today! Hope you enjoyed this post, even if it was more about sharing gaming experiences. I'm still playing around with the idea of doing a post on visual priority next, but we’ll see how it goes! Thanks again for reading!
I make games, I play games... and sometimes I have some thoughts about that.