Can blood and good UX cohabit in games? (Darkest Dungeon)

Recently I read in an article that UX is not compatible with videogames because it removes friction which provides difficulty which is vital in videogames, because without it you will not have any kind of entertainment… well, this is a huge misconception.

As Celia Hodent (director of UX at EpicGames) repeats in her conferences and writings:

“The main purpose of UX practices is to offer the experience intended to the targeted audience. Therefore, if your audience is hardcore gamers and the experience you want for them is suffering, then UX guidelines will absolutely help you accomplish your sadistic goal. Hurray! More seriously, one of the UX pillar — usability — is about removing friction and unwanted frustration. It’s not about distorting the intended experience, because this would affect the second UX pillar — gameflow — which is in a nutshell about how enjoyable and “fun” the game is.”

I have nothing to add at this statement, it is simply the core idea of the UX in videogames, but I can illustrate it with providing a successful example of a good UX implemented in a sadistic game, Darkest Dungeon (Red Hook Studios, 2016).

Darkest dungeon is a rpg / rogue-like in an dark horror style. You explore diverse dungeons with a team of four characters, you have two resources to manage (health & stress) and a lot of mechanics, the fighting system is turn-based. Your characters are very susceptible to die when the difficulty is uprising, but fortunately you can recruit other ones (who will also surely die).

The game is really difficult, can witness these plenty of Steam comments complaining about it (take a look at them you will not regret it). There is a lot of RNG (random number generator) in daily events, in fights, perks and traps spawn… You have to be rigorous to take the best of the worst situation, but even if you are, the game have an endless cruelty, so be warned.

Let’s come to the core subject, the UX. From my opinion it is even more important in video games than any other domain to have an effective UX, simply because game-developers are building a whole gameflow in order to satisfy and to challenge players, so if the UX do not follow their ambition and provide an inappropriate experience it will unbalance this gameflow, players will have a bad gaming experience even if the game himself is great.

Videogames are products that need a successful interaction to be appreciated, playing at a great game with a bad UX is like drinking a great champagne in a plastic champagne flute.

It is even more vital to have a good UX /UI in that kind of hardcore games, because they are already frustrating by their difficulty so if your UX/UI are unpleasant most of the players will rage and never touch the game ever.

I selected three UX notions in which Darkest Dungeon reigns like a king.


This game is full of feedbacks and they are greatly set-up, their size is proportional of your action, it does mean that if you are just moving or using a usual object, it will produce a small sound, if a biggest action is performed such as the stress state is triggered or a character die an animation & music is played, indeed this is have been done already plenty of times in the past. But it is done at another level that I have ever seen before, every act you perform have a natural sound following him, it is hard to put words on this but these sounds and visual effects fit perfectly your actions.

Smart layout

The UI point is totally nailed, in an RPG there is a lot of information to display, depending on the situation, for example, usually in fight we can find resources bar, effect, spells and actions are shown in most of games.

In Darkest Dungeon there is even more information displayed, you can add character stats, % for hit, dmg modification, crit, real time character stats, light level, items, map… and despite all of those information the UI stays clean, how can they achieve that ?
Simply with a smart layout, let’s take a look.

Above you can see a screenshot of the fight interface. Her biggest advantage is her readability, even someone who does not know this game can understand most of his interface, everything is clear, you have knowledge of your equipment, statistics, skills also the enemy ones and the effects of your selected skill on them.

And obviously health bars; boost, malus and the light level bar.

They choose to keep the layout as simple as possible, there is only one interaction, a switch between object and the map( at the bottom right corner) so no confusion from players expected, they can’t get lost everything that they have to know is there. Even for the hardcore players who want to have everything under hand, they have the possibility to show some really specials stats from the character sheet with a simple right click on them.

We can also notice that almost every element is clickable, it is really smart to do that, because in other rpg you have to open endless menus and page to get the information you need, in Darkest Dungeon if you want to know this monster stat just come over it. Or asking yourself what are my houndmaster’s perks? Just right click on him. No labyrinth, just intuitiveness.

Also, in order to confirm the successful GUI there is another screenshot, the town screen this time.

Again, almost everything is interactive, at hand range and nicely incorporated into the interface.

On the following schema I emphasized the interactive elements in red and the indicatiative elements in yellow, as you can notice at least 75% of the screen in interactive. The game art is stunning, but also useful. Unlike other games you don’t have to open your menu and search for the right tab, this time if you want to open the guild menu, just click on the guild. It sounds simple, but unfortunately most of videogame developers fail this notion.

The town can be complex at first sight, a lot of buildings with their unique abilities, kind of hard to introduce for a new player, especially since it is a game element almost original compared to other rpg games. In order to help players there is an explanation on buildings, also they are unlocked separately following your progression.

Emotional design at his finest

The player is treated like a king on the UX plan (not in gameplay, they are sadists), you will discover several little attentions as you play, such as the waiting screens are waiting you to push a key when they are loaded in order to launch the dungeon so it will not launch it if you are not ready. Another example, when you are going to a dungeon there will be a warning sign if you forget to buy must-have item before leaving.

Plenty of these attentions are hidden in the game, they help you to avoid slips and mistakes consequently they consolidate the gameflow because without them the players would fall in moments of frustration and the gameflow could break. Even the characters have their own personalities based on their perks, they will chat during dungeon and when you interact with them.

It means nothing said like that, but these little things help to build a relationship with users, it is emotional design such described by Don Norman or Aaron Walter, the game developers from Red Hook Studios care for your experience you can feel it while playing.

They want to make you sweat and cry in perfect conditions is not that sweet?

My english is far from perfection, you are very likely to find some mistakes or syntax errors, do not hesitate to tell me what I did wrong.

Massive thanks for reading and if you enjoyed it, please share & recommend it !

One clap, two clap, three clap, forty?

By clapping more or less, you can signal to us which stories really stand out.