Resource Menu Redesign for Horizon Zero Dawn

This case study presents my personal views on what could be improved in the User Experience of the 2017 PS4 exclusive game Horizon Zero Dawn

Case Study Steps

Step 1 : To identify problems

To create a basis for this case study, I have come up with a list of prevalent issues that users faced when tasked with certain objectives in the game menu:

  • Information Architecture in certain sections
  • Redundancy of information amongst multiple panes in the user flow
  • Identification problems with the iconography

Step 2 : Research, Needfinding and Validation

Without the resources to conduct any large scale quantitative research, I will be doing qualitative research with a small focus group

Step 3 : Proposing alternatives, changes or tweaks

By the end of this case study, I hope propose a set of changes that will attempt to remedy aforementioned problems. These propositions will be done via mock-ups and prototypes.

Research

I gathered 3 friends who are adept at playing multiple genres of video games but have never played Horizon Zero Dawn and offered them a questionnaire to answer based on what they thought before playing the game and after playing the game.

1st inference : “It’s not an RPG, it’s an open world with RPG elements”

I individually asked my focus group of 3 friends what they thought was the primary genre the game was catering to, to which 2 of them answered as a “open world action game” or 1 of them answered “action adventure game with RPG elements” based on the gameplay footage. This validated my understanding that the crafting mechanic and menu was so simplistic and bare-bones because it catered to a non-RPG playing audience and wanted to carry the pace of an action-adventure game. This also helped me seek other video games that I could refer to (it helped me choose to refer to the new Tomb Raider game over Fallout 4 as both these games are fundamentally different despite having “crafting”)

2nd inference : “The resource menu is cluttered”

The overall community and fan base of the game has complained plenty about the resource menu being a dump of non-categorised or “everything else” kind of items. This was validated when the focus group could not navigate through it as efficiently when directly dropped into a mid game state.

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3rd inference : “Quick Menu is intuitive, but that doesn’t mean convenient”

The quick menu offered at the bottom left of the screen houses potions and traps, and despite being very easy to understand it requires a lot of dexterity to use and hence remains infrequently perused.

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Defining goals after research

Goal 1: To create more coherence among items and information

Goal 2: Further breakdown the Inventory so non-RPG playing users attracted by the action-adventure aspect can find it accessible

Goal 3: Tackle the recognition aspect of the iconography

Goal 4: Reduce cognitive load and easing perception wherever possible

Goal 5: Do not deviate from existing game design systems and UI functionalities

Proposed Changes

Change 1: Information Architecture

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Ammo was removed as it is present in 3 different places, while being the most redundant in the inventory as it offers no actionable element or serves no purpose here.

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Treasure Boxes do not add any substantial value as a game mechanic as they only give out more commonly available raw resources. I believe they exist only to hold rewards for quests without overflowing the inventory’s carry capacity, thereby hiding an unsolved dilemma for giving away more reward than player can hold. This assumption remains invalidated.

Special Items houses collectibles and quest items, while high value trinkets are stored in Resources. Moving them together in one place would create some coherence and also allow players to manage and tag items they wish to sell in bulk.

All mock-ups are made with the assumption that layout and art can absolutely not be changed to maintain the coherency of the visual language.

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Change 2: Di-chrome Iconography

The monochromatic iconography is persistent throughout the game, and changing it in any way would disturb the established visual language. But di-chrome icons are already used in the game in the non-diegetic gameplay UI and would help in reducing the cognitive load in the menu by allowing colour coding.

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Change 3: Reducing cognitive load and easing perception

The cognitive load could be reduced in various places by tweaking a few elements. Certain element don’t offer a visual guide for what they are referring to and some places could use different psychologically meaningful colours.

Using a “show, don’t tell” approach for the loading screen with highlights and emphasis

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Red, being a negative colour, fails to communicate that further ammo cannot be crafted due to ammo limit and not negative reasons like insufficient resources for people who do not read or read quickly in heat of the moment

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Colour coding the specific resource (bottom of wheel) brings immediate attention to what resource is insufficient

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A dedicated information space for Travel Pack (bottom) shows players their packs right there instead of throwing a notification when you try to fast travel after manually locating a campfire on the map. Additional functionality to craft Travel Packs right in the map view and handling use case for insufficient resources right there with a notification can also be integrated

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Turning the quick menu (bottom left) into a non scroll-able format where player can pre-place their favourite/preferred options from the main menu

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Conclusion and future scope

The main aim was to try and improve things without disrupting the original UI, whether it were the game systems or the visual style. To keep it consistent, I was able to get the original icons from Lizzy Warren’t website.

Secondly, only the game mechanic of Treasure Boxes was omitted. I do not believe the creative director will ever allow for a game mechanic to be omitted for a UX problem.

I was unable to implement the new UI and it remains only in a mock-up form which is insufficient for validation. Nonetheless these activities offered a great exercise in learning from how to align with a concise process and vision to fix issues after they have been identified,

​The game still has a phenomenal diegetic gameplay UI due to Aloy’s Focus earpiece, which brings up a few inconsistencies that we can perhaps tackle in a future endeavour.

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While this game has a beautiful UI art style, some inconsistencies remain as production requires game systems and UX to be designed simultaneously and it is very difficult to gain a bird’s eye view in such scenarios. Nonetheless, the game is stunningly functional with a pervasive UI that isn’t intrusive, and despite being cluttered doesn’t take away anything from the game systems it represents.

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