Utilizing 3 UI and UX Design Factors to Improve a Video Game’s Look and Feel

Arsena S.
Arsena S.
Jul 31, 2018 · 8 min read
Sony PlayStation’s timeless Triangle, Circle, X, Square button layout delivers an unpararelled intuitive experience.

User Interface (UI) in video games started as simple as a light projection overlaid on a TV screen, controlled by a couple of analog potentiometers. Even at its dawn, UI has become an integral part of a video game’s overall User Experience (UX). Because of this interactive media’s visual nature and the fact that human-computer interaction is inevitable to make up the whole gaming experience, rapid and clear information exchange become necessary to ensure both sides get what they want and what they need. No one wants to suffer playing a video game without any UI at all. Surely you don’t want to constantly switch between a printed guide and your device, or bruteforcing every single of possible key combination only to figure out the game’s most basic mechanics. Players are supposed to learn the game while actually playing the it, not reading a 100-page manual before allowed to play it.

One image is enough to explain why the notorious text-based Dwarf Fortress is so niche.

Any kind of complexity that triggers a lot of confusion shouldn’t be allowed to be a norm in game design. Thankfully, game developers and UI designers have worked hard to make video games more sensible and accessible than ever. They have utilized different design approaches and methods to push video games to their utmost potential. The essential wisdom in game design is to fully understand the basic principles behind a certain part of the game before diving right into the job. One part of game design, which contributes into the game’s UX while presented on its UI, is called look and feel. How the game visually please you and how the game responds to your input is a big portion of the overall gaming experience. Now that we mentioned it, what are the necessary factors to improve a video game’s look and feel?

1. Ambience

Assuming you haven’t played Borderlands, can you tell what is the genre of this game?

In UI/UX sense, ambience can be interpreted as the audiovisual theme of the product. This factor is the most subjective part of the game’s look and feel, because it largely relies on your target audience’s tastes and preferences. Most game design choices revolving around ambience will be ultimately decided by the genre of the game. Deliberately trying to make the UI theme looks unique for the sake of being unique without a strong sense of direction will make the final product looks uninspired and out of place.

When players are able to correctly guess what kind of genre of your game is just by glancing at the UI, your team is making the right UX decisions.

One of the UX principle that builds up the ambience is called a design language. Design language is a uniformed rule to make every single part of a product stands out being distinct and consistent in a certain way. Consistency is sacred when it comes down to defining your game’s design language. Most design languages are made out from game developer’s theming decisions, like storyline and background, or even their personal aspirations. UI designers can make a bunch of beautiful UI design for a video game, but without having a good sense in their own design language, the final product will not be easily recognized by players. Design language is a holistic principle, so it covers practically every single UI elements like font, texture, color, shape, size, animation, feedback, behavior, and many more.

A strongly defined design language that goes well with the game’s genre will help boost the game’s ambience. It’s also a good way to make their own trademark.

Other things to consider while building a game’s ambience is the proper use of unique identifiers like symbols and colors. For example, games with warm color temperature tend to have a cheerful ambience. On the contrary, games with cold color temperature tend to have a dark, lonely, or sad ambience. A games with archaic-looking skeuomorph aesthetics tend to be a fantasy genre. And so on. Unlike design language, these bits aren’t actually iron-fist rules defined from the start by the game developers or UI designers, instead, much like any other part of human culture, it’s built up over time.

2. Sensibility

A menu screen that provides just about right amount of information to the player and persistent navigation hints like Breath of the Wild is now a modern day video game industry standard.

Sensibility is the most crucial factor of the UI/UX to make your user stay informed about the game. Sensibility contributes directly into the game’s look and feel. It is also quite easy for the players to judge how sensible a game is. Should UI designers fail to make a game with a sensible UI (ultimately UX), players will quickly feel overwhelmed and resort to rely on a third-party guide, or going through a painfully tedious trial and error sessions. Severe cases will cause players to succumb and leave the game.

If players feel like constantly adjusting their senses to accomodate the game’s design instead of naturally learning to navigate the game, it means the UX is failing and the UI may need to be revamped from the scratch. Or even the game.

Permanently hinting the control’s function as a primary part of your gameplay UI like Dead Cells is already a common practice in modern game development.

Familiarity and predictability are both very important UX principles to consider when you want to design a way for the players on how to interact with the game and its UI. For example, the color green is often associated with the Health Bar. The color golden is often associated with in-game currency. The bottom action button is often used to progress the storyline. The dedicated “START” button is always used to trigger a pause state or menu. The right analog stick is used to manipulate the camera. And so on. There are a lot more of UX de facto standards in game industry that are only loosely defined like these examples. Because of this reason and the need for delivering a polished product, UI designers have to obey the rule, listen to player’s feedback, follow the contemporary trend, go with the flow, innovate, and regulate familiarity and predictability while avoiding potential lawsuits behind their backs.

How the characters positioned to each other in Valkyrie Profile was considered unorthodox back in the day. Each character’s position is properly aligned to their action button hints on the upper right corner.

Hardware Interface Design principle plays an important role in building the game’s basic UX. It is what makes the experience each available platform feels different. UI designers need to make a sensible graphical interface that responds to the respective platform I/O devices properly. A sensible interaction between the HID and the UI will be more efficient and meaningful without having to tell the players what to do. This is also why porting a video game can be a futile task, because forcefully changing its input device into something else will completely debase the way it’s actually meant to be played. For example, smartphone retro game console emulators where players are forced to utilize the clunky overlay control instead of intuitively using the gamepad is one of the biggest unsolved nightmare in UI/UX design.

Immediacy is a UX principle to ensure the exchange of information between a device and the player is delivered in a timely manner. Naturally, computers are much faster than human, so it’s always a good idea to reduce the stream of information given to the player while still retaining the necessary time required to deliver the feedback. Immediacy is also directly tied to hardware performance, in which hardware specifications lower than the specified minimum system requirements tend to disrupt how fast the game is supposed to be, causing small yet constant annoyance, reducing overall UX.

3. Simplicity

Simplicity is a UI/UX factor often overlooked by game developers and UI designers alike. There’s not much a simplicity can offer for the game’s functionality, but generally a leaner video game means less distraction and smoother navigation, therefore more room for improving look and feel. The main goal of simplicity is to reduce cognitive load and eliminate confusion, so that players won’t get real-life consequences like eye strain or headache. Simpler UI design tends to deliver better and cleaner UX because there are less hurdle to jump on. Less things to learn, more things to master.

You need to keep things stupid and simple in order to bring in more focused attention to your game without adding painful flavors into it.

Flappy Bird might be too dumbed down for most people, but the game displays a great deal of great design choices, especially on how well-placed the symbols are.

One of the most emphasized benefit of prioritizing simplicity is it can be used to severely reduce the game’s learning curve, allowing players to learn the mechanics of a game within a blink of an eye. By shifting hard knowledge into a familiar, predictable, intuitive yet sensible UI, video game players can now skip the tutorial session and get right into the game.

Don’t let the minimal UI design of Alto’s Adventure deceive your eyes. The intuitive nature of this game brings more than enough information to players without squandering resources.

Simple and minimal UI design have already been on the rise since late 2010s. Although in a slower pace, video games aren’t exempt from the trend. Even more rigid game genres like fantasy and simulation have reduced visual components nowadays. What’s more, there’s even some new breed of video game genres that combines the best of modern world and retro world. It is impressive on how can such reduced game design be able to deliver the same, if not better, look and feel compared to more traditional video game designs.


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Arsena S.

Written by

Arsena S.

Artist / Designer / Programmer


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