UX Critique: The Magnificent Trufflepigs
Exploring the UX design of this adventure indie-game and how it can be improved
This UX critique will explore an endearing indie game called The Magnificent Trufflepigs (TMT for short) by Thunkd Software. This game is a first-person, metal detecting, narrative game that will take you across the beautiful English countryside. It’s a game where it’s story unfolds before you, revealing that not everything is as it seems.
If you are a fan of story-driven adventures, such as Firewatch, What Remains of Edith Finch, and Everybody’s Gone to Rapture, this game is for you.
This game has recently released in June 2021, available on Steam, Epic Store, and the Nintendo Switch. After playing this unique game, I wanted to dig into and share my thoughts on the UX of the interfaces in the game and where there is room for improvement.
This piece will go through the interfaces I’ve encountered sequentially during my gameplay. This game was played via PC using an Xbox controller.
Before going in depth with the interfaces, I wanted to share my general thoughts after playing the game. The interface of this game gives off the impression that this was an aspect of the game that came at the very end of the development cycle.
The reason for this statement is that:
- While the game-world inside is visually stunning, the same cannot be said for its interface. The TMT interface is straightforward with no artwork on UI or a visual theme that we expect to see with all video games.
- One of the basic tenets of creating any interfaces, be it softwares or video games, is to provide consistent and adequate spacing . With TMT, there is no cohesion on this front and is apparent even during first impressions.
- The typeface used for the game’s interface itself is generic and doesn’t harmonize with the game’s visual theme.
There are a few possibilities behind this lack of care. Either there was no interface designer in the dev team, or it was an afterthought, the team realizing far late in development it needs to be developed. Both scenarios are surprising, as the game is 50% reading/responding and the other 50% detecting/digging.
This criticism, however, is for its visual presentation, not the experience it is giving to the players. I will explore that further below.
The Main Menu
The main menu of TMT is pretty straightforward. A translucent overlay contains all the UI elements, with the logo at the top and the available options below it. In the background, we see the showcase of the game’s world — the beautiful cliffs of Northern England and the village of Stanning.
Player can choose from the available options and explore the interface as per their liking.
The UX Issues
1. Main Menu
The fundamental issue with the main interface itself, or rather with the use of overlay, is the contrast.
It’s very light, and with the use of solid yellow and white color for the UI elements, it actually blends itself with the moving tracking shots of the village in the background. Not only does this become an accessibility issue, but it also makes the first-ever interaction with the game sub-par.
I understand the developers wanted to showcase the beautiful world they’ve created (which it really is), but ruining the first touch point of players with tracking shots doesn’t provide a good UX. Players will have time to explore and see everything throughout the game, making this touch more of a hindrance than a benefit.
There are other proven solutions in other games that solve this issue.
2. Font-Size Preview
The game gives you the ability to adjust the font size of the text and conversations during the gameplay, which is a very welcome feature and a fundamental aspect of every modern video game.
However, the problem arises with the half-implementation of the feature. As a first-time player, I do not know what the developers actually mean by Small, Medium, or Big font size because there is no preview offered to players before confirming their selection.
So I cannot choose from the options because there is no visual feedback provided.
Resizing visual features of the game is a welcome feature, but it needs to be implemented with a full preview, otherwise, it’s an incomplete feature. An incomplete feature is worse than the absence of the feature.
There are games that act as a good example in implementing this feature, such as Assassin’s Creed: Valhalla.
3. Missing Active Indicator
A protruding indicator element that showcases the currently active option in UI is one aspect I felt missing in this interface.
There’s a yellow color on a solid active element. Still, from the accessibility standpoint, I believe that a protruding component in conjunction with yellow color to highlight the currently active element is necessary.
Not only does it assist colorblind gamers, it helps to reduce screen-scanning.
Developers divided TMT gameplay into two aspects: Conversations and Detecting/Digging. We’ll discuss the Conversation aspect here.
The conversation aspect is divided into three separate domains in the game:
- Talking in cutscenes
- Talking through walkie-talkie
- Talking via mobile
Talking in Cutscenes
Some part of the conversation occurs in-game during the starting of the day, or between the breaks in the cutscene, with overhead tracking shots of Beth (a woman who wants to unearth local treasure) talking to other characters in the valley with some good voice-acting.
On the interface side, the player can read the same conversation line by line in a white box with an overhead nudge to contain the character’s name speaking those lines.
Below this, they give players a small timer and a button prompt to skip the lines if they’ve already read it.
From a visual perspective, with a white box and an overhead nudge, this interface shows they did not design it with the same love directed to the game world itself.
The padding/spacing is all over the place, the content is not visually aligned, and there’s no overall visual appeal. For a cutscene, where developers can truly put forth anything on the screen, I believe a good implementation is not an impossible task to achieve here.
From a UX perspective, the white box is doing an excellent job letting players read the text, with no extra gimmick, no contrast issue, and a clear emphasis on the text itself.
There are two problems, however, and it stems from the Continue button and the Text-Timer itself:
- It does not become active until the character finishes the voice-animation for that line.
- When it becomes active, the text-timer dashes, almost negating the need for the button itself.
Keep the text-timer for as long as the voice-animation itself and the Continue button active all the time. This gives players complete control of the conversation that is taking place.
Talking via Walkie-Talkie
A walkie-talkie is where most of the actual conversation takes place during the gameplay.
Beth calls anytime during the gameplay through the walkie-talkie and shares her thoughts with Adam (your character). With no indication to the player, Adam picks it up and starts talking. There are also two separate speech bubbles for Adam and Beth.
Speech bubbles themselves are rudimentary in design and serves their purpose with no UX problems.
They are also accompanied by the Continue and Text-timer to speed up the conversation.
Talking via Mobile
The last method to have a conversation is via mobile, specifically text messages. Players cannot actively choose to activate and use the device.
Still, whenever Adam finds something during gameplay, it informs Beth about the discovery via photo click of the object and a message related to it. Beth replies with her observations related to discovery, and she eventually calls Adam up on the walkie-talkie.
Visually, it’s a standard mobile device with a good interface than all other methods of conversation.
When a player encounters any new hidden treasure/finds a new object, they can inspect and understand the object by rotating it.
The player can see the name of the object and the button prompt to manipulate the object rotation. When Adam is sending images of the object to Beth, he can rotate and manipulate the object.
But the rotational mechanic has its own set of issues:
- Nothing to Do
There’s absolutely nothing to gain from rotating it or even taking a second look at the treasure the player found because there’s nothing more to see.
- Broken Mechanism
The rotational mechanic is not implemented correctly; player can only rotate using Left-Stick. From a UX perspective, implementing this feature on the Left-stick of a controller actually created some issues because I am used to having this type of feature on my right-stick, which is actually an existing and clear design pattern. It made the controlling rotation a bit of a mess.
- Missing Zoom
The player cannot zoom into any object they’ve discovered because that feature is missing. This feature would be a logical addition to these types of games, but was omitted.
Detecting and Digging
The main gameplay loop of TMT comprises traversing the field with the metal detector and then, if found, digging it out, inspecting it, and then sending the photo to Beth.
All of these are triggered via active button prompts available on the screen. This core loop is actually 50% of the game, and they designed it straightforwardly.
There’s not much to say about this loop, and I didn’t encounter any UX issues with it, other than its repetitive nature, which adds value to the gameplay itself.
TMT has a diegetic map that can be accessed using a button prompt, which showcases the current section of the map where the player needs to dig on and locate the treasure.
It’s a hand-drawn map — maybe by Beth herself — which has a similarly hand-drawn player indicator and small crosses where the player has found the treasure.
From a UX perspective, it’s a part of the game’s world, so it feels like it belongs to the game, which players can access and plan where to put their shovel down. However, this is more of a cute addition to the game where you don’t actually need a map.
That is where the actual problem starts with the map itself. It doesn’t add any value to the gameplay because there were some key aspects that I felt missing and should’ve been on the map, such as:
- Trail of the player
- The name of objects I’ve found
The game relies on the player to find everything in a particular time limit (by the end of the day), which goes by really fast. Now the problem in planning is actually where to start, which is where the trail feature would’ve come in handy.
If the game can show me in my map, the dotted trail of the path I’ve already taken, then planning would be much simpler, and then the map can serve as a useful tool in the game.
Below is a list I have compiled of some features that I’ve mentioned in the respective sections that I felt were missing and could have added more value to the game:
- Artstyle to the Interface
- Font Size Preview
- Photo Mode
- Player Trail & Treasure Name on Map
- Zoom Control for Object
Following this critique, I have tried to recreate the interfaces of the game in a different way to solve the aforementioned UX issues. You can view that project from here.
In the era where 100+ hours and huge open-world gameplay has become a regular thing, The Magnificent Trufflepigs is a welcoming change. At its core, it is a fun game with a relaxing and a wonderful story that will take a few hours to complete.
The gameplay is pretty straightforward; the environments are stunning; the soundtrack was very relaxing, and the story gives you something to think about when all is said and done. Like any other game, it has specific UX issues, but that doesn’t diminish the fact that it has a certain charm.
If you are into short, relaxing, romantic, adventure-type indie games, give this game a try.