User Interfaces: Which Games do Them Right?

Dead Rising 2 UI
The user interface is incredibly important to a person’s gaming experience, yet it often seems that this particular facet of design is either over looked or included as a last-minute thought. Even games with amazing visuals elsewhere have generic menus and head’s up displays, marring their otherwise perfect visages.

As a group, I think that gamers have gotten used to average looking UIs and we usually block them out. However, there are some that stand head and shoulders above the rest. Fable 3 is one of those, the few and the proud. This is a game that eschews the idea of traditional menus entirely and replaces the pause screen with your Sanctuary, essentially a magical bat-cave. There’s no long, arduous trek, or even loading, just a simple press of the “start” button brings you back to your John Cleese-staffed retreat. To me, this is a masterful solution to the multitude of clothing, weapon, spell, and quest menus that cluttered up previous games of the series and similar titles in the genre. I spent a good ten to fifteen minutes looking around seeing what it offered, and I’m anticipating the options that will come along to pimp it out as the game progresses.

Of course, there are a few recent examples of games doing the exact opposite. Dead Rising 2 has a horribly cluttered interface, replacing the smooth unobtrusive design of the first with big black splotch marks that hide a good bit of the scenery behind it.The original Force Unleashed was also a culprit of this because of the absolutely massive health and Force bars on the upper left side of the screen.

So I pose the question to you guys: what games have struck you as a masterpiece in usability? Any game that you absolutely hated because you couldn’t figure out what the menus were trying to tell you? Are there some that stick out in your head for being either terrible or amazing?

Written by

mitch@gamersushi.com Twitter: @mi7ch Gamertag: Lubeius PSN ID: Lubeius SteamID: Lube182 Origin/EA:Lube182 Currently Playing: Stardew Valley, Mario & Luigi: Paper Jam, Knights of the Old Republic 2: The Sith Lords, Battlefield 4, Tom Clancy Double Feature: Rainbow Six Siege and The Division

8 thoughts on “User Interfaces: Which Games do Them Right?”

  1. The menu interface for the console versions of Sacred 2 is beyond awful. They just took the pc interface, which I’m sure works splendidly with a keyboard and mouse, and just dropped it down into the console versions with very little change. You’re left to navigate a multitude of menu screens that are almost too small to read and too cluttered to organize effectively.

    I think a lot of pc games suffer this fate when they get ported to consoles. I played KOTOR on the pc, but the thought of managing those menu and command screens with a gamepad makes me shudder. I’ve heard some people complain about Dragon Age on consoles for much the same reason (though I haven’t played it myself). It would be nice if developers did a better job of optimizing the UI for consoles when they port games from the pc.

    And just a note to all those developers out there: mapping the mouse cursor to the analog stick does NOT constitute “optimizing.”

  2. It may be a little soon but I was playing the new Need for Speed demo and the Autolog thing is pretty cool. For the bad example… I guess I have to go with Prototype, obvious choice I know

  3. I’ve heard about the Fable 3 streamlining and I am anxious to try it. I am skeptical, mainly b/c walking around a place seems more time consuming than just navigating menus, but I am cautiously optimistic.

    I thought FF XIII’s menus were clean and clutter free, with a nice visual style that made them appealing.

  4. Dead Space had a really good HUD. Namely because Iassac’s suit projected it making it more immersive and it fit well in the game (ie. it never blocked your view as it was semi-transparent). Shadow of the Collosus’ HUD was also very user friendly. Health, stamina and weapon are located in one small group at the bottom right. It seems that the simplest solution is the best in most cases.
    FPS though, even with their info heavy nature, seem to manage their HUDs consistently well (COD, Halo, Battlefeild, etc.) as well as their menus (Here’s single player. Here’s multiplayer. Here’s options. Get stuck in).
    I can’t really think of bad ones that stood out. It only ever tends to be when the writing on-screen (eg. subtitles, kills or moves performed list) tends to be a poor colour choice and unreadable in some situations.

  5. Call of Cthulhu: Dark Corners of the Earth had a cool fps HUD…namely nothing at all. There was no health indicator, compass, or ammo counter. You had to judge how much damage you were taking by the amount of blood that got splattered on the screen and by how badly your vision blurred.

  6. WoW has great interface and all other MMO’s that copy it but try to add a spin on it generally suck.

  7. While I definitely agree that UI is a big part of what makes a game immersive and just easy to use, I’ve never really kept track of games that have or don’t have good UI’s. Either I just kinda deal with the bad UI’s or the good UI actually does its job and I don’t even notice it because it’s so seamless or unintrusive.

  8. If a game is so bad you focus on discussing how great the UI is, the game itself most likely sucks.

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