Four Examples Of Excellent Interface Design

Welcome class. Take your seats and take out your note paper.

We’ve all struggled through a game with a bad interface, one where none of the icons are clear, the screen is cluttered, and elements are unresponsive. Those problems still rear their heads in every genre, but I think we’ve more examples than ever of how to do an interface well. Let’s look at a few of them.

We’ll have a discussion at the end of class if you have anything to say.

Now, we take them for granted every day, so it’s worth stressing just how difficult interfaces are to make.

For example, I’m sure you all think that buttons – the smallest unit of interface currency – are easy to make. You just click them and they do a thing. Although probably you’ll want to animate them a little, so there’s a feeling of travel when you click them, would you? And how are you going to tell whether a button is already pressed? You’ll have to change their visual state so you can tell whether they’ve been pressed recently. Is it too annoying if they make a click noise? And what if you click down on them, change your mind, and only release the left mouse button when you’ve moved the cursor off the on-screen button? Can we get a show of hands for who thinks that shouldn’t count?

Should the buttons be themed as per the style of the game? Who here can spell diegetic or skeuomorphism?

Games that present users with all the information they need, in intuitive ways, and which are fun to use, ought to be applauded, but we rarely take the time to celebrate parts of games we expect to ‘just work’ and so only talk about when they don’t. Now, turn to your textbooks and we’ll look at some case studies.

Papers, Please

A masterclass in conveying information to the player, Papers Please splits the screen into sections: the top shows the queue in front and the police state behind your booth; the bottom left shows the inside of the booth itself, including the face of the person at your window; and the bottom right shows a zoomed view of the documents you’re checking.

This is the whole game in a single screen, and it contains everything you need to play. Conversely however, it gives you very little information about how it works. Instead the game gives you an infinite stretch of time before your booth opens on each day, enabling you to experiment. By giving you multiple views on the same situation, it allows the interface to be direct and intuitive – for example, it makes perfect sense that in order to call the next person in line, you click the megaphones on the roof of your booth.

It also does a good job of conveying the game’s themes and snapping you into the mindset required of the player. The booth feels claustrophobic, stuffed as it is into the bottom left, while the zoomed-in view encourages attention to detail. The screen along the top is a constant reminder of the context in which you’re working, and the small pixel art people, faceless and shuffling, are perfect for the setting.

Questions for the class: It’s easy, as the number of documents mount, to feel like you don’t have enough space to work. Is this a fair extension of the game’s central challenge, or does it feel artificially enforced by the interface? Should the documents you work with have had physics in them, causing them to sway or rotate a little as you move them, or would making them feel less like windows pop-ups have simply obscured the challenge further?

Democracy 3

It might seem unusual to celebrate an interface that’s such a muddle of icons, but Democracy 3 is a game entirely about its interface. It’s about its interface in the same way as Call of Duty is about clicking on men, no matter what storyline or theme is placed upon it.

In this case, the theme is politics, and the interface is designed to enable your attempts to lead a country and to chart the impact your decisions have on different parts of the electorate. It does both these things through the same spiderweb of information.

It can be initially overwhelming, which is obviously not a good thing, but most games might be tempted to put a simpler interface on top and hide the information in the spiderweb away in a submenu. Those game would patronise the player while at the same time obscuring the information that’s vital to them playing.

Democracy 3 is great because it combines its information and its control interface into a single interactive screen of data, and in doing so, it makes it both straightforward and fun to read and play.

Question for the class: Can you think of filtering methods that could be used to convey the same information without simply splitting it across multiple screens?

Brogue

There are plenty of roguelikes with pretty graphics, whether they’re grid-square tiles or more elaborate. Brogue doesn’t have that, instead using old-fashioned ASCII – albeit with a set of effects that make the world colourful and alive.

What’s remarkable about its interface however is it takes those ASCII graphics and makes them perfectly clear. This is largely because of its implementation of mouse controls, where you click to move and attack and mouse over any character on screen to find out what it is. That might be as simple as “You see dense foliage,” or as detailed as a write-up on an attacking Jackal, which includes flavour text and combat stats.

The result is a roguelike that is as broad, flexible and free as the best of its older genre-mates, but which can be picked up and played by anyone, instantly, without any kind of tutorial.

Question for the class: Brogue also supports keyboard controls, but is anything lost if you choose to control the game via the mouse instead of a more traditional set-up?

Elite Dangerous

Frontier’s latest space sim has problems, but its interface isn’t one of them. No matter how quickly you grow tired of travelling, trading, mining or fighting, it’s hard to grow tired of the menus which are built into your ship’s cockpit. Turn right to check your modules, turn left to check your map, look down to check your radar. Becoming a good space pilot is as much about fast navigation of these in-world menus as it is learning to steer and dock in three-dimensional space.

By setting the menus entirely within the world, Elite’s interface is one of the many ways in which it sells its space captain fantasy. The peak of this is the overlays that appear on nearby ships, telling you, for example, what direction they’re travelling. Those aren’t magical game overlays, but information that’s being projected onto the windows of your ship – which means if those windows get smashed during a fight, the overlays disappear, too.

Except, they don’t even disappear entirely. They only disappear on the parts of the smashed glass that are missing, coercing you into angling your ship in certain ways in order to receive vital information on the enemy about to kill you.

Performing actions within this interface feels flavourful like any other pilot manouver; you can frantically click the button to go launch your hyperdrive, or coolly radio a station to ask for docking permission. Nothing is ever just a button.

Question for the class: Elite explains very little to its players, all but requiring that they turn to external sources – ie. Reddit – to learn how to play the game. Should your cockpit therefore include a browser window through which you can visit real world webpages, or does that break the fourth wall more than alt-tabbing to a Chrome tab?

OK class, let’s discuss.

This article was originally published for the RPS Supporter Program. Thanks for supporting the site!

76 Comments

  1. Stellar Duck says:

    Actually, I think the UI in Elite is rubbish. It’s counter productive that I need to be looking down the cockpit, so to speak, for systems operations like on the right panel and the same with navigation.

    It’s a game that has taken absolutely no lessons from actual interface design going on in aviation and it doesn’t utilise a HOTAS setup very well. The entire point of HOTAS is not needing to spend any time down the cockpit when actually flying and especially not in a sharp situation.

    It looks pretty, sure, but it relays little information and it’s clunky to operate.

    • SquidgyB says:

      Too true – there’s a HUGE amount of improvement to be made in the UI design in Elite. They have an aesthetic down, that’s for sure. The UI certiainly *looks* and feels nice – but in terms of usability, there’s a long road of incremental upgrades to go before I’d say the UI is anything near good.

      • VCat says:

        In Academy, it was a pleasure to redesign the interface to suit the mission.

        link to en.wikipedia.org

        • Kefren says:

          Good old Academy! I had no manual, rarely knew what I was doing, but felt so immersed it was as if I was exploring LV426 for real (Aliens was my obsession at the time, hence reinterpreting Captain Blood’s landings as a landing on Acheron).

          • rabbit says:

            which leads us to the most important question of the class : Alien or Aliens?

          • Kefren says:

            Alien is the better film of the two, but they are both excellent. My planetary descents in Captain Blood were too smooth to be anything other than a dropship.

          • rabbit says:

            excellent answer =)

            up til a year or two ago i hadn’t seen alien in … probably ten years. loved it when younger. rewatched it then (and once or twice since) and was absolutely ecstatic to find that it hasn’t aged in the slightest. absolutely incredible film.

            the sequel is v good too (though not as good imo) but there’s nuthin like the original

    • Holysheep says:

      It really is not. All you need is here, and if you’ve got an oculus, not only it is immersive, but also even more practical (like with anything in a cockping when it comes to head tracking devices)

      You may not have done enough dogfighting in games. In some, it’s absolutely out of question to take it to other players that have a trackir when you don’t. It’s not Elite’s case mostly because of how good the UI is.

      Elite has everything available and understandable right away and well integrated in the ambience as well. Like any sim, if you’re missing peripherals, then you’ll always be in disadvantage: TBH when you got a HOTAS, you’re pretty much either supposed to bind voice commands for the UI or use a head tracking device to look at a panel, and then all you have to do is using your POV buttons to select menus.

      I’ve played a shitton of space sims and actual flight sims, and there is no reality to your comment tbh.

      The only thing that should be fixed is more of a binding problem, I’m talking about the unability to bind for instace a module to a key (like, in case you wanted to deactivate a module to save energy on the fly or any other reason)

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        CdrJameson says:

        I like the Elite interface, and it works well with the hat stick on my Sidewinder (how apt). Unfortunately I can’t read the tiny, blurry text through the Oculus leaving me to squint and have to physically move my head nearer the in-universe menus. Now that’s a diagetic interface.

      • Stellar Duck says:

        Bearing in mind I made that comment 11 months ago and I don’t know how Elite is now, I stand by the main point of it.

        The fact that I need to look down pit to select nav points is dumb.

        I don’t know if I’ve played less flight sims than you (only a few hundred hours of DCS A-10c, FC3, MS Flight Sim and a bit of X-Plane) but when I’m sitting in a A-10c I absolutely do not need look down in the pit if I’m doing something. I got all I need on my stick and fiddle about with a menu and nested bullshit.

        I use a HOTAS and head tracking, but I may not be as elite as you. Everything I need in the Hog is available at a glance, usually on the HUD or if that’s borked, on dials and what have you. In Elite if I need to switch to a different steer point I need to faf about in a nested menu where I’d just use DMS for in the A-10 while I can look anywhere I want while doing it.

        Elite looks flashy but from a usability stand point it’s severely behind what I’d want if I flew a space ship.

        • raizhassan says:

          If the solution is to have six different hat switches, some of which do different things based on Sensor of Interest, and others which do different things for short presses or long presses, then that’s just not going to be acceptable outside of a DCS type sim.

          It takes hours just to memorize the A10s HOTAS setup. Elite can be controlled completely from inside the cockpit with an xbox controller. It is a very elegant and excellent design.

          • blightor says:

            Agree with you completely here.

            Elites interface is one of the best I’ve ever seen. I love how utterly immersive it is.

            The radar itself has got to be the best implementation of an in game system in itself (using colors, shapes, and solid/outline to represent very simply the key things about the targets – just superb).

            What I dont understand from the original person complaint is that I easily fill my hotas with pilot controls, there are no buttons left for me to use… The parts that are built into the menu seem totally fitting, and I dont have problems at all selecting items within the space of a few seconds.

            In fact, it just seems bordering on crazy to think that a game could hot key target acquisition from what could possibly be 20 targets in the local area, not to mention the various actions that you might want to take on them – how does your 1 button know which one you want?? Just a BS comment.

          • fuckrockpapershotgun says:

            Nice to know you have 24 fingers. As for the idiot that replied to you since I can’t reply to him. The default keybindings are by far the worst i’ve ever seen on a PC game. Noone is saying that it should work with 4 buttons, they’re saying that they should have made the UI for humans not the naked mole rats that designed it.

        • silentdan says:

          In an A-10, your nav points are pre-programmed. Sure, you can edit them via an interface far more cumbersome than anything in Elite, but generally, they’re pre-programmed. If you plot your route in ED’s galaxy map, they’ll cycle sequentially as you arrive at each one, and you’ll never have to look down.

          No route planning: ED requires far, far less nav computer fiddling than the A-10.
          Route planned: ED requires no more off-HUD time than the A-10.

        • Boston says:

          I agree with the article. Elite does have an intuitive and user friendly UI. Yes it requires more hand/eye coordination than your standard flight sim. But in most flight sims you can’t even lock on to sub-systems and you’re certainly not plotting a course over 100’s sometimes 1,000’s of light years. Yeah you have to take your eye off your enemy to target their powerplant but that just adds a level of skill. And I’m not trying to say I have more skill. I have over 500 hours in game and I’m still not at elite status.

    • Zenicetus says:

      I’ll agree that in the future world Elite is modeling, it’s a bit ridiculous that all the essential info you need in combat isn’t projected on a virtual helmet faceplate, so it’s always available wherever you move your viewpoint. You shouldn’t ever have to look away from a bandit you’re tracking.

      One reason they get away with this design, is that you don’t have full wraparound viewing from the cockpit, like you would in any modern jet fighter with bubble canopy. Your view angles are restricted, so you’re never that far from the control panel info screens.

      That said, I think the design deserves credit for introducing menus that appear left and right as a direct result of moving your head with TrackIR (or the Rift) and no other control input. Then you can use HOTAS controls to navigate what you see. Move your head away and the menus disappear. I’ve never seen that before. It may be more of a “rule of cool” thing, but I think it’s neat.

      • Stellar Duck says:

        I think it’s very much a rule of cool thing. And it looks ace, no doubt about it, but I just don’t think it’s actually a good interface design.

      • Seboss says:

        It may be more of a “rule of cool” thing, but I think it’s neat.

        Of course it is.

        A few dozen hours of Gunship 2000 on my Amiga 1200 is the whole extent of my experience of combat sims. I don’t know anything about boom and zoom or any of these techniques people keep talking about on the Elite Dangerous PvP forums.
        I’m sure DCS, Falcon 4 and friends have ridiculously better and more efficient UI than Elite Dangerous – probably better than their real life counterpart thanks to the magic of keybindings and voice commands – but that’s beside the point. Elite Dangerous tries in no way to be a faithful representation of 3301 or even 2015 jet fighters technology.
        The point is to make the player feel like they’re struggling against a large, clunky ship from a 80’s space opera. Is the UI kinda fiddly and sub-optimal? maybe. Is it fun to use to use during docking or in a tense combat situation? heck yes! Well I like it that way anyway.

        All is not perfect of course (that scanner, ugh). The UI has some actual “quality of life” issues that FDev is progressively ironing out. We can already see some of that in the 1.5 Beta, but more issues will probably arise in 2.0. I’m sure FDev will progressively improve it, but I doubt having to look left and right to target, enable/disable stuff etc will go away.

        • silentdan says:

          Boom and Zoom: for craft with high top speed/acceleration but poor maneuverability (such as the Imperial Clipper), this technique involves using your speed to create enough space that you have time to turn your craft towards the enemy before he can get in range to fire, then “zooming” towards him, firing madly when in range, and screaming away at speed so that you’re out of weapons range by the time the enemy can turn his craft. Performing this artlessly is called “jousting.”

          Turn and Burn: for highly maneuverable craft (such as the Vulture), you just turn hard, get behind him, and fire before he can get out of range.

          Broadside: some ships are neither graceful nor swift, but have overwhelming firepower (such as the Anaconda.) Doesn’t need a lot of explanation.

          Run away: cargo ships can’t fight for beans; put four pips to engines, two to shields, and keep hitting the booster until your frame shift drive charges. (Unless your pursuer can keep up with you, in which case, four to shields, two to engines.) Most weapons can’t hit anything over 3km away, so getting that far ahead of your enemy means you’re probably safe.

      • dublicious says:

        I asked this of another comment, but it’s been ages since he posted that, I now realize: What’s needed in combat that isn’t available without looking at the side panels? Cargo scans I guess could be useful, but if they’re carrying 20 different things that’d get cluttered I imagine. Bounties, maybe, now that I think about it. Still though, that’s pre-combat stuff.

      • CMDR FurryDragon says:

        I like the Elite UI. And alot of complaints here seem to be with (at least in a combat situation) having to go to the side menues to say select a target. Recently in my experience they’ve added alot more controller support (what I use) and made tweaks to the targeting system. So that now, asl ong as you can see a target and it is within your line-of-site you can target it, even if it isn’t right in front of you. As well as now they have added several “hold button A, press button B” funtionality to the controller to allow it to compete with the joystick and throttle setups that had lots more avaliable buttons.

        Now the main benifit if you have some sort of headtracking setup is you can look up out the top of your canopy and select a target as you’re turning to face it or just want to know what it is. You can also now do for example now, Hold A button for targetting options, such as cycle ships, cycle enemy ships, select highest threat, and change subgroup target as well as the shoulder buttons doing commands i cant remember of the top of my head.The other buttons do other functions such as landing gear, lights, supercruise and hyperspace charging (usefull for going into supercruise without selecting a target first), shourtcuts to skip the left side pannel and go strait to the system or galaxy map. and many others i again cant remember off the top of my head.

        but the new controller functionality effectivly adds 24 more buttons to the controller to be able to compete with the standard keyboard shortcuts, or the plethora of buttons on the joystick and throttle setups. I know this is probabbly off topic of what I’m replying to, but I just wanted to put this here because I know with the new controller setup you can do much more in the way of targeting and all without actually looking at either of the menus during an actual dogfight.

    • dublicious says:

      So what’s missing that is in aviation HUDs and is relevant in space flight? I’m not sure how you’d navigate solar system objects/other stars easily without the info they added. Sure they could let you map a “cycle” button to your HOTAS like they do for ships/subsystems but that would probably not be especially useful, and you don’t really need to do it in “sharp” situations (I’m assuming you mean combat?)

  2. Premium User Badge

    Harlander says:

    For the last question: Mu.

    Whether the game requires you to tab out to a browser or use an in-game one is irrelevant. With limited exceptions, it should either provide a manual or in-game explanations for everything you need to know.

    • keithzg says:

      I agree, but with a twist: Elite, being a game simulating living and working in a spacefaring society, within the interface of your ship you should be able to call up the Elite universe’s internet, upon which there should be bulletin boards that folks can post the things they otherwise post on Reddit (optionally accessible via a web interface in our real world).

    • MediaevalJames says:

      In the launcher for Elite Dangerous, there is a button, and that button says manual. Some of my friends who have read this say it is pretty good. Think of it as drivers ed, you must learn the basic rules of the road before you drive a car, and you must learn how not to die in space before you can pilot a space ship.

    • jrodman says:

      I definitely feel every time I have go to outside a game in order to continue playing a game, the game design has failed.

      Personally I feel a manual is part of the game, so reading such a document is A-OK by me, but if I have to start wandering off to third-party wikis and the like in order to understand the interface, etc, then thumbs-down.

  3. Cash at Folsom says:

    As for Papers, Please: I think the answer to the first question is apparent. That the game gives you only so much space to work with, and that you’ll either take it or find yourself another job [/game], is a very logical extension of Arstotska’s oppression. Perhaps there could be a mechanic added wherein attempts to modify or personalize your booth to make your life easier run the risk of rule violation. Sure, you could start tacking documents up on the wall, maybe hang a little string with paper clips, but if the guards catch your non-standard modification you run the risk of ending up in the gulag.

    The second question, which I think is the more interesting one, leads me to the conclusion that making the game a struggle with physics would actually detract from the bureaucracy role play it attempts to achieve. One thing I have noticed in my travels is that those that handle your papers are EXCEEDINGLY good at the physical process of it, seemingly able to manipulate all manner of documents flawlessly as easy as breathing, in the same way that a factory worker doesn’t hem and haw about pulling a lever or screwing on a piece of a thing 5000 times. Snapping the documents about with digital precision seems to me a decent way to model that effect in-game.

    • caff says:

      The lack of space did my head in. Being able to identify whether a hometown or not is in the region was a stretch too far for me. Maybe I could have learnt them, but I just couldn’t be arsed.

    • Shinard says:

      They did the whole “modify your office at the risk of rule violation” thing in the game. You can put up posters and documents on the back wall of the booth (bottom left, behind the face), including things like certificates from the government, banners for the national football team and a crayon drawing from your son. But when the inspector comes, if you have anything apart from the official certificates on the wall, or indeed don’t have the official certificates on the wall, he’ll confiscate the offending item and make you pay a fine. That might not sound too bad, but a fine of 15 or 20 credits can easily mean you can’t afford heat, food or medicine for your family. It’s a neat little system, that takes what I bet most people assumed to be a few cosmetic items and made them impact the game, all fitting the setting.

    • Ergates_Antius says:

      I work in an IT department of a bank, and some of my colleagues used to be counter staff. Seeing them handle wads of bank notes (e.g. when paying for a team night out or something) is kind of amazing.

  4. Cinek says:

    Papers, Please? Elite: Dangerous? As an examples of best interfaces? Did we play the same games? They aren’t as bad as Skyrim, but it doesn’t mean they’re good.

    • Pizzacheeks McFroogleburgher says:

      Hmmm. Papers please is fairly unique in that the interface IS the game. Very clever, very good.

  5. Disgruntled Goat says:

    “We’ve all struggled through a game with a bad interface…”

    Gee, could this article have been inspired by Fallout 4?

  6. caff says:

    I think some of the best game UIs are ones where you get straight into a game and everything just works, quickly and easily. Take Rocket League – the menus are slick, clean and effortless to getting into a game. My only gripe with it is that you can’t just quit via Alt+F4.

    • Max Planck says:

      ‘World of Goo’ is a good example, I think. You don’t need to know anything to begin, there are no instructions, no menus. You just click things and listen to the music.

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    gritz says:

    Ultima 7 is the benchmark by which I weigh all games in terms of worldbuilding, plot, characterization, and emergent play.

    But it’s also arguably the most elegant and playable RPG interface ever created. There are no UI elements on the screen, except for your cursor- nothing separating you from this fully-realized world. Character sheets, paperdolls, containers, readables, inventories and options menus all open in their own movable “gumps”, moving items simply by clicking and dragging while the game is paused.

    Interactivity is a huge part of what makes the world feel alive, and it’s only a double-click away. Long before we saw “Press F to ladder”, Ultima 7 had contextual actions built into its world. Combat worked the same way, toggling into combat mode changed the context into attacking instead of interacting, allowing you to strike (and potentially destroy) any object in the world.

    It wasn’t perfect. Inventories, being just a sack of unsorted icons, could get cluttered easily. Tracking your money was done through NPC dialogue. The dialogue font was pretty bad too.

    But overall, it was a masterful UI design that embraced the power of the mouse to maximize open-world immersion and object interactivity.

    • jtgibson says:

      High five! Ultima VII definitely had one of the best interfaces for its time (and I suppose that sort of goes for UO too, although I’ve never played it personally), and in fact has aged well — I’ve probably clocked more hours building bucket-houses in Ultima VII than I have in any other game. Which is saying quite a bit, actually…

      I do note however that handling your money was as easy as double-clicking your abacus — Iolo didn’t mind if you took it. Just stuff all your coins into one of your companions’ backpacks and gold was automatically deducted from your party rather than your own person, which was also sheer brilliance.

      The click-to-look/double-click-to-common-action was ingenious, but mouseover tooltips would probably have been an improvement.

  8. Arglebargle says:

    Yes, going to external sources to learn the game is a sin of sorts. And it has certainly caused me to drop or not play games in the past.

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      CdrJameson says:

      Maybe all you need to know could be condensed into some kind of bound, paper-based accessory?

      • Hedgeclipper says:

        Something you could hold in your hands manually.

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          Harlander says:

          I don’t really count a game’s manual as external to it in the same way that a wiki or a subreddit would be.

          Sure, it’s not in the game, but it’s of the game.

  9. Gordon Shock says:

    I sure liked Dead Space lack of UI when it came out but also Republic Commando’s in helmet UI, which greatly help sustain the immersion.

  10. mattevansc3 says:

    While not a PC game (and wouldn’t be part of the article) I love the UI of Sworcery. Its like a pixel art point and click adventure with next to no UI. The lack of a UI doesn’t stop it from being intuitive and in combination with the art style gives it a greater feeling of isolation.

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      IJC says:

      Don’t you mean this? I am confuse!

      • mattevansc3 says:

        I didn’t realise it had been ported to PC, I’ve been playing it on the iPad. UI is slightly different as on the iPad. To unsheathe your sword you have to physically move your iPad from a landscape orientation to a portrait orientation. That Steam page shows a clickable icon instead.

  11. MrUnimport says:

    I think ‘good’ and ‘bad’ UI are unnecessarily value-laden terms. More meaningful to describe UI in terms of accessibility: usually the main issue is the time and energy investment in learning the interface. It’s very rarely these days that you find a UI that doesn’t do its job, that requires many more clicks than is reasonable to accomplish simple tasks, for example.

  12. Risingson says:

    I love what Dungeon Master did to streamline the dungeon slasher interfaces. When I first played Eye Of The Beholder 2, it took me nothing to learn how to navigate through it, streamlined as it is. Grimrock barely dared to change a thing in it.

    • Risingson says:

      And I think that the chosen interfaces are as brilliant or whatever as Captain Blood or Millennia:altered destinies. I hope you never get a job as a UI designer.

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    Mungrul says:

    Say what you like about the game, I still think one of the best interfaces was that used in Black & White.
    Let alone being intuitive and unobtrusive, think of how many camera movement standards it invented, such as grabbing and pulling the landscape to scroll around, or ridiculously huge zoom range that was incredibly fast and smooth, or middle mouse click & hold to rotate the camera, or, or, or…
    Third person and strategy gaming wouldn’t be the same if Black & White had never existed. It really doesn’t get the credit it deserves here.

    And then there were the world interactions, which again were incredibly intuitive, as your only way of interacting with the world and its denizens was with your hand.
    The hand invited the player to poke everything to see what would happen, creating a wonderfully playful atmosphere.

    Granted, some of the spell gestures could be a pain in the arse to learn, but I can’t remember anything before Black & White using gestures so effectively or extensively.

  14. jgf1123 says:

    While the graphical design of Papers, Please is an important part of the interface, my favorite part of the interface in Papers, Please is the way I interact with it. All of the buttons and switches are placed in different parts of the screen so, if you track mouse movement, it’s constantly trekking back and forth across the screen, which cuts into your limited-time.

    Furthermore, the interface at the beginning of the game is intentionally clumsy, and the player spends ingame money on interface upgrades (and not on food, fuel, etc.). For example, the section for looking up issuing cities for passport is in the back of the rulebook, but the rulebook doesn’t have shortcuts to jump to that section until you buy the upgrade. So at the start of the game, I just keep the rulebook open to that section, taking up valuable screen real estate.

    Furthermore, on PC, two of the upgrades deal with how to get to inspect mode. Except you spend a good chunk of the game getting used to the first method (hit space) that, even after I purchase the second method (double click), my brain sometimes still uses hits spacebar because it’s been wired that way by the game.

    The interface is an essential part of Papers, Please, and the game would lose depth if it had “better” interface. To answer your first question, I feel the lack room, and other interface decisions, is the game saying the government doesn’t give you a damn. To answer your second question, I think having papers and text that rotate would require a higher resolution, which would undermine the some of the interface.

  15. McCool says:

    I’d like to nominate The Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind for having one of the best UIs ever. A completely customisable menu that you can even make any part permanent and not just part of the pause menu if you want, it elegantly displays EVERYTHING all on the screen at once.

    We really didn’t appreciate just what a masterful menu it was until the two sequel Elder Scrolls games, where Bethesda now struggle to show even one item at a time and doing the simplest things requires several button clicks and waiting for an animated, unintuitive menu (that in Oblivion’s case doesn’t even TELL you what it is showing) to clunk into place. In Morrowind, everything was just one click away.

    • Sin Vega says:

      Morrowind’s menus are horrible. 500 identical, tiny items and so much clicking and dragging and don’t even get me started on the alchemy menu.

  16. Hunchback says:

    ED has a horrible UI, very clunky to use…
    AND you didn’t mention Endless Space/Legend, who are, so far, the masters of all UI!

    Oo

  17. Ogun says:

    For the Papers Please question, I’d imagine it’s a technical limitation as much as anything (rotating objects with text on them in a pixelised world is probably going to require new tech, look horrible, break immersion or change the aesthetic) – but I like the way they’ve done it for the same reason the earlier poster gave, that it suggests personal efficiency.

    For the Elite one, again, it could be difficult and time-consuming to add a web browser to a game, and then to have to support and secure it. I like the other poster’s idea of an in-game wiki.

    Can’t remember which one (maybe 3) but I think Dice employed a professional interface designer (someone who designs the control panels for things like cranes and heavy lifting gear) for the Battlefield games. The impact on other games that’ve copied elements from Battlefield has been pretty awful (like a child stealing her mother’s makeup), but I think the in-game UI/interaction in the BF series is good.

  18. Sin Vega says:

    SWAT 4 is one of my favourites. Almost every other tactical shooty game has failed to learn from it, though. It makes controlling your team even with fairly complex orders fast and quite simple, with only a couple of buttons and minimal repetition or faffing around.

  19. Chris says:

    Elite’s UI is fucked up. For example, instead of having a single button press to request docking, you have to look left, then press several buttons.

    • youhappynow says:

      I also think Elite:Dangerous would be much better if docking requests were handled with one button. Perhaps that button could be bound to the docking computer too, so the player doesn’t have to do anything and can sit and wait while the game plays itself.

  20. Monggerel says:

    Nidhogg has a pretty dope UI

  21. immerc says:

    The example of designing a good button made me think of the early designs of the F-16 fighter’s stick.

    The earliest versions had a force-sensing transducer that didn’t move at all as the pilot’s stick. The lack of feedback meant that the pilots could never tell when they’d reached the maximum amount of control inputs the stick would permit. As a result, there were times when a pilot would be doing a roll near ground level when an observer on the ground could look up at the plane’s control surfaces and see the pilot’s pulse — they’d be pressing the stick as hard as they could to the side, and their pulse would result in a regular little twitch in the movement of the control surfaces.

    Soon after that, they redesigned the stick so that it had a little side-to-side movement so that the pilots knew when they’d reached the end of the range of motion.

    (Sorry I don’t have references for this, I read it years ago and Google isn’t being helpful.)

  22. carsonjustcarson says:

    I really like Metal Gear Solid 5s UI. (I think the idroid is really cool)

  23. jrodman says:

    The “simplification” of Brogue’s interface isn’t really a success. There definitely are fewer input-actions to learn, but there’s, as a result, a lot more ambiguity in those actions. Things like being unsure about the difference between inspection vs move abound, and it can be hard to determine how to do a particular thing because of all the conflation.

    Having learned several roguelikes recently, and also spent time with brogue, brogue makes unhelpful changes from the standard keyset, and isn’t very discoverable.

    Still, I’m glad they made the attempt.