Monday, April 12, 2010

A Realistic User Interfaces

When you look at the average MMORPG, you sometimes struggle to see the character through all the user interface elements taking up portions of the screen. While they are pretty much essential in creating a decent interactive game, they often take much from the immersive feeling of the game, preventing the players from feeling like they are in a real world instead of a computer game. With the proper elements, however, much of that immersion prevention can be eliminated.

The first step in making the user interface more immersive is not to decorate it with skulls, dragons and fairies, but to make it an actual part of the game. Make the interface something the character sees, a spell of sorts from which everyone benefits. The inventory screen? Part of the spell. Minimap? Spell element. Friend list, character stats, action shortcuts? All part of the character's magical GUI. You can even call the third person camera some sort of hallucination spell that allows a character to see themselves from behind.

With such a complex spell, you can even add new, interesting elements. For example, every character - and event the NPCs - could have their own helper avatar, taking the form of an illusionary butler or maid, or even a playful child; or they could be fairies, skeletons, bunnies, dragons, whatever the player wants. As long as you have the model in the game, you can make it the player's helper; and the helper does more than just help the player around with the GUI. They could act as assistants, reminding players of important events - for example, their own assigned sleep time. They could help the players customize their GUI, perhaps recommending customizations that would fit their needs. They could help players find new things to do - informing them of the best place to go to improve their skills, find mercenary work or go hunting, or any other number of tasks in which the player would like to participate.

Even better, as long as the player is within friendly territories, the helper could stay in touch with local events. They could get the player's magical mail, inform them of new bounties or track down potential party opportunities. With a magical GUI, the possibilities are plenty - and players will no doubt find more themselves, adding to the customization choices; perhaps a market could even develop for customization experts to sell their programming skills for some in-game currency.

With a GUI and avatar, the players can feel immersed, even when looking at a stereotypical game interface. There's nothing to stand in the way of their appreciation of the game, and it actually helps make the players happy, so it's a net win, right?