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Do Games Know The Secret Of UI? 256

A reader writes "There is a nice interview at the BBC talking about how computer games are the ones pushing the envelope. Particularly interesting is it doesn't just deal with the tech aspects, but goes into the user interface aspect as well." Having conversed with her on a number of occasions, I can attest to JC being smart. Good interview.
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Do Games Know The Secret Of UI?

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  • by Daniel Dvorkin ( 106857 ) on Friday August 31, 2001 @02:34PM (#2240154) Homepage Journal
    ... I mean, I'm all for faster CPU's, more RAM, better video cards, higher bandwidth, etc.

    But I don't see games pushing the UI envelope in a way that's useful to most user tasks. Sure, game developers put an enormous amount of effort into creating detailed, realistic virtual environments, and that's great -- for games. But attempts to introduce such elements into OS's in general, and into general-purpose applications like word processors, graphics programs, and browsers, will lead only to clutter and bloatware. You don't need realistic lighting and fog effects when you're writing a letter ...

    Browsers are an area that deserve special mention. I've seen a few attempts to use game-type visual metaphors to turn cyberspace into something Gibsonian (anyone remember Hotsauce?) and the effect is always ugly, pointless, and slow. Make the hardware fast enough, of course, and "slow" will go away, but "ugly" and "pointless" will remain.

    When I'm playing a game, I want to be immersed in a virtual world. When I'm writing, or designing graphics for a Web site, or pounding out code, or looking for information on some obscure subject, I want a clean, simple interface that makes it as easy as possible for me to get, create, or manipulate my data. And that's it.
  • No (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Uttles ( 324447 ) <> on Friday August 31, 2001 @02:34PM (#2240155) Homepage Journal
    I think this article is a little unrealistic. I agree that many games have exciting and interesting features which take time to develop and give you a sense of completion and understanding, but I don't believe this applies to other applications. Specifically it is this statement that I don't agree with:

    What a game would do is immediately give you those three features and then as you progressed and became a more powerful character it would give you more features.

    That's really cool in games, I love the accomplishment of attaining the highest level, but when I open MS Access I want to be able to jump right in and program modules rather than be greeted with a form creation wizard or what not. I'm the type of computer user (like most people here probably) who wants all the features I can get my hands on. Throw them all out me, and I'll determine what it is I need.
  • True True (Score:3, Interesting)

    by BrookHarty ( 9119 ) on Friday August 31, 2001 @02:48PM (#2240233) Homepage Journal
    The only thing that will push a computer to its limits is a game. No one admits it but no one needs a new computer to do a spreadsheet programme or Word document.

    The problem with the industry is nobody admits jack shit. Marketing folks seem to think everyone wants to buy airline tickets, but we all know pr0n built the Internet.

    No one wants to get a trailer on their mobile phone. What people want to do is take a picture of themselves and their spouse in front of the Eiffel Tower and send that image to their teenage daughter back in England

    Over in Japan, the most popular thing for 3G phones are entertainment (Pr0n and Instant messaging). One game, you can chat with an IA women and try to see how far you can push it before she gets mad.

    For consumers its Entertainment, music, pr0n or video games. Business customers might pay 5x the price for the service, but you have 100x average consumers.

    Come to think about it, I bets thats why they sell so many vibrating batteries.
  • Unreal UI (Score:3, Interesting)

    by supabeast! ( 84658 ) on Friday August 31, 2001 @02:52PM (#2240262)
    The Unreal Tournament UI certainly pushed game UIs to a new level, with easy to access, well organized drop down menus. . If I had more time I would probably hack up enlightenment to make it work like that. Trbies 2 did a great job with taking the UT and Tribes interfaces and merging them in tabbed pages and pulldowns to produce one of the best, albeit somewhat complicated (Due only to all the cool features of the game.) menus anyone has ever made for anything.

    EverQuest is another great example of game UI development. Their UI was damned lame at first, but over time has become fully customizable in regards to positioning, size, colors and transparency, all created from the input of hundreds of thousands of users.

    What I really would like to see is a merging of the UT/Tribes style interface with EverQuest customizability, along with all of the keyboard manipulation provided in Maya, and of course, easy to design and implement themes.

    If anyone wants any help designing a gui, feel free to shoot me a message...
  • by kabir ( 35200 ) on Friday August 31, 2001 @03:07PM (#2240353)
    Fans of UNIX will, of course, disagree. The popularity of archaic command-line interfaces in the UNIX subculture could perhaps be understood as a consequence of gamer-like behavior among hobbyists and tinkerers.

    I wouldn't have thought that the popularity of "archaic command-line interfaces" had anything to do with their being cryptic, or figuring them out being entertaining... it seems to me that those sorts of interfaces are popular because they tend to be extremely powerful. My personal experience of interfaces has shown the general trend where GUIs tend to be less powerful/flexable than command line interfaces. Though I freely admit that my opinions are colored by many years of UNIX usage, so I'm not really all that objective.

    Solving the "problem" of an interface, while somewhat rewarding, isn't exactly an experience I go looking for. I've dealt with this both with command line UIs and GUIs - crappy is crappy either way - and it's never fun. I think it's just that command-line UIs tend to be a bit more featureful than GUIs simply because there is less aversion to complexity, probably because people expect a command-line to be more complex. I generally consider the command-line being more cryptic to be the price I pay for greater power and flexability.

    Or I could just be so used to UNIX everything else seems a little weird ;)
  • by EpsCylonB ( 307640 ) <.eps. .at.> on Friday August 31, 2001 @03:31PM (#2240492) Homepage
    David Cronenberg said the reason why films have stylised opening titles instead of jumping straight into the story is because they act like a vestibule between reality and the story.

    I beleive the same principle is involved with a game's UI, after all the whole point of a game is that you aren't doing something normal like using a spreadsheet, your running around a castle shooting hell knights. It shouldn't look anything like using a spreadsheet.
  • by jnik ( 1733 ) on Friday August 31, 2001 @03:33PM (#2240501)
    Whether it's because the whole screen should look SciFi / Fantasy / Whatever, or simply because users want something different, game interfaces have to be different from usual programs.

    For me it's pretty simple: in addition to all the usual interface constraints, a game interface should help put me in the game world. The Freespace series did a pretty good job of it, with launcher screen, configuration options, keybindings, etc. all looking similar to each other and to, say, the mission briefing screen. The look was consistent and designed to feel like a part of the game world.

    Now consider, say, Terminus, which features menu screens that look like a bad Smalltalk implementation crossed with ncurses. Garish colours and all, it just doesn't quite fit the universe. But it's not as bad as...

    X:Beyond the Frontier does everything through a Windows dialog box. To change the configuration, you're thrown out of the fullscreen and play with standard Windows widgets. Not only do you lose association with the universe, you're given a very strong association with this universe, and Windows, and a whole bunch of other things.

    Granted: it's a fair bit of work for both the artists and the programmers to design a "pretty" interface. But it does serve a purpose, and awfully nice when they can do it.

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