Interface Design in MMORPG Skyforge

Hello, I’m Anton Kruglyakov, the head of the User Interface team of the Skyforge project . In this article, I will talk about our experience in designing interface designs. I tried to minimize the theoretical part, but, looking at the final result, I understand that I did not really succeed in this.

Unique differences



In the family of user interfaces, the game interface is in a special position. He allows himself to actively use graphics, non-standard sounds and materialism to any extent, but all this fades before one simple fact - another motivation of the user. Everything is quite simple and at the same time very complicated: office programs serve to achieve the goal, games exist for pleasure. What does this change in terms of interfaces?

In the case of the office program, interface designers proceed from the goal that the user wants to achieve. When developing a game, we must understand what brings the user the greatest pleasure, and set goals for him that will allow him to get pleasure. Wait, how do we determine what brings pleasure? Fortunately, all this has already been clarified before us. It turns out that there are not many factors that ensure the pleasure of the game. According to Bartle’s simple classification, players are divided into 4 types, each of which is focused on achieving their goals.



They can be briefly described as follows:
  • careerists (achievers) - always in search of achievements;
  • Researchers (explorers) - “dig the earth” for information;
  • sociophiles (socialisers) - form communities, enjoy talking;
  • killers - seek to assert themselves at the expense of others.

If we know our audience, then we know what motivates the player, and we can easily create gameplay that will appeal to our users. Here we come to a simple but important fact: the player has artificially set goals that he must achieve in a system with unique rules and atmosphere.

The second most important factor that is present in many games is the way the player interacts with the information, in our case, the game world. It does not occur directly, but through a chain of intermediate objects (through a character, a game camera, etc.).



Gaming interfaces, unlike office ones, have other tasks. If the PowerPoint interface is designed to maximize the user’s path to the goal, then the task of the game is not only convenient to broadcast the player his goal, but also convey the atmosphere of the game. Some of the elements can be stylized as the world of the game, and some are abstract. Some groups of elements can be introduced into the game world and are accessible only through the character, and some directly to the user. There are many options for implementation, and all of them affect usability, the level of immersion in the atmosphere of the game, and other nuances.

Observed by character Observed only by the player Meta-sensations
In the space of the game interactive objects geometric interface elements spatial sensations of the character
Outside the space of the game meta objects indicators character’s own feelings


Interface elements

Objects in the game world, observed by the character and the player
Objects that you see on the monitor screen and your character in the game universe. This may be a map of the galaxy in the space of the game’s world, on which planets and information about them are displayed.

A plus:
  • information transfer without interruption from the game world.

Minuses:
  • restrictions on the design of information related to the atmosphere of the game;
  • access difficulty, character movement required.


Objects outside the world observed by the character and player
Skevomorphic to the world of the game two-dimensional or three-dimensional interfaces that exist outside the world of the game. A good example is a handheld computer of a character that a player cannot see in the space of the game.

Pros:
  • information transfer without interruption from the game world.
  • quick access to information;
  • the player interacts with the interface directly.

Minus:
  • restrictions on the design of information related to the atmosphere of the game.


Objects in the game, invisible to the character
Objects that are perceived only by the player and related to information that does not make sense within the atmosphere of the game. An example of such objects is highlighting a selected entity or sector. It does not make any sense to the character and does not exist within the narrative, but is visible to the player and shows the object with which the interaction will take place.

Pros:
  • spatial reference;
  • the player interacts with the interface directly.

Minus:
  • spoils the picture from an artistic point of view.


Objects outside the game space, invisible to the character
Any interfaces that are not related to the atmosphere and are outside the space of the game world.

Pros:
  • the player interacts with the interface directly.
  • the ability to submit information to the player in the most convenient and understandable form.

Minus:
  • when overused, quickly reduces the game to the table.


Meta-perception in the space of the game world
A special group of interfaces associated with the transfer of the character’s state, his sensations and perception of the world. An example can be both visualization of sounds heard by the hero, and changes related to perception, for example, the effect of "night vision".

A plus:
  • spatial reference.

Minuses:
  • limited use;
  • a large degree of abstraction.


Meta-perception outside the game space
A special group of interfaces related to the transfer of the character’s state, his sensations and perceptions without reference to the position in the world. An example of such interfaces is the visualization of the damage received by a character in the form of blood on the screen.

A plus:
  • noticeability.

Minuses:
  • limited use;
  • a large degree of abstraction.


MMORPG is simple and clear

The MMORPG genre has a rich history and a set of standard mechanics that players expect to see in the game. Briefly formulate our goals, we wanted to realize the whole variety of accepted mechanics and not get a picture, as in the example below.



Despite the simplicity of the criterion, most MMO developers continue to stumble on it. It is not so simple to take and bring all the necessary indicators into the world. But there are games in which this is done. Unfortunately, this solution has two main disadvantages:
  1. Indicators accept all restrictions related to the game world.
  2. Access to such an indicator is complicated.

In cases where you cannot sacrifice convenience, you have to return to the good old indicators. In general, game designers are willing to sacrifice convenience for about ... never. To avoid this, we have developed three simple rules:
  1. HUD - battle, target designation.
  2. Interface windows - strategic planning (choosing a new goal, the situation around the player).
  3. Interfaces in the game world - tactical planning, information about the world.

In fact, to clear the screen of useless information, we transferred to the game world all interface elements that do not require constant attention of the player or do not affect the effectiveness of the gameplay. On the screen, we left only what relates to operational management and the current context in which the character or game is located. We have designed all functions that are not reflected in the world or lose much in convenience when transferring to it in the form of interface windows. We consider in detail each block.

Hud

From research, we know that human vision and perception is very tricky: information will be perceived differently depending on the location and method of presentation. It is important to convey it to the player in the most convenient and easy to understand way. For this information can be grouped.



  1. Important, urgent, with the most capacious feed:
    • character state;
    • possible actions;
    • damage;
    • monitoring the status of enemies and friendly characters nearby;
    • alerts from game masters.
  2. Medium importance, not urgent, with details:
    • task status update;
    • performance of tasks;
    • receiving items;
    • Events requiring a player’s decision (invitation to a group).
  3. Important, not urgent, with details:
    • alerts from different game mechanics (auction, craft);
    • social functions.

  4. Important, not urgent, with maximum completeness:
    • game mechanics related to long-term goals: character development, craft, etc.

For different groups, a different approach to visualization and a different place on the screen are used. We divided the screen conditionally into 3 types of zones:
Zone 1. It is used for information of the “Important, urgent, with maximum completeness” group. This is the area where the player looks most. All the most important things are placed here, without which it is impossible to play.

Zone 2. Used for the group of "Medium importance, not urgent, with details." This area is clearly visible in a calm state, but in battle the player can get into the "stream", which is characterized by a narrowing of the field of vision, concentration on the main task. For example, if you play an interesting game and your character dies, a bank may be robbed nearby, but you will not notice this. To attract the player’s attention to these areas, more effort is needed. For this purpose we apply:
  • simple animations. They work poorly, since no one has yet canceled banner blindness.
  • “Animated breadcrumbs” when we show some entity in zone 1 compactly and connect the animation with the region in zone 2, where we give additional information.

Zone 3. Used for the group “Low-priority, not urgent, with maximum completeness”. This is the information that the player can easily read outside the battlefield, in a safe zone for the character.

Window

All information that is not required as part of the battle, but often is needed by the player “in peace mode” and requires a structured presentation, we have designed as separate windows. Windows, united by functional feature, are hubs covering everything that relates to a separate, complete function of the game, for example, auction or socialization. I will not describe in detail the approaches that we used for window design. This process is very close to those used to develop web and office applications. I only note that for games, due to the non-standard graphic design of the interface, you should definitely develop a guideline, design rules and examples, as
well as a description of all possible reactions and behaviors.



Fullscreen and game world interfaces

In some situations, when the speed of decision-making is not so important, and immersion in the game world is critical, we make the interfaces full-screen. For example, in Skyforge, the interface for selecting an adventure is assigned to such interfaces, which is designed as a single object in the world and interface. Due to the special design, we strengthened the feeling of connectedness of the player’s events, while simultaneously showing the scale of the events. Similar approaches were used for a number of other interfaces, which our developer blog will be happy to tell you about in the future.

Systematic

No wonder there is a saying, "They meet by clothes ...". In our life, a huge role is played by encoding systems. Take, for example, clothes. This is an encoding of social status. In the game interface, we applied three main types of encoding: color, shape and style.

Color coding is the simplest. It is used to indicate the attitude of the target to the player (aggressive, neutral or friendly) and the usefulness of objects.



We use the encoding of the form for the skills and spells of the character - by the type of their impact. The system adds an additional level of recognition and convenience.



We use style coding for cases when it is necessary to show which entity relates to the game world and which is an interface function. In the interface, the icons of spells and items differ in style from system icons - they are difficult to confuse.

Conclusion

The game interface does not only consist of classifications and approaches. This is the painstaking work of artists, designers, programmers and screenwriters of the project. Our task as a team of interfaces is to make user entry into the game as simple as possible, and the game process as transparent as possible.

Despite the apparent simplicity, such a system is very difficult to maintain. The whole principle of game development, its variability and fuzzy goal - “to please the player” - is to blame for everything in conditions where the preferences of the audience and developers can change.

If you are interested in learning about the technical side of the process and how we did UI in Adobe Flash and ActionScript 3 with 160 thousand lines of code, write about it in the comments and we will prepare another article. Good luck

Other materials can be viewed on the Skyforge developers website and in our Vkontakte community .