DUI: Dynamic User Interface

(Quite an unfortunate acronym)
Dynamic User Interfaces by Bjorn Buchner, Gamasutra

Contextual UIs have been used for a long time. Think the breath meter in Mario 64. So in the example of Battlefield 4 given, it must be that the designers thought that information was important to the player even while scoping. Maybe they had one guy complain and then they rationalized that it’s supposed to take skill to aim—”it’s not supposed to be easy“, they would say—so seeing through UI crap is part of that.

I came up with some UI triggers before reading Buchner’s and they’re organized in a little bit different way:

  • NPC or Object
  • Function, Routine, State
  • Property, Variable Value
  • Location, Area

And then there’s Time. Activity and Reason would be covered under Function.

In an action RPG like Skyrim, once all agroed (function) enemies near the player (location) are dead, a menu containing all loot on one side (maybe organized by enemy) and the player’s items on the other could appear. This could be taken a step further by only the player’s items of the same category showing up so the decision to take loot is quick.

It may also be useful at times to have uncommon or novel controls be displayed on the screen, if a player encounters a unique mechanic, such as a vehicle, machine, etc. It may need to remain there for the duration of the unique mechanic sequence in case the player forgets a button or has not used a feature of the mechanic until late in the sequence.

This brings up the matter of the line between contextual UI and contextual controls. There is the HUD during action gameplay, informational icons, common menus, and the controller itself. These are always interacting. It’s natural that when a menu for trading with merchants comes up in a bazaar, the controls for interacting with them, buying, selling, bartering, also change. When you open the items menu, then the spells menus, then look at the map, and press different buttons for all of them, you experience the interaction between contextual UI and controls.

Buchner focuses on the information being communicated to the player, which could be as brief as an ammo count every 5 rounds blinking onto the screen or a warning message alerting the player they are out of ammo or health. When icons are factored into this, there is a vast amount of information that could be potentially communicated to a player game-wide, and so contextual reduction and chunking of that information is crucial to the player’s processing of all information not a part of the primary challenge at hand.

Destiny First Impression

I still haven’t gotten far enough into the game to risk reading other reviews that might poison my perception of it. Google headlines are enough. I want to have my own, unadultured opinion of it before someone points out a flaw from some other angle that I don’t even care about. We shouldn’t like or not like a game because of its objective value and typological orientation, but on our experience of the game. Our culture is so concerned with objective, typological analysis, that we forget to simply share a token of one individual’s experience. The typology happens later. So in risk of making you get typological, here’s my first impression.

The game is immediately beautiful. All the bits of star dust and all the ever so slightly moving details. The art style is more incredible than I thought, a mix of a woodcutesque illustrative style with alchemical influences and meat-and-potatoes—no, a good porterhouse steak—classic sci-fi. It feels like falling in love with Star Wars again: vast stellar landscapes, all the little bits and bumps on starships inside and out—and space wizards. The environment of the Tower, the clean, Portal-white robots, smooth contours of armor, and purple women evoke a very Mass Effect feel as well. The Awoken are actually a decently designed race that avoids the Star Trek Fallacy, which states that aliens are created by rocks, slugs, anything you find on the backseat floor of your car, or anything else sufficiently bumpy being placed on a human’s face with spirit gum. But they are kinda just purple people. Their glowing eye colors and the cosmic watery reflections on their heads save it from being boring, though. I think just the fact that they’re not Rubber-Forehead Aliens or bugs is a relief. Still, they are not Max Rebo.

The introduction is a little arbitrary. You already were a guardian, but you were dead, but now you’re not, but you forget everything(?), and there’s those things over there so we need to go here—wait, we’re in Russia? The beauty of the setting is what carries the introduction, draws you into the world. To remain diegetic, there is no tutorial, rather the ease and calm of the beginning functions to induct you back into the Guardians. Not as epic of a start as it maybe could have, but welcome nonetheless.

I am pleased that there is a satisfying challenge provided early on. Some smart Vandals, bosses, Darkness Zones, the Zerg-rushing/Flood-like Hive. Though I’ve only died twice, dying is what seems to make a game more fun. (Darkness Zones by the way are a great alternative to save points and I’d love to write more on them later.) The combat doesn’t feel quite as tight as Halo‘s did and by that I mean the videofriction factor (scroll down, number 10), that feeling you have seamless and fluid control over your character. Destiny does feel a tad sluggish in videofriction, but maybe I just need to turn up my sensitivity (I have it at 4 and that’s been enough for sniping with the PS4 stick). The melee is visceral as always, though, and the context-dependent cover responses—popping up over cover, sliding behind it—a nice touch and great addition to the Bungie family.

Destiny is haunted by the ghost of Halo for sure: the notes of the main choral track, the color pallet emphasizing blue and sun, the focus on armored warriors, start with a BR, four-armed xenolingual enemies with imposing mandibles, the Flood remix, your robotic familiar friend; but beyond these endless over-typological comparisons, Bungie has created something that is truly new and fantastic, an aesthetic I want to live in for a while.