U + I = Communication: lessons learnt creating Salvaged’s UI

Posted 2015-10-14 14:45:21 by Daniel Hunter-Dowsing

Whilst building Salvaged (you’ve heard of it, right?), we’ve added some new features which we’ve discussed in previous posts, but there’s another element of the Salvaged experience we’ve been fixing: the User Interface (UI). What I love about UI is that for something that appears so simple, it actually belies a complex system of interaction and game flow. Let's take a closer look…

You may be wondering, 'didn’t Salvaged already have a pretty swanky UI before all this?' Yes, yes it did. Our chunky and awesome orange/blue UI came about when we took Salvaged back to the drawing board. Just to recap, following player feedback we re-designed Salvaged to be a more tactical, squad-based shooter rather than a run-n-gun style shooter in order to better compliment our various input mechanics. We decided to rework the UI from the original cold, Minority Report blue and grey to something bolder and slightly retro, something reminiscent of the thick UI used in '70s and '80s horror films like Alien and The Thing. 

Designing a UI is a strange thing. Like I said at the outset, UI looks deceptively simple but is actually a complicated beast. Try looking at UI academically: what is its purpose? The purpose of UI is to deliver information to the player in order to help them play the game. From how much health they have to how much a set of armour costs and where they are in the world, UI acts as both an anchor for immersion in the fiction of the game and navigator through it. Poor information delivery causes stress for the player and means they’ll drop your game for something ‘they get’.




 ship upgrade choosing levels

But, I feel, there’s something else that UI does which is harder to describe but instantly identifiable the moment a player encounters it. It’s the flow from switching the game on to actually getting into the meat and bones of the game itself. Not just the flow of necessary information but the actual physical movement of the player into the game space. Good UI effortlessly moves the player into the game with a guiding, but invisible, UI. Perhaps it’s worth suggesting that bad UI is UI the player is aware of?

How does this gum flapping relate to Salvaged? Well hold on and I’ll tell you.  

When we first began creating our splendid orange/blue UI, we did this at the same time as Salvaged’s gameplay re-design. Whilst I think this was an excellent time for our mega-talented artists to work on the overall look and direction of the UI, it wasn’t the best time to let them loose on creating the actual UI for gameplay mechanics only just being implemented. As such, a series of creative vacuums began to form in the studio in which artists and designers were aware of one another’s intentions and plans but neither were in sync. Ironically, for a system designed to aid communication our first attempt didn’t work because of a lack of communication.

Therefore, post-Greenlight and after implementing our gameplay we found the UI either didn’t link up correctly with the gameplay or didn’t exist. The flow of UI was also rather cumbersome and confusing due to being based on theoretical game designs rather than playable prototypes. Part of our recent series of updates to Salvaged has been to rectify the UI now that we know how the game is going to play.

Key to this remedy was to focus on the flow of the UI between screens and within each screen. For example, the build up to a contract in the game should be ‘fun’ (it is a game after all) but also professional – the ‘experience’ of the game is partly the managerial role of a starship commander. The new UI creates the sense of a professional salvaging business whilst also streamlining what a player needs to do pre-contract to prepare their agents. This can include selecting which agents to send, equipping them and selecting the point of entry. Our artist followed the philosophy that there should always be a sense of progression with this UI – a forward flow – to build the excitement up to starting a contract. Where the previous UI sent the player in and out of various screens like someone trying to park a car, the new UI follows a line of forwardness and cleanliness.






This was certainly the most major revamp to our already revamped UI but other tweaks and fixes which have honed the Salvaged experience further include: clearer information spread in the various stores in the game and a highly readable upgrade system. Communication is priority but so too is the pleasure that comes from naturally interacting with the game. Our UI now makes it a big deal when your agent has mastered a skill, it now screams with giddy glee when you upgrade your little pellet gun into a five-gauge bazooka. The UI celebrates the player’s actions, ultimately bringing the player deeper into the game experience.

And there you have it. What lessons did we learn form this? Primarily that the game design should dictate the UI. It is a waste of resources and artist's time to say ‘the game will have such-and-such mechanic and it’ll work sort of like this – build the UI!’ only to find the mechanic doesn’t work either as planned, or at all. By all means, concept the look of the UI early, but until you’ve locked down your game mechanics use placeholder UI to show what might be needed. At this point the designer and art team should play and work together to create the right balance of flow and communication.

Remember to recycle. x

Read more recent blog posts:

Creating quality characters for Salvaged

Our mega update

Listen to all of the Salvaged audio diaries

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