Terraria is a 2D side-scrolling platformer where you explore, dig, build and fight your way around a procedurally-generated world. 2D Minecraft, if you will. Four years after its release, it recently received a massive free content patch, which is a good excuse to return to the game, and also look at its interface.
Rocket League is car football: combining arcade-style car driving with a giant ball and goals, to achieve a fast-paced game akin to turbo-mode robot football. In this post I’ll take a look at its interface and control scheme — in particular, its use of a double-tap button input.
BlazeRush is an isometric car racing/combat game, roughly descended from Micro Machines and other car combat games of the late 90s. Its in-game interface is generally good, but its menus could easily be improved, which is what we’ll take a look at.
Gone Home is an exploration game: arriving at an empty house you must walk around (in first-person perspective) and go through the house to find out what has happened, and explore the characters and events in the protagonist’s life. Her Story is a detective game: you have a searchable library of interview video clips with a murder suspect which you can view to try and piece together what happened in a man’s disappearance. I view them as fairly similar games: they are about you exploring a set of constructed clues to progressively piece together a story. But they have fairly different interfaces, which makes it an interesting comparison. No spoilers within.
Defense Grid is a straight-up tower defence game. No hybrid mechanisms or other gameplay variants, just towers. For me, it’s the best game in the genre, and it also has an interesting and excellent interface. Let’s look back at everything it did right.
One commonly used principle in interfaces is Fitts’ law. It can be boiled down very simply: the ease with which you can access a click target (like a button) is decided by how close it is to the current cursor position and how big it is. A nearby or big target is easier to reach than a far away or tiny click target. Very straightforward when you think about it.
There’s one more aspect, though: the edges and especially the corners of your screen are effectively huge. To click on a tiny button on your screen, you have to move your mouse to the general area (often starting with a large, imprecise mouse movement) followed by a slower precise movement to get to the right target, making sure not to overshoot. But if the button is in the top right of your screen, all you have to do is make one huge imprecise movement towards the top right. If you overshoot, it’s fine because the cursor hits the corner and stops. It’s easy to click on the corners of your screen, even though they’re often the furthest points from the cursor. It’s no accident that the Windows 7 start button is in the very bottom left corner, the close window icon is in the top right, and the show desktop button is in the bottom right. But do any games make use of this?
Invisible Inc is a turn-based strategy stealth game. It takes the isometric run/gun/hack of Shadowrun and combines with it with a healthy dose of stealth to create a captivatingly tense and rewarding game. However, there are a few possible interface improvements hiding just behind that server in the corner.
In the cyberpunk world of Shadowrun, people can implant datajacks into their body to allow them to connect their mind directly to computers. In the real world, we have to settle for a mouse, a keyboard and a user interface. Let’s look at the interface for Shadowrun: Dragonfall (Director’s Cut).
Middle Earth: Shadow of Mordor (I’ll just go with “Shadow of Mordor”) was released last year to great acclaim, with praise for its polished combat and novel boss system. Shadow of Mordor has you running around an open world, killing a lot of orcs. Sometimes you sneak up on the orcs and stab them, sometimes you teleport in front of them and stab them, sometimes you jump on them from above and stab them, sometimes you stay back and loose a few arrows instead. Its combat, and the variation between the boss enemies, mean that it stays interesting and compelling. But does its interface deserve praise, too? It’s definitely good, but I still have some suggestions for improvement…
This article, by Itay Keren, is an excellent in-depth look at camera control in platform games, and the different schemes for scrolling the camera and platform moving. Take a look.