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.
There’s nothing much to complain about in-game. I’m tempted to complain about the restrictive camera zoom and fixed camera point in the game making things harder, but they are genre staples: I might as well complain that Diablo 3 has an isometric view and a lot of clicking. The menus, however, can be improved.
At the end of each race, the game reports your progress. This includes the medals you earned (some of which may be new), the cups you won (some of which may be new), the points you scored, and which position you finished in. It presents this one tiny piece at of information a time. First it tells you how many new medals you’ve won:
Although it tells you how many new medals you’ve won, it doesn’t tell you which medals, because having displayed one number on the 1920×1200 monitor, there’s no room for anything else, right? You must then press enter to proceed and get the next piece of information, which is your score:
You aren’t told if this is more or less than your previous score on that level — I guess there’s again no room for more than one number. Pressing enter gets you to the next screen — how many cups you’ve earned:
This tells you how many cups you won this race, but it again doesn’t tell you how many you had beforehand for comparison. It also doesn’t tell you which cups you won; on most levels there are three cups for finishing at least 3rd/2nd/1st, but there are usually two bonus cups for special objectives. You have to back-engineer how many bonus cups you won; you believe you finished second, so if you earned three cups, you must have got one of the bonus cups. I say believed because it can be frantic at the finish, and you’re not shown whether you won or not until the next screen, which is the official results:
This tells you who won. It also tells you everyone’s score, including yours, repeating the information that a whole screen was dedicated to. And it tells you the number of cups won (minus bonuses), which also just had a whole screen dedicated to it. Pressing enter yet again turns up one final screen, showing you which medals you won — I’ll spare you another screenshot.
So overall, we had 5 screens, and pressed enter five times, to see information which could fit probably on one, or at most two, screens. There’s no real need to split it up. If you really want each piece of information to have a lot of impact, animate its addition to the one screen. There’s no need to make the player sit there hammering enter at the end of every single race. This set of screens could so easily be optimised to avoid user frustration. Just show the list of medals, highlighting those which are new, the score (and previous best), and a list of cups, showing which you won. Really, the main piece of information is simply how many new cups you’ve won. The accumulated number of cups unlocks new levels, so it’s the main objective to play and re-play for.
Not only do you get the five screens of information above, you even often get a bonus one. BlazeRush has some sort of online high scores mechanism, where it fetches online scores to display. Sometimes it fails to fetch these statistics. And it likes you to know this, giving you a bonus screen about it before the rest:
I guess it might be worth letting the user know the statistics have failed to fetch. (To be honest, I don’t know what I need them for, I’ve just seen this screen about them. Which itself underlines why giving me the error is so pointless.) But often when the statistics aren’t available on one level, they aren’t available after the next (server load, maybe?). BlazeRush merrily presents you with this screen after every race in a session if it’s having trouble. Statistics aren’t available — I get it! Stop telling me every minute. This seems like a classic programmer mistake: when you get an error, display a dialog to the user about it, regardless of whether the user understands what it relates to, needs to know it, or whether they’ve seen the same error already.
I wanted to end with something positive from the in-game interface. One of the race types is an elimination round mechanism. Any car that is going too slowly, and falls behind an ever advancing limit, gets destroyed. Each time a car is destroyed, the ones ahead earn a point, until only one is left and then the next round begins. That elimination point could have been represented by something like a straight line across the track, or perhaps a shadow following the players. Instead, BlazeRush opts for a giant grinder machine that chews your car to pieces. Menacing, and fits the theme perfectly. It’s a really nice little touch (shown below in the bottom right):