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The Interface Part 1
Mapping the Player


A game without a UI is like a car without a steering wheel, very unlikely to get much attention. UI design is one of the fundamentals, and luckily developers especially in recent times really try to innovate in this direction, with Black & White as one of the best examples. In this article I'll try to give some new views about what a UI is basically about, and give a few hints on how to achieve one that really incorporates the player into the worlds we create.

For the first Part of this series, I'll only talk about the Player to Game Interface, which defines how the player interacts with the game, not the information feedback provided by the game using the Game to Player Interface. The PGI has to map the thought input of the player to the game language, which is comprised of the game's manipulation rules, in a way that gives the player a feeling of familiarity and has a small conversion overhead. With this overhead I mean how a single action by the player gets converted to a single game action using the interface. It makes a difference if the player has to click his way through 3 menues or by using a single direct Click!But not only quantity plays a role. Basically clicking using the mouse pointer is a rather abstract action, and other forms of manipulation should be explored, with which I don't want to stress on joysticks or other devices, but rather remain with the standard PC setting of keyboard and mouse. The best example for manipulation diversity is now Black&White, where Peter Molyneux actually meets the above rules very elegantly. He uses a hand as a cursor ( aren't we used to manipulate things with that?). So the player moves by grabbing the landscape, slaps or carresses his creature and casts spells by drawing symbols. This really merges with what we as humans are used to. Image that instead of drawing the spell, you just would have to click on a GUI button co choose a spell, with the target location following right after, like in standard RPGs. But where would the fun remain? Basically the latter approach isn't too bad, an as long as the other ways of the interface would stay the same, B&W would be less creative, but still very playable. A problem would arise, if everything worked that way, so you would have to select your creature, then press on a "good" or "bad" button. If things get too similar in using the UI, they'll all be blurred together, and the special associations get lost, although the effects they create may be different ones.


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The Series
  Mapping the Player
  Feeding the Player