The user interface is core to a player’sgaming experience and is universally vital for games of all types on every platform.Perhaps more so than other platforms, UI is critical in mobile games. Games on mobile devices need to use touch screens and have limited space, so mobile developers need to ensure that the UI is as efficient and intuitive as possible.
Delivering the best UI experience for mobile games comes with challenges, which can be overcome by careful planning and testing. The user experience can make or break a game’s success, and the user interface is a pillar of that.
Simplicity and Clarity
Above all, UI elements should be simple and clear at all times. A cluttered interface can not only be unintuitive but distracting and detract from what could be an otherwise enjoyable experience. A technique we’ve used successfully in our many game development projects is hiding interface elements in additional menus when a single screen is becoming too unwieldy.
If, for instance, your weapon menu is becoming too busy, you can hide related information in clearly labeled sub-menus, such as weapon upgrades and attachments. It’s important not to overcomplicate the experience by adding too many menus, which can become overwhelming for users.
The overall flow should be simple. Navigating from menu to menu and on-screen elements should be easy to do with the minimum number of touches possible. This is difficult to achieve, but baking the simplicity and clarity philosophy into the UI design will help immeasurably.
Showing the Right Information
Information flow and presentation are critical to delivering high-quality UI. A rule of thumb to follow is that when information isn’t required or relevant, it should be hidden. This is true for games on consoles and PC but more so for mobile devices, where screen space is limited. For example, on a skill tree screen, it’s likely unnecessary to show information related to quests or missions, so that information doesn’t need to be shown.
Relevant information, on the other hand, should be shown at all times. If a player is navigating the character customization screen, information related to that mechanic should be shown. Clothing, armor, appearance options and more are likely to be relevant here rather than character statistics or upgrades.
Consistent UI Experience
To ensure the smoothest UI experience possible for your mobile game, it’s best practice to use conventions to form a visual language that players can learn to understand. For example, a red X icon or a Cancel button with a red background is universally used to cancel out of a screen. This is something many gamers inherently understand and ideally, its functionality shouldn’t be changed.
Color, shape, and size are important factors to consider. Color often indicates what type of action a player can take, whether it’s saying yes or no, or accepting or rejecting. Icon and button sizes can be used to indicate priority. A large icon can mean that the developer wants you to prioritize that over other on-screen elements.
Across the board, interactive elements should mean the same thing from screen to screen. A green tick icon should mean yes or accept something every time, rather than trying to recontextualize it depending on the screen.
Responsiveness and Testing
While it’s important to ensure that the UI looks good and is well-designed, it’s equally crucial that it’s well-tested and responsive. Compared to high-end consoles and PCs, mobile devices have less processing power, making it even more essential to make certain that interface navigation is a snappy experience. Players shouldn’t have to wait for menus and visual elements to pop up.
Testing on multiple devices is a necessity, due to wildly varying operating systems and screen sizes. What might work well on a large phone screen could be broken on tablet devices with even larger screens. Though it’s painstaking work to test such a wide range of devices, the optimal player experience is the main objective.
Titles ported to mobile from other platforms also require rigorous testing. Whether its source platform is a console or PC, more often than not, the user interface won’t translate over well and will need direct tweaking. This can be largely attributed to the difference in visual output between platforms, where console and PC games use large monitors and TVs.
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