GameDev Protips: How To Improve Your Indie Game’s User Interface

Your game’s user interface is a critical part of the gaming experience, and its design will impact gameplay by a large margin. The things that you emphasize in the UI and its ease of use can easily make or break the player’s experience. There are many key factors in creating a successful interface, so let's get started on a few.

Make sure to implement proper "call to actions" appropriately at each part of the game— even in the menus. A player who doesn’t know what to do is an unhappy player. Give the player a basic guideline on what needs to be done, and where, and let them settle the method of accomplishing that. Of course, not every game needs direction, such as in some sandbox games, but even open-world games can benefit from markers to show quest locations or other points of interest or low health indicators to provoke a response to heal.

In the design of it itself, don’t break immersion. Make sure your UI matches the style of your game, because after all, your UI isn’t the point of the game, the game is. The best UI, no matter how visually appealing it is, will be function and subservient to the game itself. It accentuates the game’s design yet doesn’t distract from it. As a side note, if you’re building a game that will have both a mobile port and a port on other devices, or will have one in the future, make sure to start with the mobile’s UI and enhance it for larger screens where needed. I’s a lot harder to move in the opposite direction. One thing to consider though when porting a mobile game to PC though is the importance of making sure that the UI doesn’t scream out lazy mobile port.

In terms of visuals, restrict the color palette and don’t rely on color alone to convey meaning. If your UI is too busy, it can be hard to interpret when things are getting intense, or might take longer than desired for a person to look at and interpret meaning. Similarly, if you’re using colors alone to convey meaning, colorblindness is a huge handicap. There’s lots of ways to test if you’re relying too much on the color, but viewing the UI in grayscale is a simple, quick method to see if it works. Use other methods such as size, contrast, shape, orientation, and text to convey meaning beyond just color.

With regards to text, if you ever plan on translating the game, give the UI plenty of room to breathe. Some translations can make your text 2–3 times larger, so design accordingly and make sure you have enough room. Also keep in mind that left to right won’t always be the way it is read; other languages can read right to left and in columns. Make sure you’re not leaving in “strange” looking or sounding text, such as slang, awkward wording, typos, or blocks of text.

If you plan on having icons, be careful and make sure the player actually understands what they mean. They’re a good way to simplify your text, but many icons are completely arbitrary representations of ideas, and as a result the user may not have experience with them and won’t understand their meaning. Reading text will always be faster than icon interpretation, at least on a first-time basis. Ideally, you should have icons beside text on shortcut menus then allow the user to collapse the text at their discretion once they have a sufficient understanding of the interface. If nothing else, give the player tooltips so they don’t have to guess their way through the UI. I have seen various YouTubers time and time again fail to correctly interpret a stat on a car in racing games or some stat on a weapon in shooters due to the icon being a spring or a magazine without any actual explanation of what those things represent. Also, make sure there is enough contrast between your text and the background so that it can be distinguished quickly.

Important Takeaways: Your game’s user interface, is a key factor in making the player’s experience a positive one. Don’t break immersion. Make sure to restrict its color palette, and don’t rely on color alone to convey meaning. Avoid “strange” text, make sure icons are properly defined, keep it consistent, and ensure that it is responsive. You want to make sure it is easy to interpret and visually fitting for the game. Don’t try to make your UI look obnoxiously fancy in an experimental way unless that particular design has been extensively tested and proven to be better and easier to use and master than the industry standard. The same concept applies to text. When in doubt, utilize the power of playtesters. Watch how the interface is used and where and when players get frustrated — you’ll be able to quickly recognize the pain points and iterate accordingly.

GameDev Thoughts: Is Indie Game Development A Good Career Choice?

The potential to make millions of dollars for fancy cars, lavish designer suits, and huge beachfront houses. Flying first class anywhere you want, anytime you want. Premium ramen. The life of a successful game developer can look pretty sweet. People are oftentimes fascinated with the material rewards and complete freedom that can come with having a successful venture in the games industry. It looks like a pretty easy route to a better lifestyle than whatever career path they might be on right now, and who’s to blame them? It’s absolutely true as well, anyone can start developing a game and open up a business.

The internet and revolutions in development software have broken down so many barriers to game development, making it very simple and inexpensive to start working and set up shop. However, it’s a long way from writing Hello World to a six figure paycheck and lavish lifestyle. Anyone can make a game, but it takes a certain type of someone to turn it into a massive success. If you’ve been thinking about attempting to get into the indie games industry, you might find it useful to ask yourself these questions:

How do you feel about uncertainty? If you can’t stomach feeling uncomfortable about the future, game development is probably not for you. The most successful developers practice feeling uncomfortable on a daily basis. Growth always happens well outside of our comfort zones, and when diving into this volatile industry, you’ll be pushed to do something new very often. A lot of people prefer a level of certainty in their day-to-day, but you can’t push through the discomfort, you won’t be able to get much traction.

Are you willing to work insane hours? There’s no denying the freedom that comes with having a work schedule that doesn’t revolve around sitting for 8 hours in a cubicle every day, but a lot of people forget about the amount of work required to turn something from a simple vision into a tangible product. If you’re a big fan of holidays or long vacations, you might need to rethink your plans. Small development teams that are one or two person studios make it very difficult to take time off or to have a proper vacation without work piling up. It’s definitely not impossible by any means, but it’ll be very challenging to say the least.

Are you confident that you are or can become one of the best? Being amazing at what you do is always important if you want to succeed, but confidence is a large factor as well. Successful game developers are both confident in their ability to deliver a great game, as well as confident that their long term goals will be met as well. Also, how do you feel about marketing yourself? Game developers need to understand how to make connections, both for themselves and to help others. The success of your indie game studio relies heavily on obtaining an audience. Awesome games won’t sell themselves. There’s too many great games that are being marketed well to allow other indie games to be spread via word-of-mouth. Unless your indie game accomplishes something so revolutionary that it comes out of nowhere and amazes everyone, you’re not going to get the downloads you need to sustain yourself.

Is having a steady paycheck essential? When starting your new development venture, a paycheck is absolutely not a given. Individuals who start successful game development studios tend to be willing to work for free because they’re absolutely passionate about their project. If you’re not in a stable enough position to do that, going all in to start making games probably isn’t for you. Focus on making sure you’re able to survive first. It’s absolutely true that you could see insane rewards from your game venture, but it’s probably not going to happen in the first few years. You definitely need to be willing and able to make sacrifices up front to reach your goals, and it’s absolutely possible to work on your game development business after you clock out for the day. If you find that some or all of these traits apply to you, combine it with an unforgettable game and you might just be the next big thing after a few years of hard work.

Important Takeaways: In order to tread the path of indie game development, you must be comfortable with uncertainty, be able to sacrifice getting a steady paycheck, be willing to work insane hours, be fully confident in your abilities, and be willing and able to successful market yourself and your game. Sounds like a tall order? That’s because it is. Most businesses fail, and indie game development is no different. If you plan on being an indie game developer, you’re going to be tested to your limits. If this doesn’t bother you in the slightest, keep going!