Good Design, Bad Design Vol. 7 – The Best and Worst of Graphic and UI Design in Games ~ Design Doc


Ooh, time for Good Design, Bad Design the
Seventh. If this is your first time here, welcome. You can start with this one now and go back
to watch the others later. We’re here to talk about lots of examples
of good and bad graphic design in games. Things like menus, UI, camera work, color
choice, font choice, animation, character design. The Presentation of Information. There will be good games with bad graphic
design, and vice versa. But first, a quick word from today’s sponsor,
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by signing up with our link below. Good Design Sayonara Wild Hearts has a killer look and feel. It’s a top 10 game on my ‘cohesive style’
leaderboard. In a nutshell, Sayonara Wild Hearts is an
abstract, music based arcade style runner. It’s essentially a playable music album with
a stylish, ethereal narrative stitching each of the album’s songs together, flooding your
senses at all times. Oh and Queen Latifah is the narrator. Queen Latifah: Silver Rank! Sayonara Wild Hearts’ gameplay is on rails,
which really makes the playable-music-video theme possible. Every camera angle, every action beat, every
scene transition is intricately tied to a level’s song. In one level you’ll be in an intense motorcycle
chase in a city during a verse but as the chorus begins, the city streets suddenly crumble
and you take the chase into the air. It’s that kind of spectacle that’s front
and center here. The game’s flashy style is always on the verge
of overwhelming your senses, but the game does a few things to keep it manageable. Wild Hearts only uses two inputs, the directions
for movement and timed button prompts. The game keeps shifting what it will ask you
to do. In some stages you’re only moving left and
right. In others you have full 360 movement. Sometimes your drifting in a car, and sometimes
you’re targeting multiple enemies like in Panzer Dragoon. There’s a lot of contextual variety, but
you’re always weaving through obstacles, grabbing as many collectables as you can for a higher
score, with only a few simple mechanical tasks to think about at any time. The collectables themselves all meld with
the visuals as well, and help keep the player focused on the game’s sights and sounds. Wild Hearts is able to get away with the intense
visuals partially because of how simple the core gameplay is. The more complicated and demanding the game’s
mechanics are, the less a game can dazzle with graphics without overwhelming the player,
or letting the graphical effort go to waste. There’s only so much of a player’s attention
to go around. Think of games like Rock Band. The mechanics of playing the instruments can
be very demanding. Players get tunnel vision when focusing on
their track of notes. It’s very common for a player to not see what’s
going on in the background at all. In a game like Sayonara Wild Hearts, whose
core is so focused on pairing visual style with music, a complicated set of mechanics
would undercut what they wanted the player to focus on. By dialing down the gameplay knob, the designers
at Simogo freed up the attention of the player that let them take in the must-play audiovisual
experience of Sayonara Wild Hearts. Bad Design Some games like to hide secrets. Sometimes, like in Metroid and Zelda, hidden
things are core to a game’s design. But there’s a trick to designing secrets and
hidden things. If you hide them too well, no one will find
them. They might as well not be there. If you don’t hide them well enough, well then
they aren’t really secret now, are they? So how do you communicate a secret? You DON’T do what the original Rayman does, ’cause… maaaaan. But hold up a sec, we first have to talk about
affordances. Affordances are the little clues that suggest
how to interact with an object or system. The handles and panels on doors are the classic
example. Put a handle on the side to pull and a flat
panel on the side to push, and people will tend to intuit what they need to do to open
the door, without any other instructions. Video games have tons of affordances in their
visual design. Lots of the affordances you’ve probably stopped
even noticing consciously. Unusual platforms, subtle inconsistencies
in the environment. In the visual language of games, little imperfections
suggest that something is happening here, and you should investigate more. So that gets us back to secrets. A game can use affordances to telegraph that
there’s a secret to be found. You can be really, really subtle. Games like Fez and The Witness are partially
great because discovering these obscure affordances becomes a core part of the game. But the game should at least put SOMETHING
there. Mario 64 is pretty good at using affordances
to highlight its secrets. Here in the Cool Cool Mountain penguin slide
there’s a line of coins that lead directly into the wall. Coins are there to be collected, so a player
collects them and hey hey! There’s a secret path! The form of the coin line leads you directly
to the hole in the wall. That’s an affordance. Back in the overworld, once you have 10 stars,
this beam of light shows up in the main central hub. What could that be? Better get my camera out and… OH GEEZ I’M FLYING. Ohhh boy. That’s an affordance. Without some subtle affordance, a player will
either completely ignore a secret, or randomly perform an action expecting something to eventually
happen. It’s like when you mash the A button in a
Pokemon game next to a random bush or trash can, hoping that you’ll stumble upon a hidden
item. There are no affordances for secret items
on the floor, but once in a great while you’ll find one, so you keep checking everywhere. Without the affordances, players waste time
mashing a button in an empty room. Pokemon isn’t great at it, but at least
the items involved are just extras. And that brings us back to Rayman. Rayman is divided into stages, and your job
is to travel through each of them and open the cages you find along the way. Punch the cage, and you liberate the electoons
inside. There are six cages spread out over a handful
of sections in each stage. Hope you can find all of them, because you
have to. You have to find every cage to unlock the
final level. It’s not like you get a bad ending or anything
if you can’t find them all, you just do not get one. So they’re just scattered throughout the
worlds, right? How hard could that be. Oh, it sucks. A BIG chunk of these cages are invisible. At least, until you find the right trigger. What is the trigger? Wouldn’t you like to know. There are invisible triggers EVERYWHERE in
this game. Some of them hide deadly hazards that pop
up two feet in front of you. Some make the actual route to the end of the
level appear, out of nowhere. And some, like this one, make those missing
cages appear. Your only clue that a trigger was tripped
is that one musical cue. It only plays once, and it doesn’t tell you
what happened. You figure it out. My favorite is this one from the first Band
Land stage where there’s a trigger BEHIND the goal sign. It spawns a cloud behind you off screen and
leads you to a hidden cage. Rayman gives you almost literally nothing
to go off of. Nothing about where the secret trigger might
be located. Nothing about how to trigger it. Nothing about how it reveals things that are
necessary to get to the end of the game, and nothing about where the secret will appear. By providing almost no information about its
secrets, the first Rayman is a case-in-point of the importance of affordances. Good Design Every game has to teach something to the player. No matter how easy to play or how intuitive
you say a game is, every game has unique controls, unique graphical signals, unique systems,
unique strategies, all kinds of things that at some point the player has to be taught
in order to play the game. That teaching process is called ‘conveyance’,
and it’s complicated because there are so many different ways a game could do it. It could use text box tutorials, visual cues,
demonstrations of character behaviors, or a hundred other things, and probably a mix
of several of them, to get the full picture of the game into the mind of a player. Generally, the quicker, easier, and less noticeable
a game can teach you its rules the better, but there are always trade offs. Text tutorials are thorough, but they tend
to put a stop to the fun to teach you something. And just like a lecture in a big classroom,
showing the text by itself is not a guarantee that the player is going to absorb the material. A little visual note can be seamless, but
it might just be overlooked entirely. It’s surprising sometimes how obvious you
have to make a point for it to actually get through to someone. Plus, if you as a designer already know the
information it might be tricky to gauge whether or not the hint is clear enough. Every conveyance technique has benefits and
drawbacks and every game might prioritize different things that might work better with
its style. But it’s not just about style. Proper conveyance can mean the difference
between a game that’s difficult but fair and a game that feels cheap. Celeste is a great example. Despite being a very dense and difficult platformer,
Celeste is inviting and easy to pick up because of its high-quality conveyance. Celeste starts with a pretty standard jumping
tutorial. Short hop here, long hop here. You have to prove you know what you’re capable
of doing to continue. But should you fail and fall into a pit here,
there’s a more subtle lesson to learn. You’re immediately taught that death is just
a minor setback. That’s not as obvious as ‘how high can my
character jump’, but it’s no less important. Teaching that quick and early makes other
lessons easier to teach, as it encourages players to experiment, and take chances. Celeste has dozens of subtle lessons like
these that wordlessly teach the player but it does dip its toes into a couple of classic
dialog-box tutorials. Just for a second. Like when it teaches you how to climb and
more importantly, how to dash. Lots of games might just teach you the dash
straight away, but Celeste makes it its own micro-drama. You’re running across a collapsing bridge,
it’s clear you’re not going to make it. You desperately jump to the other side and
then… *caw* Boom, lesson learned. They could’ve taken a more direct intrusive
approach. That little bird from the climbing tutorial
could chime in with a short paragraph on exactly how your dash works. That would have worked, but not as well. Instead it teaches with the minimal amount
of words, adds just a smidge of tension, and only stops the action when you would have
been stopped by falling into the pit anyway. From there, you’re a few screens into the
game and you already have all of your basic tools in just a couple of minutes. Everything after that is about the little
nuances of your new skills. The way the skills interact with each other
and with the steady stream of gimmicks the game throws at you. They’re all taught purely through the level
design and visual effects on your character. Your jump’s height, mid-air control, stamina
while climbing with these little animated clouds, the tell when you’re about to run
out of stamina, how far you can climb, dashing in any direction, how your character’s hair
color relates to dashing, replenishing your stamina and dash upon landing, how momentum
works on moving platforms, these crystals that replenish your dash in the air, these
strange cosmic blocks that auto-dash you in a straight line, and many more. None of these mechanics are explicitly told
to you. It’s all conveyed through intuition and by
building on the game’s own behaviors up to that point piece by piece. And, to make sure you got the lesson, you
subtly won’t be able to proceed without understanding each and every one of these mechanics. Celeste has worked to remove as much frustration
as possible. Liberal checkpointing and infinite lives help,
but its conveyance strategy plays a big part too. Despite being a very difficult and mechanically
dense platformer, Celeste’s developers made the conveyance of all of those mechanics as
seamless and lightweight as they could. Bad Design So first of all, I love JoJo. My favorite part? 4 Favorite JoJo? Joseph. Favorite Stand? It’s a tie between Killer Queen from part
4 and Moody Blues from part 5. So I grabbed JoJo Eyes of Heaven on sale. Oof. JoJo Eyes of Heaven is a game made for JoJo
fans. ONLY for fans. It’s got tons of series hallmarks – the poses,
crazy abilities, the colorful presentation in its UI design, this stuff, OHMYGODDDD and some great character
crossovers and interactions. But I hope you get a lot from that because
the rest of the game has some issues. And God help you if you’re not already a fan,
because if you can’t appreciate all of those obscure references, and super stylish attack
cutscenes, there’s really not that much else here. Eyes of Heaven’s conveyance is pretty terrible. It’s not great at visually communicating to
new players what is going on in its gameplay, even though the core of it isn’t all that
complicated. So Eyes of Heaven is a 2v2 arena based fighter
similar to the Naruto Ninja Storm games or the J-Stars series. You have your standard light and heavy attacks,
you can pick up and use objects scattered throughout the arena and you have character
specific special attacks. Every character has a variety of signature
moves that are direct references to the source material. But there’s the first problem. If you aren’t already familiar with the series,
you will be instantly lost. Even if you are, the game will lead you astray. The presentation of each character’s special
moves is bizarre. To use a special move, you hold down L1 and
choose from a list of unique moves. There’s a move on each face button and a
couple of EX moves on the shoulder buttons. But the moves are all named with translated
quotes from the manga. The quotes are vaguely associated with the
move, but it’s pretty loose. Some aren’t too bad, if you’re familiar with
the series. Jotaro’s ‘Ora Ora’ brings out the iconic flurry
of punches. Some are actually descriptive in a way, like
his other move ‘I stopped time.’, which… stops time. But then there are moves like DIO’s ‘There’s
no escape!’. Who knows what that does. Turns out it’s a knife-throwing attack. Bruno has a long-distance punch called ‘Disgraces
like you screw up everything they do!’ Yeah, if you had an encyclopedic knowledge
of the specific JoJo translation used from when this game came out, maybe you could take
a guess. But, c’mon. You even have to wait for half of these move
names to scroll across the screen. It puts another unnecessary step between the
player and them actually figuring out how to play the character. It’s not just the names, either. The animations and effects don’t do a great
job at conveying what some of the moves actually do. Most characters have a couple of special attacks
that leave you wondering what happened, even when you know what a character’s powers
are in the manga. It could be the attack’s range, its additional
effects, if it has synergy with other moves, is the button input versatile. Oh, but they provided a pause menu datalog. Yeah, that’s just as good as being intuitive. Problem solved. Whether it be from a weird translation, or
from expecting too much source material familiarity from all of its players, the game puts up
a lot of unnecessary roadblocks. Between the animation ambiguity and the quote-based
naming scheme for its moves, JoJo Eyes of Heaven makes for a confusing and frustrating
pickup and play brawler. Good Design Well this has been a long time coming. Judging the UI and graphic design of Monster
Hunter World is a little…complicated. There are still a LOT of issues with it, but
it’s easy to overlook the improvements the series HAS made. Monster Hunter World brought so many new players
to a series that was once seen as inaccessible to newcomers. Part of that is thanks to the substantial
UI quality of life improvements while you’re out on hunts. The new scoutfly system improves monster tracking
by a lot. When you first search for a monster, you have
to find its tracks. The more tracks you find, the more you’ll
improve your scoutflies, which help lead you towards the target and highlight other collectables. In previous games you had to blindly wander
around each area until you got a sense for each monster’s movement and where their
habitats were located. The scout flies and the open sandbox design
of the map streamlines the process, and makes repeating hunts way less tedious. As you hunt each monster, you’ll raise your
research level on that specific monster, giving you the monster’s weaknesses, drops, breakable
parts, and more, in the new in-game bestiary instead of making you look it up in an online
guide. All sorts of other feedback is improved in
World too. Colored damage numbers tell you how effectively
you’re attacking the monsters. White for ineffective attacks, orange for
weak spot hits for full damage. They’re small so they don’t feel intrusive
and if you’re a bit of a purist and don’t want this information, you have the option
to just turn it off. The HUD is clean, and packs a ton of information
in the amount of space it uses. Health, stamina, timer, weapon sharpness,
a detailed minimap, the cool icons for each monster in this neat tribal style. I even appreciate the little controls cheat
sheet in the top right corner. It helps newer players try out new weapon
types, and the attack options even keep up with the weapon attack context changes. These changes aren’t geared for the hardcore
series fan, so it makes sense that some of them wouldn’t necessarily like it. The argument goes that limiting the amount
of information will force players to get better at the game. That putting in the info makes the game do
the work for you, and that new players won’t be as engaged in combat if they can use the
new info as a crutch. But I don’t agree that that’s a problem. That’s not why I come to Monster Hunter. The monster hunting experience is, and the
hunts remain as engaging as they ever were. And now, more people are able to see them
for the quality gaming experiences they are, without a lot of crud getting in the way,
hiding what Capcom has been able to make. Bad Design You didn’t think I’d go that easy on Monster
Hunter, did you? Of course there are plenty of things the series
could still improve on. My top priority would be to streamline all
of the prep work you have to do before you go on hunts. Not removing it, streamlining it. The menus and hub make prep way more convoluted
than necessary. All I want to do is to kill this beautiful creature
and turn it into a little hat. Maybe some boots. Is that too much to ask? Astera is the hub for the base game, and I
don’t like it. Hub areas that act as diegetic menus can be
a fun way to make the world feel more immersive. At least until the novelty wears off. Astera is broken into 2 floors. The quest board and item box are near the
trade yard, right next to the entrance, which is fine. The rest of the commonly used facilities like
the workshop, used for crafting, and the canteen, used for temporary bonuses on your next hunt,
are placed too far away for how much you’ll use them. They’re on the 2nd floor which means at
the start of every quest, you have to walk through the trade yard to either go up these
winding stairs or take this chain lift up to the canteen. The Tailraider Safari, used for farming materials,
is separated by an entire loading screen, either in your private room or in the research
base. All by its lonesome. Taking so long to go from station to station
after every single hunt gets real old, real fast. It’s not immersive, it’s just padding. Thankfully, the new hub town in the Iceborne
expansion has a much better layout and centralizes everything. The game’s busy, dense, and convoluted menus
are their own ball of problems. The worst of them is the Investigations menu. Investigation quests are procedurally generated
hunts that you gain during other hunts. They’re great for farming monsters, but setting
them up is reeeeaaaal dumb. You have to walk over to the resource center,
manually pick them from a list of targets, then walk BACK to the quest board and pick
them up like a normal quest. You get a limited number of slots for investigations,
so you’ll eventually have to do some spring cleaning. To delete a quest, you have to sort the quests,
search 20 pages to find the one you don’t want anymore, delete it, then start over,
because the game took you back out to the first page. Repeat a few dozen times. It ain’t fun. There are tons more tiny issues, of course. The crafting wishlist only has 6 slots. The game saves your radial menu settings with
your item loadouts and doesn’t tell you. If you don’t know how it works, it kinda looks
like the game just deleted all of your radial menu settings. The game just doesn’t explain how mechanics
like Negative Affinity work. The gathering hub exists as this weird half-usable
mini-hub. You have to trudge through the busywork of
crafting all of these expendable items the game rains down on you. Super dense and busy menus, like this, this,
and this. It’s a long list, and while it’s shorter
than it was, it’s longer than you’d like. Monster Hunter World is a game whose very
essence seems tied with its byzantine mechanics and menus, but it doesn’t have to be. Tweaking the menus, UI, and mechanics to be
cleaner, and friendlier to newcomers can still retain all of the complexity and depth that
series fans know and love, and would still make Monster Hunter a series worth studying. *chill vibes outro from Monster Hunter World*

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