Interactive design is in my opinion, the most important part of a game. No matter how good the plot is, how dynamic the game play is or crisp the graphics are, if it handles like an asthmatic and with some heavy shopping then it’s pretty much a waste of time. Interaction design could be considered to be the bridge between worlds, real and cyber. It’s what allows the player to be enveloped by gaming world.
Let’s take a look at what the player physically interacts with to get what they want to happen. The control pad. Let’s just say that I’m just about the happiest person in the world that within my life time, ergonomics and anthropometrics have made their way into the design of the control pad. Even though I’m too young to have experienced what it was like to physically handle a joy stick, in an arcade filled with sweaty pre-teens, I understand that they were designed for practicality, they worked, and they worked well. However, when it came to home entertainment systems, looking now at the designs from the SNES, Sega mega drive and PS1, not only were they ugly, but they felt disgusting and uncomfortable in your hand, until they got warm. I mean they worked, but just, eww. And then the consoles themselves, they worked, and to be honest, the design for the time was perfectly fine, we didn’t know any different, but good god, there was no style, rather very little to their designs, they were all essentially bricks. It kinda makes me chuckle now as I look over at my SNES next to my latest model 360. Ahh we’ve come so far. Gradually over my short lifetime, as technology developed, and technology got cheaper, the control pads and consoles evolves into the much prettier things they are now today.
Yet within the past 2 years, a new way for the player to interact with the game has developed for the home entertainment system. No longer do we need a control pad of any description. Not even a wii mote to dance around our living room, but our bodies ourselves become the control pad, which has brought about a real chance for the family to interact in games. Not that families didn’t before, but it was generally just siblings or father and son kinda thing. In all fareness, this does work well for certain game genres, and there is much more that they can do with it. However, I don’t think that they will ever truly get rid of the control pad. There are certain genres of game, just too popular, which require a control pad to play.
In terms of GUI (Game user interface), fundamentally with games, not a great deal has changed. If I go back to Super Mario World on the SNES, and I press pause, I’m greeted with pretty much the same thing now as I was then. “continue”, “options”, “save”, “load” & “quit”. And depending on the genre of the game maybe adding “combo list” or “hints” etc. However, one thing that has most defiantly changed is how these things are presented. Back in the days of the SNES the game would stop and you would be presented with a flat screen of text. Although, a lot of games do still do that because the genre demands it i.e. fighting games, a lot of games have started presenting the title menu on a 3D real time background, usually with moving stuff behind, with the text font related to that particular semantic field. Other games, largely first person shooters, recently including a reward system and upgrade system for everything, have added masses of options to those particular lists. One game which stands out head and shoulders above the crowd for GUI, is Dead Space. With Dead Space, the Pause menu doesn’t stop the game, the game is constantly running. It also doesn’t come up full screen, it is a projection from the protagonist, Isec’s wrist. This fits in perfectly with the survival horror theme. To stop and look at where you are on the map, where you need to go, look at how much ammo or health you have, leaves you vulnerable to ambush and forces the player to think about where they pause. Not only that but instead of having a standard health bar in the corner and ammo/ lives next to it, all these things are displayed on the character himself, adding to the element of realism, and avoiding distraction from the player’s focus on the atmosphere of the game.
Love Dead Space.
What the future holds for interactive design in the games world, well, that could be interesting. I think in terms of the control and direct player to game interaction, that has the most way to gain here. If they actually put more effort into developing assets like Kinect and compatible games for that, then we could pretty easily hit off on virtually reality for your home system, which thinking about it could be detrimental for people like the WOW lovers out there. Modders have done it already in their homes, but equally, if interaction was to take that path, it could easily become a phase as virtual reality in theme parks worse off pretty much instantly. On the other hand, something in the direction of the minority report would be brilliant in terms of pause menus and title screens would be brilliant and would go a long way.