UI design – behind the design of User Interface in Aporia: Beyond the Valley
My name is Magnus Elvstrøm Myrälf – I am the Lead UI Artist on Aporia: Beyond The Valley. Together with UI Artist Dilan Yüksel I designed the HUD, Menu, Map and Tutorials for the game, and it was all implemented by Patrick Øllegaard Chieu and Mikael Olsen.
In the following blog post I will try and lay out the thought pattern behind the design of the UI in Aporia: Beyond the Valley.
In regards to my former work then I have previously been creating the Animus for Assassin’s Creed Identity, where the design had to look very sterile, sharp and futuristic. Later, I worked on some casual games, that demanded a very different appeal. Here the design of the interface had to be cute, warm, friendly and above all super simple to interact with.
Aporia on the other hand was a wonderful new canvas to work on for me as it demanded a more subtle and in my opinion tasteful UI. We had to create a legacy in the expression and not build on top of an old already established UI. This gave me a strong sense of ownership and responsibility for the game, which Dilan and I were tasked with producing. Another thing that greatly appealed to me was the fact that Aporia was using non-verbal and non-written storytelling. This was especially true as I am dyslexic myself, and this is probably one of the reasons why I had to use a scrabble word finder to help myself come up with words so I could communicate better with the people around me though I always had such a great love for visual communication because of it’s simple use; which is the language that every human can intuitively understand if “spoken” well.
The art and culture of the civilisation that we explore in Aporia: Beyond the Valley had been established very well beforehand, by our Conceptual Art Director Nina Vinde Folkersen, when Dilan and I joined the project. For me, this meant that I should try to develop this cultural fingerprint further by making that defined artstyle dictate the visual rules for the HUD and Tutorials. Therefore, we used Nina’s work as the foundation and as a starting point for a branching exploration of the UI.
The architectural achievements that this former civilisation had accomplished were impressive. Their art was consisting of straight lines and they also experimented with structures, tools and chemistry. All this clearly showed that they had a strong love of science. Therefore, I was looking for inspiration in geometrical shapes, and other visual expressions of math and order. In other words, I attempted to visualize an unfamiliar pairing of math and written language, as one unified art. We also looked at the patterns from old woven carpets and african tribal paintings. Mayan, Inca and Aztec art was also something that we spend a lot of time researching.
It quickly became apparent to me, that our UI would have to be as subtle as possible, in order to leave the vast majority of the players attention to the game world itself. Immersion is key, and a HUD (head-up display) tends to pull you away from the depth of the game world and leaves your attention on the surface of your monitor instead. Solution? Make an invisible HUD of course! Should be easy…
To ensure consistency of our product we made a small set of rules: Less is more! No text. Straight lines only. In order to contrast the dark and detail-rich 3D environment we chose to keep all the UI elements white. And finally, our orange color is used for key elements only to guide the players attention.
Design process of the UI
Let’s take the Vial illustration from the HUD and talk about the process and thoughts that lie behind it. As I mentioned earlier: I wanted the design to look as if it was a type of visual calculation. My approach was to repeat symmetry and use invisible geometry to find the angles of the visible lines and create the final design using these. In the case of the Vial HUD you can actually see the hidden geometry that was used to “calculate” the lines of the Vial itself. The small squares on the top and bottom of the ‘Vial-bar’ have lines going from their corners on the one side, and meet up at the center of the other side. If you trace these lines outside of their visible shape on both sides, they will cross at the exact center of the Vial. You will be able to find the same logic in the design of the open and closed hand in the HUD, the mouse icon in the Tutorials, and many other places throughout the game.
“If I don’t need it, I don’t wanna see it!” When you are exploring the beautiful world of Aporia we did not want the player to be bothered by a Minimap, compass, “mana pool”, quest tracker, inventory, location name, ability bar and so forth… you get the point.
So, instead we choose to show the player very specific HUD elements – only when they are relevant to the player. So when the players are exploring they have the entire screen stripped of any UI. However, when you lose or restore health we bring forth your health bar for a few seconds – the same thing goes for your Vial-bar. All the objects that you pick up are only relevant to a few specific locations. Thus, we try to hide them in all other places where it is not needed. Incidently, by doing so we removed the need for an inventory menu in the game.
“No text allowed!” A very important rule for the tutorials and an interesting challenge indeed. Also, a single picture should say it all, so when designing the tutorial images we really had to work hard on making it as simple and clear as possible. It is easy to provide a detailed written description with a range of images or animations to communicate something to an audience, but with only a single image that can be tough. It demands that you find the very essence of what you want to communicate, and that you stay consistent in your way of doing so.
We chose to display a simple setting with white lines and the performable actions in orange. If this was connected to a keystroke or mouse action we always showed that underneath the illustrations, and showed the keystrokes in orange as well to create a connection between them. In regards to placement in the game, then we chose to place the tutorials in the form of virtual images in the game world itself, in order to draw attention to specific locations or objects of relevance.
“Let’s keep this short!” Optimally, the player should spend their time playing the game, with very little time spent fiddling in the menu, therefore we wanted to make the experience as quick, simple and painless as possible for the player. No fancy effects or scattered layout. Just a clean list with a few buttons and a neat looking background image… Done!
The map is the only part of the UI, which is a physical and lore-bound element from the game world itself. Therefore, it had to look like it was made with realistic materials; crafted and left behind by a character from the civilisation that the player explore. For a deeper exploration of the map check out our blog post about how we designed the pedestal that holds the map itself going from concept to asset – here!
Thus, it was very important that the map should match the established artstyle of their culture. This is also why the map is not point-to-point accurate with the game world. The civilization did not have the luxury of satellites; instead they relied on observations when wandering the world to help them chart the map. However, the map should still be accurate enough for the player to navigate by. We decided against having a dot on the map showing your character’s location. This is a bold approach, but it is very much in the spirit of Aporia’s gameplay. Answers are not served to you on a silver plate. Rather you have to think for yourself, try and learn the language to decipher the culture’s way of depicting objects. Then you have to traverse the world in order to read the map.
At times you will get lost… and that is exactly how adventures start!
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Hope you enjoyed my insight into the thoughts and decisions behind the UI in Aporia: Beyond the Valley. I hope to see you beyond the valley.
Magnus Elvstrøm Myrälf
Lead UI Artist on Aporia Beyond the Valley
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