How Behaviour Interactive Is Levelling Up Player Experience Using UX Best Practices
The word ‘UX design’ is not commonly heard around many video game studios, at least not yet. Even the concept of a UI designer (or game UI designer), devoted specifically to designing UI elements and their interactivity in a game, is fairly new; you’re much more likely to hear video game professionals refer to game designers, who create the game rules, and UI artists, who focus on the creation of visual assets. In both of these roles, the designer focuses on some aspect of UX, but it is not their primary focus.
Behaviour Interactive is one of just a handful of video companies doing things differently. Walk around its Montreal studio, famous for games like Dead by Daylight, and you’re bound to hear game designers talking about UX concepts and the involvement of UI/UX designers in making those concepts a reality. You’re also likely to see Philippe Chambon, an interaction designer responsible for “smoothing the Player Experience,” running from meeting to meeting.
Chambon’s main focus is to work with teams across the company to link the efforts of game designers, artists, and developers, to make sure everyone is working together to create the best user experience for the player. In his words, he sits in the middle of the ‘triangle’ of these disciplines.
“Over the past few years, you can see more and more artists on teams focusing on UI, doing mock ups. At the same time, you have game designers, with their unique needs, and developers, with their focus areas and tasks, but there hasn’t really been much of a well-functioning link between them. The idea of UX coming into the game at video game studios, I would say, is really about how we can translate game design needs into interaction and UI design in a positive way,” said Chambon.
“These designers, developers, and artists all talk, if they visit each other’s desks, but it’s often like they speak different languages.” We spoke with Chambon about how he uses UX principles to increase communication and collaboration across teams to, ultimately, create better player experiences. We also asked him how Behaviour’s use of Adobe XD is helping make this an easier and more effective process than ever.
Health meters, notifications, mini maps, and more: Streamlining the vision of game designers into effective UI
At any given point, Chambon and other UI/UX designers in the industry are responding to the requests and initiatives of multiple game designers. Since different designers are often tasked with working on different aspects and experiences within the same game, they may have different ideas from their colleagues on how UI in the game should look and function.
“Imagine five or six different game designers, all asking independently for different UI features, with different UI artists responsible for making those features are created and don’t overlap with each other. In the past, it was really a revelation when I realized that we needed someone to funnel all those requests and help make decisions that make sense for the overall game. It’s about delivering a cohesive design with future iterations in mind,” said Chambon.
Then, there are programmers. On the programmer side, it’s always a question of what “tools” they have in their toolbox to build a player experience with the timeline available. It makes the most sense, said Chambon, to have someone who understands their needs and constraints as well, so that no one’s time is wasted creating mockups, prototypes, and fully-fledged concepts that can’t be implemented in the end.
“I’m in every game design meeting and try to be in every program or team meeting I can attend, so I can identify which person is creating which designs, what changes would need to be made to the UI to make it happen, what things we need to keep an eye on for the next iteration, etc.”
In video games, ‘good UX’ doesn’t means ‘easy’
There is a unique challenge to video game UX that doesn’t really exist in the app design world: unlike product design, which often prioritizes making experiences as easy as possible, video games should not always be ‘easy.’ This means that UX professionals working in video games must define user flows that balance complexity with ease-of-understanding.
“The focus is not to make the game easy, but rather to make it so the player is able to easily experience the game. The game could be really hard, but it should be easy to figure out how to play it and improve. It’s all about making sure that the player experiences the game the way it was designed,” said Chambon. The biggest hurdles often have to do with control inputs, and UX designers in video games often have to bridge the gap between a game designer’s intention and what the player can “easily” accomplish with the inputs available.
“There is sometimes a rivalry between the game designer and the player. The game designer often thinks of logic, mechanics, and focuses on building a beautifully designed, intricate game. But the more complex a game becomes, the more you have to pay attention to the player’s memory buffer. Often, they just want to play, and the less they notice the UI/it gets in their way, the less energy they’ll have to put into remembering what buttons to hit. For example, the physicality of the game pad is key; the actions on the screen should match the physical input position on the pad,” he said.
From mockups in Photoshop to a full UX process with XD
As teams at Behaviour have changed how they view UX and its role in game design, the tools they’re using have evolved as well. Previously, Chambon and other UI designers were using Photoshop to create mockups of UI concepts to present to teams. What was missing was any way to prototype user flows — something very important for proving how usable, or unusable, certain combinations of UI elements are.
“We weren’t even making wireframes. We’d create a mockup screen in Photoshop to present to designers, and this was really painful and slow because if we got any feedback that a particular element, like a button, should be moved elsewhere on the screen, we’d have to go back into Photoshop and change the layer,” he said.
Now, Behaviour is using XD to create interactive mockups of UI concepts. This has allowed UI/UX designers to show user flows to large teams of game designers, allowing them to visualize how UI concepts will actually work in-game. It’s also easy to make quick iterations to prototypes. Now, if someone has a hunch that a button would be better on the right side of the screen instead of the left, for example, it’s easy to try it out with no time lost. With XD’s support for gamepad triggers, Chambon says Behaviour “can finally prototype interactions and navigation the way it will be experienced in game…If a picture is worth a thousand words, then a prototype is worth a thousand pictures.”
“With XD, any team member can open any screen and they can feel it. They can see that, when they click on an object or element, what the end result will be. They can ‘grasp’ what it takes to navigate between pages with the actual gamepad in hand. Basically, what the end experience should and will feed like,” Chambon said.
Mobile games: Quickly building experiences across devices and resolutions
Behaviour Interactive develops games for PC, consoles, and mobile — very different worlds when it comes to UI. Mobile UI designers don’t have the luxury of knowing their games will be played on similar-sized screens, with the same controller and specs. Mobile games require you to take into account many different screen sizes, different weights to devices, different levels of memory and graphical ability across devices, and two (or more) completely different operating systems. Chambon and his team are able to use XD to visualize their UI across devices to ensure elements always display properly, and in ways that make them easy to interact with. Then, there’s a key UX question of where the player is when they’re actually playing the game.
“The player’s behavior changes with mobile. They don’t focus on the screen in the same way; we know they’re often focusing on three screens at the same time (a TV, their phone, and a tablet),” he said. “Touch is also a completely different way of selecting, and you need to be very careful with the UI and pay attention to the user flows of clicking on a menu and selecting something.” All-in-all, it’s a challenging environment, but as Chambon says, it’s growing at a huge rate and UX designers are needed to make sure playing mobile games result in robust, enjoyable experiences for players.
Putting the player first, and getting it right the first time
At the heart of Chambon’s work, and the other UI/UX designers at Behaviour, is the desire to create the best experiences for the player. He makes an effort to communicate this whenever possible, showcasing how UX best practices can really maximize a game’s fun. It may not always be easy to tell game designers, who passionately craft features to enhance a game, that their concepts will hurt player enjoyment, but it is sometimes necessary. “When I review games, I try to make the game designer imagine the player’s reaction when they’re blocked by something. If you are blocked, the player might be blocked, and they won’t be understanding next time. They won’t be back.”
While the addition of UX designers to production teams may be a newer concept in the video game world, Chambon says there is certainly a business case for it.
“Essentially, my focus is, if we can do it right the first time, using our expertise to create a better experience for the player, then we won’t have to rework the game as much in the future. This means following our process, pondering game design evolutions, staying on top of UI requests and changes throughout development, and making sure we have more time to iterate, to polish the game at the end. Even if you create a good UX in the beginning, games change and evolve over development, and so does the overall experience,” he said.
“UX makes a whole difference.”