Posts Tagged: diegetic

Dead Space Analysis

Video: Designing Dead Space's immersive user interface

Video: Designing Dead Space’s immersive user interface

Dead Space’s Diegetic UI

The integrated nature of the diegetic UI within the gameplay meant that it was used to enhance the story driven gameplay, not just laid over the top as a means of control. (As explained by the Lead UI Artist above) The broken, dystopian future of Deadspace was emphasised by details such as the interface being broken or unpredictable at times with static, scanlines, flickering lights, etc. These details did not necessarily make logical sense in a futuristic world (why would this advanced futuristic technology suffer these analogue traits?) but were included for the sake of enhancing the atmosphere and ability to tell the story. These elements communicated feeling and emotion to the player and increased their immersion within this world.

This is an example of innovation in Interaction/UI Design creating a more successful experience for the player. As a result of these decisions, the player had a more seamless existence within an imaginary sci-fi world. Usually, interactions such as checking your remaining life, opening a door, or fast traveling on a map can break that sense of immersion and temporarily bring a player out of the imaginary world. However, in the case of Dead Space, the designers remedied this by innovating and thus creating an experience where the player didn’t need to leave the game world to perform these actions. This was done by making it so that the in-game character showed their health on their back, interacted with maps in game, etc. This level of immersion benefits the game by intensifying the emotions the designers set out to instill – fear, or ‘a horror experience’.

(The minor exceptions to this are screens such as the pause menu, settings page, etc which do not ever ‘belong’ to the in-game avatar but solely to the player of the game. The designer mentions how this was approached by ensuring these interfaces were always set behind Isaac, the in-game player avatar)

🔗 Links to: Skeuomorphic Design

(Using familiarity by retaining ornamental design cues that were necessary in the original form of an object but no longer technically are) E.g. Using scanlines in Dead Space, the paper texture background in Apple’s notes app.

Screen Shot 2015-10-27 at 10.14.16.png

The above screenshot shows the original UI that needed to be implemented but the team realised this distracted too much from the gameplay and broke the immersion. The player’s attention would never be focused where it needed to be. The ‘rig’ is the answer to this, implementing the elements diegetically into the game.

  • The initial design for helping the player navigate, which was later deemed 'unsalvageable'
  • The innovation to solve this dilemma - the 'locator', a much simpler, still fully diegetic, glowing line on the floor
  • Showing how the locator has evolved over time into the later games. Much more clarity is achieved here, by dimming the rest of the world and lighting up the focus of the player's vision with bright blue lighting

As shown above, with the player navigation system, the team made many innovations throughout the design process in order to stay truly committed to their diegetic interface. It seemed illogical to allow this diegetic illusion to break at any point, as it would reduce the effect of the rest of the design.

Screen Shot 2015-10-27 at 11.12.20

However, the design of the ‘Bench’ proved it very difficult to stick to these self-set conventions. Trying to create a more immersive method of upgrading equipment using the ‘Bench’ resulted in favoring full diegesis at the expense of usability.

Dead Space’s the workbench began as a way to tie Clarke’s engineering background to the game as he created weapons from what he found in the environment, Ignacio said. Its redesign in Dead Space 3, while offering more traditional weapons, was also way to push the idea of Clarke as engineer farther by allowing him to actually craft his own weapons.

The first attempt to redefine the workbench for Dead Space 3, which included Clarke in frame and multiple windows on the bench, was “unusable,” he said.

“You know when you’ve screwed up a system,” he said, when those working on the game would rather use the debug system than the one in the game.

The compromise involved using a more traditional UI element that took over the whole screen. Despite a break with the diegetic design principles, it’s a decision he stands by.

“At the end of the day, none of that is important if your users really can’t interact with your game,” he said. “The bottom line is that fun and usability are more important than the bullshit I was talking about in the beginning.””

Polygon article on Dino Ignacio, Visceral Games’ lead UI Designer

The bottom line is that sometimes you have to let go of the conventions you’ve set yourself, or the previously established industry conventions, in order to ultimately create a better experience for the user. When the ‘Bench’ system the team were designing was failing, they needed to let go of their stubborn desire to 100% stick to a completely diegetic interface and instead settle for a full screen, more traditional UI screen. The result was much more usable for the player, despite not being as seamlessly embedded in the in-game surroundings. This compromise was worthwhile and had a positive effect on the overall experience. This is a case where breaking the rules was evidently the right choice to make.

Above are some images showing the iterations of the inventory design. The end result was simplified as much as possible which was necessary for the diegetic nature of the design to function. It was important to keep Isaac on the screen to maximise the effect, as the interface is being projected as a hologram from his equipment. Consequently, though, this reduces the ‘real estate’ available for the UI to use. It was important to focus on the readability and keep the features minimal. While doing this, it is also clearly important for the team to keep to the aesthetic style and theme of the game. Mostly solid colours and lines were used to minimise confusion and clutter, with each section clearly in its own ‘chunk’. However there are still more subtle elements of texture and pattern, which could be considered decorative (and therefore possibly considered not truly minimal), but it can be justified that they do serve important function – as explained above – these details are a subtle example of using skeuomorphs such as scanlines to contribute to the atmosphere.

My personal reflection is that in a situation such as this, it is important to prioritise simplicity, usability, readability and clarity above all else, especially given the limited screen space (as I would say the designers did at the time). Most of the time, this would involve removing everything that is not entirely necessary for the function of the interface – which would generally include more ‘decorative’ elements. However, it’s also important not to sacrifice elements that are in aid of the story, atmosphere and overall feel of the experience. If scanlines and other more superficial details allow the design to blend into the game world more effortlessly, then this is equally important, providing that they don’t interfere, such as by obscuring the text. I feel that it is important to add details like this in the least obtrusive ways. For example, the subtle shapes of the corners and lines add a technological, futuristic feel to the interface while also ensuring these headings stand out to the player – meaning they can quickly skim over the interface and locate the section they are looking for more quickly. As well as this, a colour palette of muted grey-blues with highlights of bright blue and white— making clever use of varying opacity—also contributes to the sci-fi theme while simultaneously creating text that is easy to read against the background of the game world.

Having said this, if I were to design the interface for the next Dead Space game, I would opt for something even simpler. It’s easy to say that details such as texture and scanlines add to the ‘sci-fi’ look, and this is true based on established conventions and trends – but is almost becoming too reliant on stereotypes. It might be beneficial to consider this from a different perspective. When I think of ‘futuristic’ user interface, I think of innovation. But by recycling the nature and characteristics of older, analogue technology, is this not going in the opposite direction? When it comes to the Deadspace 3 inventory in particular, the combination of patterns, shaped borders, scanlines, textures and detailed item thumbnails are beginning to teeter on the verge of clutter. I think from this point, it may become beneficial to take an aesthetic direction akin to the new Star Wars: Battlefront interface or perhaps Destiny.

The Star Wars: Battlefront 2015 Beta interface, shown above, makes use of:

  • Bright, solid, flat colours (and a limited, consistent palette)
  • Blurred and frosted backgrounds for clarity
  • Clear and consistent grid systems
  • Flat, informative pictograms over more detailed thumbnail artwork
  • Strong use of clear and modern typography
  • Spacious and generous use of white-space to avoid clutter

The design avoids feeling bland, clinical or plain by making use of full scale, high definition artwork occupying the background space (blurred when necessary to retain clarity of the overlayed options). The large character and asset models in the background rotate slowly, adding subtle life to the interface without becoming distracting. These backgrounds also take this opportunity to showcase the high quality modelling and artwork featured in the game – giving the player a chance to look more carefully and close-up – as opposed to when they would usually be in fast-paced battle action, glossing over the rich details.

I personally feel that this clean and slick style could be combined very effectively with the Dead Space team’s experienced knowledge of implementing diegetic interfaces. This is one aspect the SWBF interface did not take advantage of – all interface is completely non-diegetic. [It is worth noting that in the following, I am thinking completely in terms of game design, out-ruling any preconceived biases about the studios themselves, their signature styles, usual methods of working, their available resources, capabilities, creative freedom, etc] The lack of diegesis in Star Wars may be due to wanting to stick to the safer choice of a more traditional UI for such a large-scale, online multiplayer FPS – something that may not be able to take as many risks or is more bound to established conventions and patterns within its UI.

However, more prominently, the use of Diegesis could pose consistency issues. Players can take control of a variety of different characters – from both sides of the battle. My first thought was that the designers could have made use of the fact that a character such as a Stormtrooper wears a helmet, and could therefore use a Diegetic Helmet HUD – or at least have the existing HUD slightly slanted and fish-eye to replicate looking through a helmet (see: Destiny). The problem created here is that… what if the player was playing as Luke, a character without a helmet? Or piloting space craft or a vehicle such as an AT-AT? These would call for very different HUD designs which would likely result in either: a) far too much work or b) inconsistency and therefore lack of usability. These are all considerations for when trying to streamline a design to suit it’s context most appropriately.

On the other hand, a new Dead Space would (if in keeping with the first three games) most likely feature a single, unchanging playable character who can continue to seamlessly make use of diegesis through holograms or similar in-game technology. As said above, I feel that if this also took advantage of a more contemporary design aesthetic like that of Star Wars, the result could be an even more seamless and functional interface that was also in keeping with the sci-fi theme — without falling prey to any outdated sci-fi stereotypes.

The book Game Development Essentials: Game Interface Design also covers the Dead Space interface and its use of diegesis. [To be updated with scans from the book]