Favorite User Interfaces?

Full disclosure: I’m hoping to test the waters here for a project I’m working on. I have such strong preferences about user interfaces; style, volume, ease of use, and so on.

I like smooth, minimal UI, which keeps me from cracking the requisite level of enjoyment on a bunch of game genres. What games had UI that stood out for you? How did they change your experience from other entries in that genre?

Sometimes the frame is almost as important as the stuff inside it.

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The endless games all have incredible UI for strategy games. But the best part? Right click goes back to previous menus. It just makes way too much sense for mouse based games it’s crazy to me that so few strategy games do it. I suppose it isn’t as big an issue with controller based games, but for any PC UI using a mouse, putting as many functions as possible on the mouse is always a good thing! Even better though would be for games UI to use the forward and back buttons on mice!

EDIT: But just for standard UI stuff, I almost always prefer cleaner looks over something more thematic. Keep it out of the way or give me the ability to do that myself. And for any multiplayer game or strategy game, give me the option to put a real world clock in the top corner.


I love a good UI, but my preferences vary so wildly from game to game that I can’t really pinpoint one or two things which work for me. I love Dead Space’s minimal, integrated UI with the health on Isaac’s back and all the HUD information being displayed within the game. But I also adore playing FFXIV with a hundred different UI elements on-screen at once (which, crucially, they let you scale and position however you like for every single element displayed).

If I had to pick one thing, I’d say that I prefer not to have too much unnecessary ornamentation around elements of the UI. If the buttons are all presented within a frame (such as with games like StarCraft or Civilization) that’s okay, but I’ll take the clean-cut health bars of Dark Souls over the big, clunky meter of God of War any day. So I suppose I prefer minimal designs which convey the information I need without taking up too much space - even going back to the FF example, every individual element has to be only the necessary information, and nothing more, else it wouldn’t fit!

Just to follow on from @Glorgu, I understand why games don’t use forward/back mouse buttons by default (as many mice don’t have them) but I’ve encountered a few games which refuse to even allow me to rebind commands to them and that is a big annoyance for me.

I remember being really impressed that Star Trek: Birth of the Federation had a different UI skin for each faction, so the Romulan UI was different from the Klingon UI. That made me really happy.

Dead Space was a revelation, and I’ve heard amazing things about what FFXIV has been able to accomplish on multiple levels. I also think about this stuff in terms of how long, cumulatively, you spend inside the interface instead of playing the game. I think the best games minimize this time spent, which is why, on the HD “remaster” of Skyrim, I remembered why I never beat it the first time. Oops, time to hit B again, fingers crossed it doesn’t autosave.

I think my ideal game is the one from the film Her, in the scene where Joaquin Phoenix is playing alone in his apartment. It’s an AR interface controlled by gestures, and he, the player, runs into a little gremlin guy in a glowing green cave. The gremlin seems hostile, and curses up a storm at the player, until the player gives him a “fuck you” back, at which point the gremlin becomes friendly. Emergent gameplay is my favorite thing to experience, and I love how games can use UI, or lack of UI, to challenge you on a conceptual level.

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If there’s one thing Persona 5 does well, it’s UI.


Slap me in the face, Protagonist, I love it.

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Probably Mini Metro.

Does that even count? It’s so beautiful though!

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Mini Metro counts 100%, good pull.

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I’ll second/third Dead Space and add Mirror’s Edge. They demonstrated that great UI starts with great UX, especially where player immersion is core to the concept of the game mechanics. In addition to Dead Space’s diegetic UI (probably not the right phrase), being unable to pause is a subtle but incredibly forward-thinking mechanic that helped to amplify the tension within a well-established genre. In Mirror’s Edge, the reliance on environmental cues helped to communicate the way freerunners enter a ‘zone’ and have to quickly draw upon natural pathfinding skills to navigate an environment. Off the top of my head, those two stand out since it seemed like radical decisions to make in the AAA games market of 2008.

I guess it really depends on the type of game, but to be honest, I find a minimal UI to be kind of…boring. My favorite UIs are the ones that do something to be memorable. For example, the Persona 5 UI is bold, and loud and cool to an almost absurd degree.

Another thing is, I think I’m a sucker for good menu sound effects. Theres something so satisfying about the chirps and beeps of menus in games like Nier Automata and MGS.

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I love Invisible, Inc.'s interface. There are definitely games with more stylized or particular UI’s, but II’s has this close-to-the-metal practical feeling that really suits the sensation of commanding a team of professional hackers and thieves. I’m super interested in how games communicate the expertise of their characters to their players—how Hitman or The Witcher 3 use their detective modes to pass some of the PC’s knowledge along to the player, or how MGS5 uses sound mixing and HUD indicators to make Snake’s environmental awareness into the player’s. II nails that in a way that a lot of other hacking games have tried to. It’s an incredible feeling. It feels like being good at your job.

So much of that comes from the crossover between the UI and the gameworld, too. The way that mechanical elements like vision cone indicators or hackable objects are made a piece of the UI through both aesthetic cues (palette especially) and functionality makes that privileged information feel like it’s something you’re reading from the game’s world, rather than the game cracking its own world to tell the player something. When a little static on the screen in MGS5 indicates that an enemy sees you, it can come off as an overaccomodating way to to concretize Snake’s expertise and awareness. Invisible, Inc., on the other hand, makes the player feel like it’s their expertise and awareness—they’re pulling the strings.

Klei seems to alternate aesthetics in a funny way for each big title; Mark of the Ninja and Invisible, Inc. share a look, Don’t Starve and Oxygen Not Included share a look. Looking forward to whatever comes after Oxygen.

I’m going to add to the Dead Space fare and suggest the Crysis trilogy. The UI is fairly minimalistic, with one-size-fits-all energy bar that was very clear and non-intrusive. Switching between different suit modes was elegant and felt fluid- especially in 2 and 3, and it also looked very sleek.
I really do wish more games tried to incorporate their UI into the game world. It’s just brings another layer of immersion into the experience

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Just checking out Scanner Sombre, I was pleasantly surprised to discover all the scanning you do creates a persistent 3D map. That and Kholat got me real good; I can’t stand Ubisoft maps anymore.

The following isn’t related to games (so ignore me if you want), but my recent fascination has been with hidden/obscured interfaces on hardware. Apple’s AirPods are a great example of this: you take them out, put them in your ear, and get a little chime saying its connected. If you want to check the battery life, you pop the case open to get the on-screen prompt.

Somewhat related are Vizio’s soundbars. They conveys all volume/setting info through a stack of LEDs that are hidden behind the left-front of the device. Volume min is all of them off, cranking it up to max means the lights turn on from bottom to top. And when off, it looks like a seamless speaker grill. It immediately makes sense, but is also a joyful little design.

The last one I’ll mention is the mute switch on iPhones. I love having a way to toggle that without needing to open the phone or mess with the software. And at a glance you can see if its muted or not. I miss it on my iPad Pro and hope they don’t ditch in future phone hardware.

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The DiRT series has really well presented UI. I think I like the first game’s menus the best, floating in 3D abstract space with depth of field effects on the distant menus. The second game’s physical trailer and outdoor race party is also really cool, especially the physics-driven wooden boards they drop to display stats. Dirt 3 kind of tries to marry the abstract style with the physical style and does so decently. The worst part of DiRT Rally is the bog-standard boring menus.

Fantastic Contraption probably has the best VR UI so far. Place a helmet on your head to view the menu world, then pull levers, spin shelves. Pick up and place small maquette models of contraptions to save and load levels, or throw them in the fire to delete. It is very skeuomorphic but it works for VR.

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It’s a really specific case but a great example of UI and game theme synergy: Duskers. The game has you remotely operating drones in derelict spaceships using a command driven interface on Alien (1979) level technology. The interface is clunky, dated, and entirely key driven. It works so well to heighten the atmosphere of the game that is the only game I could bring myself to keep playing after I cracked my laptop’s screen. Even though some helpful info was obscured in the upper left corner, it just seemed appropriate that my nameless space drone operator was contending with broken junk as well as unspeakable cosmic horrors.

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I also like how you can tell if the iPhone is on mute without even taking out of your pocket. If you feel it with your finger and it lines up with the volume buttons, it’s off. If it’s not in line with the volume buttons, it’s on.

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What’s the over under on Destiny’s UI I feel like there was a lot of buzz intially and then overtime I think people got frustrated with it.

Seems built for Mouse & Keyboard tho

I think it’s important to recognize novel UI concepts and where they originate.

Pull-down-to-refresh, for instance, was created by Loren Brichter in the app Tweetie. Tweetie was eventually purchased by Twitter and became the official Twitter app until they ruined it.

But think about it, Pull-to-refresh is everywhere in Touch UI design, all because of one little app from 2008. One day it didn’t exist, and now it’s everywhere.