Show us the damn UI!

I’m getting really tired of pre-release screenshots of games not showing the user interface elements. What’s the deal? I know sometimes the UI isn’t finalized till late in the development process, but there should be some form of prototype UI early on that roughly indicates how the UI will look and function.

Marketing feels that it clutters up the image and ‘blocks out’ the important bits.

Yay marketing.

It’s a tough call. Screenshots with a UI often look ugly in print. I usually try to send in those with and without a UI when I do PC game reviews and just let the art guys decide.

It’s easy to understand why they don’t use the ones with the UI though.

What’s the deal?

In some cases you don’t want to give away ideas or concepts to your competitors too early.


Have a look at AoE3’s. That should hold you for five more games.

I think it is different in a review compared to a preview - because previews often depend on marketing shots which will have no UI, but while the UI might look ugly in print, it is the game - imagine some of the old games where 3/4 of the screen was UI and only showing the graphics part - pretty, but misleading.


I, for one, look through screenshots specifically for UI shots. I hardly ever find them, unfortuantely, which is a shame because I learn far about a game (and therefore get excited about it) from UI screenshots that staged ‘look how pretty our 3d engine is’ shots.

Sometimes a person can basically review a game just by seeing a screenshot of its UI.

“Enter The Matrix is woefully clunky and unfinished, with threadbare elements haphazardly stitched together at the last minute. The game was obviously rushed for release and desperately needed another six months of development time, at least.”

I think the biggest problem is that the GUI is often among the last things locked down. If you start showing off images with the GUI, you run the risk of being a month from release, cringing at the horrid screenshots you released a year ago. In some games, the GUI just isn’t important, either. I’d say strategy games and RPGs should always have the GUI visible, though, as long as it’s close to final; it’s an integral part of the experience in those games.

FNR3 on the 360 doesnt even have a HUD

Different designers work on the graphics and the UI so development isn’t necessarily parallel?

The UI guys may be making blocky functional stuff because there’s still stuff to test?

Blocky functional UI, which exists that way because something unfinished should look unfinished, does not exactly make for the best hype?

Conversely, having a finished graphical UI 6 months before any of the functionality hooked in leads to higher-ups wondering WTF these 6 months are for since the look doesn’t change any?

Talk amongst yourselves.


This is true of all software development, in my experience. When showing software to non-technical people (or ‘the idiots upstairs’, if you like), never shouw them: a) anything that looks good but doesn’t do anything, because they will think you are finished; OR b) anything that has a testbed front end but demonstrates the massive tech miracles you have managed to pull off, because they won’t get it.

I had something like four different builds of Civilization IV in the month before it went gold, and each had a different interface (it started at “way fugly”). I’ve never seen that much change in a GUI that late in a game’s development, but that’s presumably why they used XML, Python, etc.

A UI is one of those systems that evolves with the product and product testing, and hence has the possibility of always changing over time. I’ve seen AA do this quite a bit in the last year. You get so much of flow ideas through user input that it’s not surprising at all that UI may change drastically over the history of a product, right up to release.

From a marketing perspective, I can see how one would think that the UI gets in the way of the graphics that you use to sell the game. “Look at this cool new game, with smooth 8xAA, anisotropic whosits and fantastic dinglefingises, and… whoa crap, the interface is blocking half of the screen!”

And of course many UIs simply look ugly or just don’t fit in well when you’re trying to convey something other than a still picture from a still picture.

— Alan

I agree completely that real screenshots, not UI lacking ones, not cutscene ones, but real screenshots can give you a good feel for the game right away.

Same thing I do when I’m curious about any new kind of software, I look to see what the screenshots of it look like. From there I can decide whether to read further or know right away if it’s not my kind of thing.

I can understand the points about the UI being in constant development but for the RPGs I usually play, UI tells you a lot.

Yeah, I’m of those developers that has “UI ADD.” For our latest game I went through 3 different HUDs in a month before I found one I was comfortable showing in a screenshot.

You know what I found really amazing? When you hit ALT-Z or whatever it is in WoW to remove the UI. It’s not like the UI takes up that much real estate, but suddenly as soon as it’s gone the whole screen seems to take on a much more epic and cinematic feel. It’s kind of a mental trick I think, but I really found the effect astonishing.

It isn’t really playable without the UI though, unfortunately… I wish you could still input slash commands and hit keybound slotted items/spells/etc with the UI elements hidden.

That’s a really good point. There’s no reason you shouldn’t be able to do that. Is there?