UI is not the only part under a UX designer’s ownership. There are a host of things, from quality of life to accessibility of controls. Each of these components has its own understanding of how much to invade the game space. While buttons and controllers are strictly outside the screen, their implications are very much in the game space.
In the original Ocarina of Time, players had to go into the inventory every single time to equip and unequip the iron boots. And when they arrived at the water temple, a physical puzzle-level where switching boots is essential, the experience was beyond frustrating.
It took Nintendo 13 year to be able to fix it on the 3DS with the simple ease of life addition using the bottom screen. With this change, the invasion of the menu was substantially reduced in the game space.
Of course! Whoever said that all ideas in a game come from game designers? It has become a strong notion that UX designers are not supposed to look at anything except interfaces, controls, and accessibility. Yet the cornerstone of the video games industry has always and will always remain innovating methods of play!
Here is the cooking interaction in Red Dead Redemption 2. While the player-character in the background goes about from chopping to filleting, cooking to eating, all of those commands stem from a simple interface. A recipe is displayed, its requirements are stated, the resources in the player’s inventory are stated, and a simple button needs to be pressed to “cook”. And this is considered a marvel of immersion. This is because the collateral surrounding the mechanic immerses players into the world, chiefly hunting and collecting the resources to cook.
Breath of the Wild takes another attempt at the mechanic, allowing players to mix various ingredients together to discover concoctions or follow set recipes. It adds another layer of depth that helps immersion. It also reflects how important cooking is considered by its designers as a mechanic in BotW as compared to RDR2.
Another example is an upcoming (hopefully soon) indie game Magincia by Game Puppets Studio where cooking is a far more crucial mechanic than the previous examples. While the game is all about casting spells, it has an adamant reliance on deep and fleshed out core mechanics.
Unlike the other examples, there are no flat interfaces. Uncooked meat needs to placed on a fire, the temperature needs to be controlled — things need to be physically achieved. The interaction design of this element is much more complicated than anything, which reflects the hierarchical importance of the mechanic with respect to the rest of the game.
As each mechanic jostles less and less with the other mechanics, their form starts to change to reflect the true depth of their function. As the form achieves more and more influential presence in the game world, the flat interface melts away. This can give rise to various inter-relatedness between game systems and can be driven by pure UX design.
Much like service app design, UX in games asks very simple questions — what are the players here to do and how they are helped. The question is not “how can we make this easy” but “how can we help them fulfil what they seek”, whether that is immersion, guidance, sense of achievement, labour of organisation, improving, or simply being delighted. While it is quite easy to have some fill bars and toggles and sprawling grid systems, it is critical to remember that not all parts of the game are equal. And for every level of hierarchy there is in the game systems, it is a function of UX design to understand exactly how much of the 4th wall it should break.