The lobby works quite ok and is definitely more "designed" than the in-game UI and in the end, it definitely looks like HUD and lobby had different designers. As a user-interface designer by trade, life-time gamer and half-baked game designer, here's my contribution to the matter:
First of all, the Basics.
The in-game UI in total is heavily cluttered, suffering from heavy grade visual spam. In a computer game the in-game UI should always come second to the actual content and shouldn't compete with the game unless it absolutely has to.
The HUD should use toned down colors and much less(!) of them. Good rule of thumb in visual design is three of everything: main colors, fonts, even margins. This creates design that is visually pleasing and easy for the eye, making scanning easier and usually performing better. The current design has bright colors all over the screen, competing with the users focus and attention, which leads to cluttered overall feeling.
Positioning of elements
When positioned to the screen, visual elements should be forming an invisible grid, thus again making the interface easier for the brain to comprehend, which translates to better performing UI.
Also, the UI elements differ massively from each other.
Take a look of this single screenshot of the game:
Just by quickly glancing I can count five(5) different types of buttons:
- The ability buttons (which have three different subtypes)
- Equipment buttons
- Menu (which has three different subtypes, for some reason)
- Map control
- Close UI panel button
And to this you have to add the skill level up button, which makes the grand total to six(6)
Now if you compare this to screenshot of DotA, which uses the framework of Warcraft III, of which UI design Blizzard has, without a doubt, sunk considerable amount of money.
The basic UI elements are nicely organized to grids, aren't too prominent to distract user and there are only three kinds of buttons:
- Menu buttons up-left
- Map controls down-left
- Hero control & ability buttons down-right (which has one extra subtype: the equipment slots)
Now, while I'm talking about buttons, all of this applies to every other element out there. When it comes to user interfaces, less is more.
Adding their contribution to the visual spam are different "notifications" you get when doing damage to say, creep. Or when you gain XP, which most of the time is every other second. It might seem like a neat little gimmick but this all contributes to visual spam. Sure, some might, and will, argue that you can always turn them off, yeah I can but that is past the point. The real deal is that, when designing user interfaces, you have to make your decision on account of percentages of users. Let me explain: If 5% of your current players really want an option X to the game, is that worth of making things more complicated to the 95% playerbase. But one button wont make a difference? It will, since A) then you will have whole another group of controls, which, if you have only one setting, is redundant, and B) adding more than 4-6 (roughly) is too much. Again, look at Warcraft III and the "user interface" settings. And if you ABSOLUTELY NECESSARILY need to have a option B in the settings: sensible defaults, meaning that the defaults should be the way that 90% of the players will use, and not the way the noisy couple of percents want them.
In the end, it's better to ignore that the few percents of the players in the beta stage (that's why it's called beta) than start adding every bit they require to the product. This might sound rough, specially as user interfaces are quite a fiery issue, as everyone can, and will, draw their own conclusions through their own likes/dislikes. This is why you have to remember that subjective opinion is not a measure of any kind, and practically worth of nothing, when it comes to user interfaces. This all racks to the fact that you will always end up pissing someone off, no matter what you do, you just have to look things analytically and from that base only, make your decisions.
As a coder myself, I understand that the creation of those notices, might have been fun little task to the programmer, and taken some bit of polishing, but there is another crude rule of practically any design: Kill your darlings
Meaning that you shouldn't be afraid to kill anything that you hold dear in the product in the face of common interests.
So, you could take away the XP and damage "notices", which would lead to lot less spam. Also, I would set default for not showing the creep hitpoints, since it's only necessarily when lasthitting, that could be done easily with seen-in-warcraft by pressing ALT key. This would again lessen the visual spam and make the interface easier to use. I would, however, keep the health bars on top of heroes, which would A) differ them from creeps and B) show the information that is important for the game
Phew. This concludes my rant on the visual spam.
I also noticed that there were some quite unnecessary elements in the UI, like my player name, in two occasions even (main screen and shop). This is again quite redundant as I should remember my playername, and it really doesn't matter during the game.
There are also sound elements missing (like when you buy something, or when the equipment combines, or even a click for the buttons), though I would be that you are already on the top of the things on these.
Extra thoghts: Why not use distinctively same UI elements in the whole user experience? Why don't the UI elements of in the game and lobby match? This would reduce learning curve and make the whole experience more seamless. Not to mention there are different UI elements in the HUD itself and the in-game shop.
Ok. I'm gonna wrap this up, before it turns from a rant from lecturing, and no-one likes that.
Finally, a note for follow-up comments. One of the major problems in DotA is that it really isn't a game that is easy to approach. We all know how we hate the newbies ruining the game and generally not understanding about anything, this is also the problem League of Legends has to overcome: The main thing is not to design a game to ourselves (as beta testers, though the actual job description of beta tester is somewhat different), rather than to figure out how to make the game approachable by new players. Not to raise Blizzard to any kind of pedestal (if it isn't already) but take a look for World of Warcraft: The sole reason for it's unprecedented numbers are the way the user experience is built in it. Anyone can hop in and have instant experiences of success and greatness and it the same time it can give the same amount of joy to players with level capped character. This is something Blizzard has always known how to do.
So, rather than distinctively trying to differ in every aspect from Warcraft III, why not embrace the family ties with it and learn, loan and steal stuff from it, which obviously has proved itself to be worthy of a second look. That's after all, how Warcraft came to be. (Dune II and later on Command and Conquer)
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