Monday, October 10, 2011

BF3 UI notes

This is what greets you the moment you load into Operation: Metro on defense.  (Please click through to each screenshot.  The narrow blog column clipped and rescaled the thumbnails.)
  And here it is again slightly later when you've picked a bush to squat in.

Primary gripe:  The translucent blue minimap.  Given the rich environmental textures of BF3, it must be a real surprise to DICE that making the minimap translucent renders its visibility to essentially zero.  I feel that this was just one of a dozen design decisions made at middle-management level to deliver an "awesome!" image without really thinking through the usability.  Also relevant to these images, you can see the tiny blue triangles of my teammates off in the distance.  If you squint really hard.  And press your face to the screen.  And if you're not looking at something in the blue-green spectrum in the background.  I would describe them more as slivers than triangles.  Enemy spotting is accomplished with an orange shade of the same small cluster of pixels, easily missed while scanning a horizon full of bushes.  For comparative purposes, I'm going to show you the BC2 UI:

I had limited BC2 screenshots, so please forgive the smoke grenade in the middle of the image.  Note the solid, opaque minimap with far more visibility and terrain detail.  Note the fatter triangles off in the distance.  Note that I even see my squad's green icons with kit indicators instead of triangles.  Note how not every square inch of screen is covered by obstacles or bushes.

Operation: Metro's interior sections somehow manage to make the UI visibility problems even worse.  I don't think there's a shade of blue left for them to integrate into the metro tunnels.
This is a pretty typical metro screenshot, with blue lighting and shadows, cover everywhere and yet probably about to get sniped through that doorway just ahead.  Unfortunately I didn't think to get some shots of the central platforms, but it's mostly just this in lighter shades of blue (and even some white!).  Needless to say, it's hard to spot targets.
Cyan on cyan!  I also failed to get a picture of the chatbox, which would normally appear below the kill register on the upper-right.  It's an opaque black box with microscopic arial narrow white text.  It's virtually unreadable without literally stopping your gameplay and trying to parse it.  Contrast with BC2's chatbox, which is color-coded with a readable text AND has convenient easily-read tags for server vs. team chat.
It's not clear to me why I took this shot, but it's the only one I had showing red and blue text.  I also want to point out here that that red diamond on the minimap is an MCOM, the main objective of the rush mode.  There are always two per base, A and B.  You can see that the BC2 version has its MCOM clearly labeled on the minimap.  When your squadmate shouts "I'm arming A!" you can immediately discern where you need to place yourself to cover it.  Scroll back up and see how much more confusing it is in BF3 when the minimap has no such labels.

The menu and other non-gameplay screens are perhaps even worse, in terms of design disasters.  We'll start with the end-of-round score screens.
This is BF3.  Compare with BC2:
How high up the management chain do you think "Guys, let's make it smoke on a black background, because that looks awesome!" came from?  I think BC2 captured a lot of the flavor of the game by including those panoramic vistas in the load, end of round, and respawn screens.  BF3 eschews all of that  I also like BC2's text more, and the rank insignias.  And, most importantly, there's that EXIT GAME button in BC2 that BF3 lacks.  That's right, your stats don't save and you can't exit until you spawn into the next game, which means 35 seconds of staring at particle smoke effects and another 10 seconds of loading and another 5 seconds of pre-game countdown.

You can't even edit your game options in BF3 unless you're spawned into a game, by the way.  There's no main menu screen per se, because you join a game via a browser-based server menu.  There's no main executable.  I think even the single player mode is launched from your browser.  So you can't dick around with options until you're in the middle of a game.

Once you are in a game, you have the option to deploy or pick your "class" and equipment load.  You do so from the following screen.
That sure is a lot of empty space on the right, so it's a good thing we have lots of smoke to fill it with useful graphical detail.  Now you might think "Ok, this is a PC game, so surely I can just click on the weapons to change them."  You would also then be operating under the assumption that anything in this game makes sense from a usability standpoint.  Not only are you not even given text hints about what those equipment icons actually are, you have to enter a wholly different screen to swap them around.  Click the LOADOUT button and we're brought to:
 Couldn't this have just been on the right side of the previous screen?  And why do we have to navigate weapons and gear via scroll arrows?  This is a fucking PC game.  I have 1680x1050 pixels to render a goddamn grid.  I have a mouse to click boxes.  Each category should be expanded automatically upon opening this screen if you're dedicated to having this customization screen separated from the kit selection screen before it.  And this isn't even the extent of the customization.  This screen doesn't address weapon accessories.  Click another button, and:

What the flying fuck is this shit?  I need three different screens to pick my gear?  Look at all the empty space.  This could easily be condensed to one screen.  There's a hundred different ways to have made this more usable.  But apparently there's only one way to MOAR SMOAK.  The whole time you're navigating this clusterfuck and deciding whether you want the 4x scope or the 3.8x scope, you're receiving no game information, no ticket scores, no scoreboard, no maps, no squad status, no chat window.  It's mindbogglingly poor design.

The beta closes today so this is it for screenshots.  In closing, I want to show you two images, from BF3 and BC2, that neatly summarize the design differences between the two games.  You can figure out which represents which game rather easily on your own, if you've paid attention.

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