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Browser games - The nightmare of UI design

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I don't have any solutions to your problems.
In fact, I don't see the problems in your examples as you pointed them out, but I appreciate your insights, as something I would have to consider if I manage to land a UI design job, which I have been looking into.

I also have a few more problems to consider: 2 different screens, even from the same manufacturer, will display colors differently. Different web browsers will display web pages differently, and may support different features, all complicating the process.
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[quote name='boolean' timestamp='1317003887' post='4865935']
The main issue I have with a lot of browser games is in how they completely overdo the designs in order to look more 'game' like.[/quote]
I thought this was precisely the point, to draw the user away from a standard web experience into something that would feel more like a desktop\stand-alone game (common for having adornments all around the screen).

Compare those Deepolis screens with a Starcraft 2 one: [url="http://i56.tinypic.com/j5y2hk.jpg"]http://i56.tinypic.com/j5y2hk.jpg[/url]

What I realize from this is that perhaps the most important part in browser-games UI design is consistency with the game's theme rather than if it looks like it's being played from a website or not.

[b]EDIT[/b]: I see now how that Starcraft 2 screen differs from the Deepolis example you posted. It has a more balanced color scheme and composition.  
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I would probably adopt the standard web design rules for the layout, such as [url="http://www.alibony.com/graphics/def_rule_of_thirds.html"]the rule of thirds[/url], [url="http://uxmovement.com/content/applying-the-golden-ratio-to-web-layouts-and-objects/"]the golden ratio[/url] (more [url="http://net.tutsplus.com/tutorials/other/the-golden-ratio-in-web-design/"]here[/url]) , etc... and apply more fancy looking graphics on top. It's actually much harder than it sounds, because you have to create something that accommodates all kinds of screen resolutions. This calls for robust dynamic content resizing, which can be nightmarish to implement when it comes to supporting a wide range of browsers. Fortunately IE is getting better in that respect.

Personally, I think less is more. The OP is pretty much spot on, those sample sites simply overload the audience with visual clutter. Making important navigation elements clear and easy to find is paramount. Additional stuff should appear in a contextual manner, if possible.
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[quote name='Tachikoma' timestamp='1317238108' post='4866912']
those sample sites simply overload the audience with visual clutter. Making important navigation elements clear and easy to find is paramount. Additional stuff should appear in a contextual manner, if possible.
[/quote]

This is probably a better way of putting it =)

[font="arial, verdana, tahoma, sans-serif"][size="2"][quote name='Hamsta' timestamp='1317185486' post='4866682']
In fact, I don't see the problems in your examples as you pointed them out
[/quote]

[/size][/font][font="arial, verdana, tahoma, sans-serif"][size="2"]I agree that browser game websites often look nice, but it's the usability I have issue with. [/size][/font][font="arial, verdana, tahoma, sans-serif"][size="2"]For example, take the SC2 screenshot. It's very pretty, but the actual layout is quite simple. The background is quite soft while all items you can interact with a very obviously highlighted. Functionality is also grouped into areas that the eyes can focus on with the more fancy areas (like the logo) out of the way of where your eyes might be scanning. [/size][/font]

[font="arial, verdana, tahoma, sans-serif"] [/font][font="arial, verdana, tahoma, sans-serif"][size="2"]In contrast, if we look at [/size][/font][url="http://www.gamoplay.com/images/games/Nemexia/tr/screenshot_3.jpg"]Nemexia[/url][font="arial, verdana, tahoma, sans-serif"][size="2"] or [/size][/font][url="http://nm.gameforge.de/redesign/ogame_de_05.jpg"]OGame[/url][font="arial, verdana, tahoma, sans-serif"][size="2"], they certainly look nice but my eyes go into a seizure [/size][/font][size="2"]every time I look at them. Items are [/size]scattered[size="2"] all over the place with no obvious grouping. In the case of OGame, I'm willing to bet most people don't even notice the verticle list of planets on the far right or the email icon in the top left. While these two are more of an example of poor layout, there's also games like [/size][url="http://aylives.com/blog/wp-content/uploads/2011/04/juggernaut-browser-game-scr-4.jpg"]THIS[/url] monstrosity[size="2"]. I have to ask, what is going on anywhere on this screenshot! [/size][url="http://www.pcgames.de/screenshots/original/2009/02/Browser_Game_Xhodon_6.jpg"]This one[/url][size="2"] is not far behind either. In an effort to stand out they've made a website that is near impossible to use. It reminds me of web development sites that are often trying to do the same thing - [url="http://www.pearlbrite.biz/"]trying to hard to stand out by looking amazing[/url] rather than making a website that works.[/size]

Now I realise that this is not specific to browser games, it just seems much more common. An example of a video game ditching all good UI for over the top designs being [url="http://lparchive.org/X-COM-UFO-Defense/Update%2012/3-xcom000.png"]XCom 1[/url] vs [url="http://i.d.com.com/i/dl/media/dlimage/90/69/1/90691_large.jpeg"]XCom[/url] [url="http://i1-games.softpedia-static.com/screenshots/X-COM--Interceptor_1.jpg"]interceptor[/url].

I think a big part of these crazy layouts is maybe just the medium of web. In a video game going through a few screens to find some information is expected. In a browser game that's a whole other 3-4 page requests which could take seconds each to load. It's more work on the servers end, it's more work the developers end to track your location in the windows (since hotkeys are not used as much navigation is more important) and its more bandwidth on the clients end. I think because of this there's a compulsion to put everything the player might want to do in one screen. I've also noticed that a majority of these games were developed before modal windows were common place and the use of new popup windows was forbidden, therefore giving them less options of where to put information. This also goes for simple menu/navigation animations that used to require flash that are now done in HTML5 or jQuery.

I think part of the reason I also dislike over designed browser game interfaces that video games tend to give a [b]lot [/b]more feedback to the user through animations, highlights, rollovers and sound. While a simple 'click' noise as you roll over an element in a video game is amazingly helpfull, any noise feedback in a browser game is very poorly looked upon. I think the experience playing something like [url="http://a248.e.akamai.net/www.direct2drive.com/images/product/screenshots/8578/normal/screenshot1.jpg"]gratuitous space battles[/url] in a browser would be a completely different level of feedback and interface design.


Now that all being said, this is just of course my opinion. I know less about UI design than I do raising horses. What this post is hoping to ask is:

A) Are these designs needed? If a browser game looked clean and simple to the point where you barely even notice it, is that dooming the game from the start?
B) With no flashy graphics to fill up the screen, are over the top designs unavoidable?
C) If you are playing a browser game, does having an over designed layout immerse you in the game anymore than a simple layout? Is it all for naught anyway?
D) Should browser game layouts and UI be treated the same as any other website on the internet?
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[quote]It reminds me of web development sites that are often trying to do the same thing - [url="http://www.pearlbrite.biz/"]trying to hard to stand out by looking amazing[/url] rather than making a website that works.[/quote]
It's horrible. One should never subject the audience to a blank white screen, with nothing but a percentage counter ticking, or hourglass/ball spinning, etc. That is a really good way to frustrate people, or make them lose interest in the site. Deliver content to the audience as quickly as possible. Even if there is a lot data in the page, try loading the skeletal structure first, then the visual fluff later. In other words, progressively build the page as it loads. The reason why you want to do this is because web users will scan and read the page immediately as it loads. This keeps them occupied while the page is constructed and hopefully they will be distracted. Sometimes the user doesn't even wait for the page to finish loading, the user navigates around the site quite spontaneously.

Interestingly, there was a survey was done on user perception for site responsiveness, but unfortunately I lost the reference. The experiment involved various sites that took equally long to load. However, some pages forced the user to wait for until it loaded completely, while other pages were the progressive kind I described earlier. Turns out, users thought the progressive loading sites were heaps faster compared to the one with the stupid percentage counter. Something to keep in mind.


Regarding your other questions, it's about having a good sense of web styling. The design does not need to be barren, but you may need to compose your UI elements in such manner that the decor is not distracting. In other words, the visual fluff should be mostly in the background and the important elements should dominate. If you spend more than 2 ~ 3 seconds looking at the site, just to find a key UI navigation point, then you are doing something wrong. One effective example for getting the focus right, you could borrow tricks used in photography, see [url="http://www.slrphotographyguide.com/tips/images/circlular-bokeh.jpg"]here[/url] and [url="http://media02.hongkiat.com/bokeh_photography/11-bokeh-wednesday.jpg"]here[/url]. For instance you may have important UI features nice and sharp, while not important styling completely out of focus (blurred) in the background.
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