Since the announcement of the next-gen consoles, the talk of the town has been all about a handful of features. Horsepower tends to be high on that list, along with particle effects and how much geometry developers allow on-screen. While those are valid topics to be concerned with, one thing that hasn’t received anywhere near as much press time is the part of gaming that effectively controls our experience.
Sure, you’ve heard developers talk about how their engine brings unparalleled realism to gamers around the globe – at this point in the console wars, it’s almost expected. I’d venture to say that if a developer doesn’t say that at least once describing their engine, they might end up fired. Yes, that was a joke, but I wouldn’t have brought up the topic without valid reason…
Think about it for a second. How many times have you seen an interface in a video game that leaves you speechless? Chances are that it doesn’t happen that often. Don’t get me wrong – there’s nothing wrong with interfaces the way they are, so don’t take it as my complaining – it’s just that when hearing about how much the rest of the experience is being touched with things that were previously impossible, why hasn’t the interface issue ever been considered as a part of that whole?
Even in this new generation of video games, some gaming interfaces haven’t evolved one bit. Take for instance, NBA 2k7. A game that has been touted across the internet as having some of the best graphics seen on a gaming console, the interface seems kind of lacking, doesn’t it?
Some games have been stepping it up this generation, though. NBA Live and Fifa titles on next-gen consoles are practically the game, allowing you to practice your moves before selecting where you want to go. The Halo 3 Beta interface is clean, purposed, and blends right into the game experience — and Halo 3 won’t be released officially for another four months. Other than those notable exceptions, though, the vast majority of interfaces this generation have been strikingly similar to what we’ve become accustomed to from the last gen. Until now.
Just today on the Evil Avatar forums, forum member ‘gzsfrk‘ asked members about which gaming interfaces the members found to be “above and beyond” citing the Dirt demo as example (which reminded me to download it). After the wait for the download to complete, I started the demo and was amazed at what I saw.
Eschewing the regular text selection interface that gamers are so used to, I have to admit that the Dirt interface feels almost as incredible as playing the game. The first thing you see is an animation that feels like a pre-rendered video, but the destination is nothing of the sort. The interface is striking in 3D, with a subtle camera movement. You can see other menu elements floating in the distance, properly blurred as they aren’t the focus. When you make a selection, the screen chases down the next page in the floating menus.
Then there’s the subtle floating arrows at varying depths, and the 3D movement of everything when the camera moves. Even the controller config screen, which normally involves immediate changes on-screen, moves in 3D. Moving left and right bring previously unseen selectors flying onto the screen while your former selection moves away from you. Even while the game loads, various stats are animated onto the screen.
Speechless isn’t the word, because there were expletives flying, but these were awe driven.
Simply put, the DiRT interface is the most impressive interface system I’ve ever seen on a console. Honestly, I can’t think of one better anywhere else. It’s not because it’s “the next step in realism” or the particle system. It’s because it combines interface elements that we’re used to as gamers with something fresh and innovative that, at least to me, makes the interface just as much of an experience as the game itself.
I sincerely believe that DiRT’s interface should be viewed by other developers as a challenge to bring their interface up to the same level. Not by copying tough, as every game doesn’t need a 3D floating interface. This interface’s simplicity combined with it’s beauty have me convinced that this is what next-gen interfaces should strive to attempt. Drop your audience’s jaw as they turn on the game, and you have a happy and eager audience of gamers impatient to see the rest of the game.
That’s a first impression you can’t deny.
Don’t believe me? Go download the demo for yourself on Xbox Live Marketplace and give it a try. Even if you’re not a racing fan, I’d say to give it a try just to play around with the interface for a couple of minutes. I suspect you’ll end up racing at least once.
And with an interface like that? I couldn’t blame you one bit.