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Senior UI/UX Designer on Creating UI For Games

Senior UI/UX Designer Arvydas Brazdeikis told us about creating UI for Warhammer Age of Sigmar: Realms of Ruin and Jurassic World Evolution 2, discussed the recent reimagining of the original The Witcher, and shared some advice for aspiring UI Designers.

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Introduction

My name is Arvydas Brazdeikis aka Arvy, I'm a Senior UI Designer working at Raw Power Games. I've been in the games industry for over 10 years and had a chance to work with companies like Sperasoft, BioWare, Riot Games, Frontier Developments, Creative Mobile, and plenty of indie teams.

I actually don't have any formal design education. Officially I majored in International Relations, but pretty much since high school I wanted to try to get into a creative field, like making games or movies. In 2013, it ended up easier to get a job in gamedev rather than diplomacy, so fast forward a decade and here I am, talking to you.

The Story Behind Getting Into UI/UX

At first, I took whatever odd web design and graphic design jobs I could because I needed money, and I happened to have some experience with Photoshop-like graphic editors. Back in high school, my pals and I were making a humorous school newspaper and I was responsible for the designs, at the same time I was experimenting with making forum signatures and avatars for people on GTAForums. All this practice ended up being useful during the early days of my career.

Later, in turn, because of my freelance web design gigs, I was hired as a Junior Designer for the web projects team at Sperasoft, an outsourcing company. It was amazing luck to have BioWare as our client there, so the very first projects I did were related to the Dragon Age and Mass Effect franchises. It was a bit surreal, especially for me as a fan. The work was tough but incredibly educational. There I got a chance to learn how to work in a team, be a part of the pipeline, and communicate cross-culturally.

We did some minigames there, at least one was a part of the N7HQ mobile port, but I really wanted to get into proper, "big", in-house development. Making games and not just game-related applications was something that I was dreaming about. I was searching for the next place and got an offer for a position in a mobile game development studio called Game Insight.

At first, I started on a fresh project with a tiny team and my position was literally "the person responsible for all 2D things". As the crew got bigger, I became specialized in UI, mostly because of my web design background. You could say the path has been chosen for me, in a way, and I stuck to it.

Resources That Helped Along The Way

Loads of practice and self-education helped me to get the hang of UI/UX. The classics like "The Design of Everyday Things" by Don Norman, "Don't Make Me Think" by Steve Krug, and "The Gamer's Brain" by Celia Hodent were a great start. UX Collective on Medium proved to be a great source for various UI/UX-related articles and posts, which, coupled with loads of random design-oriented videos from YouTube over the years, gave me a sufficient theoretical boost.

The practice was (and still is, frankly) a great source and a great incentive to learn. When I'm given a specific task, I always do research on prior or similar solutions and the reasoning behind them. This often helps me discover something new on related topics and concepts, which in turn fuels my expertise. Whether it's a specific interaction, a way to do something in a piece of software, or an example of a whole multi-screen feature - learning by analyzing and iterating is essential for my process.

Last but not least, the habit of constantly looking at and interacting with various different designs, both practical and digital, and, most importantly, thinking about them in an analytical way helped me immensely throughout my journey. Look at stuff on Dribbble, Behance, play games of different genres, compare them to other pieces of media, look at what people say about these, and think about why certain decisions have been made and why the users might react to them in a certain way. I think it was important, it still is important to think about these things materialistically (in a philosophical sense) meaning to constantly ask yourself what specifically led to these decisions, to think about the circumstances that shaped them, whether it's hardware limitations or possibilities, target audience expectations, monetization requirements, etc.

Image credit: Frontier Developments

Working on Warhammer Age of Sigmar: Realms of Ruin

I was a Senior UI Designer on Warhammer Age of Sigmar: Realms of Ruin, having joined it early in the pre-production stage. My responsibilities were mostly split into two big chunks of work. On the one hand, I was providing UI designs for a lot of major features and parts of the game (like the HUD, Spatial UI, Campaign Flow, various multiplayer features, and many more, not to mention the cut stuff) with my fellow colleagues George Henderson and Bastian Hagege. Pretty early on, we decided on a specific approach to our designs, in which we broke down the "lifetime" of every task into Low Fidelity, Mid Fidelity, and High Fidelity stages. George and I were mainly responsible for most of the Lo-Fis and Mid-Fis.

On the other hand, I was involved in and ended up overseeing the UI Art Direction part of the game. That was done with the help of the outsourcing partners at the time, with supervision from Xavier Henry, the project Art Director, and, of course, the feedback from Games Workshop. This line of work was about establishing what the game should look like in High Fidelity, meaning the actual released product.

Later on, we were joined by Gabby Park and Laura Mauterer, Senior UI Artists, who then beautifully fleshed out and expanded upon a lot of these concepts. Throughout the whole project, it was up to the UI Development part of the team to implement these into the actual build of the game, with significant help from the Gameplay and Tech Art teams.

The Contribution to Jurassic World Evolution 2

I joined the Jurassic World Evolution 2 team pretty late in the development and my main contribution was designing the whole Front-End for the game. That was the main menu, access to various different game modes, DLC menu, settings, and all that.

The UI Art Direction, its core pillars, had already been established by the time I joined the project, and my task was to extrapolate them onto the new functionality. The idea for the sequel's UI direction (as proposed by Sebastian Hickey, a Principal UI Designer, and my Lead at the time time) was to make the UI a bit more mature and restrained, compared to the relatively brightly colored interfaces of the original.

We also wanted to make the UI resemble the look of a fictional in-universe OS that could exist inside the world of the movies, to help the staff manage the actual park and stuff. Unlike the first Jurassic World movie, there was no direct visual reference for an OS like that in the sequel, so we turned to loads of FUI (Fictional UI/Film UI) examples from various different sources. It was a real challenge to try to merge the usability, the functionality of a game UI with a typical FUI's flavor, which isn't really made to be practical, but rather look good on screen and convey important information to the audience. Personally, I love FUIs, so it was a blast to work on a project like this. I'd say the whole team did a really great job on that game.

The UI Behind The Witcher Remake Project

This was a reimagining, so first and foremost, I had to get reacquainted with the source material. For all projects like this, I do a lot of research and reference gathering, playing the game and its sequels, watching other people's playthroughs, taking screenshots and notes, etc. One of my main goals for the project was to try to imagine an updated version of the game that could act as a cross-platform title in 2023, which meant having a UI that would work for keyboard+mouse and gamepad inputs.

Although, this wasn't a one-to-one recreation but rather a reimagining, incorporating some game design ideas that I had for the inventory and HUD. I was inspired by various different console RPGs and action-adventure games like Breath of the Wild, Igavanias, and the Souls series.

My other intention was to try to create a particular look for the game that would have been an amalgamation of all other titles in the Witcher franchise up to this point. I looked at and analyzed the presentation of the second and third games, Gwent standalone and Thronebreaker, including the early or cut designs from Fernando Forero, Nick Slough, and Vladimir Vilimovsky. I wanted to match the typefaces, parts of the color schemes, and some texturing motifs, and try to mix them with some elements from the original. It was important for me to retain at least some of the visual links with The Witcher 1.

The idea still was to tone down some of the most vivid and heavy parts of The Witcher 1 UI, like those mixes of gray-green with orange organic appendages. I still wanted to retain the "mutation" motif which was really important to the game's story, but I tried to incorporate it more naturally into the redesign's presentation. Thus, for example, the main menu background was changed to a corrupted tree trunk which could have been a part of the village scene. Also, the background for the inventory was made closer to the "biological" look of the inventory from The Witcher 2.

As for the software, the work was done exclusively in Photoshop. This isn't how I usually do things, since during the actual production, my work rarely starts with high-fidelity art. If we're talking about designing the UI, the process begins with defining the screen flow and sketching the wireframes which are usually made in software like Figma, Adobe XD, and Sketch. However, since this was primarily a UI art project, I just opted to paint stuff and finalize it right in Photoshop. It helped that I chose to do only a portion of the actual user flow and not the whole game.

In my projects, I tend to use, mix and transform a lot of free, open-source, and creative commons materials. I test a lot of new tools as well. For example, the background for the "gameplay" screenshot was AI-generated, trained on screenshots from The Witcher 3 and 1. To finish the composition, I pasted Geralt's model in a Manticore armor set, which was cropped from the Blood and Wine playthrough.

All in all, the project (which I briefly toyed with last year) took me around 5-6 evenings. Binging Joseph Anderson's Witcher retrospective and eagerly awaiting part 3.

Tips For Beginners

Fill your portfolio with your work, and do actual stuff, even if the designs you're showing are just concepts and not commercial projects. God knows it can be difficult to fill your portfolio, even if you're already working in the industry. That's why I was pushed to do these personal concepts in the first place. I had very little to show because the stuff I was working on was either under NDA, or canceled, or both.

Once you're actually doing stuff, it's important to figure out what qualities or talents you'd like to reflect on your work. If it's the UX design, then make sure to show what kind of problems you are trying to solve, what your thought process is, and what experience you expect your players to have. On the other hand, a portfolio piece for a UI artist would require showing different expertise: knowing the 2D art basics, how to handle layouts built for readability, scalability, and localization, and having the ability to maintain a consistent and interesting UI Art Direction, knowing trends that are good enough to follow or subvert in the right places, etc.

That's not to mention other incredibly useful fields like Technical UI Design, Motion Design, User Research and Testing, and so on.

As I said, practical problems push us to study, to learn new stuff in order to overcome them. Having various different portfolio pieces reflect diverse areas of your abilities helps a lot.

Arvydas Brazdeikis, Senior UI/UX Designer

Interview conducted by Theodore McKenzie

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Comments 2

  • Anonymous user

    the most difficult UI i think is in the game, not only beautifull, but should be comprehensive an clear

    0

    Anonymous user

    ·9 months ago·
  • Anonymous user

    Man that was fascinating. I'd love to see more of these from a bunch of different positions in the industry. Fire my I'm a programmer but I do android and used to do some web dev stuff but always wanted to do game work (though it doesn't pay as well). It's love to read an interview with someone who did a pivot like that to see what their processes was.

    This one was neat though. I have a partner who's big into UX and that's what she wants to do and it's interesting seeing the path others have taken.

    0

    Anonymous user

    ·9 months ago·

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