This will probably be a short one, but it is nonetheless important.

Here’s a heartfelt request from someone working with UX and therefore also get to work on UIs. Use states in your game. As in have a combat state, an exploration state or whatever states you need in order to clearly differentiate between combat, exploration, UIs, cinematics etc.

Why do you want this? To avoid bugs that are tricky to deal with because they occur in in between states.

When I worked on Mad Max, Max had several different states that he could be in. He could be in exploration mode, which required one set of interactions and HUD. He could be in combat mode, which required a different set of interactions and HUD, and he could be in a vehicle in exploration mode, and in a vehicle in combat mode. Four different states, four different HUDs. The issue was that we were unable to determine when a state was achieved, other than through animation states.


Why was that an issue? Well, for instance, getting in and out of the car would flicker HUDs at the player because in that in between state, the game couldn’t determine which state it was in, and so it was a bit of a crap shoot which HUD you’d get, if I’m not misremembering things.

Having the animation state determine combat was also interesting from an interaction perspective. Let’s say that I did have a clear state for the following:

  • On Foot in Exploration State
  • On Foot in Combat State
  • In Vehicle in Exploration State
  • In Vehicle in Combat State
  • Getting in and out of vehicle state

If that was true, as a UX designer, something magical happens. All of a sudden, buttons that are locked to an action can be unblocked in certain states. Let’s say you have “pick up” on right pad down (what is usually cross on PS and A on XBox). Let’s say you also want to make sure that the player doesn’t use “pick up” while in combat, because how annoying is it to try and do an action like evade or jump and all of a sudden you’re picking up loot? Or even worse, you’re fighting close to a ladder and when you’re in the middle of pummeling someone you all of a sudden start to climb?

A clear exploration vs combat state helps to make sure that doesn’t happen. So do look at triggers and interaction distance, but a state will tell the game that this is an allowed action. I’m sure you’ve played games that use both versions. One where you get interrupted by all of a sudden looting dead bodies and one where you don’t. I can almost promise you that you enjoy the experience of the latter one more than the former.

So here’s the rub. Combat states are hard to implement.

  • What do you trigger it on?
  • How do you know when combat is over?
  • What happens if I draw a weapon?

Done well, states that determine the interactions for the player character are awesome. Done less well, and they’re nightmares.

So what do you gain? Aside from the obvious which is a less rampant bug count, from a user experience perspective you gain the ability to use the same button for different actions in exploration and combat state, which may not sound very impressive or like much of a gain, but there’s a reason why games nowadays almost make you break your own fingers to play them.

Secondly, a change of HUD, which can also be used to signal what state the player character is in. Health bars are all well and good, but a clear combat state would only bring them on screen when needed. (Honestly, that can be done in other ways as well, such as “only show health when the character is damaged” etc.)

But seriously. No weird bugs where the game doesn’t know if it’s coming or going because you attached a HUD widget to an animation state. NEVER DO THAT! It hurts my developer soul when people do that.