I recently got back from PAX East in Boston, and between interviewing two up-and-coming games, playing demos, and just walking around to see all of the exhibitors, there’s so much to talk about. I usually try to check out a few panels at every convention, so I highlighted half of the panels I wanted see, and ended up being so busy wandering around the Expo hall that I  just went to two: Heads Up: The Art of User Interface and Graphic Design in Games and Beer, Booze, and Board Games: The Geek Bar Panel. Here’s my take on both of them from a boozy gamer/designer looking to break into UI perspective.

Looking for other PAX coverage posts? Stick around, there’s a lot to cover and we’ll have it coming up shortly!

I’ll start with the Beer, Booze & Board Games since it’s more interesting to the mass audience here at Techstify. My husband and I did not read the description going into this panel, and I think I’m happier that I didn’t because I got a lot out of it just sitting and listening. The gist of the panel is getting to know the do’s, don’ts, hardships and rewards that go along with opening a “nerd sanctuary,” or nerd bar of sorts.

The panelists were as follows: Dave Aceto of Arcadia National Bar in Portland, MA, Anthony and Lynn Nilles of 42 Lounge in Milwaukee, WI, and Andrea & Markus Zimmerman of The Cloak and Blaster in Orlando, FL. Dave ran the panel, but was also able to contribute to the conversation which was awesome.

So they started out with talking about their own respective bars and where they’re from, which was all over as you can see. There was discussion of horror stories in development processes, what types of people you need to avoid and how to deal with those who may give you problems – and more importantly how much of your heart and soul goes into the process of opening a place of business that you truly care about. All of these people at their cores are nerds. All of these people also had a passion for beer/alcohol, and finally had a passion for creating a safe and exciting environment for nerd-kind to hang out and do what they do best: immerse themselves in games and surrounding culture.

Then someone came out with a profound statement: If you are doing this because you love beer and games and want to hang out in a place like that, you are doing this for the wrong reasons.
I don’t think they could have hit the nail on the head harder, and I imagine half of the people who were in the panel to do just this were somewhat surprised. For those of you who aren’t following the idea here: Opening a business is a boatload of work, work beyond the idea that you could ever fathom. It is not just getting a bunch of beer and game systems setup in a space and telling your friends to come – if that’s what you’re into, you’re better off buying a house. These people wanted to provide a service to others who may not have had a place to go before. While they are busy running a business, you as a patron get to enjoy the service they have provided you. The reward for them as an owner is creating the community based around something they love, at least from my view on things.

After the panel, I could easily say that while the idea is cool, the amount of work that would go into something like that is something that I fully respect and something I accept that I could not do. So I encourage anyone who is in the Fairfield, CT area to open up a nerd bar, and I will work there and help you with that community. 😉

So as for the other panel, The Art of UI and Graphic Design in Games, I went to that because as a designer, I have a built in interest in what these fine people had to say. User Interface and User Experience are as valuable to a game as the franchise and storyline alone. Think about it – how do you select a gun and how does it affect your gameplay? How do you pick up an item and where do you keep it? These are all things that a UI/UX designer helps to decide.

The panelists included: Vicki Ebberts, a UX designer for Undead Labs, Alexandria Neonakis, a UI/UX Designer for Naughty Dog, and Kate Welch, a freelance UI/UX designer.

Here were my key takeaways

  • Know someone in the field – I can attest to this as well as most graphic designers I know, if you know someone in the field you will have a way easier time finding a job. Word of mouth recommendations are a lot more reliable than a portfolio, but portfolios are not impossible to get a job with. Don’t burn those bridges people!
  • There is no such thing as a bad idea/No one knows what they’re doing – This sounds crazy, but I also certainly agree here. An idea is an idea, and even if it sounds totally crazy and not on topic, it could spur something else and then a chain reaction begins. All of a sudden you have a great idea. That’s what makes brainstorming so important. To the note of not knowing what you’re doing, in many fields “there is more than one way to skin a cat,” and the same very much goes for design. Every approach to UI/UX can be different, but still be doing the same thing. Sometimes more or less efficiently, or maybe it’s prettier or it fits into the game play better than something else.
  • UI is similar to a static infographic – this was from a personal question I asked, because I’m a pretty big infographic nerd. The idea of both infographics and UI are the same: take a lot of information and make it easily digestible, either from a static or interactive standpoint. If an infographic does not keep you interested in the information that it’s showing you, it’s failed you. Similarly if a UI is hard to figure out, it has failed you. This is one of the biggest faults that a lot of indie games face – if their art is great, the concept is great and their UI sucks, you’re stuck with nothing.
  • Designing a game for different platforms is very difficult – A lot of players don’t really consider the massive changes you would have to implement if you took a game from console to mobile. Incorporating how to include touch motions in gameplay instead of an external controller is a huge undertaking. Think about how you play your favorite game, and then think about how you would play it if you didn’t have a controller and had to touch the screen to play it instead? Or vice versa? Not so easy.
  • Look at other applications of what you have to do before you do it – So this is similar for a lot of fields as well, but I think it’s important to remember. In this day and age, the chance of you being the “first” to do something is rare. We all wish we could’ve come up with facebook, right? What sets us apart is how we can do it differently, or better. Take what you can find from similar games, see how they’ve setup their game play, their level select, menu etc… and see what you do and don’t like about it. Designers do this all the time with websites, print ads, tv commercials, packaging and everything else under the sun. This should also go without saying, but blatantly copying something is lazy and more often than not, will not work for you in the end.

Have a thought on this article? Here are some conversation starters for you!

  • Tell us about your favorite geek bar and why you love spending time there
  • Tell us what your favorite game is and how you feel about the UI/UX in the game

Stay tuned for more PAX Coverage!