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Why One Passionate UI Artist Has Archived Over 42,000 Video Game Interfaces – Forbes

October 25, 2023

It’s easy to forget just how much goes into creating incredible video games. A game’s story and gameplay are easy to appreciate, but behind every masterpiece are hundreds of expertly designed components that must work perfectly together to deliver a compelling experience.
One aspect that may be overlooked by many players is the game’s user interface: menus, maps, heads up displays, and even loading screens. Players certainly notice bad interfaces, especially if they are clunky or confusing to navigate, but thoughtfully designed user interfaces can further immerse players into the game by integrating crucial game features in a seamless way.
That’s where the Game UI Database comes in. This project, which currently houses 42,208 screenshots from 1,001 games, aims to illuminate this often underappreciated aspect of video games by collecting and tagging UI screenshots from as many games as possible.
The Game UI Database archives screenshots from 1,001+ games from all genres.
The Game UI Database is a passion project of Edd Coates, lead user interface artist at Radical Forge, who shared with me that he launched the project as a public resource to help and inspire others:
“I am incredibly passionate about encouraging the next generation of UI/UX designers in the games industry. Early in my career, I really struggled to learn the fundamentals of UI design because of a lack of resources, so one of my goals is to provide the tools that I never had when I was first starting out. There’s still a lot of misinformation out there with regards to UI, so I’m determined to help others in a fun, visual and unintimidating way that will hopefully bring a lot of new people into the field! I hope this comes across in the language of the database, and it’s something that the site will definitely be leaning into in future updates.
References are incredibly important to us as UI designers. We spend a significant amount of time researching design patterns in games so that we might learn, reproduce and improve upon them in our own work.
Based on my experience, there isn’t always enough time to conduct proper research. With milestones looming and publishers putting pressure on developers to deliver vertical slices, UI/UX mistakes are often made early in development, simply from a lack of useful data.”
Coates’ project is an endlessly fascinating resource that reveals the differences in how games present common features through their interfaces. Scrolling through a single category of screenshots (such as Crafting) displays how drastically different games like Cyberpunk 2077 and Animal Crossing handle shared features through their UI to complement their respective themes and aesthetics.
One of Persona 5’s iconic and stylistic dialogue screens.
According to Coates, two games that stand out in the realm of interfaces are Persona 5 and The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild.
“One of the titles I talk about a lot is Persona 5. Aside from being a well-designed, highly iconic piece of UI, it also sums up exactly why game UI can be so powerful when utilized properly. The thing that never ceases to amaze me is that the art style of Persona 5‘s gameplay has absolutely no connection to that of its UI, yet the UI is the most memorable visual element that sticks in our heads as players. It’s all over their branding, advertising, and merchandise – even the Smash Bros Persona 5 DLC stage takes its aesthetic from the UI as opposed to the gameplay itself. Persona 5 was the first game I played that really showed me how a great user interface can essentially hijack the visual style of a game and artistically transform it into something completely different.
By contrast, Breath of the Wild is at the other end of the spectrum. It opts for an interface that never tries to overshadow the gameplay, utilizing transparent panels and a minimalist aesthetic that allows the world of Hyrule to become the focus of the players’ attention.”
By contrast, Breath of the Wild’s dialogue UI is minimalistic and highlights the game’s art.
Projects like the Game UI Database showcase the community-oriented nature of game development; blending art and technology in such an innovative way requires diversity in expertise, which many developers are happy to share with one another. While the Database began as a personal project, Coates shared that likeminded individuals insisted on contributing to the resource and increasing its utility for the community:
“The database wasn’t initially intended as a collaborative project, but the community became so excited about getting involved that they started sending me content to include on the site. I now receive a few submissions every week, and studios have even started reaching out to have their titles featured!
For me, it’s a privilege to be able to showcase so many titles on the database, so it really blows my mind to hear designers get excited about seeing their work on there. It’s somehow become a badge of honor for many people, which is just incredible.
If anyone is interested in submitting new titles to the database, please check out the submission page.”
In the future, Coates hopes to expand the database to include virtual reality references, video content, color analysis tools, mood boards, and a glossary of common game UI terms. He’s also working on a new book to be published by Lost In Cult that aims to “not only shine a long-overdue spotlight on the field, but also celebrate game UI across the entire history of video games.”
As video games continue to blur the lines between art and technology, their UI becomes an increasingly important part of the experience. Thankfully, free resources from passionate individuals like Edd Coates and Nida Ahmad are paving the way for developing artists to break into the field of video game UI design and make beautiful games for their audience. For everyone else, the Game UI Database is a great way to appreciate the thoughtfully designed interfaces that we may take for granted in our favorite games.


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