UI Discussion – Ghost Recon Breakpoint

Tom Clancy’s Ghost Recon: Breakpoint has just recently launched and I’ve picked it up, as I had a great time with the previous installment, Wildlands. The game is an online tactical shooter, in an open world sandbox. Players take on the role of a special forces operative sent to a fictional island in the Pacific Ocean in order to confront a fellow operative gone rogue. Players can play cooperatively with friends or an AI controlled squad.

Having played around 11 hours or so, I feel I’m ready to give some thoughts on the UI/UX, particularly with regards to the introductory sections of the game. I felt there were several unusual choices, which detracted from the experience we had in Wildlands. Despite this though I’ve been enjoying the game overall and I’ll update this post in time, when I’ve spent more time with the game.

This time I’m going to describe the FTUE, dipping into my UI/UX issues as they come up.

FTUE

Upon booting up the game, players are met with a moody splash screen, some standard medical warnings and then quick, tone setting animations of the game logo. All good so far, excitement is building. Next, players hit a title screen, again this just sets the tone with artwork, logo and displays the player’s online username so they can see what Playstation user is logged in. Once the player presses ‘X’ to continue, the game connects to the Ubisoft servers and they are hit with a popup welcoming them and requesting they create an Ubisoft account (if they don’t have one) or log into an existing one. Ghost Recon: Breakpoint is an always online game which requires this profile’s existence. This is a necessary nuisance. This screen is where players will first encounter the odd choice to have a cursor on-screen, rather than cycle through button options with the directional buttons or analogue sticks. Players must move the cursor awkwardly, using the analogue sticks to hover over whichever buttons they wish to then press. It is consistently finicky to land the cursor on buttons and not overshoot and the experience will become increasingly clumsy later, which we will discuss in time.

Players select language, subtitle, colour-blindness options etc and then meet a loading screen which contains useful tips and more tone setting artwork. The loading screens do feature a % number indication how much waiting is left to do, and cycle-able game-play tips, which I appreciate.

Finally, players are treated to an introductory cut-scene, which is fairly short. Then players must choose the hair/sex/facial features etc of their avatar. They can cycle through the different options categories like hair and eye colour using the shoulder buttons, or move the cursor over them and press ‘X’ to select the category. So far things are working out ok, though it would be more intuitive to simply cycle using the directional buttons/analogue sticks and shoulder buttons, as is standard convention.

Players must confirm their choice of avatar customisation by holding down the ‘X’ button, this has become a standard convention in gaming which reduces accidental decision making and reinforces the importance of certain choices, but in Wildlands a ring filled up, circling the ‘X’ button icon, in Breakpoint however, the icon is hollowed out, and fills solid white as you hold the button down. This is much less visible and leaves me with just a moment’s ‘is this even working?’ feeling, we don’t players breaking their immersion even momentarily, these instances can build up.

Initial In-Game HUD

Next players are finally ‘in’ the game world, with control over their avatar. Having just survived a crash landing onto the island, players can see their character limping, audibly unwell and see red UI containers in the lower left hand of the screen, one of these is clearly health, with 2 red, empty bars and one filled solid grey, while a heal text prompt with appropriate buttons icon and med-kit item icon can be seen flashing above this in another eye-catching red box. This is great instruction and it is teaching you the function of these parts of the HUD seamlessly.

Following these instructions, players see a cinematic healing animation as the avatar bandages up. This is also subtly implying the lengthy time healing takes and the mindful player might remember this cost later.

Ammo type, amount and a silenced weapon indicator icon sit above this area. An ‘interface’ prompt sits in the upper left corner of the screen asking players to press ‘down’ on the directional buttons. This brings up the mini-map in the lower right hand corner of the screen as well as current objectives in the upper left. I found myself forgetting about this function of the ‘down’ button several times — wondering where my local map went, perplexedly searching the options menu for a setting to keep it onscreen permanently. I understand this was done to keep the UI minimalistic and to show off the game world, but I count it as another example of this noble goal getting in the way of the experience and leaving the player looking for things he/she should have at all times, taking them out of the experience, nullifying the efforts of the minimalism.

Hud visibility vs minimalism

Soon players encounter their first enemies, which are signaled in a smooth and subtle way by a crouch explanation prompt. Players can see a red cloud on their mini-map indicating roughly where the enemy is. Once they’ve targeted them by sight, the enemy receives a small indicator above their head for tracking them and the red cloud on the mini-map changes to a small, precise triangle directly on their location. Curiously, I’ve found that it can sometimes be more useful to not target them, as the cloud gives a better indication of the enemy’s range of awareness. So it can serve the player better to have that information than it can be to know their precise placement in the area, especially when sneaking. In Wildlands this was circumvented better by having the red cloud (orange in that game) be larger, meaning the player felt more paranoid in a larger area, incentivising them to spot all the enemies to dispel that stress.

Main UI — Menus

Eventually players acquire their first bit of new gear. This results in a prompt telling them to hit the touch pad and enter the load-out screen. We find several more issues here.

When players enter they find that there is a wealth of information displayed. These include equipped weapons of varying type, accessories, clothing etc. These are given plentiful screen real estate and its clear these are what players will be most interested in dealing with. The hierarchy of information is good and serves the player well. Examples of less important and subsequently scaled down pieces of information would be the player’s carry weight and skin override. The tabs are visible at the top of the screen for cycling through or hovering the cursor and pressing, as the player’s learned already. Something I really did appreciate in this load-out screen (and across the menus) were the hover states across all buttons, each one usually scaling up slightly with a light outer glow. It makes the UI feel responsive and clarifies what you’re looking at. Combine this with the usual tool-tip explanation and players can learn the vast amount of info on these screens at their own pace, or refresh themselves later.

However we have problems here — the selected tab in the tabs list is not indicated clearly enough, there’s little discernible highlight or sizing up and therefore it blends with the unselected tabs. This can confuse new players. Furthermore, the screen has no forced tutorial, but a tutorial button flashed in yellow at the top left corner of the screen (similarly for the other tabs). Players don’t land on screens and read through everything, carefully deciding what to do with the information presented to them, they scan. As Steve Krug (author of ‘Don’t Make Me Think’) puts it, they treat your work like a billboard they are speeding past. I myself thought this yellow button was a low-priority header in my peripheral vision and I didn’t actually use it for several hours into the game.

The second UX issue here is players have learned to navigate the UI with the mouse-like cursor. This works out OK when you get used to it but when players open the map or the objectives board, the ability to use the cursor to change the tabs is restricted as it instead scrolls the map/board around. This can be very frustrating when you feel you’ve learned a system, only for it to then throw up inconsistencies.

One Side Note

A UI element which regularly catches me off-guard is the enemy description tool-tip when using the drone. As in Wildlands, players have a remote controlled drone, which they can fly around to assess the area and spot and tag enemies and resources. Very often the player will be carefully flying the drone around a base, using it to peep in windows and sometimes even using it to enter a building and see if they can tag the enemies within. These are tense moments as the player doesn’t want to get the drone spotted and spook the enemy. Therefore it can be a jolt when enemy description tool-tips appear onscreen when looking at an enemy with the drone, these are large red blocks (the redness being the issue) containing text. The message which fires off in the brain is ‘I’ve been spotted — damn!’ but that’s not actually the case. It’s a good UI example of where something that can seem so straightforward (marking the enemy description in red to communicate their hostile nature) but in practice has unexpected side-effects.

In Summary

While I’m having a very good time with Ghost Recon: Breakpoint, I noticed several UI/UX issues which stood out to me. Having played the game’s predecessor thoroughly (and since these games are designed to have long lifetimes with players repeatedly coming back to them) it’s not been long since my last experience with Wildlands. It was interesting to note the differences in what are quite similar games. I feel the team may have tried to re-invent the wheel with the UI/UX, perhaps to avoid seeming too similar to the previous installment, but if it’s not broken, don’t fix it. I’ll update this post with more thoughts as I continue to play and I hope this has been of use to you.

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