UI Discussion — Stars Wars Jedi: Fallen Order

Having purchased Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order on the day of launch, Friday the 15th of November, I dove in with a particular interest in it’s UI. I’d seen a lot of game-play trailers, in which the UI is very minimalist.

The Game-play HUD

In some of my previous posts I’ve noted that striving for a minimalist UI can actually be a hindrance (with players not being able to see key information easily). When walking, climbing or balancing, there is no onscreen UI other than the player’s health, in the lower left corner, which is very clean and simplistic, but clear. Health bar is a thin, round-cornered strip of a silvery green, in front of a charcoal round-cornered container. I find the colour a little too de-saturated for indicating life, which I think should be more vibrant, but it is not much of an issue. It turns red as it gets close to be being depleted, an important feature which is sometimes overlooked, such as in Days Gone, letting players know, in their periphery or as they scan the screen during hectic combat encounters, that they need to be careful and adjust their tactics accordingly. Interestingly, the small robot companion of Cal, which sits on his back, has a light strip on the back of it’s head. This colour corresponds to the player’s current health level. I first saw this in Dead Space, and I like that they didn’t rely on it solely, as I find it works better along with a UI indicator. Much like you might see in Quake, which displayed and increasingly bloodied player portrait along with the percentage number of their health.

When an enemy is encountered, another slim strip appears in the lower center of the screen. This is Cal’s Force power meter. Using a Force power, like a push or pull, expends a portion of this meter, which then fills back up when Cal lands a blow on an opponent. The meter is coloured blue, which is standard across Star Wars video games of the past and is the most appropriate colour choice due to the ghosts and lightning (actual manifestations of the Force) in Star Wars films being blue.

Above this bar is a silver strip, about half the height of the two previously mentioned. This is Cal’s defence, his ability to block attacks, which wears down with each blow.

The defense and health bars also appear above enemies, letting the player know how much longer their enemy will be able to block their attacks and how much life they have left. When facing off against a boss, this health bar is red, stretches across the top of the screen and features the enemy name underneath the bar. This better distinguishes the foe as a serious threat and a notable character, as in games like Devil May Cry and Dark Souls.

Finally as glowing red dot, kind of like a ‘red dot sight’ from a gun, hovers in an enemy’s center mass when Cal is locked onto them. I find the sum of these elements to be a very clean and unobtrusive UI which really lets the game-play and game world shine, increasing the cinematic feel of Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order. I’m certain the team drew inspiration from God of War 2018 when they took this route, considering that game’s being credited with a revival of single player experiences and the director of Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order is Stig Amussen, who worked on a previous God of War entry, God of War 3.

The Skill Tree

Cal flashes to an introspective mind-scape at save points dotted across the many locations in the game. Here players can spend skill points, save progress and rest. The clean, brief and clear FTUE instructional popup is also visible.

The skill tree is accessed, not by pressing the touch-pad or ‘options’ button, as is typical, but through in-game-world locations. These are glowing runes, dotted around the various planets Cal visits on his adventure. Here players enter a trance like state, teleporting to an introspective mind-scape, which appears are a misty, dark plain of smoothly hewn rock, upon which the skill tree and it’s nodes are carved out.

Players select an ability available to them in the linear skill progression path and hold x, watching a circle fill around the icon (which we’ve seen handled poorly in another recent release Ghost Recon: Breakpoint), which then unlocks with a celebratory announcement and, if its an active skill like an overhead slash, a popup instructing players how to use the skill.

Here the skill nodes and the pathways are visible, as notches and scratches carved into a dark rock floor in a misty realm, evoking a fitting, ancient temple feel.

Each skill’s benefits are detailed in the upper left corner of the screen as you cycle through them later, after having already unlocked them. This is very useful, especially in the late game when players have unlocked dozens of these and can easily forget some of them.

Confirmation upon choosing a skill to unlock. Combat skills (like an overhead slash) also feature a popup here explaining how to carryout the action.

The Holomap

The holomap with player icon & instructional FTUE tool-tips visible.
More instruction FTUE tool-tips clarifying the player’s interaction with the map. BD-1 projecting is visible (the diegetic justification for the map).

The holomap (accessed via the touch-pad) of Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order is something I really loved. When parents are on a planet’s surface, they can bring up a map of the area. It is a more immediate map than seen in God of War or Skyrim (which are more like zoomed-out, over-world maps).

Doom 1993 map.

The map is like a 3D rendering of the location’s paths, with the player marked by a blinking arrow (pointing in the direction Cal is facing). If you are at all familiar with the original Doom 1993’s blueprint-style map (this map was viewed from a top-down perspective) being viewed from an angle, then it is something like that.

It can be rotated and zoomed in or out as the player needs. Useful things like locked doors, unlocked doors, save points, unexplored territory and objectives are marked, in a very clear and legible manner, unlike God of War 2018’s map, making good use of silhouettes and distinct colour-coding.

A more complex scene with the map legend as well as current location info visible.

It’s a map that caters perfectly to the type of game this is, in which players are exploring locations which will require or reward back tracking and which have been built in a ‘Metroid-Vania’ style, sometimes even being labyrinthine.

What further adds to the map’s charm is its diegetic nature, as a hologram projects by Cal’s assistant droid, BD-1. This makes good use of the Star Wars universe, where droids can do things like this and feels very appropriate. Making the map consultations happen in the game world pushes the immersion a little bit further and helps to further achieve the cinematic, seamless effect the team was surely committed to.

Lightsaber Customisation

I greatly appreciated the simplicity of lightsaber customisation. Upon interacting with the work bench, players cycle left to right, using L1 and R1, through 5 tabs, presented in the order that the lightsaber is assembled, from blade itself through it’s emitter (like the guard on a normal sword) the power-switch and then onto the hilt.

Selecting a different power-switch for the lightsaber
Ghost Recon: Breakpoint’s weapon customisation screen

There’s little visual clutter, the selected tabs and customisation options are very clearly highlighted and iconography (like a lock) is legible and immediately understandable. Int he lower right of the screen reminders of of which buttons are used to navigate the scene are semi transparently available and during the FTUE of this section tool-tips, just like we saw in the map and skill tree unobtrusively instruct the player. When I compare this back to Ghost Recon: Breakpoint, an admittedly more complex game, it’s weapon customisation is far more bewildering, taking a moment’s thought to remember how it works even after many, many hours’ playtime.

In Summary

I have been very impressed with the UI/UX of Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order. I have been critical of minimalist UI’s in the past, when I felt this goal had actually interfered with the player’s experience, having them not be able to find what them unable to see key information easily, when it is needed. But here it has been eminently clear, available and its subtle nature has only boosted the experience of being transported into an interactive Star Wars story. To me it seems an evolution or distillation of the excellent UI in God of War 2018 and its similarly sleek aesthetic really adds a sense of quality and esteem to the experience. I hope you found this useful.

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