Unreal Tournament 3: Interface

By Shamus
on Nov 5, 2007
Filed under:
Game Reviews

I didn’t think I’d be excited about this game. I didn’t think I had the capacity to be excited about this game. Understand that I’d more or less written off subsequent entries in the UT series a couple of years ago, and I didn’t think I’d be coming back. Now that UT3 is near release, and now that I’ve learned that it may attempt to cater to my particular tastes, I’m finding myself drawn to learn more and see exactly what sort of game Epic has for us here. I spent most of the weekend playing, studying, swearing at, and thinking about, the demo. A whole bunch of UT3 posts this week are the natural byproduct of this behavior. Starting with this one.

I realize this breaks with my tradition of talking about old games and ignoring previews, but these are unusual circumstances and you’ll just have to indulge me. Note that all of this is based on playing the demo. I’m assuming it’s a good indicator of what the final game would be like, but the truth won’t be known until the game is out.

I’m a bad-news-first kind of person, and so I think we may as well get this out of the way: The user interface for the game sucks. I’m aware that this is the “demo” and not the final game, but unless they have a completely different interface written for the full version (which went gold weeks ago) I feel safe in assuming that what we have here is something which will bear a striking similarity to the final product.

Let’s see… A menu across the top, a menu along the bottom, and a short list of options in the middle with lots of wasted space all around.
Let’s see… A menu across the top, a menu along the bottom, and a short list of options in the middle with lots of wasted space all around.
Starting a game requires you to move through many screens via prev / next buttons, as the game spoon-feeds you things a couple of options at a time. The positioning of the “prev” and “next” buttons on the various screens is something only Heisenberg could explain.

There is no end to the patronizing “Are you sure?” confirmation dialogs, haranguing you like an overprotective Regis Philbin. When assuring it that “Start Game” is indeed your final answer, the visual aspect of the button is larger than the actual hit area for the button, meaning you can sometimes click the edge of “Ok” and then wonder what’s taking so long, when really you “missed”. You’ll get better at hitting the right area of the button through practice, though. Like when you re-map your keys and it pops up an “Are you sure?” for every. single. one.

It takes many tedious clicks to leave the game and return to the “main menu”, and from there to get to actual main menu, and from there to exit the game. Alt-F4 doesn’t do anything.

The central problem here is that this is a console interface. This was made to be displayed on a television (which is why the text is so big and there are so few options) and navigated using a dual shock controller. Here is a pretty good series of images from a user on the UT forums that outlines some of the worst mistakes. If this were the work of a console developer making the leap to PC I would have some degree of understanding, but this isn’t some exotic now interface paradigm they’re trying to cope with. This is a mouse and a keyboard and a CRT. Rumor has it they may have encountered these strange devices before. Perhaps even recently. Why their familiarity with such contraptions didn’t translate into a competent user interface is mysterious until you realize that they are trying to make some sort of one-size-fits-all interface to suit the needs of both PC and PS3 users. And by “one-size-fits-all” I mean, “We’ll make an interface that works for the PS3, and PC players can cope with it.”

But the interface is more than an annoyance, it is a major impediment to enjoying the game itself. In the old days of 1999, when a match ended it would give you a view of the winner. The scores would be overlayed on this view. Along the top of the display would be the in-game chat as everyone GG’ed and LOL’ed each other while waiting to the server to move to the next map. Now this is broken into three screens. You can either see the chat, the scores, or the in-game view of the #1 player. By default it takes you to the winner view, the least useful of the three. Did they really think people would want to play an entire match and then not see the final score?

This is the scoreboard.  It’s mostly empty space.  And yet, it contains no information. Perhaps these two things are related?
This is the scoreboard. It’s mostly empty space. And yet, it contains no information. Perhaps these two things are related?
I assume so, since the scoreboard is nearly useless. It lists scores, but it doesn’t list how long anyone has been in the game or what their ping is. (Moreover, I never saw a way to figure out what my ping was.) Without this information, the “score” is sort of pointless. Maybe the guy at the bottom of the list played the whole time and never scored a point. Maybe he joined three seconds before the match ended. This is important stuff to know, as it puts those scores in the proper context.

For years I’ve been wanting the game to fork over deeper, subtler details at the end of a match. Who killed whom and how many times and with what weapons? What was each person’s longest spree? Frags per hour? Average speed? Hit ratio? Total damage dealt vs. taken? Average kills per life? In adapting the game to consoles, they have dumbed it down to the point where you can’t tell what the score really is, which seems to defeat the entire point of the scoreboard in the first place.

The server browser is horrible. When looking for a game, most people sort the list of servers by ping, so that the fastest servers are on top. Except that some out-of-the-box thinker came up with the brilliant idea to sort this numeric list alphabetically. Thus your list of numbers will look like:

120
1500
1750
203
229
2500
2870
340
3700
40
4600

In the above case, the lowest number (the best one) ends up in the next-to-last position, right next to the worst one. This defeats the entire point of sorting the list in the first place. If you sort by player count it does the same thing. I can’t imagine they will leave it this way in the full version. I can’t believe they left it this way in the demo. In a game so vigorously focused on multiplayer, you just can’t cut corners on the server browser.

(There were a couple more paragraphs here listing all the obvious features that were omitted. I cut them. You get the idea by now, I’m sure.)

The forums have been hot with UI feedback, which is almost universally negative. Epic has not yet responded to this feedback. (Which they solicited.) The game has gone gold. It’s done. I’m sure they will have patches, but I think out-of-the-box the interface is going to look a lot like what we see in the demo. This is a point on which I am eager to be proven wrong.

This post was pretty negative, so I want to stress that I was actually really happy with the demo. The interface was a crime, but nearly everything else was surprisingly good. I’ll have more posts about that later.

One final note is that while browsing servers I noticed they have the server option of, “Allow mouse and keyboard”. I’ve been wondering about this. The PS3 has a mouse & keyboard available, but I have no idea how common they are. Still, it looks like console players will at last get the chance to make good on their claims that “aiming with the thumbstick is just as good as the mouse once you get used to it”.

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From the Archives:

  1. windsailor says:

    I’ll agree that mouse is greater than a joystick…but its nowhere near as bad as that video would claim.

    If you look at video from, say, a Halo 2 tournament, and compare it to Halo 2 on a PC, roughly the same shots can be made. Player skill has a lot to do with it.
    Granted, console games do have a bit of magnetism built in to counteract the effect of a lousy controller, but its not enough to be game breaking.

    *shrug* just my two bits.

  2. Cineris says:

    Right on the money. The User Interface is really horrid for PC users, far too many screens for the amount of information they’re displaying, pointless confirmations (“Are you sure you want to bother digging through these confirmations to actually play the game?” Yes/No), and it doesn’t even have all of the features that it should.

    There are two good sides: It’s one of the few things Epic has acknowledged is in definite need of work, and so it has hopefully received attention for the final, and will continue to be improved over patches. With any luck we’ll at least see basic things like Time, Ping, FPH or PPH, and so on in the scoreboard, and elsewhere have proper sorting on the server browser, buddy tracking, favorite servers, and recognizeable configuration options.

    The other is that a lot of the UI can be avoided through console messages and ini editing. I’m almost to the point where I am willing to just write down server IPs, and when the game starts up, hit ~open IP. Then when I want to quit, it’s simply ~quit instead of going through ten screens. The less time I spend with the UI, the more I enjoy playing.

  3. mos says:

    That video had me rolling. That’s exactly what I picture in my head when console guys talk trash.

  4. Cineris says:

    Also, in response to…

    For years I’ve been wanting the game to fork over deeper, subtler details at the end of a match. Who killed whom and how many times and with what weapons? What was each person’s longest spree? Frags per hour? Average speed? Hit ratio? Total damage dealt vs. taken? Average kills per life? In adapting the game to consoles, they have dumbed it down to the point where you can’t tell what the score really is, which seems to defeat the entire point of the scoreboard in the first place.

    I forget if the original UT did this, but in UT2004, hitting F3 would bring up exactly those kinds of stats, listing kills made while using each weapon, deaths with each weapon, all kinds of stuff. In UT3 if you go to … Obscure Options -> Community -> Leaderboards, you can see a breakdown of all kinds of statistics (although the tracking seems a little iffy). Someone’s already made a web interface for it, that you can check out here: http://www.enemydown.co.uk/ut3search.php

  5. Viktor says:

    With what you said about more details in the final score, I have to wonder if you’ve ever seen the user interface after a Halo match. All it is is pages of info like that, and fairly well arranged. Same for Battlefront. Granted Halo is dogfighting at it’s best, and Battlefront fucked up multiplayer, but both gave you a lot of pointless(IMHO)information after a match that you strategists probably love.

  6. windsailor wrote: “If you look at video from, say, a Halo 2 tournament, and compare it to Halo 2 on a PC, roughly the same shots can be made. Player skill has a lot to do with it.
    Granted, console games do have a bit of magnetism built in to counteract the effect of a lousy controller, but its not enough to be game breaking.”

    That’s like saying I play golf at the same level as Tiger Woods.

    Granted, Tiger Woods has to play with a handicap, but it’s not enough to be game breaking.

    Justin Alexander
    http://www.thealexandrian.net

  7. pdwalker says:

    *lol*

    great video. I personally dislike gamepad controllers for FPS. Mouse and keyboard are just so simple and accurate.

  8. Phlux says:

    Here’s what I’ve always wanted to know about console development: patching.

    Until recently you couldn’t patch console games at all. Now you can. But what about 360 owners who don’t have the hard drive? Can they get patches? If the patch affects multiplayer gameplay does that mean they can’t play with people who have the patch loaded?

    How much can you patch? Is it possible to do a full UI overhaul on a game post-launch with a console title?

    And why does it matter if the PS3 version has the same interface as the PC version? Who cares? PS3 players won’t be able to play with PC players anyway, so why should it matter if their builds are slightly different.

    And while I’m on the topic, does anybody know why it is that if I buy a game on the 360 that I can’t play with someone on a PS3? Is it a political thing with microsoft and sony? Is it a technical thing? Do they think one player has an unfair advantage? (keyboard and mouse vs gamepad)

    If it’s political, how come I can’t play 360 owners on my PC copy of the same game? It’s all microsoft product.

    If it’s an advantage thing, explain to me how a game like Tiger Woods gives an unfair advantage to one console owner over another?

    If it’s a technical thing, I don’t get it…it’s the same underlying codebase. It SHOULD be possible. They made a version of Quake 3 for Dreamcast that could play against PC players.

    These are questions that have long plagued me… Help me Obi-Wan Kenobi, etc etc..

  9. Olly says:

    I wasn’t too annoyed by the UI in UT3, however this was probably because I was too distracted by the incessant chatter of the AI players.

    “I saw a tank, in the middle of the map”
    “I’m going for the shield belt”
    “In the base”
    “Enemy tank, in the middle of the map”
    “Get the flag”
    “I’m going for the redeemer”
    “Enemy vehicle spotted”
    “I saw a tank in the enemy base”

    I really don’t care! Shut up and let me enjoy the damned game! It wouldn’t be so bad if they told you genuinely useful things, or at least didn’t keep on spouting the same lines ad nauseum.

  10. RudeMorgue says:

    If you like a game that gives you a bit more info about who killed who and what kinds of things you accomplished, try Team Fortress 2.

    Another player can become your “nemesis” if they kill you several times in a row. You can get “revenge” when you finally manage to kill them. It tracks how many times you avenged yourself, how much damage you did, how many structures you destroyed, how many backstabs you made (as a spy), how many structures you built (as an engineer), how many kills you got, how many assists, how much healing you did, and many other fiddly bits.

    When you die, you often get a dialogue saying, “Well, on the bright side, you did manage to say alive longer than your best time as a sniper…” and so on. Really makes it a richer game, I find.

  11. windsailor says:

    “That’s like saying I play golf at the same level as Tiger Woods.

    Granted, Tiger Woods has to play with a handicap, but it’s not enough to be game breaking.

    Justin Alexander”

    That’s not what I meant. I mean 2 professionals, same game, just a different platform. Its an edge to use a mouse, but not as huge as it looks in that video.

  12. Cineris says:

    @Phlux: I don’t know how the lack of a HD affects 360 owners who want to patch. I suspect they can’t. Typically with Unreal Engine games, some patches are backwards compatible and some are not. In theory, it should be possible to “patch” the entire game. PS3 support for mods has been confirmed.

    Regarding cross-compatibility between XBox360 and PS3, it’s pretty much political. Aside from not wanting to help out its main competitor, Microsoft wants to maintain strict control over what gets on to XBox Live, which has been a sticking point for UT3, as the UT series typically has loads and loads of custom content. Regarding 360 vs. PC play, I vaguely recall this being possible, if the PC user is a subscriber to XBox Live. Of course, if you’re primarily a PC user, paying money for the privilege of playing your games online seems silly and unnecessary, so I don’t see that being very popular.

    @Olly: Bot chatter can be excessive when you have a team full of bots, but there’s actually a benefit to having [one or two] bots on your team now. The bots are very good at reporting the situation around them, and it is helpful for teamwork to know that a Goliath might be coming around the bridge, or that a Raptor might be hovering over your base, etc.

  13. Ian says:

    Heh, yeah, like others have said, that video is horribly exaggerated. I do agree that the mouse and keyboard make for a much better system (being able to do a 180 almost instantly is useful, for one) but…wow. Speaking of the video, was that a Quake 3 map that I saw at one point (the one with the four pillars above the low ground)?

    I’m kind of disappointed at Epic for dumbing the interface down across the board. One of the many praises that I’ve always had for the Unreal Tournament series is that they were designed for PC and dumbed down for consoles at a later date (or, better yet, being specifically designed for consoles). What they really should have done was to provide a UT2004-style interface for PC users and then do a special console interface. Of course, for the PS3, it would also be possible to switch to the PC interface if you have a keyboard and mouse plugged in.

  14. Matt P says:

    “That’s like saying I play golf at the same level as Tiger Woods.

    Granted, Tiger Woods has to play with a handicap, but it’s not enough to be game breaking.

    Justin Alexander”

    No it’s like two Tiger Woods playing each other, one using a club that’s sub-optimal for the shot. He’d make the best of it and still do well, but you’d still be rooting for the Woods with the right club. I really don’t understand the PC gamers who are obsessed with proving their interface’s superiority. Again and again. Sure there are idiot console players who don’t know a thing but most of us will admit it’s not the controllers that make us play console. You’ve made your point to anyone who might be objective. Now move on and prove your system’s intellectual superiority to those frat boy consoletards.

  15. Ranneko says:

    Ian: Yeah, I recognised that too, a couple of the videos for the mouse and keyboard are on a Q3 map.

    There is the telltale 4 column area, but there is the fight on the stairwell, which is on the same map in the other direction from the rocket launcher.

  16. Rhykker says:

    I completely agree with you, Shamus. Game is great, but the UI and server browser leave much to desire (not to mention the difficulties with hosting games).

    I recently read that you can exit directly from in-game by bringing up the console (with ~) and typing “/exit” or “/quit.” Though if I hadn’t been following the UT3 forums, I would never have learned this useful tidbit.

    Bingo.

    Type “stat net” in the console. Again, only because I read the forums did I learn this.

    I hate to say it, but UT2k4 did this rather well.

    I’ve got to disagree with this, Olly. I find most of what the AI says quite useful – if I know they are going for a certain power up, then I won’t go there until I know it has respawned, later. If I hear “enemy goliath, midfield,” I sure as hell ain’t going midfield unless I’m ready to take on the tank.

    I think, however, the announcements should be limited to things in a given vicinity – if I’m in my base, I don’t really need to know that there is an enemy vehicle in the enemy base. There are almost always enemy vehicles in the enemy base.

  17. Rhykker says:

    Uhh I don’t know what happened with the above post… Everything I quoted disappeared… Likely because I don’t know what kind of quote tags to use here. Repost with quotes:

    I completely agree with you, Shamus. Game is great, but the UI and server browser leave much to desire (not to mention the difficulties with hosting games).

    “It takes many tedious clicks to leave the game and return to the “main menu”, and from there to get to actual main menu, and from there to exit the game. Alt-F4 doesn’t do anything.”

    I recently read that you can exit directly from in-game by bringing up the console (with ~) and typing “/exit” or “/quit.” Though if I hadn’t been following the UT3 forums, I would never have learned this useful tidbit.

    “The central problem here is that this is a console interface.”

    Bingo.

    “Moreover, I never saw a way to figure out what my ping was.”

    Type “stat net” in the console. Again, only because I read the forums did I learn this.

    “For years I’ve been wanting the game to fork over deeper, subtler details at the end of a match. Who killed whom and how many times and with what weapons? What was each person’s longest spree? Frags per hour? Average speed? Hit ratio? Total damage dealt vs. taken? Average kills per life?”

    I hate to say it, but UT2k4 did this rather well.

    “I was too distracted by the incessant chatter of the AI players. I really don’t care! Shut up and let me enjoy the damned game! It wouldn’t be so bad if they told you genuinely useful things.”

    I’ve got to disagree with this, Olly. I find most of what the AI says quite useful – if I know they are going for a certain power up, then I won’t go there until I know it has respawned, later. If I hear “enemy goliath, midfield,” I sure as hell ain’t going midfield unless I’m ready to take on the tank.

    I think, however, the announcements should be limited to things in a given vicinity – if I’m in my base, I don’t really need to know that there is an enemy vehicle in the enemy base. There are almost always enemy vehicles in the enemy base.

  18. Alden says:

    I agree with everything you’ve written here – that is one ugly interface. And I hate how when I click the mouse button to skip past the three million developer/video driver/CPU/mouse/tea cosy logos that the next thing I get is a “login failed!” screen because the act of mouse clicking submitted the login form on the next screen! WTF?

  19. Fenyx says:

    “No it’s like two Tiger Woods playing each other, one using a club that’s sub-optimal for the shot.”

    And by sub-optimal you mean he is using a baseball bat, right? And that to make up for the baseball bat the course he plays on has all the holes at the bottom of a funnel like depression “…but its not enough to be game breaking.”

    Why do we obsess over proving our interface’s superiority? Cuz it is funny. And we’re still bitter that they made Halo console only for the longest time. ;)

  20. Gary says:

    Well, I downloaded it last night and put it to the test.

    I didn’t have as much issue with the menu interface, but the settings and options available are almost non-existant.

    The maps and such are beautiful, I love the layouts. I really like the guns. I dislike dying when I fall in water in the deathmatch shagrila area….

    and I dislike the tiny jumps. UT2004 had crazy jumping its true, but the jumping on this feels like I’m wearing 100 pounds of gear and several cumbersome projectile weapons.

    Oh wait. I am. Realism stinks. :D

    Overall I really liked it, though everything on my screen was a bit fuzzy, I’m betting my gfx card can’t cut it. :D

  21. Matt P says:

    ““No it’s like two Tiger Woods playing each other, one using a club that’s sub-optimal for the shot.”

    And by sub-optimal you mean he is using a baseball bat, right? And that to make up for the baseball bat the course he plays on has all the holes at the bottom of a funnel like depression “…but its not enough to be game breaking.”

    Why do we obsess over proving our interface’s superiority? Cuz it is funny. And we’re still bitter that they made Halo console only for the longest time.”

    Fair enough to the last point but I’ll have you know that I’ve hit golf balls fairly accurately with a baseball bat. With a bit of practice and some good ole magnetism I think it just might work. :P
    And if I knew the names for golf clubs I’d say what clubs I think the UIs compared to but that would be a bit too serious and argumentative so better not.

  22. Andy P says:

    Until recently I used to work for Microsoft Games so hopefully I can answer some of these…

    “what about 360 owners who don’t have the hard drive? Can they get patches?”

    If you want to play any game online (that is, “while signed into Live”, whether it be single or multiplayer) you must have the latest update of the game. You can play without the update if you want, but it will sign you out of Live. The update will be saved to hard drive or memory card if you have one, or just into memory if you don’t (and in that case it will download every time you play the game).

    “How much can you patch? Is it possible to do a full UI overhaul on a game post-launch with a console title?”

    Developers have to pay for title updates, which is partly to cover costs (of testing, deploying, certifying etc) and partly to discourage them from the release-then-fix PC mentality, and the update itself has a size limit. The size is easily enough to cover a new executable or UI front-end.

    Officially, it’s never a “patch”, only a “title update”. (Patch has negative connotations, again from PC gaming where just about every game already has a patch released on day one!) Though that rule seems to have been relaxed somewhat recently.

    “does anybody know why it is that if I buy a game on the 360 that I can’t play with someone on a PS3?”

    Xbox Live is a closed network, for security (and reliability) reasons. It cannot, and will never, connect with the Playstation Network or the internet in general. (It can connect with Games for Windows Live, though).

    “If it’s political, how come I can’t play 360 owners on my PC copy of the same game? It’s all microsoft product.”

    Sometimes, you can – but the games have to be written specifically to support it. See Shadowrun for example. The tech is fairly new though so there aren’t many games that do it at the moment. I don’t know for certain, but I’d fully expect Halo 3 to allow the same behaviour when it arrives on PC.

  23. Ian says:

    Thanks for the informative post, Andy. :D I was always curious about how the Xbox 360’s update system would work for non-HD users.

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