THE “INVISIBLE” TIMELINE
In our art class, we recently discussed the use of UI (user interface) elements in games, and how UIs can be different from game-to-game. UIs are incredibly important – they tell us, the player, what our current status in the game is, and constantly keep us notified about things like how much health and ammo we have, so we know what actions to take next. Thinking about this reminded me of a story from a year or two ago, when I was playing a certain game called Final Fantasy X.
Final Fantasy X had a turn-based battle system, which was new to me. I'm relatively new to games, so up until that point in time I had only played Final Fantasy XIII, which involved controlling a single character in an Active Time Battle system, Final Fantasy X-2, which was also turn-based but in real-time, and Kingdom Hearts, which was an action-RPG. So being able to wait between turns to think about what I would do next was something I found interesting and helpful.
Keeping this in mind, I progressed through the game. Many fights were difficult, but I spent time making my party stronger and amassing abilities so I could win – pretty standard in most, if not all RPGs. And when I made it to Mt. Gagazet – more than halfway through the game – I found myself facing a difficult boss.
And it was only at this point in the game, after dying several times over, that I noticed the strange bar on the right side of my screen:
Notice that this bar takes up a significant portion of the screen. And up until then, I had completely ignored its existence. Was it because I didn’t know what it did? Was it because the tutorial levels hadn’t explained its purpose well enough? Was it because I was a terrible gamer? But once I noticed it, I understood how it worked. The bar shows the order of turns during the battle – the yellow arrow points to the character who is performing the current action, and the little portraits below it show whose turn will come next. This is a crucial part of FFX’s Conditional Turn-Based Battle system – by knowing who goes next and when the enemy has their next turn, you can decide on your active member’s actions. It makes battles a whole lot easier to plan.
Thinking back on it now, I don’t know how I had made it that far through the game without acknowledging that timeline. I had been relying on the characters’ highlighted names at the bottom-right of the screen in order to identify whose turn it was, and that was all. Maybe I had forgotten about this aspect of gameplay early-on. But it was strange that I had completely ignored such an important part of the UI until then, right? This led me to believe that the game may not have convinced me of the timeline’s importance when it needed to, and so I had chosen not to think about it. Which had eventually resulted in it becoming practically invisible to me until I had found myself unable to fight without it.
Have any of you ever found an “invisible” UI element while playing a game?