As games got more advanced, as visuals and audio improved, one of the biggest developments was the inclusions of PhysX and programmed sound effects. Footprints, directional audio, cloth physics, hair physics, and the like, all were amazibg additions to games, to make them more immersive, more believable. In this article, I want to discuss the games that have been using this effect on a mouse cursor.
I will be discussing two games around this topic, Hearthstone: Heroes of Warcraft, a collectable card game, and Pyre, a sports game/RPG hybrid. Both of these games are extremely well polished, and have positive UX design from head to toe. They are great examples to discuss because of how far beyond the call of duty they went to deliver a user interface.
Starting with the former, one of the big talking points about Hearthstone when it first released, was the interactive boards they released for people to play on. This is the most standout example, when you load into a game, and the props around the playing field can be interacted with and do a thing. There's a 20 minute video of a guy rating them all from 3 years ago, showcasing them all. but it doesn't just stop there, when you click on the playing field itself, you get a little tap. There is a little dust, as though you just dropped a rock in the sand. You can pick up cards and hold them in your hand, move them around the battlefield. There's a little sparkle animation behind the card, to make it feel like it has movement and energy, the cards are 3D objects with weight and impact behind them, you drop a card on the field and see the dust cloud from their landing. The bigger the thing, the bigger the cloud, some extraordinary legendary cards even have special animations to make them feel more impactful. But it doesn't just stop in game, the menu itself, was completely designed to be an arcane board game box. The collection book, is a literal book that you flick through, like a real life card binder. Every button you hover over has a response, and all of it works together, you give weight you to your mouse. It feels satisfying to play, just playing cards, interacting with the interface, is enjoyable by itself, which to put it simply, goes a long way towards making the game great.
These games go to such huge lengths to make their game feel immersive and satisfying, but why does it improve the gameplay experience so much? It's a difficult topic to discuss, however it all comes back to psychology. You see it a lot in animation, when you're discussing powerful poses, you need to portray information to the player in ways that aren't just written. Without that immersion, it's difficult for us to get a sense of what's happening on the screen. The entire study of media is relegated to making a scene, as impactful and as meaningful as possible. And these techniques are some of the best ways for games to achieve that. It's an incredibly minor thing, but one that can seperate a good game from a great one.
Pyre is in much the same boat as Hearthstone, in that everything in the game is pseudo interactable. Whilst not on the same level as Hearthstone, it isn't really the kind of game for that, half of the game is merely dialogue and exploration, I've seen it described similar to The Banner Saga and the like. The parts where the user experience, and these weighted mouse clicks are important, they have been included. With things like interactable environments, examinable items in the wagon, mouse scrollovers for the nouns in the story, reminding you if you forgotten what or who a thing was. These give you a sense of immersion in the world, you mouse stops being just a cursor, and starts being an extension of yourself in this world, helping your explore this new space. Allowing you to really connect with the objects and characters in the world, as though you were really there.
These techniques are new, and largely untouched as of the present day, however as more and more developers start to fully realise the potential behind them, it is clear that they are can perhaps produce some of the most impressive and immersive experiences we have seen yet. I am very excited for them, I hope what we see in 6 years time from these lessons blow me away, much like the games mentioned above have. Games have never been better, and we can only go up from here.