In this section we will explain the differences between using Flash and using the traditional design process to build user interfaces for Sony PlayStation 2, and in doing so, illustrate the advantages to using Flash for console development.
Traditional Design for Console Games
Here is an overview of the traditional design process for console games. We will look into teams, software, and labor involved with this process.
Traditional Game User Interface Team
The traditional user interface team on 3D games consists of highly skilled 3D artists and programmers. Usually, the team is a subset of the team that created the game. Often times the user interface is left to the junior members of the team while the senior members stay on the game, working through bugs and polishing the art. Generally, the user interface is left until the end of the project when the team is tired, the money is tight, and the pressure to deliver is highest.
The user interface is usually not seen as glamorous and therefore it generally winds up not looking very sophisticated. There are many exceptions to this, but traditionally the user interface is left to the last second and therefore ends up being rushed.
In larger game development companies, the user interface is sometimes developed with a custom-created application that provides a rudimentary graphical user interface for the artists. The artist can lay out the elements and export a data set that includes the graphic bitmap, position, and sometimes behavior information that is saved and sent to the programmer. This dedicated software is custom made for each shop so artists must learn the proprietary tool. This knowledge is not transferable to other tools. A programmer must be available to maintain the application and make adjustments when necessary.
Procedural Layout and Animation
In most cases, the artists and programmers have to lay out the user interface using hand-coded coordinates. Adjustments are made pixel by pixel. Each iteration of changes requires a recompile that can take several minutes.
Sprite animation is even more difficult, requiring a programmer to calculate motion paths. If the path is erratic, straying from clean curves or straight lines, the artist has to give the path data on a frame-by-frame basis.
Impact of Late Changes to User Interface in Traditional Design
All this is further complicated by late changes to the user interface. A simple name change can require code changes and require an artist to go back to his image editing software to change it. In the procedural method, text is either presented by the game hardware or created by the artist as bitmaps. Using bitmaps looks better and gives flexibility over kerning and type effects. Device fonts can be changed more easily but there is no real way to preview how they will look until the game or user interface is compiled.
Designing User Interface for Console Games Using Flash
Flash provides several advantages over using the procedural method to create user interface elements. We'll compare this with the procedural process by looking at the typical team, tools, and labor.
Typical Flash User Interface Team
The typical Flash team is generally made up of a programmer and a Flash artist. In many cases this can be the same person.
The ubiquity of Flash gives a game development team a choice from a vast pool of talent. The wild, and sometimes unwieldy, experimentation of user interface on the web has resulted in a great number of innovative ideas. For every yearlong console game development cycle, a typical Flash team will have developed a dozen or more user interface projects for various applications and web sites.
Flash is now a fairly mature product, having gone through several improvements to workflow and usability. These improvements make it much faster to develop a project than with a custom-made application that has had only a few revisions. Flash's maturity also means that many Flash artists have spent several years with it, making development extremely fast when compared to the procedural development process in the traditional method.
Impact of Late Changes to User Interface
The flexibility of Flash and the simple fact that web development is so fluid makes teams of Flash designers and programmers ready for last-minute changes. We learn to create projects that are modular. We keep all our text editable throughout the process. A project that is properly designed can be localized into other languages very quickly. On Star Wars Starfighter™, for instance, two people were able to localize the Flash user interface into Italian, German, Spanish, and French in about one week.