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I'm completely new to gamedev and want to learn how to design good UI for a city-building game (like SimCity).

What books and other materials can I read in order to learn it?

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A city-building game is not a good place to start if you're new to gamedev... they're hard beasts –  Liosan Jan 28 '13 at 19:07
    
... in 3D. A 2D citybuilding game could reasonably be done in Javascript. Think SimCity original. You could almost do that with a <table> ! –  MSalters Jan 29 '13 at 15:57

2 Answers 2

up vote 7 down vote accepted

The first step is to have design goals. Figure out what kind of features your game will have, so you know where to focus your efforts and what designs to look out for. Will it be graph heavy? Will it be minimal and have panels upon panels hidden away? Will most of the action take place in the UI or in the game world? Will it be animated? Does it have a theme (industrial, sci-fi, etc.)?

Once you have your requirements you can start your research.

The nice thing about user interfaces is they're visible, so it's easy to see other designs without digging into source code. I think your best bet is to study the UIs of popular city building games. Buy a few of them on Steam, check out the design, see what you like and what you don't. Build up the ideas you started forming when deciding on your requirements.

Finally, play testing. Test a lot. Have other people test. Have people unfamiliar with those types of games test. Give them tasks that are common to the regular game play, like "Increase the taxes on industry by 4%", see if they can do it, see how long it takes them. Don't watch. People never perform the same way when they're being watched.

I think visual design is something that is difficult to learn with books. It's best to learn with practice.

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Also, before you even start coding, storyboard some examples of how the user might interact with the interface. This can save a lot of time. –  jzx Jan 28 '13 at 19:12
    
While UI's are visible, they are crap without thought out UX. –  joltmode Jan 28 '13 at 19:15
    
@Tom Of course there are examples of bad design just as there are examples of good design. I guess I should say "they're visible and usable"? Using the UI gives you the user experience. –  Byte56 Jan 28 '13 at 19:22
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I'll recommend checking out Tropico 4. I had an overall positive experience with this UI. –  SpartanDonut Jan 28 '13 at 19:35

As a supplement to Byte56's answer, I can give you list city-building (or similar) games that I think have a GUI worth mentioning (at least parts of it):

  • Simcity series, Anno series, Settlers series (obviously)
  • Castle story (still in development)
  • Dungeon Keeper 2 (rather simple)
  • Evil Genius
  • Forge of Empires (many other online empire-builders may qualify, they're mostly similar)
    • EDIT: Screw it, they're not all similar, GoodGame Empire is way more awesome in terms of UI - accesability, reports, tutorials, everything
  • Gnomoria (negative example)
  • Knights of Honor
  • Stronghold
  • Tropico, especially 3 and 4
  • Children of the Nile
  • Theme Hospital, possibly other "Theme" games (haven't played any)
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