GUIDE: User Interface technology

GUIDE: User Interface technology

By Develop

October 13th 2008 at 10:09AM

In a few short years, the game UI market has consolidating to offer standardised tools at a reasonable price. Develop asks: Who says capitalism doesnâ??t work?â?¦

Like a bubble, the market for game user interface design middleware expanded quickly with three companies all launching products around 2005. Now, however, the situation is very different; at least in terms of the relative positioning of those companies.

Most surprising perhaps was the decision of the well-funded Anark to sell off its Gameface product in May 2008 to concentrate on the industrial CAD-focused market. The buyer has never been officially announced, but let’s just say it’s a graphics card company that’s been collecting sickly middleware companies like fainted Pokémon over the past couple of years.

The good news for Scaleform, and to a lesser extent small French outfit Omegame, is that the market for specific game-related UI is now ripe for the picking, which indeed Scaleform has been doing with over 300 games claimed to have used or be using its GFx technology.

Of course, the issue with such an overwhelming leadership role is that without exercising your monopoly rights (never popular with the clients), the lack of competition means it’s hard to keep revving features and hence maintain pricing – shown in last month’s interview with Scaleform CEO Brendan Iribe, who said that the company would be attempting by branching out with new related products.


ADOBE

Technology: Flash 9
Clients: Not applicable
Host Platforms: Various including Windows, Linux, Mac, mobile
Integration with: Photoshop
Price: Adobe Flash Pro CS3: £575
Contact: +44 208 606 1100

Although not specifically optimised for game UI, Flash remains the industry-standard for the creation of interactive applications ranging from media rich websites to games and graphic interfaces. Its popularity is helped by the fact that it’s available on a vast range of devices from desktop browsers to mobile devices including digital cameras. Authoring environments include packages such as Flex, but the original (and arguably best) is Adobe’s own Flash CS3 Professional.


SCALEFORM

Technology: GFx
Clients: BioWare, Crytek, Firaxis, THQ amongst others
Host Platforms: PC (Windows, Linux, Mac OS), PS3, PSP, Wii, Xbox 360
Integration with: CryENGINE 2, Gamebryo, GameSpy, Trinigy, Unreal Engine 3
Price: Available on request
Contact: +01 301 4463200

Built on top of Adobe’s Flash platform, Scaleform’s GFx game user interface technology is being used in over 300 games. It supports 3D hardware acceleration to enable you to make high quality graphics, while the art-focused production pipeline means that after the initial integration process, little programmer overhead is required. GFx also supports many industry-standard engines such as Unreal, Gamebryo and CryENGINE 2.


OMEGAME

Technology: Menus Master v2.6
Supported Hardware: THQ, Ubisoft
Host Platforms: PC, PS3, Wii, Xbox 360
Integration with: None
Price: Available on request
Contact: sales@omegame.com

Menus Master consists of three interlinked products. Menus Master Studio is an artist-focused package that enables you to create your user interface using 2D bitmaps, vector graphics, 3D objects, video and audio. It links into Menus Master Data Generator, which is the processing element. This, in turn, feeds into the SDK – or Menus Master Development Kit – which is integrated into your game engine to complete the workflow.


NOKIA

Technology: Carbide.ui
Clients: Not applicable
Host Platforms: S60, Series 40
Integration with: Various graphics and audio tools
Price: Free
Contact: Online via Forum Nokia

Part of the Nokia Windows-based development suite for its S60 and Series 40 devices, Carbide.ui provides a family of graphical, WYSIWYG tools providing for basic user interface customisation. Using it, you can integrate your bitmap and vector graphics plus audio-editing applications to design theme elements. Support is also provided for platform-specific elements such as call handling and Active Idle screen volume control.


TROLLTECH

Technology: Qt and Qtopia
Clients: Not applicable
Host Platforms: Windows, Mac, Linux, Embedded Linux, Java
Integration with: Eclipse, Visual Studio
Price: Available on request
Contact: +47 21 60 48 00

Although much more than a UI creation tool, Trolltech’s Qt cross-platform application framework and its Qtopia application platform for embedded, portable devices and mobiles both have strong interface design features. For example, Qt Designer enables you to rapidly and visually design advanced user interfaces such as widgets and dialogs using real-time previewing. Qtopia also supports up to 24 bits per pixel and multiple displays.