Responsibilities: Lead UX and UI designer, artist
Client: Sega, Relic Entertainment
Tools: Essence Engine 3, Adobe Illustrator, Photoshop, After Effects, Flash, Actionscript, Axure, Perforce, Agile, Post-its, pen & paper
Locales: English, French, Italian, German, Spanish, Russian
Company of Heroes 2 is a real-time strategy game, and the sequel to the highest-rated RTS game of all time on PC, CoH 1. After shipping Space Marine, I transitioned from that team to CoH 2 – a move that meant switching game-development gears entirely, from sci-fi 3rd-person action shooters to historically-based, top-down strategy. I was involved with CoH 2 for just over 3-and-a-half years, working as the project’s UX and UI lead. I helped craft the game into an immersive and intense portrayal of the Eastern Front during World War II.
Designing an Intuitive, Thematic and Scalable Menu System
The front-end system was inspired by other widget and component-based menu systems, allowing for more graphical, contextual navigation. The end goal was to build an environment that looked and felt just as engaging as the in-game experience, sharing a common visual language and consistent design patterns. Ultimately, when the game expanded to provide new content to players, the widget approach allowed for additional components to be easily added throughout the menu system. Any new elements would showcase their own sub-branding while tying into the existing architecture and breadcrumb systems, helping to keep usability issues to a minimum. Conceptually, the menu system was to become an abstracted military dossier, chronicling both the player’s progression online and the protagonist’s journey throughout the single-player campaign.
Redefining the RTS In-game Interface
While developing Company of Heroes 2, particular attention had to be paid to the existing interface design, as the already-thriving fan-base served as our primary target audience. This meant careful consideration was required when deciding which elements were to be kept the same, and which elements needed a complete redesign. Ultimately, the creative decision-making process was driven by a focus on player command and control, construction, and unit ability casting. As a result, we introduced elements such as the Global Unit Control (GUC) in the top right of the interface – a feature that allows for quick access to any existing units and gives a high-level view of the battlefield. The player can see which units are in danger, which are undergoing construction, and which are sitting idle. Overall, the interface stays true to its roots while improving usability and player engagement, substantiated via thorough play-testing and post-launch reviews.
Wireframing, Rapid Prototyping and Creative Process
As far as video games go, real-time strategy presents some of the most varied and complex design problems, requiring the largest quantity of controls, information, and feedback so that players can easily exercise their will. Due to its complexity and interface-heavy nature, Company of Heroes 2 is no exception to this trend, having required a wide variety of prototype methodologies and strategies for successful development. Here you can see some of the wire-frames, feature designs, interactive mockups, mood-boards, and aesthetic explorations that were integral to moving the project forward, and ultimately shipping a successful title.