The Evolution of Game UI

Over the past years, video games have been refined by graphical improvements and the development of technology. Together with these changes, the video game UI also changed. 3D graphics and motion sensors prompted the development of new game genres. In this post, we’ll guide you through the long evolution of UI and show you how it has changed over the years.

Let’s begin with the basics: what is game UI? A user interface is a combination of controllers that you see on the screen of your device. In other words, it’s the way gamers interact with the game. This post will delve into the past of game UI design to see how it changed. By the way, game UI is considered the most underestimated game element. We at Melior games understand that a game with excellent mechanics but bad UI is a bad game. Therefore, we need to keep track of the latest achievements in this niche.

How It All Began: Birth of Game UI

Let’s go back to history to see how everything started. The first video game hit the market almost 50 years ago. It was called Pong, where two players played tennis. After it hit the market, developers realized that it would be great to have scores to make the game more competitive.

After Pac-Man and Super Mario Bros, developers realized that UI is also an essential part of the game. Players wanted to see how many lives were left, information about collectibles, scores, etc.  

A few years after the first games hit the market, the demand for complexity increased. That’s why UI in games became a fundamental part. The first game with real-time screen control was Spacewar. It was released in 1962, and its interface consisted of a health bar and a start screen. Here, the player needed to control a spaceship to fight the opponents. The main idea was on reflex training. A few years after this event, this game inspired the release of the arcade machine Computer Space in 1971. The game plot was the same; the design was different. 

Later, Space Invaders hit the market. The game’s main distinctive feature was powerful mechanics and an absolutely new UI element – High Score. It was a breakthrough in the field of gaming. By the way, it turned out very convenient when players could see the high score. 

1980-1990: When Colors Were Added to Game UI Design

During this period, UI design for games became more important. First, developers wanted to put story elements and graphics together, and the first game that managed to achieve that goal was Donkey Kong. This game hit the market in 1981 and was the first one that had a storyline. The main character was Jumpman, whose goal was to save the Lady from Donkey Kong. Moreover, the game characters got a colorful look (red overalls, pink dresses, etc.). Such details made the gameplay more immersive. 

In 1985, Super Mario Bros was launched. It was the first colorful game with a simple storyline, exciting characters, and engaging, multiple-stage quests. The HUD was also more organized, but unfortunately, there were no significant changes in UI game design.

In a year, a well-known console developer, Nintendo, launched the Legend of Zelda – a fascinating game that many of us remember from our childhood. The main distinctive features of this game were a wide array of weapons, interesting plot, and inventory. It became a hit almost immediately after the release date. Moreover, it was a colorful game that occupied a lot of screen space.

From Games to Movies

Over the next decade, the storylines and UI in games continued to develop. When the first PlayStation came into retail, it promoted the development of new UI elements. Lots of fighting games got new progress bars. In adventure games, plates were used under the groups of various elements. Moreover, interfaces became more important. At first, interfaces looked like a group of letters and numbers, but after the PlayStation release, they became more immersive.

The next factor that influenced the evolution of games UI was the development of CD-ROM technology. Having more space, developers started making games more attractive and more immersive. For example, RPG games got new stunning textures, frills, and buttons. Strategy games also changed for the better – they got more detailed interfaces. As a matter of fact, some of them looked like movies – for instance, Lara Croft Tomb Raider, Resident Evil, or Silent Hill.

The Impact of 3D Graphics

The development of 3D technology also influenced the development of game UI. First, it allowed developers to use first-person view. The programmers got a chance to work with all three dimensions. That’s why a new type of UI was needed. As a result, the interface was divided into two groups: diegetic and non-diegetic. Such games as Grand Theft Auto and GTA III offered more freedom to gamers. They got a chance to explore the virtual world and enjoy the gameplay; there were no more invisible boundaries and time-consuming loading of screens.

Read also: History of 3D Games: A Long Time Ago In a 2D Space


The release of the Sims also added some changes to UI in video games. The interface got lots of enhancements. It became brighter and more complex.

The ability to customize the interface appeared in 2002 with a well-known game, The Elder Scrolls III. Players were able to customize the size of windows and rearrange them. This novelty was well accepted.

During these ten years, four groups of UI appeared:

  • Diegetic;
  • Non-diegetic;
  • Meta;
  • Spatial.


During the last decade, the game development market has made lots of improvements. The first fast UI with swipeable tabs appeared in 2016, with the release of Clash Royale. Modern UI elements allowed gamers to interact with the screen using only one hand. Many new bright spots have been reflected in the UI. Moreover, the release of this game also showed that UX is as important as UI.

Overall, we can see that the UI has become cleaner, customizable, and more laconic. The meaning of the game interface has been reshaped – it should provide gamers with essential information, but it shouldn’t distract from playing. The UI has become more simple and more immersive. Moreover, mobile games have become a separate segment; they occupy a leading position today. The main goal of a game UI is to provide information on time and correctly, but it should still let you focus on the gameplay! We at Melior games monitor the achievements in this area and always do our best to implement the latest technologies in UI design.