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How Naughty Dog changed The Last of Us' UI in eight months

Naughty Dog's award-winning action-adventure survival game, The Last of Us, went through several iterations of its user interface in just eight months, according to UI designer Alexandria Neonakis in a guest post on Kotaku.

In its original form, weapons, ammo, health and consumables in The Last of Us were placed in the screen's top left corner. Players could shuffle left and right with the D-pad to access weapons, while up and down took them through consumables. Additionally, when Joel picked up new weapons, he would drop whatever he was currently holding, rather than keeping both.

Other early versions included a menu system that allowed players to swap out items and upgrade them on the same screen. Neonakis explained that this was to keep players from ignoring or forgetting upgrades.

"The idea of combining these systems stuck in my head, but ... people don't like UI screens that are too cluttered," Neonakis said. "There would be a lot of information on that one screen. Therefore, we separated the systems out for the first implementation."

Other versions included slotting weapons with the D-pad and an easily accessible list. However, going into select menus to access different items felt "cumbersome," Neonakis said.

"Sometimes, for something to feel immersive, you need to make decisions that seem counter-intuitive to what you think would make something feel real or believable," Neonakis said. "One or two times when playing, it might have worked as we intended and felt awesome to swap that gun out right in the nick of time, but the vast majority of the time it just felt poorly designed.

"When designing UI, if it feels cool the first few times, that's not always a good indicator. The overall UI has to feel cool the next hundred times. In fact, it should actually start to feel better with time to the point where it becomes natural feeling and you start to lose awareness of the UI at all. If it ever feels clunky, annoying or frustrating, then it's the wrong solution."

You can read Neonakis' full post and see pictures of each menu system on Kotaku. For more on The Last of Us, check out our review.

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