Computer games feature beautiful artwork that immerses the player in a world. As such, graphical user interface components are usually kept to a minimum. However, games can be very complex with any number of actions that can be performed. The UI must provide some mechanism of selecting actions, and inventory items. Many games, from first-person shooters and MMORPGs to RTSs and adventure games, provide quick action bars to make commonly used actions and items easily accessible.
A common pattern is to have some type of repository, like a backpack or spell book, which contains all of the items or actions a player has. This is something that the player can open as a new screen or pop-up overlaying the gameplay screen. They can see everything they have, read descriptions of them, and activate them. But when a player is in the middle of the action, they don’t want to have to open a separate window, obscuring their view of events, to cast a spell. It takes too long, and it breaks their suspension of disbelief.
Quick action bars can be located along any edge of the screen, but tend to be along the bottom. Many games provide multiple bars in various locations. World of Warcraft, for example, provides two rows on the bottom and two more on the right-hand side. Bars are typically configurable, allowing the player to decide which actions and items they want immediate access to and how to order them. They can be activated with a single click.
This is one pattern that has been found in productivity software almost as long as in games. Most applications have some kind of tool bar that provides single-click buttons for common actions. Many applications allow toolbars to be configured, ranging from placement of the bars themselves to management of the individual buttons. Some applications have contextual tool bars that present functions based on the user’s context, such as the current selection.
When designing your application, consider what actions will be used most often. Consider the context in which actions will be performed. Will there be big enough differences between users to warrant a fully customizable set of tool bars? Or, will your application benefit from a reduction in complexity by not providing robust customization?
Of course, another useful pattern that works in concert with quick action bars is shortcut keys, but that’s a topic for another post.