There has been a secret debate raging in the world of competitive multi player gaming for quite some time. One that doesn’t get talked about to often until a game comes along that takes a design choice that goes to far and forces this age-old argument to the surface of message boards around the world once again. I am talking about that feature that all of us take for granted but none of us could live without. I’m talking about….your HUD.
For those of you who have no clue what a HUD is; It is your ” Heads Up Display” or in other words the screen you look into the virtual world through that gives you all of your icons and your beloved mini map.
Whether you are playing a single player game or competing in a tournament you rely on your HUD to display important information about the game your playing. Heck even Mario Bros has a HUD ! You can see how many lives you have and also how much time you have to complete the level and that is important information to you the player, ergo HUD.
In more recent games especially in the shooting genre the HUD has taken on a much more important role of delivering strategic information in the form of maps, enemy positions on the map, weapons loadouts, ammunition reserves and all manner of tid bits that the game deems important to your survival or ability to experience the game in a digestible manner.
Consider how complex a normal game is in today’s market and translate that into the amount of buttons and button combos and you’ll see why the HUD is such an important aspect of the games you play.
The argument comes in the question of how much is too much in regards to a visual HUD on your game screen?
Players all have their opinions on what information needs to be displayed on your screen at any one time but the balance that needs t o be had is between information and over crowding of the real estate you have to see the action in the game.
The short list of important information that your HUD should contain is usually ; Mini Map, Ammo Counter, Team Mate locations ( name over head) , objective way points and Health/ability meters.
Now we all know that there are plenty more items that can be displayed on a HUD but how much is to much.
Game developers have been coming up with creative ways to deliver us information through a HUD without cluttering the screen and thereby pulling us out of the immersion of being in the shoes of a virtual character. Gears of war for example uses a system of ” fading HUD” wherein the elements fade from view when not engaged ie. Your ammo counter and selected weapon indicator completely disappear from the screen when you are not using it in combat.Gears of War also does not use any map elements in its gameplay ie. Mini maps or team-mate icons instead using a genius idea called a ” tac com” where you hold RB to pull up crucial squad location info.
The result is a game that has 100% of its screen real estate devoted to character models and environments making the players feel more immersed in the world they are playing in.
Perhaps the most incredibly creative way to display a HUD is in the game Dead Space. This si a single player survival Horror game that is very similar to Resident Evil…but in space. The genius idea of how to display a HUD still makes me smile to this day. The games protagonist employs a modular weapon in the game that can be upgraded as you play but more importantly it is also a tool on accessing the various games menus and options, including your start menu with all the game configs and saves etc. Your health meter is displayed via a glowing column running down the spine of your space suit. Everything this game does is all about making you feel like your watching a movie rather than playing game and the fact that you are actually controlling it makes it so much cooler. Dead Space is the pinnacle of HUD design in a game.
On the opposite spectrum is the game Ghost Recon Future Soldier and even its earlier incarnation Advanced Warfighter. The games barrage the senses of a player with all manner of tactical information ranging from objectives to enemy positions and everything in between. The newest entry in the series ; Future soldier endeavors to alleviate that onslaught by integrating all of those elements into a system called ” augmented reality”. This is a technique that places all this crucial information into the game world itself.
For an example your ammo counter now hovers over top of your gun like a holographic display and mission waypoints are now ” written” in the sky or ‘ projected” into walls as though by a movie theatre projector. Map waypoints are illustrated by placing a faint glowing ” breadcrumb” trail along the ground in front of you . This is a growing trend we will see more of as developers get more creative in delivering us all of the information that helps us play the game better.
Then there is the question of immersion. The ability to feel like you are inside the helmet of your genetically engineered super soldier. The feeling of awesomeness when you start a match in a multi player game and see your rifle being held in the hands of your virtual avatar.
First person games are built around the concept of making you feel like you are in fact the hero yourself. Your eyes are looking out through the eyes of the character you embody and the gun you see in those hands is in fact your. Taken to an extreme level the developers want you to feel connected to the character and by not showing you his/her face and gives us that portal into his shoes ( note: If you want to see if a developer has taken the effort to create a believable experience the next time you play a FPS look at your feet and see if they are rendered)
One game in particular has done an exceptional job of portraying this in the FPS genre is HALO
The first thing that happens on spawn and subsequent re spawns in any HALO game is the powering up of your HUD.
a brief second of gameplay where your screen flickers and a trademark sound of your personal shields powering up is all it takes to make you feel like YOU are the person in that armor . Minor graphical elements also solidify that feeling by having faint holographic trimming around the perimeter of the screen. These are things like your shield strength and visor details ala Iron Man’s armor. Metroid of Nintendo fame also does this exceptionally well all be it not a multi player centric game.
And so the debate rages on and really for most of us its barely an issue but for the game developers it’s an ongoing struggle to put us in the shoes of a virtual warrior but at the same time ensure we can understand the complexity of controls and options they have programmed into the game.
Dwayne” EVO Knight” Morash