Waypoint Weeklies: Heads Up! We're talking about HUDs!

Reading through the note taking thread from earlier in the week, along with the Games Done UNIQUE thread, I’ve been thinking a lot about the information presented in games, and this got me thinking about HUDs.

HUDs and how they are designed are a vital part of how we experience games. For example I find that I generally turn off maps displayed in the corner of a screen if I can because I’d rather be looking at the world I’m inhabiting. In general, if a game is asking me to inhabit its world, I’ll turn off several HUD elements as I want my focus on the inhabiting. I’ll do this even to the detriment of being able to play the game easily (I’m looking at you Ancestors).

But, if I’m playing a strategy game, you better show me all of my resource counts, and if I hover over, show me if they’re going up or going down, hell, just show me every number, please! I use them all, I promise! Oh, and even better, outline anything I’m supposed to be concerned about so it pops out from whatever beautiful world map may be obfuscating my view of it.


Anyways this week I want to ponder:

  1. What are you general preferences for a HUD in a game?
  2. Do you find yourself turning off hud elements regularly? Are there certain things you always turn off it able?
  3. How do your preferences vary from game to game?
6 Likes

So I always wondered why souls fans can name all the levels in those games without any struggle. I can barely remember that sort of stuff in games so I just assumed that it’s because From creates interesting, memorable worlds with evocative names that stay in your mind. I’m now playing Demon’s Souls for the first time (on PS3 like a peasant) and I couldn’t help but laugh as this 10+ year old mystery was finally solved; they just keep the dang level name on the screen constantly!

Anyway, I just find it weird because there’s no gameplay relevance to the level name being there. Its only value is telling me that some Cthulhu-looking motherfucker slurping up my brains is doing so in the Tower of Latria. Which brings me to this week’s question, in that unless I absolutely need a piece of information to play the game, it shouldn’t be on screen.

To go back to an old chestnut of mine, in the Forza games I turn off basically everything except the mini-map. I don’t really need to see how many points I’m racking up, exactly how fast I’m going, or any of that nonsense, so I turn it off and take in more of that gorgeous view. Devs should always, always have HUD options in their games, because there is almost always too much info onscreen than necessary.

4 Likes

For me, the one big HUD element I usually turn off is the “arrow guide” that’s usually found in open world games that points you to your current objective. With the way I play those games, I don’t want to know the optimal fastest route to get to where I want to go. Instead I like to put myself in the perspective of the character I’m playing, imagining myself opening up a physical map and seeing what the destination I need to reach is, and then just making my way in that general direction until I reach it.

Another element I often (but not always) remove is damage numbers. Again I’m coming at this mostly from an immersion perspective, but for games such as Monster Hunter World for example, I opt to leave off the pop up numbers that tell you how much damage you’re dealing. That game already does a pretty good job of making attacks feel different based on animations/monster reactions (for example if your weapon bounces off of a particularly hardy part of the monster), I don’t want arbitrary numbers attached telling me if that meaty hammer uppercut I just did was actually weak or strong.

(Oh, I can’t leave a HUD discussion without a shoutout to Dead Space with the completely diagetic HUD)

3 Likes

Dropping some links from the older more generic Game UI thread that some folks might want to take a look at

As for HUD’s I love them in general as long as they fit the theme of the game. Am I driving some kind of vehicle? It better have a nice themed HUD to match. Is it a strategy game? You better be giving me all the information.

Let’s talk about a game with a bad HUD. That games name is XCOM 2.

There’s honestly a lot more I can think of since I made that post having started playing it again that I feel like you could use it as a case study for how a games UI design can seemingly be functional but actually terrible. At some point after I have played through the game with my current mod list I’ll make a post that goes over what changes these mods do that make the game, IMO, a better experience which will definitely include a section on UI and just the presentation of information in general.

9 Likes

Depends entirely on the game. Grand Strategy? Cram as much information as you can on-screen. Third person action-adventure? I want as little as possible so I can get immersed in the world. Bonus points if a game allows extremely granular customization of what UI elements appear onscreen.

I also have a soft spot for very silly in-game explanations of UI elements like in Assassin’s Creed.

3 Likes

I like the idea turning certain HUD elements off if the game is designed for it. What I’m mostly looking to remove are content markers and quest compasses. One because I don’t like the checkpoint nature of collectables taking up that much mindspace, the other because I enjoy an extra layer of learning to navigate and move in a world.

Sadly, it’s vanishingly rare that games are designed to give directions without HUD markers. The Assassin’s Creed games I’ve tried become close to unplayable without markers, and that goes for most other games, too. It obviously takes a lot of work for writing and level design teams to synchronize dialogue and notes to guide towards areas, and to make these areas or characters identifiable when encountering them. But when it’s pulled off well it can make a level absolutely pop for me. Dishonored 2 is probably the best effort I’ve seen, I loved searching through those levels. And shout out to Outcast which in 1999 had open worlds where you could ask for directions to people. Depending on how close they are answers range from giving a general hint to directly pointing at them. What a cool, underused system.

As for removing HUD elements like health, eh, don’t care much for it if its just for the sake of keeping a more “immersive” in-game meter on screen. The old Resident Evil way of only showing your health in the inventory screen is cool, though, and works with the actual game.

4 Likes

Glorgu’s last point about strategy games got me thinking about when I was super deep into playing Civilization V and used the Enhanced User Interface mod to get even more numbers than what you’d normally get. It gave you pretty much every number or stat you could possibly need and even more that you probably didn’t. And better yet, it gave you graphs for all those numbers because, hey, who doesn’t love some graphs, y’know?

And just_benj mentioning Dead Space’s diagetic HUD reminded me of BioForge and how whenever you interact with a screen or menu, instead of having a mouse cursor it was your character’s actual hand. And when you got a new suit to go out onto the planet surface late in the game, the hand changed to match the new suit. Some truly innovative stuff for 1995.

One last, more general note: I love dynamic UIs. Like when there’s no action happening so the game just hides my health bar or whatever to maximize the view of the game world. That’s that good stuff.

9 Likes

Yea, I’m the same. Generally I prefer there to be as little info in a shooter/ action RPG as possible but if there’s a lore explanation justifying its presence like in Nier Automata or for the Master Chief then I am all for it haha.

What really annoyed me about Modern Warfare 2019 doing a “Realism” mode, however, was they removed everything INCLUDING the gun you were holding. I’ve never held a gun in my life but I’m pretty sure it’s realistic to see what you’re firing!

Interestingly enough, Assassin’s Creed Odyssey has a fantastic minimal UI mode that forces you to parse clues to determine where your objective is located. It’s not quite a barebones UI mode, but it is quite nice if you’re looking for a less hand-holdy AC experience.

2 Likes
  1. I always immediately turn on all subtitles. I want to be able to read all of the dialogue in case I can’t hear something clearly. I don’t usually turn on subtitles for TV and movies, so I don’t fully understand why this is so important to me with video games.

  2. Like other folks have said, I love when the UI is diagetic. The example I specifically want to shout out is Star Wars: Republic Commando, where the UI is information displayed by your T-visor.

3 Likes

give me a maximalist ui with useless things that are there to look cool and individual useful bits that are as louds as possible. Guilty Gear XX and Xrd spring to mind with how their lifebars and gauges are accentuated with a lot of things. Also a ton of PC-98 games that feature intricate pixel art just everywhere. Elegance and simplicity? No! Blow my fucking mind, HUD. Be louder than the music. https://twitter.com/PC98_bot/status/1227563077555671040

3 Likes

I’ll be the basic one and admit to loving an extremely minimalist HUD/UI. The Last of Us’ crafting menu may be one of the best pieces of UI design in the last 10 years. You instantly know what resources you have, what you can make, and what trade-off you’ll be making by crafting one item over another. It’s also active in real-time which makes more than just a menu, it’s part of the active HUD. TLoU2 messes this up by forcing the player to button through each item to view their respective requirements, it’s a perfect example of how UI can go from feeling like part of the game to an extraneous chore by trying to cram more information into it.

Another of my go-to examples of why minimal UI = good is the Gears of War series. You realise how well the series controlled how much information to give the player when you play Gears 5, which adds enemy health bars and weapon-hit markers by default.

Part of the tension inherent to Gears’ rhythm was the fact that you didn’t know how many shots it was going to take to drop an enemy. You just focused your fire and hoped that they would die before you took too much damage an needed to duck back down or reposition. The common criticism of those games that the Locust don’t react or stagger in response to weapon hits is key to this dynamic. You cannot make optimal decisions about target selection in Gears. You have to make an ill-informed judgement call based on minimal information.

Gears 5 throws all of that out the window. Unless you go and manually disable the default UI features, you know exactly how much health your enemies have and how much damage you’re doing to them. The game even adds a weird phenomena where almost every kill of a basic enemy ends in a headshot, their heads just pop like watermelons to signal a kill, as if the devs are nervous you’ll stop playing unless you’re constantly being told what’s going on and that you’re very good at it.

It’s a really good example of how more information that creates a more usable and smoother experience from the player can really damage the fun and unique qualities of a game’s other elements.

4 Likes

Generally my default mode of operating is keep the defaults on unless it’s pure flavor or there’s a visual clash with something else visually that makes it an obstacle. I say that but in practice it is entirely dependent on the game in question.

It should be possible to turn every HUD all the way off if only for screenshots (barring the preferable dedicated photo mode). Bugs me to have the hearts in Breath of the Wild and drives me up the wall to have all the assorted shit that’s on the screen in Xenoblade Chronicles 1/2.

1 Like

HUDs are good, that is my hot take.

The only thing I don’t really love is those 90s HUDs that looked like one of those obnoxious WinAmp skins where all the buttons and info displays are awkwardly contorted into the shape of an alien head or some shit like that. Miss me with that stuff.

What I love, on the other hand, is the Sensors Manager from Homeworld. Not only did you get that amazing “vwooooooom” sound when you zoomed out to it, but it’s a fantastic illustration of how abstracting things can improve immersion. Watching the little ships zoom around while you’re tethered to their view radius is great, but then you pop out to this screen that gives you a full view of the entire battlefield where units and stuff are reduced down to little icons, and that’s the moment where you really feel like you’re seeing the world the way that Fleet Command sees it.

6 Likes

I think I’m a bit of a HUD maximalist. I like to see a good amount of data onscreen. Back when I played WoW, I had so many HUD mods, whose purpose was to cram as much info onto the screen (without taking it over) as I could. Party HUD was reduced to tiny lines and numbers, and I used a mod that put critical information in the middle of the screen, where the action (and therefore my eyes would be). WoW is a very numbers-y game, though, so I doubt I was much of an outlier there.

I tend to dig into the settings of any game I play to see if there is additional HUD elements I can turn on. For me, a good hud communicates the things the character would understand, but maybe I, the dummy behind the controller, would not. They understand the world, the people in it, combat, etc… and the HUD is a way of connecting me to that hidden understanding. I will turn things like always highlight interactable items, since it reduces those moments of disappointment when a thing in the world won’t work. I always turn on subtitles (so I can skip flat dialogue, or ‘hear’ things even when positional audio messes up).

Which is not to say that I don’t really appreciate games which take the time to embed that information in the world itself (like Dead Space’s amazing displays). I’d mostly rather get information from the game world, but I honestly don’t trust game makers to do a good job if it without a hud.

There are games where the focus is on visual presentation, and for those, I am happy to adjust things to emphasize that. I really like when games understand this, and let the HUD fade away when it’s not needed.

3 Likes

I like seeing Doomguy making faces in the Doom HUD, and I like how you know a 90s WAD was some serious shit if it swaps out the HUD graphics.

3 Likes

This depends, for me and as with several of you, on the type of game.

For games where the HUD is actually something like a HUD [so, first-person games], I also prefer diegetic displays if they’re reasonable. [But my early first person experiences are old enough that I don’t really expect this, I just like it.] I know there’s a fashion for people wanting to turn off waypoint markers, but honestly, it’s a rare game where you don’t just get lost if you do that.

For games where the “HUD” is actually surrounding GUI elements giving me information and options on a projected view of some space - strategy games etc, then I absolutely want well-designed, information-rich displays and popups everywhere. (And I completely agree with the XCOM-2 UI critique in Wazanator’s post.)

When I spent several months playing League of Legends, I thought I would want to have a more minimal UI so I could see more play area, but I ended up making it [and especially the minimap] bigger over time.

1 Like

Star Wars Squadrons has a fun HUD because there is a lot of information on the diegetic dashboard of your ship. There’s also a lot of additional non-diegetic HUD, but you can turn almost all of it off. Here’s how the Y-Wing looks from the pilot’s seat (I have the non-diegetic stuff turned on) You get your ammo counts, health and shields, speed, radar thingie all there. The biggest screen shows your target, showing your distance to them plus their health/shields and also their orientation relative to you via the image to the left of the health. I mostly play in the competitive pvp mode, so I leave all the extra stuff on because I want to have as much info as possible, but I know some people turn it off even in ranked multiplayer.

10 Likes

If you switch to Instruments Only mode, it removes all the non-diegetic UI elements except the timer and the Phase indicator on the top and the box around your current target. It’s great, I love it.

1 Like