The Problem With HUDs

by on August 13, 2005

in Video Games,Xbox

When reading about the soon-to-be released video games King Kong and Ghost Recon Advanced Warfighter, it occurred to me that both games were attempting to overcome the same problem: The disruption that the Heads Up Display (HUD) gaming interface causes to the realism of the gaming experience. Particularly in first person shooters, the HUD’s persistent presence is a constant reminder to the gamer that his experience is an artificial one.
If game are to progress to the point any science fiction reader or sci-fi movie buff expects them to, then the problem of the HUD must be overcome. A screen with a superimposed map and health bar and weapons/ammo inventory floating in the corner mimics no reality we currently experience. The information the HUD provides is crucial to gameplay but game creators must find a more clever or creative way to present this information to the gamer in a way that it does not interrupt the realism of the game experience.
The solution that Michel Ancel took with Ubisoft‘s King Kong is to remove the HUD entirely. In an interview in the August issue of Game Informer, Ancel observed: "I think it’s creating something different by having nothing onscreen…We don’t need a big arrow showing you the danger in this direction." See GameSpot’s interview with Ancel.
In Kong, for example, when your player is harmed, his vision blurs and turns red. That’s a far more natural method of conveying health status than a persistent health bar.
Ghost Recon Advanced Warfighter takes the opposite approach, solving the HUD problem by making the HUD central to the story. As an advanced warrior, you will naturally be viewing the world through a high-tech set of goggles. Ubisoft has decided to make it obvious that the gamer is looking through the eyes of the soldier’s goggle, and then lays all the traditional HUD information within that natural context. (View GameSpot’s video trailer of the game to see exactly how this looks. The video clip also reveals the very nice touch Ubisoft include of augmented reality)
Both approaches are sound but, more importantly, the are a conscious indictment of the artificiality of the current use of the HUD.

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