The Death of the HUD?


Posted September 13, 2008 - By jmanalang

Imagine if you lived every single day with a health bar at the corner of your vision--how would that affect your day-to-day life? Would you refuse a third serving of beef sundae so you wouldn't deplete your fitness gauge? Or would you pump up your fatness stat by saying "Yes" to that third serving of beef sundae? Would you feel restrained from doing whatever the hell you wanted if you constantly saw a real-time measurements of your success or failure?

Either way, it's not a very realistic scenario, but it's one most everyone accepts without question in video games. Game graphics and storylines are getting closer and closer to "real life," so why do we accept the contrivance of the Heads-Up-Display (HUD). Why do we accept that the character we're playing instantly knows exactly how many gunshots he can suffer before he dies or exactly how far he has to walk to his destination? It wouldn't work in a book or movie, right?

With upcoming games such as Far Cry 2 and Dead Space, HUDs on games are fading away. For what reason, we all ask? Well, fellow G4-ian Jeffrey Kanjanapangka and I will discuss....

...The Death of the Hud.

John: So, Jeff, personally, I like having HUDs when I play my games, especially action titles. I mean crap, how am I suppose to blueprint my ass-capping capabilities if I don't know how much more ass-capping can I take? Maybe developers should focus on making pop-up HUDs like we saw in Gears of War...

Jeff:  Well, John, I'm thinking back to the dawn of WWII shooters like Call of Duty and Medal of Honor (a game Steven Spielberg brought a cinematic feel to) which I think started the Minimal-HUD movement.  While MoH put the emphasis on making the game more like a "movie" CoD actually dropped the health bar entirely from the HUD.  Players were then given a visual indication of damage (red screen, sound effects, camera jerks).  Pop-up HUDS are still very much around in today's generation of games but also have generally been toned down for player immersion.  From subtle touches like bullet counters on actual guns in games like Halo to the near existential "insanity effects" of Eternal Darkness, the HUD has played a huge role in showcasing player perception.

John: Way to be old-school with Eternal Darkness, but it's all a bunch of crap! Kidding, but back to my point. HUDs are increasingly becoming seamless with the game environment and gameplay. Back to my Gears of War topic, every time I didn't curse out my Lancer for missing an active reload opportunity, the title's HUD existence never occurred to me. I was completely sucked into the gruesome world of Gears, almost to the point where I could smell Dom and Cole Train's sewer adventures on that one level. Switching back to your comment, those "insanity effects" are really an innovative way to implement something new to the gameplay element. Yeah, you know what, really, screw the HUD!

Jeff:   Well not entirely, I'd be hard-pressed to think playing an RTS or RPG without some type of heads-up-display could be very fun, if even functional (gamers feel free to post me wrong if you know of any that exist, I'm curious).   Well, with that said let's go into the aspects of the possible drawbacks applied to the action and FPS genres specifically.  Does diminishing the HUD, as with upcoming titles like Far Cry 2, Dead Space, Tomb Raider, Rise of the Argonauts hurt the game in anyway? 

Will the loss of a navigation device in Tomb Raider Underworld end up frustrating the player while getting them lost? 

Will Jason in Rise of the Argonauts carry such a large cache of weapons on his body visually, that it would make his appearance look comical and unrealistic? 

I for one love the fact developers are striving to make games more of an "experience" than just a game by losing or toning down the HUD.  What started with EA's 1998 FPS Jurassic Park: Tresspasser (thanks Leahy) which was ahead of its time, continues in games like Sega's Condemned series and Sony's masterpiece Shadow of the Colossus.  But, where does one draw the line? When is too little too... well... little?  Is there an end?  Should everything go minimalistic?

John: Very true, sir. But maybe I'm just asking a little bit too much for more "immersion" when I play my games. And...after all, they are just games. Wait, wait...shame on me! There's no such thing as just games! The blasphemy that just occured! BRB while I go wash my mouth with paint thinner and scrub it with a rhino's elbow...

Jeff:  ...gamers... I turn to you with your years of verteran experience and wisdom.  What do you think about the HUD?  Have you even noticed the trend of seamlessness within the game world?  What are your favorite/worst experiences with a game interface?  Most importantly where is this all going?


The Death of the HUD?


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