Heads Up

By: Ben Borthwick

Published: July 29, 2009 Posted in: PC Gaming Nonsense

The humble HUD or Heads Up Display is often – quite literally – an overlooked part of many games. But development teams spend plenty of money and resources in making sure it’s just right. Whether it’s removing the health indicator altogether or having a simple collection of information on the screen HUD designs are almost as unique as the games themselves. If you stop and really take a look, you can tell that most HUD designs are made from very clear, concious design decisions. They have their advantages and their disadvantages, and it’s pretty hard to tell if a game gets it right, short of developers somehow providing a survey at the end of the game.

Games like Half Life 2 and Unreal Tournament have rather straightforward and easy to understand interfaces. You have the ammo on one side, and your health represented as a numerical figure on the other. It’s unobtrusive, but some would say rather bland. Is this fair? Perhaps not – after all, in the case of Half Life 2, Gordon is a famously mute protagonist, allowing the player to ‘project’ their own personality onto the character. If the HUD was too detailed, would that be imposing some sort of character onto Gordon? In the case of Unreal Tournament the HUD also manages to fit into the game’s portrayal of the violence as a blood sport like some sort of futuristic scoreboard.

HUD: Half Life 2

On the other hand, games like Call of Duty eschew the health meter, your state defined by how much blood is in your vision, and is oft stated as increasing immersion. But looking at it a little more closely, this choice is a rather interesting one- you know your health is actually constantly recharging, but if it was displayed as a figure would this undermine your actions and make it more obvious you’re still playing as a bullet absorbing superhuman? Halo also has rechargeable health, although the excuse Bungie use is that this is actually your recharging shield – which makes more sense in the sense of the sci-fi universe. In Star Wars: Republic Commando, the HUD also suited the in-universe idea nicely by tying into your helmet, even to the point where it was slightly distorted to match the curve of your visor.

And then there are the games that try and do away with the HUD in the classic sense altogether. Ghostbusters had your characters health on the protagonist themselves, and the temperature gauge on the backpack itself. Dead Space went there first though, making sure that all your information was displayed in-game, right down to the cut scenes. For a horror game like Dead Space, this works really well in ensuring you’re completely immersed, and is probably one of my favourite examples. However, the main drawback with on the character information is how easily it can be obscured just by playing the game. More than once I’ve been trapped into a corner by a monster, and been left unable to see just how much health I have left. Very frustrating.

HUD: Dead Space

So readers of Gaming Daily, I now put it to you: what are your favourite Heads Up Displays? Do you like the method of showing your condition by how your charcater looks, or do you prefer an on screen indication of your current state? Let me know in the comments below.

Ben Borthwick