Heads Up Displays (HUDs) are a classic example, in games, of UI design. They have to inform the player, get out of their way, and (if you want to make a good impression) look good too. Games often have a lot of info to smush into the player’s brain so it can be difficult to satisfy all these constraints.
Personally, I’m strongly turned off by two things when it comes to HUDs (and GUIs in general) in games. The first, I must admit, is aesthetics. But that’s not purely graphics snobbery – GUIs need a “look and feel”, a set of underlying rules which tie it all together. They need to look coherent, or the info they present is much harder to parse.
The second though is overly-dense information. I think a lot of players can be overwhelmed by complex GUIs which give them far more info than they need. An oft-used UI design principle is that elements should be thought of in a hierarchy, from most-frequently-used to least-frequently-used. Advanced options should not be carelessly interspersed between common ones, or people will get confused and swamped. This ties into the aesthetics as well though; you can present 5 bits of info in one font with intuitive placement and have it work nicely, or you can shove them all together in one place with 5 different fonts and have it be confusing as shit.
Then, as I say, you need to present this data in a way that doesn’t obstruct the player. Filling most of the screen with an opaque health bar is clear, but you can’t play the game it’s linked to.
So here’s what I done thought. The info that the player needs during the heat of combat should be instantly accessible, so I’ve put most of it around the centre. This data should also be easily absorbed – if the player can have a general awareness of their status without having to directly look at and decode numbers they can spend more attention on the fight.
Around the central reticle the player has gauges for ammo and fuel. These are important, but won’t necessarily change hugely second-to-second. What does change quickly is the primary weapon and afterburner overheat gauges, which I’ve made bigger. The idea is that the player knows roughly how their heat management is going without moving their eyes off the target.
Currently health is just a number to keep things uncluttered. I’m considering whether that should take priority over, say, fuel; but at the same time, health is clearly a very important factor and shouldn’t really be positioned with other, unrelated gauges.
A concept ripped largely from modern FPSs, the crosshair also flashes a hit indicator when you damage another ship. This gives players feedback on their accuracy and judgement of lead, hopefully without requiring a dedicated lead indicator (which I’d rather avoid). Finally, more details on your current weapons are shown on the right of screen, with a numerical ammo display for greater precision (should you need it). There’s more info to go in the HUD, but the critical stuff is in there for now.
I’ve gone for a vaguely military, holographic look. It’s minimalistic and, I think, feels functional, but it still looks nice. It was looking a bit boring before I hit upon the idea of holographic-style interlacing, but I think that gave it a necessary stylistic kick in the pants.
I’m sure that’s not the last change I’ll make though (apart, of course, from adding the data that isn’t there yet). I’d really like feedback on this – do people think the HUD works? Does it look good? What would you change? Leave a comment or tweet @six_ways if you have opinions and the inclination to shout them at me.