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Game UI Discoveries: What Players Want


February 23, 2010 Article Start Previous Page 2 of 4 Next
 

Game Analyses

Far Cry 2

Far Cry 2 (Ubisoft, 2008) is an example of a game that goes to great lengths in making the interface diegetic, especially for being an FPS. The primary diegetic method in Far Cry 2 is making in-game gadgets take on roles typically associated with HUD interface -- map features, time of day, and the condition of your weapon.


Click for full size.

Above are examples of interface elements that are diegetic. Time is presented with a watch, and navigation with a GPS and physical map. It's worth noting that even though the map is physically represented in the world, the icons and indicators are moving and behaving based on game play.

What works?

The novelty factor

Visually it's cool to see the hero dig bullets out of his arm, and to look at a compass in your hand. Further proof of the novelty factor is how Ubisoft showed off the diegetic interface in the pre-launch marketing. It was considered a selling point -- a means to compete with other FPS games.

Interaction with other characters

Ironically, interacting with another character than yourself works great, since it allows you to see what that character is doing. This is particularly cool when a friendly character comes to save you when you are injured; that's a good snapshot example of immersion.

What doesn't work?

FC2 appears conflicted in its use of interface since it has a traditional non-diegetic HUD that indicates ammo, interaction opportunities, health etc, complimentary to the ambitious diegetic interface. This HUD is in its turn quite bluntly non-diegetic and very traditional.

In an effort to minimize the intrusiveness the non-diegetic elements fade in and out, out of the player's control, which of course results in a complete lack of control for the player. The screen below is captured in game and shows how non-diegetic HUD elements may show up during play.

There is a profound lack of real estate in FPS games on which to render interface beside the HUD, which shows in Far Cry 2. The camera simply does not allow diegetic representation of some things, especially if you restrain yourself to a realistic fiction.

Final analysis

Judging from Far Cry 2 it seems nearly hopeless to make the game playable and 100 percent diegetic, particularly in an FPS. Some sort of compromise seems to be necessary. The benefit of such compromise is likely greatest if a diegetic interface design is the goal from the beginning, rather than being forced in the end. If you find yourself adding complimentary non-diegetic UI to support a diegetic solution, you might have to rethink the solution as a whole.

Dead Space

Dead Space (EA, 2008) is the most recent example of a fully diegetic interface. In contrast to most games, Dead Space has an explicit direction that all interface elements should be "in the game world".

The interface uses a fairly traditional HUD system with a big twist: it's rendered in the game as a hologram, a textbook example of a diegetic solution where the interface exists in the game world and can theoretically be seen by the game characters. The UI is explained as holograms created by the avatar's space suit. This "excuse" opens up the possibility of using almost any interface, as long as it's holographic.


Click for full size.

Beside the holographic interface, Dead Space also draws interface on the actual player avatar, a very appropriate solution for diegetic third person games.


Above: A locator feature that plots the way where you are expected to go. This feature came about when the ambitious holographic 3D map failed to serve players, according to Glen Schofield, the game's executive producer.

What works?

Setting

Dead Space takes advantage of its sci-fi setting to make the interface diegetic. It could in principle be explained as "a typical UI, rendered atypically".

Perspective

Using the player avatar as a canvas to actually draw UI elements on, such as health and stasis, is a great way to promote immersion -- but seems largely dependent on setting, and a third person camera.

Preserving functionality

Dead Space clearly shows some the style benefits of a diegetic interface, and that such an interface can preserve the functionality of a traditional interface.

What doesn't work?

Functionality breakdown leading to complementary solutions

The holographic 3D map largely failed to aid player navigation. The failure to serve player needs likely forced the development team to implement a complementary feature, "the locator", that was not using the same diegetic method (hologram) but rather a diegetic spatial method (projected on the ground) -- once again "excused" by the sci-fi fiction.

Benefit?

It is hard to see an absolute benefit from the UI other than the functionality it provides. Given there has no doubt been a lot of cost involved in making the holographic interface, this needs to be considered.

Final analysis

Dead Space raises the question "How much is gained by implementing a diegetic user interface?" One could easily imagine all Dead Space's interface elements as traditional HUD elements. Dead Space could also be criticized for only translating traditional interface solutions from non-diegetic to diegetic, without making any real improvements to the traditional designs.

I consider Dead Space a valuable measurement of the actual benefits of going diegetic. There might be a greater benefit than that realized in Dead Space -- but deciding if the pursuit is worthwhile is a decision each development team has to make. Conclusively it can be said that Dead Space uses a fairly traditional interface rendered in a novel, diegetic fashion, and that the benefits were fairly subjective.


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