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Game UI Discoveries: What Players Want
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Game UI Discoveries: What Players Want

February 23, 2010 Article Start Previous Page 3 of 4 Next

Team Fortress 2

Team Fortress 2 (Valve, 2007) is a game I chose to analyze because I think of it as a game with a very straightforward approach to interface. "Use whatever means to inform the player" seems to be the developers' modus operandi, as their interface solution is spread across all methods of interface design.

Information such as ammo, health, and critical game mode information is permanently displayed on static positions in the HUD (non-diegetic). There is a complementary second layer of static "pop-up" non-diegetic HUD elements that appear based on player actions, such as when the player stands on a control point or equips a construction kit.

On top of that, TF2 also uses a diegetic interface, particularly for the engineer class, who can build objects in the world. In this case a blueprint hologram appears in 3D that allows the player to know exactly how the object will appear when completed. It's worth noting that non-diegetic HUD elements co-exist on the screen at the same time.

TF2 also makes heavy use of "spatial non-diegetic" elements, like icons over players' heads, and other markers. It's worth noting that the name tag is not spatial but rather fixed to the observer's camera, just below the crosshair.

A little more unusual is the way which the medi-gun and its subsequent "uber charge" is portrayed. The colored ray that comes from the medi-gun is clearly diegetic, but at the same time a spatial marker for the bond between the healer and the one being healed. Likewise the "uber charge" coloring can be seen as a diegetic effect of being radiated with the medi-gun, but it's also a spatial marker for all players to be aware of who is uber charged.

Click for full size.

What works?

Mixing UI elements from various categories (diegetic, non-diegetic, spatial, etc) can really allow for providing loads of information without having to put all of it in the HUD.

UI components do not have to follow an immediately obvious theme or be immersive to work.

What doesn't work?

For all the above reasons, Team Fortress 2 can sometimes look and be perceived as a little "messy". The "awesome factor" and novelty value suffers.

Final Analysis

Team Fortress 2 hardly makes the charts for diegetic qualities, but manages to be a hugely successful title and very playable nonetheless. Team Fortress 2 shows the strengths of a mixed interface where little or no regard is paid to a diegetic direction. Team Fortress 2 can also be considered an example of player tolerance for mixed interfaces taking away some of the validity of arguing that diegetic interface are better tolerated.

World of Warcraft

World of Warcraft (Blizzard, 2004) is a pioneer in the UI scene for releasing the UI code for third party development -- not only allowing players to move the various UI entities around the screen, but also allowing the creation if new UI elements. These can even show completely new data that isn't obtainable with the default UI. This bold move by Blizzard gave birth to a huge "add-on" scene, where players create stand alone UI elements that serve very specific purposes.

Not unlike Team Fortress 2, the World of Warcraft approach seems especially keen on giving players the information they might want with very little regard to esthetics or diegetic qualities. One thing that unifies almost all aspects of the World of Warcraft UI is that it is, with few exceptions, a non-diegetic classical 2D HUD complemented with spatial non-diegetic info -- nametags, health bars, etc.

Below is an image of the default WoW interface, a fairly traditional non-diegetic 2D solution complemented by spatial non-diegetic and meta elements.

Below is one of countless examples of customized interface in WoW with several add-ons providing information not otherwise obtainable.

What worked?


Having a freely customizable interface seems to greatly increase the tolerability of traditional 2D HUD elements even when the screen gets cluttered.

Aid to perform

Seemingly advanced and intrusive non-diegetic interfaces seem to be tolerated and even appreciated if they aid the player to perform his task, especially in the presence of other players.


The third person perspective allows a 360 degree awareness that vastly helps player orientation and navigation.

What didn't work?

Stress to perform

Immersion isn't a big factor from an interface standpoint, and the scriptable interface is always subjects to exploits. It is hardly an option to play the game with the default interface if you wish to be competitive -- adding stress to players about getting the right stuff for their interface.

Final analysis

World of Warcraft could be an example where other developers might overestimate the importance of immersion or at least the forms immersion takes. WoW is a fantasy role playing game and is as such by no means extra suitable for complex or data heavy non-diegetic interface elements; still players seem to prefer them over the lighter default interface.

The cause and effect here are difficult to fully untangle, but it seems in the case of World of Warcraft, when given the choice, players want more information and more UI to aid them reach optimal play performance. However, how much of a choice it actually is can be debated given the competitive nature of World of Warcraft.

The success of World of Warcraft sends a strong signal that immersion might not, or at least not always, be in the consumer's best interest. Maybe they just want to perform at the peak of their ability in harmony with the game.

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