[EA DICE designer Marcus Andrews examines the UIs of several recent games and picks apart what's required for both a novel and player-satisfying interface -- one that serves the needs of the game and its audience.]
I was recently asked to investigate the merits of immersive UI for the potential inclusion in future DICE products. Traditional HUDs live under constant scrutiny in ongoing efforts to make the UI as transparent as possible, allowing the player to immerse themselves into the game.
DICE had already made bold moves into the territory but it's a risky and difficult endeavor, and seldom 100 percent successful. UI is one of the areas where great progress can still be made.
My mission included understanding what "putting the interface in the game world" really meant. The easiest way to describe it to someone is to say "like they did in Far Cry 2" -- but what is it really and how can it be utilized? You can read the analysis of several games and my subsequent final conclusion in the article below.
Before reading further in this article there is some terminology you need to be familiar with.
Diegetic: Interface that is included in the game world -- i.e., it can be seen and heard by the game characters. Example: the holographic interface in Dead Space.
Non-diegetic: Interface that is rendered outside the game world, only visible and audible to the players in the real world. Example: most classic heads-up display (HUD) elements.
Spatial: UI elements presented in the game's 3D space with or without being an entity of the actual game world (diegetic or non-diegetic). The character outlines in Left 4 Dead are an example of non-diegetic spatial UI.
Meta: Representations can exist in the game world, but aren't necessarily visualized spatially for the player; these are meta representations. The most apparent example is effects rendered on the screen, such as blood spatter on the camera to indicate damage.
Terminology from Fagerholt, Lorentzon (2009) "Beyond the HUD - User Interfaces for Increased Player Immersion in FPS Games". Master of Science Thesis, Chalmers University of Technology