A brief History of HUDs
HUDs or Heads Up Displays get their name from the display technology used to project flight information onto the windshields of modern aircraft. While they haven't always gone by the same name, HUDs have been around since the advent of video games; displaying game information such as score, level progression, character health and equipped items amongst others.
Nowadays many games use heads up display technology extensively. This is especially true in shoot 'em ups and military simulation games such as Battlefield Bad Company 2 or Operation Flashpoint. This is due to the need to display a lot of real-time information which is of value to the player without getting in the way of the gaming experience.
Aspects of Bad Video Game HUDs
The Heads Up Display of any video game is always something which is critiqued in a review of any merit. This is simply because it's so important to the game and, if done wrong, can indeed ruin a potentially great gaming experience.
Some common mistakes when it comes to HUDs are:
Too complex – While a complex HUD may be fine for RPGs, having to press multiple buttons and scroll too much through intricate on-screen menus can seriously crush the gaming experience. This is definitely the case in Operation Flashpoint: Dragon Rising where to simply equip another weapon valuable seconds are lost while fiddling with the clumsy HUD.
- Not enough design work – When a video game HUD looks bad it really shows. Pixlated icons and indiscernible pictures and writing can really ruin a HUD. Also, it needs to look good on the screen and display valuable information. It cannot get in the way of the gaming itself.
- Lack of flow with the game. What I mean by low is that the HUD should work with the game as opposed to being a constant. For example, when engaging numerous enemies in a hostile combat situation you're going to want all the information you can get. How much ammo you have left, enemy positions, and of course your health. But when you're casually strolling through an area when action dies down a constant HUD can get in the way of the view and be annoying when in built-up areas.
Creative and Visual HUDs
Often however, the HUD can be adapted and in-game information can be displayed in a different manner. Take, for example, a racing game or an urban based game such as GTA 4. Car damage might not be displayed by a meter but by the sound and visual appearance of the car. Smoke may represent deteriorating health and certain noises specific problems with the car. Likewise with shooting games. Instead of a traditional video game HUD health bar the character may instead be bloodstained, breath heavily or show signs of physical injury such as limping; a prime example being The Getaway.
These adaptations of video game HUDs are used in games where realism is the order of the day. They are also a little less accurate and as such more difficult to interpret. As such, they are often reserved for video games for a mature audience such as the latest additions to the Resident Evil series.
Overall the use of video game HUDs may have evolved down through the years but are still of vital importance. With 3D gaming going mainstream within the next 18 months I'm sure we'll start to see all different types of creative HUDs appearing. Perhaps the HUD will float in the corner of our vision or information will simply come at us as required. Whatever the future for the heads up display, they're a cornerstone of video gaming and we'd be lost without them.