There are many different components that make up a video game, and they all work together to create the final product. One of those components, the heads up display (HUD), has been an essential part of video games since the beginning.
As games are constantly progressing and changing, so too are HUDs and how they're implemented into the gameplay experience. After reading this article, you'll have a better understanding of the type of HUD you should use for your game and where you may be able to exclude the HUD altogether.
The HUD is what's displayed on the screen while the player is in the game. This shouldn't be confused with the user interface (UI); it can include all the different menus and interactive elements within the game.
The HUD, however, is only what's displayed on the screen during gameplay. It could include a mini-map in the corner, a health bar, and a variety of other elements to aid the player. The HUD is there to present the player with important information while not being distracting.
A great example of a heads up display is in the Halo series. The HUD is designed to look like the player is looking through the Spartan's visor. There's health information, ammo count, radar, and weapon type; all is being displayed during gameplay.
While the HUD has changed slightly throughout the Halo series, it still maintains a similar style so players familiar with the Halo universe will be familiar with it no matter which Halo game they're playing. A great HUD design should go virtually unnoticed by the player and should never be a hindrance to the gameplay.
Games will often give the user the ability to edit their HUD to fit their needs, or the HUD may change depending on gameplay. For instance, if you're playing hardcore mode in Call of Duty the HUD will be simplified quite a bit to provide more of a challenge and a realistic experience.
Since the HUD is being displayed throughout gameplay, you want it designed to be easily seen in any lighting or environmental changes the player is likely to encounter.
Have the Right HUD for the Job
The kind of HUD design you choose for your game really depends on the type of game you have, the style, and also how realistic of an experience you want to provide to the player. You should also have an understanding of how much information needs to be presented to the player.
Going back to Halo as an example, the HUD displays basically everything the player will need to know; nothing is left to question. However, this type of design might not be great for every game. For instance, in Tomb Raider the HUD is very minimal and only displays what is absolutely necessary, and what is necessary can change depending on the actions you take. You won't see the HUD for the weapons until you hit the directional arrow to switch your weapon.
This type of HUD design fits perfectly with Tomb Raider, because it's an adventure-style game that wants to immerse the player in the experience. The HUD for Halo works, because it's a fast-paced sci-fi shooter that has to display information at all times in order to properly aid the player. Imagine if Tomb Raider featured a HUD with the same design style like Halo's or vice versa. That wouldn't really fit.
Keep the HUD in Check
A very important thing to remember when designing a HUD is it should never overpower the screen or become a distraction. When implementing the HUD into your game, you may need to take a step back and ensure that it's enhancing the experience and not hindering the gameplay.
Think about whether or not the player will really need all those features, and if they will really help the player. For instance, if you're creating a first-person shooter, do you really need to display the gun the player is holding in the lower right corner of the screen when they're probably perfectly aware of what weapon they're holding?
Take a look at Grand Theft Auto 5. They were able to provide a HUD that could display everything the player would need and not clog the screen. A lot of the HUD is only displayed when the player actually needs it.
For instance, when switching weapons the player holds down a button on the controller that brings up a new HUD for picking a weapon. The HUD quickly disappears once the player makes their choice. This allows the screen to stay free from distracting elements, but also provides everything the player needs when they need it.
Go Beyond the Traditional HUD
Many games are going further away from the traditional HUD. They're leaning more toward a cinematic experience, because game development companies want the player to forget they're actually playing a game. They want them to feel completely immersed in the experience, and nothing takes the player out of the experience like a static HUD displaying a wealth of information.
As games start to progress, you can see different ways a traditional HUD is traded for more interactive cues. For instance, instead of displaying a health meter on the screen, audio cues are used to give hints to the player that they're running low on health or getting tired.
This isn't to say that you shouldn't use any type of HUD. Depending on your game, think of ways you can implement different elements to take the place of a traditional HUD and give the player a more immersive experience.
Creating a HUD that will fit into the gameplay and style of your game is essential. While a feature-rich HUD may be great for some games, a simplistic HUD can be just as effective or more. It all depends on the player experience you want. So when you're ready to create the heads up display for your next game, make sure you're designing the HUD to enhance the player's experience and never give the player an overload of information.
To learn more about HUD design, check out this tutorial on Unity Mobile Game Development: User Interface Design and keep learning with more game development tutorials.