User interface: immersive and functionality in Leap of Champions
User Interface (UI) scenario in is an evolving one: innovation is possible and often necessary in a digital world in constant expansion where we talk about software, applications but also about everyday objects. Just think of the advent of virtual reality (VR) and of the consolidation of augmented reality (AR) where the user's movements become the connection tool between reality and fiction, virtually eliminating the screen curtain and controller (mouse, joypad, buttons etc.). This aspect only brings with it infinite possibilities of innovation and equally numerous challenges. In the world of video games, UI and HUD (heads-up display, namely the total of information that is constantly visible on the screen during the game), are subject to the same kind of "pressure".
Players become day after day the most attentive and demanding, in search of more fluid and immersive gaming experience. This particular aspect should be a major focus of the work of a developer: the user interface is the junction point between the reality and the game world, becoming, not only a communication tool, but a real narrative element. The UI can, in fact, tells the player who is the character he is playing, what is his role, what scares him, who threatens him or who/what can help him in his adventure. The UI becomes a "prosthesis" capable of immerse the user into an imaginary world despite he is physically unable to move in it.
In this short article I will go therefore to analyze some examples of success in the video games scenario and how I put some of these principles in the realization of Leap of Champions interface.
Before going into some practical example, we should deepen some of the technical terms related to the classification of the elements of an UI. The user interfaces in a video game may, in fact, be different types: Diegetic, Non-Diegetic, Spatial and Meta.
The Diegetic interface is included in the game world, such as holographic elements that player and character can display at the same time.
The Non-Diegetic, on the contrary, is positioned outside of the game world, is only visible to the player and is represented, for example, by mini maps, ammo, life bars and anything else is applied on the game screen.
Are part of a Spatial interface those elements which are physically present in the 3D game space, but which does not actually belong to that world. The save points you can remember from any video game you have ever player or the outline of the characters in Left 4 Dead can be included into this classification.
Finally, Meta consists of game inputs, existent in the game world, which can communicate a situation to the player. The character can see and/or hear the same input the player does. A good example of meta representations are the blood splatters on the screen which indicate the damages the character receives.
The video game history teaches us that have multiple approaches are licit: numerous games have gone in one direction than another, and many of them have experienced a mixed approach. In recent times several video games allow a high in-game HUD customization - children of MMORPG and World Of Warcraft model - to open up to the multitude of players preferences. Keeping in mind this peculiarity, we will consider the default UI of some video games, analyzing them briefly.
Horizon Zero Dawn – A mix reflecting the nature of the game
The latest Guerrilla Games work is the most recent example of a mixed approach.
The most important elements in the HUD, like life, the information on the weapon equipped and on the objectives to accomplish are external to the game world (Non-Diegetic), although in line with the style of the setting and, above all, of the character. The traits of the elements, in fact, are similar to draws on stone, perfectly communicate the human nature of the protagonist and its origins, in contrast with the technology she has to face. Interface elements are, as we said in the first lines, a constantly present narrative element.
The modern diegetic aspects, in fact, fit into the dual soul of this title. Holographic screens informing the player of enemy's weaknesses are one of the possible examples. These elements, mixed with the focus mode that allows the player to learn about the resources around him (diegetic-spatial elements), guarantee a considerable control of the situation and place the user in a context characterized by a strong technological component. However this kind of mixed approach risks to be not always easy to understand: the presence of so many elements on the screen can cause the opposite effect and confuse the player. Expertly, for those who feel “choked”, the game allows to customize the entire interface hiding some elements.
Final Fantasy XIV – Performance above all
MMORPs are the perfect example of the triumph of Non-Diegetic interfaces: many 2D elements, completely alien to the game world, communicate to the player the information needed in a very functional way. Players of this type of video game need, indeed, to have the maximum control over the situation, often fast-paced and requiring high reactivity and ability. They are, therefore, willing to give up a little of immersive in favor of a practical and direct reading, because competitiveness and desire to outclass the enemy and/or the opponent is their main goal (the so-called "player motivation"). In this regard, all HUD elements have to be easy to understand and have to explain through the use of icons full procedures in the less space is possible. Create these minimal icons is an extremely complicated process, but it is necessary for the success of a functional interface. Final Fantasy XIV, as well as many titles of this genre, provide maximum interface customization, but it has to take into account that is unlikely there will be elements that the player can hide due their high importance.
In these contexts, the immersive of the game must necessarily be supported by strong sound and visual components and by a strong characterization of the environment and the characters.
Dead Space – The triumph of immersive
Dead Space (Electronic Arts, 2008) remains one of the best examples of successful Diegetic interface thanks to a series of remarkable tricks. Each HUD element is an integral part of the game and of the protagonist persona: the life of the character is directly visible on his spacesuit which casts every menu in holographic way.
Although this is not actually a major innovation (the UI itself is very classical, simply transformed to become a projection), it turns out to be really practical and it functions very well in its attempt to empathize with the player in a Sci-Fi environment through the continuous use of screens and technology. However, not all information is easy to read if projected as holograms, so the developers have had to introduce a different navigation system - a projection on the ground - to help the player to orientate himself and to reach his target. This aspect, combined with the large amount of work that requires to create a similar interface, can be considered the major difficulty that the developers may had encountered implementing this Diegetic UI.
Leap of Champions – Less is more
The mentioned games are only a few of the examples that I could list exploring this topic, but they can certainly help to clarify the principles I have talked about at the beginning of this article.
In the realization of the interface for our Arena-FPS, Leap of Champions, we opted for a mixed approach due to the features of our title. We have seen that the amount of information to communicate to the player were not numerous and this has allowed us to move freely in the positioning of the elements within the game HUD.
The fastness of the gameplay, forces players to move, run and jump to chase the opponents. This aspect, in particular, allowed us to eliminate the presence of the mini map and to give more space and importance to the choice of the weapon (drop down menus) that represent one of the main characteristics in Leap of Champions.
As we find ourselves in a technological environment and our character wears a helmet, we decided to make the HUD part of the Champion's armor, with the aim of making the player empathize as much as possible with him and give him quickly and intuitively all the needed information. It is the user himself who put the suit and enter inside the Arena.
Fundamental part of our interface is also the sound that accompanies the player throughout all the highlights of the game thanks to the punctual comments of the speaker.
"Digital" and "Simple" are the keywords for the Leap of Champions menu. We have worked to simulate the navigation on an electronic device, such as a PC or a tablet, so the player can customize the character, buy in the shop and form his party, all in an almost sterile environment.
The Leap of Champions IU, clear and minimalist, stands in sharp contrast with the bright colors of the maps and the dark of the Champion’s battlesuit in order to turn the UI into a narrative element and to communicate in which world the game is set: a cold and distant scenery, clean and free of excesses and emotions, where the Champion is called to interpret the only one who is still capable to unleash the primal human instinct.
Source: Wikipedia, M.Andrews, Gamasutra, "Beyond the HUD" - DICE Studio