I was watching The Evil Within streaming recently, and I can’t recall what about it specifically triggered this thought:
A game UI that focuses on creating spaces in the world for the player to interact with elements of the “UI” that would normally be done in an overlaid UI.
That’s sort of vague, and there are plenty of games that have already done something like this. Dead Space notably did it by simply taking the bullet count and health meter off of the overlay and putting it onto the suit of the player’s character. This was easy for the game to justify since the player is in space and in a story world where space suits can feasibly do things like that.
The Division is another great example, and so is the Watchdogs series.
But all three of these are examples of third-person games, taking place in worlds with plenty of “technology” to justify their “diegetic” UI (no doubt a term that has been used before to describe it). But what about something that’s in first-person perspective, or in a world that has less affordances or excuses to display information via “technology.”
Let’s use The Elder Scrolls as an example, since its well known. And let’s say I’m choosing to play it in first person (this series notably lets the player switch between first and third person views at will).
How can the game communicate health, magic, stamina, spell “slots,” enemy health, status effects, a compass… and so on, in first person, without displaying it directly on the screen (and also still taking accessibility into account)?
The best solution is for it to be baked into the world in some way (like the above “tech” examples):
- Maybe there are floating “energy” rings around the player character’s wrists, representing charges remaining for spells, and the actual rune currently “equipped” is inscribed on the back on their hand.
- How to show “health” in different ways has been explored before, and many of those systems work well.
- Stamina might be tricky, but could be something similar to the magic system. Sound cues could also be used to show stamina depletion, although that isn’t a fully encompassing solution for accessibility.
- The map and compass are easy solutions (“easy,” hah!), make it a real compass and real map that are brought up when needed, like in Firewatch for example. This would need to be implemented in the highest quality to be a seamless experience, and to not take away from the general usability of these items, but I think it could be done.
- Something like inventory is tricky, because of how extensive and robust it needs to function, so I don’t know if I have a great solution to this off the top of my head. Some games get away with using skeuomorphism to help sell it, so for example maybe all the menus are “written” on parchment as if the player character wrote down everything in their inventory and is inspecting it that way to decide what to equip or drop.
That’s all to say that it’s very obvious why many of these things are done via traditional UI typically, because it’s much simpler that way. But I do think there’s a lot of room for innovation here.
[ Today I Was Playing: Steamworld Dig 2 ]
September 9, 2017