Video Game HUDs Used To Be Cool

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Screenshot: Kotaku
Screenshot: Kotaku

Video games look really good these days. I boot up almost any PS4 game released in the last few years and I’m impressed. But while games might look nicer than ever before, we lost cool looking “heads-up displays”, HUDs, in the process. Was it worth it?

I’ve been playing a lot of Assassin’s Creed: Odyessy lately. A lot. And it got me interested in the past games, most of which I played long ago when they first released. In going back and looking at these games, I immediately noticed something. Their HUDs were so much cooler than what’s in Odyessy.

Here’s a screenshot of Odyessy via Stephen’s wonderful post about an annoying bow that he kept finding.

Screenshot: Ubisoft

Now here’s a screenshot of the first Assassin’s Creed via WSGF.com.

Screenshot: Ubisoft, Fair Use

Look at the weird map! And the cool looking DNA-inspired life bar. I also like how high contrast it feels. Odyssey’s HUD is clean and efficient. It gets the job done, for sure, but it lacks personality. And if we go back even further, to the PS2 era of gaming, we can find even more wild HUDs, as pointed about by Twitter user @BlacWeird a few months back.

Here’s what the HUD looked like in SkyGunner. It’s got a steampunk vibe to it.

Screenshot: Atlus, Fair Use

Or how about Project Snowblind. What is happening in that mini-map in the top right? I have no idea.

Screenshot: Edios / Square Enix

And even a less obscure PS2 game, the original God of War, had a giant sword for its health metre.

Screenshot: Sony

Compared that last screen to this screenshot from the newest entry in the God of War series, confusingly named God of War, released on PS4 back in 2018.

Screenshot: Sony

Again, like Odyessy, it works great. But it also has almost no personality. It’s boring. And yet, for the most part, this is what all video game HUDs have become. Clean, slightly transparent boxes and white lines that often fade away when not needed. I understand, and even agree, that these new HUDS are more effective at translating information and data to players. But there has to be a middle ground?

An example of a game that has HUD graphics that aren’t boring, but not too weird or big is last year’s Devil May Cry 5.

Screenshot: Capcom

The text is sharp and clean and the icons are small, but there’s also a variety of colours, a weird devil face, and some broken glass on the corners. It has style. It doesn’t look like a console from a JJ Abrams Star Trek film. It looks exciting but also I can clearly understand what information the game is sharing with me, which is always vital.

As TV screens get bigger and resolutions go up, folks want to see more of their gorgeous games. They don’t want big skulls or stars covering up the action. I get it. But so many games having the same looking HUDs feels like a step backwards after having years and years of wild and cool menus and life bars. I understand a lot of work goes into making these clean and sharp menus and HUDs, but the end-user just sees a simple box and some white text.

I’d love a feature to turn on more complex and weird HUD artwork and designs in games next generation. Let players choose if they want something clean and efficient or big and dumb.

I know which one I would choose.

Comments

  • Yeah, i miss screen clutter so much I’ve taken to sticking tape over parts my screen, and blue-tacking houshold objects on to the corners. Awesome!

    • ikr. pretty sure im there to play a game, not have half of the game obscured by useless images in the hud. show me only what i need to know in a clear and concise manner and we are all happy.

  • I was playing Project: Snowblind only yesterday, amusingly.
    I’ve been setting up a PS2 HDD with a Free McBoot card the last couple of weeks and have been enjoying going through some old favourites. (it’s super convenient and works great, as an aside.)
    Anyway, I think the minimap in P:SB is clear enough…
    Red=Bad.

  • I don’t know I way prefer the new God War, it is subtle and has a very clean look that doesn’t get in the way of the world you are looking at. For me the gold star of a hud is Destiny. So simple, so clean, tells you wha to you need to know.

    My opinion of HUDs changed with ESO, like with other serious mmo players I was complaining how simply it was, especially coming from my excessively modded EQ2 HUD. But after a bit I realised how much of that noise really distracted from the game itself. Even when I could fully mod the thing I rarely did.

    I am glad games have moved away from such trrribly oversized HUD on console, yes I am playing far away from the screen but I am not blind, I don’t need a health bar shaped as a sword toking up the bottom quarter of my screen. Hehe.

    • I felt similar with WoW (Before I quit last year)

      I used a custom UI to make things as minimal as possible and only have things pop up on the screen contextually.

      I honestly prefer minimalist UI’s in games as it allows me to enjoy the game environment more rather than spending a lot of time looking at the UI.

      Reminds me of the UI’s addons people used to use in OG vanilla wow where they would have loads of addons on the screen during Raids, More of the screen was UI addons than actual gameplay.

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