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Why games can’t abandon the HUD

Press F for UIs

In the past few years, an important part of the gameplay experience has been slowly sacrificed at the altar of immersion. Heads-up displays, or HUDS, were once a vibrant and iconic design element, but we’ve gotten to the point where immersion is synonymous with having no UI elements.

To be fair, intrusive UI can definitely disrupt immersion — but actually, notable HUD flubs like the “Press F to Pay Respect” meme from Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare prove that immersion is more than just eliminating any reminders that you’re playing a game.

To better understand how immersion is affected by UI design, I spoke to Dino Ignacio, the UI Director for the Dead Space franchise, the gaming gold standard for diegetic interfaces. Diegetic refers to sounds or visuals that exist within the world of the narrative, and can be seen and interacted with by the game’s characters. UI designers trying to avoid bulky HUDs can incorporate diegetic elements, which work to reinforce the feeling of being in the game world.

But most modern UIs are more influenced by a concept that arose in the early 2010s, known as flat design, which is all about making interfaces simple and iconic, rather than textual. This design style has influenced games so much that recent releases like The Last of Us Part 2, God of War, and Breath of the Wild all have very similar looking, and not very interesting, UI design.

Watch the video above to learn more about how important UIs are to immersion, and why we can’t abandon them just yet.