HUD: Using the Heads-Up Display in Different Ways


When it comes to storytelling in video games, the industry has improved leaps and bounds in the past decade. One of the ways that the narrative has advanced is not only the use of film-quality cut scenes, but the abandonment of traditional gaming staples such as displaying lives, time, weapons, etc. on-screen (HUD). In the early 1990′s, sidescrolling games were all the rage. In these types of games, the player’s HUD is displayed somewhere on the screen (mostly in the upper right or left corners). As the years have passed, this technique is slowly falling to the wayside.

The top of the screen holds the HUD in Super Mario Bros.

The HUD for Super Mario Bros. is located across the top of the screen.

One of the main reasons the HUD is beginning to disappear is for sake of the narrative. When the HUD is integrated into the gameplay, the player becomes immersed in the game like never before. Sometimes, the HUD can be distracting and constantly give the player the feel of playing a game. When you rearrange these elements in the game itself, you begin to get an organic feel for the game (and it looks pretty cool, too). One of the first games to do this is Jurassic Park: Trespasser (1998).

Trespasser did break some new ground with the open world concept.

While commercially a flop, Trespasser may have been ahead of its time.

This game took quite an interesting take on the HUD. Instead of constructing a traditional display in the corners, the developers used a tattoo on the main protagonist’s bosom to showcase health. Weird? Yes. Innovative? Absolutely. The tattoo is the shape of a heart, and if it fills with red, the player is losing health. Once the tattoo is completely red and a chain wraps around it, the player is dead. Not the most practical use of the health display, but creative none the less. Another game from this same time period discarded the traditional HUD system, and found massive success in doing so.

This HUD is one of the first of its kind.

Yes, the infamous tattoo HUD!

Resident Evil (1996) is the first to accomplish many feats. One of these includes immersing the player into the game by removing the HUD from gameplay. While the player attempts to escape Spenser Mansion, the Start menu is how they access their items. Health is also displayed here as well, in the form of a heart monitoring device. Using the HUD in these creative ways opens up the player’s eyes to the possibilities that gaming offers. The HUD will always be there, just in a different form.