Game Development Reference
Let 's look at the visual hierarchy of a typical shooter.
Enemies in front of the player are very important, so they are repre-
sented by large, visible, identifiable characters in the middle of the screen.
More distant enemies are less important, and also smaller on-screen.
Note that this natural relationship between distance, relevance, and vis-
ibility is one of the properties of 3D space that makes it an elegant basis
for a video game.
Health is an interesting case. One of the innovations of modern
shooters is that they change the visibility of health as its value changes.
At critical health, they throw a red overlay over the whole screen and play
pain sound effects, making the signal very visible. When the character
is healthy, these effects go away and the signal quiets. It's a smart way of
pushing health information into the player's consciousness only when it
Ammo count is displayed in a corner. It can be ignored, but still found
at a glance. Like health, it matters more when it is low, so some games
make it more visible when the weapon is almost empty by playing a special
sound or tossing text into the lower-middle part of the screen.
Each of these pieces of information has had its visibility tuned to
match its importance. The end result is a visual hierarchy that makes the
game comprehensible across all skill levels.
To achieve this, designers must decide the relative importance of dif-
ferent elements, and tune their visibilities to match. There are a thousand
ways to change the visibility of a piece of feedback. For example, let's look
at some ways to tune the visibility of the ammo count.
A very quiet ammo count would display it in small print in a corner
of the screen. The player must deliberately look for this information to
receive it. Without training, he may not even notice it.
More visible versions show a graphical UI element of individual bul-
lets, closer to the middle of the screen. Now the player can see the ammo
count out of the corner of his eye.
If we want even more visibility, we can wrap an ammo display around
the crosshair in the middle of the screen. Now the player will see his ammo
count without even trying to peek out of the corner of his eye. That's as far
as any real game likely needs to go.
But if we wanted to increase visibility even more, we could. The ammo
counter can expand to fill half the screen. The bullet icons can flash. An
automated voice can state your ammo count out loud every time you fire a
shot (it has been done).
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