HUD is a complicated subject in Fragmental. When you’re playing the game, your focus is either on your character or on your opponents, there’s a lot to take in and a split second distraction from the HUD, or a quick glance away from the action to check your weapon could be the difference between winning or losing. It’s a strange thing to be working on an area of the game that you actually pay very little attention to while playing the game. I think in general HUD should be pretty unintrusive, but it’s essential with Fragmental.
We held some playtests at the studio a few weeks back with some students from Abertay, and the feedback was invaluable. Some of the points raised we were aware of beforehand, but it’s always good to have things confirmed. In certain areas, like the HUD, the feedback was almost unanimous in picking out a few core issues, mainly with not knowing what weapon you were picking up and when you were out of ammo. Pretty important stuff in a game that’s all about the weapons.
The design of the weapons was covered in a previous post, but on top of the actual design of the weapon, we also decided to add ammo bars below the characters. This made it immediately obvious how much ammo you had, and when you were empty, all conveniently placed in an area where your focus was anyway. It also changed gameplay slightly but I think for the better. We were worried it might cause people to hang back a little, and it does provide stand-offs in certain situations when you’re cornered, and you only have a couple bullets left, but if anything it’s just added more variation to the gameplay. You’re still sometimes too focused on other things to notice, but more often than not one of the player’s who are dead and now simply spectating will shout ”Quick! He’s empty!!!” causing you to barrel in all guns blazing like Rambo, only to get hit right in the coupon with their weapon, which stuns your character and knocks their weapon out of their hand. Then all you can do is watch as your opponent picks up the weapon you just dropped and kills you with your own gun. Obviously this is an entirely hypothetical situation and has never, ever actually happened to me…
Check Your Corners? No Need
So it does it’s job and doesn’t take you out of the game for a second. This is really the cornerstone of any HUD we have. If it’s gameplay related then it really needs to centred around the characters, not off in the corners. We’ll have things like player names – we’re going for a 3 letter arcade throwback here – but these aren’t things you desperately need to know in the heat of battle. We also have the current weapon but this is as much for spectators as it is for players – it’s surprisingly fun to watch this game too, like seeing someone shoot the disc gun, only to have it ricochet three times and come back, and hit them square in the face. You rarely have time to glance at the corners, and you should ideally be able to pick out what weapon your opponents have by their silhouette, or perhaps the big electric beam of death that’s now headed your way!
Picking up Modifiers in game is something that currently needs work. At the moment it’s not always immediately obvious that a Modifier has been picked up and activated, and by the time you’ve realised it has, it’s probably too late. Some of them are relatively easy to identify as soon as they’re picked up; Shields give you a big glowing sphere around you, Motion Sickness rotates the map and Infinite ammo will change your ammo bar to show an infinity sign within it. These all have visual signifiers that tell you what modifier is active without having to look at some HUD at the top of the screen, but on top of that they are positive or fairly passive Modifiers, so they carry no immediate threat. I think we should give this visual treatment to all of the Modifiers. We have a Modifier which reduces friction between the characters and the floor, which creates a feeling of moving on ice, so maybe we should make the arenas look a bit frosty when this is active. Again, nobody looks at the HUD so the more we can do in the game world, the better.
Retro Futuristic Fonts
Fonts are another thing that’s been a bit of a challenge. Fragmental’s art style draws from a lot of retro futuristic 80s style artwork. We’re not entirely trying to emulate that era, but there’s a lot of cool reference that fits with our colourful, vibrant visuals and audio reactive backgrounds. There’s so much stuff, which has quite a simple futuristic font combined with rough brush script. Also, a lot of it is pretty chrometastic, so I thought this could be a good avenue to explore. I originally had a brush script font for the weapons, and while it looked cool, it just wasn’t readable at times. The HUD font choice has been through a fair few iterations, sometimes you think you’ve found the perfect font and one letter throws it completely off. It’s still a bit rough round the edges, but I think we’re on the right track.
At the moment I’m working on the end of round screens, I’d like them to loosely resemble bars on a graphic equalizer, where each bar represents one kill. Here’s one I made earlier! You’ll notice I let Dave win in the mockup…. I thought it was only fair seeing as I don’t usually let him have that chance when we play.