Friday, July 8, 2011

In Memoriam: The Heads-Up Display

E3 2011 is behind us, and as it always does, the show has left us with some very memorable moments.

We saw gameplay from a variety of Kinect games, and realized, with sadness, that the most engaging game idea shown for Kinect was called "Sesame Street: Once Upon a Monster".

We saw the exciting unveiling of the Playstation Vita, a new handheld gaming system from Sony. As the fevered excitement died down, we got to watch the gaming press's elite go from giddy to devastated when it was announced that the Vita's 3G support would come from AT&T, a company whose coverage is spottier than a plus-size string bikini.

We saw Nintendo announce their new home console, The Wii U, innovative control method included, and decided that Nintendo does, in fact, name their new systems by waiting until an overworked employee falls asleep on their keyboard.

Other names considered: The Wuu, The NinTabdo Entertablet System, and The swfghdbe;oa'sphaaaaaaaaa...
I was able to get past the Wii U's name with the help of my therapist, but I started to think about the full ramifications of the new controller. The 6.2 inch touch screen, the full set of face and shoulder buttons, the inward facing camera... All of these are gagdets have already been used in some capacity in a whole slew of other electronic devices. As Nintendo is wont to do, though, they have illustrated some very creative ways to use these pieces of technology in conjunction with the proprietary technology from the the original Wii system (like the Wii Remote+, Balance Board, etc.).

Better yet, they've concievably dealt a deathblow to one of gaming's mainstays, and it is to that long-cherished gaming convention that we bid adieu:
The service, though brief, was sparsely attended.
Master Chief courtesy of BenjiPhil08

Nintendo's new tablet-based controller has yet to prove itself in the minds of most gamers. Most who have seen it are asking themselves the same questions: Does it work? How will this adapt itself to gaming? Does Nintendo have a spy inside Apple R&D? If so, why are they so bad at their job that they're "stealing" tech that Apple has already released two iterations of (with a third model rumored to be on the way)?

All of these are valid questions, but preliminary reports from game journalists have given us some of the answers. Yes, it does work, and yes, it's versatile. Those two questions have been answered by media, but my call to Nintendo's spy at Apple R&D was rudely ended when he asked, panicked, where I got this number and why I had called him at the office, followed by gurgling sounds as he dropped the phone. He had very unsatisfactory phone etiquette for being a Nintendo, err... I mean "Apple" *wink wink* employee.

The unknowns of the Wii U control aside, one thing is for sure: With the burden to display ALL of the inventory management, health level, and map functions now relegated to the tablet controller, there is almost no need for the HUD to appear in another video game. This does assume that the player is playing the game on their television, and not simply streaming it straight to the controller screen... In that case, future gamers,  I don't know what to tell you. 

Having all of these functions on the controller while you play the game in the TV would, of course, free up a great deal of screen real-estate for a variety of new functions, or better yet, an unencumbered view.

And let's be honest... With a new console that displays a new Zelda or Metroid natively at 1080p, who wouldn't take every opportunity to enjoy the view?

What do you think? Is the coming of the Wii U a death-knell for the HUD? Let us know your opinion in the comments!



  1. Welcome back! I liked the commentary - I was reading something along these lines elsewhere recently too, though you definitely put a more humorous spin on things. That's tough for me honestly - I don't know if I would want my HUD down there. A lot of people say: Well it frees up the screen. But depending on the gaming interface, this thing's still down in your lap. If I have to look down at my lap and away from my screen to see how many bullets I have left in Call of Duty - well... odds are, I'll have a full compliment when I respawn right about the time I look back up.

    I do think as a pause menu it has application, and I'd love it for sports games. I used to love the NBA and NFL 2K games on the Dreamcast that had updates on that controller memory unit. I didn't have to pause and go into the interface to see who my high scorers were, or who was tired, because it was constantly scrolling info along the bottom.

    But in today's game, if I want to see who my leading scorer is in the 3rd quarter, you have to pause, then navigate to the stat box, find the player/team you want, and then go back into the game. So I definitely think it's going to be a challenge for the game developers to find a way to make the extra display actually useful and not a potential hindrance to gameplay as well.

  2. @ Chalgyr

    Thanks for the welcome! Things have been very busy around the Bit household in the last month as I fought off the finals of one block of classes and figured the ins-and-outs of a new block! It was EATING ME UP INSIDE to not be posting here, so Mrs. Bit and made some time for me to get something out.

    This is why we're internet friends, Chalgyr... You're a genius! For some reason, I hadn't even considered the possible uses for sports games. Being able to manage your teams, see stats, change lineups and plan plays, all from the comfort of your controller sounds fascinating enough that it may just entice me into playing more sports games!

    Also, as I was writing this article, the idea of ammo management occurred to me as well. Ammo seems like one of few things that I prefer to have on my TV screen. Like you said, if you had to constantly be looking down to see your ammo, you could find yourself with a faceful of ordnance before you know it. That said, I think that there may be ways around this... The one that immediately comes to mind is to put a system into place similar to the one in Dead Space, i.e. that Isaac's health was measured by the light that ran up his spine. Couldn't we do something like this for ammunition? Obviously, it wouldn't work for all games, but it shows that there may be creative ways to keep track of ammo so that the screen remains unsullied, so to speak.

    Thanks for the comment!


  3. And here I thought we were internet friends because we both dug 8-bit games? But I'll take the genius comment, even if it's not really deserved. :)

    As a huge fan of sports games, I play a lot of different ones, and anything that can keep me out of menu screens, which often have a bit of delay to them anymore, is a bonus.

    I concur w/ the Dead Space reference. Trying to recall, but wasn't the ammo shown on your weapon as well if you looked closely enough? But, in this point, it's not the hardware that's making the HUD a thing of the past, but clever programming.

    And it definitely makes sense on some games if say, the controller's used as an aiming device. I don't really like playing online shooters with aiming devices - I'm quicker and more accurate with a standard controller personally, but I can easily envision some games where you hold the controller up in front of the screen and it acts as an aiming sight - and in that sense it would make sense for the HUD to be there.

    In fact, since you get a separate display, that could be a lot of fun in multiplayer if you are say, one versus 2 or 3 local play. That being said, I'm not sure that this design makes a lot of sense either for a single player mode now that I think about it - why would I trade in my 52" HD tv display to peer at a much smaller one that just happens to be closer to my face. Might be a neat mode for say, a sniper in CoD where you don't do a lot of rapid fire, but it seems counter-intuitive for someone who might use an assault rifle more.

    This article has really gotten me thinking on the topic - I'll shaddap for now, but interesting stuff. :)

  4. First...ADHD!

    I've read this post and the comments about five times now, and never finish my comment!

    As for the Wii U and it perhaps killing the HUD, I don't think so.
    I think certain games(as mentioned) will have it remain on the screen, but others as Chalgyr mentioned will definitely benefit from using the controller's screen to display information on.

    I owned/own a Dreamcast, and I really liked the VMUs(Virtual Memory Units) for the controllers.

    NFL 2K is the game I always think about when I hear people wonder what a screen on the controller can do, though with the Wii U and Nintendo not specifying how much additional controllers are yet...and even IF additional Wii U controllers will be sold separately and be functional, I don't know how much developers will focus on doing interesting things for local multi-player if the console only uses one controller per system.

    Personally, I think having the option to move the HUD around would be great, as games like The Conduit started for the Wii.
    When I record footage of some games(Monster Hunter in particular), I know I usually turn off most of the HUD options so the screen isn't filled up with my health, the map, and the for recording and showing games it would be beneficial I guess.

    There just seems to be a lot of unknown still about the Wii U, and hopefully time will give us a better idea of where Nintendo is going with this thing...but right now I'm not super excited for it, though Killer Freaks has me interested just because of the team behind it.


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