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  • The Long Dark: Survival Game HUD Analysis

    - Iuliana Urechi

  • When rabbit-hunting with rocks, you stun a rabbit and then watch it tremble in your hands as you're given a choice to let it go or snap its neck. The action does loose its shock value over time, but the first few times really stick with you. They reinforce the game tone as desperate survival of the fittest.

    Wolf attacks are treated as a quick-time event where time slows down, you have a few seconds to choose a weapon from the ones available to you. As time goes back to normal, you click a mouse button to repel the wolf. The faster you click the button, the shorter the encounter, the less serious the afflictions you'll get.

    Bear attacks can not be repelled. They initiate a scripted animation of the bear attacking the player. After the encounter, the player acquires several afflictions, some of the inventory items will be scattered on the ground and many will sustain damage.

    What can we learn here:

    • Remember that UI and UX design does not stop at graphics. Sound and interaction can also communicate necessary information to the player.
    • Treating different animals and resources as separate unique events will help make gameplay and UX more diverse and interesting.

    There is large room for improvement here.

    Those are unfortunately the only few immersive interactions in the game. Almost everything else is represented with an icon and a filling progress bar. This can be so immersion breaking that many negative reviews have called The Long Dark "progress bar: the game".

    It's obvious that the game needs more animations to increase immersion. Even simple ones like animating the camera to simulate falling asleep and waking up. It will look much better than the simple fade to black it is now. Healing, eating and drinking will benefit greatly from the smallest of animations. These actions are executed every 5 minutes in the game. Currently the only feedback they do provide is a filling progress bar that makes them the feel interchangeable.

    Far Cry 3 has a lot of very brief but effective animations for actions like gathering plants, striping animal carcasses and healing. They're quick but effective, allowing the player to imagine the interaction with game objects more clearly. They also convey the emotion of the action. Healing animation shows nasty wounds on hands that get bandaged, signaling distress and pain. The plant gathering animation is quick and effortless, conveying experience. Striping animal carcasses is brutal, gory and bloody, underlying the desperation and unfamiliarity of the situation.

    The Long Dark also does not reflect your character's clothing choices on the in-game model. You will always see the same pair of hands with shirtsleeves, no matter how many layers of clothing or mittens you wear. Changing this aspect of the game would create a big boost to player engagement, as getting new gear becomes more than just a ‘+ 5 to warmth' on the status screen.

    The use of hands in front of the camera makes it easier to immerse the player. The Long Dark has surprisingly few instances where the player can see hands in front of the camera, and the rest of the player body is invisible.

    A good example of how seeing both hands and feet can create immersion is the game Mirror's Edge. It's a parkour-like game focused on running, climbing and moving. In it, the ability to see your body intensifies the experience. Falls and heights become more terrifying, as you see the ground rushing to ‘your' feet. Climbing adds the feeling of effort and exertion as hands in front of the camera struggle to grasp the edge. Having The Long Dark take advantage of some of the same game elements would help with immersion.

    In Summary

    The Long Dark is a great example of survival games done right. It has a lot of great UI and UX decisions worthy of learning from such as:

    Font and color

    • Keep your UI and in-game visual style in synch and complementing each other
    • Don't be afraid to try several different approaches to find the best one for your game
    • Color doesn't have to be a part of your UI design if it doesn't add anything
    • Immersion doesn't have to mean use of real-life objects as UI elements
    • Aim for a better user experience and usability over UI aesthetics


    • Use the psychology of color to your advantage to indicate states, emotions, impact and importance
    • Get creative with progress bars, using different shapes for a more interesting effect
    • Use visual styles to indicate information type for a better user experience
    • Plan your UI strategy early and keep to it as new features and elements get added

    Radial menu

    • Make sure the icons in the radial menu are easy to identify for faster navigation. Here, each medicine and food has a unique, easy to identify shape and color.
    • Use radial menus instead of a fixed bottom of the screen quick-slot menu to clear the HUD of unnecessary UI clutter.
    • Use icons instead of text for faster navigation. Provide a tooltip outside the menu if you can't completely get rid of text.

    Actions and Animations

    • Remember that UI and UX design does not stop at graphics. Sound and interaction can also communicate necessary information to the player.
    • Treating different animals and resources as separate unique events will help make gameplay and UX more diverse and interesting.


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