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  • The Long Dark: Survival Game HUD Analysis

    - Iuliana Urechi
  • Here's an interesting challenge for you - convey to the player over 10 different game states without breaking immersion. Strike a balance between player control and suspense, between clear communication and immersion. Do all of that without making the player feel like they're walking around with a plane dashboard strapped to their head. Let's see if we can solve that challenge, learn from and improve The Long Dark.

    The Long Dark is a "first-person post-disaster survival experience set in the Northern wilderness" by Hinterland Studio. It aims to simulate real world survival conditions and captures the feeling of desperation, exploration and solitude. It stands out from the sea of survival games thanks to its unique painted visual style, slow meditative atmosphere and great level of polish.

    The game UX and UI went through several iterations before release and are still being tweaked. Visual presentation started in the "simulating physical objects" camp, with books and backpack images for inventory screens. After 4 years, it's firmly in the minimalism camp, with icons and presentation only hinting at chalkboard drawings visual style.

    The Basics of "The Long Dark"

    Themes and Ideas: survival, solitude, despair, end of the world, quiet, cold, hunger, nature vs man, struggle, exploration.

    Interaction type: direct control over character.

    Camera type: first-person 3D.

    In-game Time: Real-time, day/night cycles. No pause button - game pauses only in menu.

    Main screens: HUD, inventory.

    Win state: None.

    Fail state: Health bar reaches 0.

    Fun Factor: Immersion, challenge, resource scavenging and management, exploration.

    How is challenge created: scarcity of resources, multiple needs that deplete over time and need to be filled, limited carry capacity, danger posed by weather and predators, large game map with varied terrain and scattered interest points, slow movement speed.

    Visual Elements: 3D objects.

    Visual presentation: winter color scheme with shades of black, white and blue, unique game font, uppercase text, minimalism, "chalk and blackboard" style UI elements, emphasis on numbers and progress bars, watercolor painted look of textures, stylized 3D objects, predominantly angular shapes, even lighting, sparse shadows, silhouettes.

    Color: winter color scheme, shades of black and white toned with shades of blue, scarce use of red, yellow, blue-green.

    Font: Created specifically for the game. Most text labels are uppercase. Description text lowercase.

    Games with similar elements: Far Cry 3, The Forest.

    Font and color

    The game world is dominated by shades of blue and white, with varying levels of brightness. This creates a unique challenge for the UI, since it must be legible on both extremely bright and dark surfaces. A two-color approach is used to solve this. Solid white is used in almost all the UI elements, with black providing contrast for different backgrounds.

    Accent colors are kept cool, toned down and used very sparingly. You can see the reasoning for this approach when colored UI elements are on screen. They do not provide enough contrast and are often hard to notice at a smaller size. This coupled with the goal of keeping UI unobtrusive and concentrating on immersion, made the developers remove all unnecessary elements, color, backgrounds and decorations from the game.

    A lot of the game information is presented in the form of text. The developers created a custom font with varying letter height and different styles that look good in many roles. Most of the time text is in caps, with regular style used for details, notes and additional information. Color is used to communicate text importance, while font style plays a supporting role in this task.

    There are several important lessons we can take away from these design decisions:

    • 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-world objects as UI elements
    • Aim for better user experience and usability over UI aesthetics


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