Bioshock Infinite, by Irrational Games, is a First Person Shooter set in the flying city of Columbia which is based on 1912’s America. The game combines the use of guns and “vigors”, which are supernatural powers granted to the player as they progress through the game. This game is the third installment of the successful Bioshock series, and I would like to discuss the design decision behind its HUD and UI. While Bioshock 1 & 2 have almost identical HUDs, Bioshock Infinite received a revamped UI to match its gameplay changes.
The goal as the main character of the game is to progress through the game and surviving encounters with police forces, huge automatons, demagogic evangelists of the Prophet and Columbia’s society and other enemies. Like many FPS games, the player is mostly fighting on their own – Elizabeth, a friendly NPC following the player around, does not count – and can only progress when all enemies in a particular level/area are dead.
Tools available to the user
Since this article is going to focus on the HUD part of the UI, this section will focus on combat tools available in Bioshock Infinite. The player’s health is a finite resource represented by a health bar that does not regenerate over time, but rather fills up when the character consumes various in-game foods and snacks. There are two other bars visible on-screen: The Salt bar, which is the player’s finite resource pool used to cast Vigors, and the Shield bar, which is the player’s regenerating pool of damage absorption. In the bottom left part of the screen, an icon represents the Vigor currently selected, and the bottom right corner shows which weapon is currently equipped in the right hand.
Players can freely switch between Vigors in combat, but they can only carry a total of two guns at a time (and use only one of them, of course). Vigor swapping can be done through keyboard shortcuts, or by using a rotating selection menu that pauses the game so that the player can take their time to make their selection. This allows the same system to be used for consoles and PCs, but also takes full advantage of the keyboards multiple keys by allowing PC players to quick-swap between Vigors using keybindings 0-9.
The shield mechanic in Bioshock Infinite is new to the Bioshock series, but not a new mechanic in the FPS genre. Like most games that feature a shield mechanic, you don’t lose health until all of your shields are gone. Shields regenerate back to full if the player does not take any sort of damage over a short period of time.
In order to see the damage taken, there are two feedback indicators on the HUD: the bars at the top left, and the screen progressively getting redder and blurrier around the edges. When the shields are first damaged, an effect indicating shattered yellow glass appears, which can be interpreted that the shields have been completely damaged and that the next damage sources will directly affect the health bar. However, that is not the case, it is just an indication of the shields being damaged. That damage indicator does not appear every time the shields take a hit, however. Hits, like in many FPS games, are indicated by a red arc appearing on a virtual “compass” in the middle of the screen to give players meta feedback on which direction they are being hit from.
Compared to Bioshock 1 & 2, the UI has been scaled down significantly, so that generally all bars are smaller. An icon indicates whether Shields or Health are the ones currently taking damage, and the damaged bar is highlighted – this draws the player’s attention to the relevant bar: the shields bar is bright yellow when shields are still active, and the health bar is dark red. The UI being scaled down and the icon being on the left-most side of the bars makes it generally harder to see at a glance in the middle of combat, and is also disconnected from the Salt bar which is in an entirely different corner, or the ammunition indicators in a third corner with the weapons.
The in-game video settings of Bioshock Infinite do not allow for customisation of what appears on the screen, nor for UI re-scaling. But that does not mean that it is not possible: UI re-scaling, change of Field of View (FOV) and multiple other tweaks can be performed in a non-intuitive manner by going into the game’s files.
The most important point would be to change the options and settings available to the player in order to customise the UI and HUD of the game to suit their playstyle and needs. The baffling fact is that these are options that are available and work well, but require the player to tinker with the game’s files, which is not an accessible way for everyone. All game settings and UI alterations should be available through the game’s settings menu. Dishonored, by Arkane Studios, is a First Person view game with powers/stealth mechanics that does PC customisation and UI settings really well:
Additionally, it would be worth reverting to the older style of bar representation, by keeping the Health, Shield and Salt bar closer together in the same corner, rather than forcing the player to have to look at 3 different corners while all the action is happening in the middle of their screen.
My opinion as a player
I am not a big fan of the Bioshock series, mainly because I saw the combat gameplay as “the parts between the cool stuff – the story”. Bioshock Infinite is definitely my favourite of the three games, however. I really like the art direction, the style and the setting of the game, and I prefer Columbia over Rapture. The storytelling and the narrative of the games has always been fantastic, but the combat (which is a big part of the game) never really grew on me, unfortunately.
Cover image © Tae Young Kim