(Quite an unfortunate acronym)
Dynamic User Interfaces by Bjorn Buchner, Gamasutra
Contextual UIs have been used for a long time. Think the breath meter in Mario 64. So in the example of Battlefield 4 given, it must be that the designers thought that information was important to the player even while scoping. Maybe they had one guy complain and then they rationalized that it’s supposed to take skill to aim—”it’s not supposed to be easy“, they would say—so seeing through UI crap is part of that.
I came up with some UI triggers before reading Buchner’s and they’re organized in a little bit different way:
- NPC or Object
- Function, Routine, State
- Property, Variable Value
- Location, Area
And then there’s Time. Activity and Reason would be covered under Function.
In an action RPG like Skyrim, once all agroed (function) enemies near the player (location) are dead, a menu containing all loot on one side (maybe organized by enemy) and the player’s items on the other could appear. This could be taken a step further by only the player’s items of the same category showing up so the decision to take loot is quick.
It may also be useful at times to have uncommon or novel controls be displayed on the screen, if a player encounters a unique mechanic, such as a vehicle, machine, etc. It may need to remain there for the duration of the unique mechanic sequence in case the player forgets a button or has not used a feature of the mechanic until late in the sequence.
This brings up the matter of the line between contextual UI and contextual controls. There is the HUD during action gameplay, informational icons, common menus, and the controller itself. These are always interacting. It’s natural that when a menu for trading with merchants comes up in a bazaar, the controls for interacting with them, buying, selling, bartering, also change. When you open the items menu, then the spells menus, then look at the map, and press different buttons for all of them, you experience the interaction between contextual UI and controls.
Buchner focuses on the information being communicated to the player, which could be as brief as an ammo count every 5 rounds blinking onto the screen or a warning message alerting the player they are out of ammo or health. When icons are factored into this, there is a vast amount of information that could be potentially communicated to a player game-wide, and so contextual reduction and chunking of that information is crucial to the player’s processing of all information not a part of the primary challenge at hand.