How Firewatch’s UI Enhances Player Immersion


A must-read essay on diversion UI (without delving into investigate pieces) is this piece by EA Dice engineer Marcus Andrews. I’ll explain some terms that are required to know a comprehension of Firewatch’s UI:

Organism: This is you, actor and all-round overwhelming tellurian being.

Avatar: This is Mario, Sonic, Solid Snake, Henry a glow lookout. The in-game impression that a mammal controls is apart from a organism, no matter how picturesque a gameplay or cosplay.

The UI is a craft a mammal passes by to turn a avatar. Since a avatar is traditionally commanded by diversion developers (if we play a space sea game, a favourite is a space marine), the goal of UI is to make a mammal feel sufficient that he or she is a avatar.

With me so far? Let’s go a turn deeper:

Diegetic UI: Interface elements that are manifest both to a mammal in a genuine universe and a characters/avatars in a diversion world. For example, in a image below, both a GPS pen trustworthy to a automobile and a map in a avatar’s palm are diegetic UI elements (because they are manifest to you, a player, and also to each impression in a diversion world). These elements customarily offer a many soak and form a seamless craft between a mammal and a avatar.

Non-diegetic UI: UI elements customarily manifest to a mammal in a genuine universe and not manifest to in-game characters/avatars. For example, in a screenshot from Uncharted 4 below, a ammo count, gun icons, and grenade counters on a bottom left of a shade are non-diegetic (because you, a player, can see them though in-game characters cannot). This is magnitude a many immersive UI choice, though customarily performs good with honour to functionality and removing a required information opposite to a player.

Spatial UI: UI elements that are presented in a game’s 3D space (whether they are manifest to a characters/avatars or not). These can be diegetic or non-diegetic, they usually need to be rendered in a 3D diversion space. The blue waypoint markers and crosshair in a Arkham Knight screenshot below are examples of spatial UI.

Meta UI: UI elements that are not visualized in a 3D diversion space (whether they are diegetic or not). For example, a on-screen blood splatter in a Gears of War screenshot below is non-diegetic (the actor can see it, a avatars cannot) and meta (it is not visualized in a 3D diversion space).

Apologies for going all textbook-y there, though we consider being wakeful of these UI distinctions and their particular utilities make it most easier to know usually how Firewatch got it right.


Enhancing immersion

Firewatch is a diversion where protagonist Henry volunteers to be a glow surveillance in sequence to shun his demons and remove himself in Shoshone’s woodland environs. In sequence for a UI to communicate these feelings of isolation and exploration to a player, Firewatch mostly sticks with diegetic UI choices.

For instance, a map. It’s not your customary mini-map on a bottom of a shade à la GTA or a digitized map that we move adult by a menu screen. This is as tighten to a genuine paper map as a diversion can get.

When we need to see a map, Henry will take out a map. He updates paths on a maps as a diversion progresses, circles areas of a map that are of importance; fundamentally anything that a genuine glow surveillance would do.

There are mixed occasions when we need to revisit a new area of a timberland formed on radio conversations or outmost occurrences. Directions are given formed on map landmarks, and players have to grind with map and compass to strech these places.

Is it worse to navigate than non-diegetic maps? Yes. Is it value it? Absolutely. It sells a feeling of timberland soak and scrutiny most improved than an HUD map ever could.

Did we discuss a compass? Because we have to literally take out a compass each time we wish to asian yourself in Firewatch.

The same proof relates here. The player’s avatar is a glow lookout, and glow lookouts (especially those new to a job) don’t usually automatically know where north is. Exploring Firewatch’s universe would be most easier if a compass was constantly manifest on some in-game HUD, though exploring Firewatch’s world shouldn’t be easy given exploring is a whole point.

The radio, that forms a large partial of this game, is also a forked diegetic element. Henry can take out his radio to news roughly anything of significance, respond to incoming messages, or usually gibberish with a puzzling Delilah about a vicissitudes of life.

Firewatch keeps this enterprise for soak by UI consistent via a brief adventure. Near a finish of a diversion (when things get a bit weird), Henry has to follow beeping sounds on a tracking device until it reaches a certain magnitude and a scale flashes green.

Striving for change and functionality

There’s a reason non-diegetic UI is so renouned notwithstanding a immersion-breaking characteristics. These UI elements are fit and clear, giving information to a actor in a quickest and simplest approach possible. Firewatch does spasmodic use these elements given exploring this universe shouldn’t be so formidable that players quit a game.

For example, a diversion visualizes when Henry can respond to a radio summary by popping adult a tiny radio idol on a left of a shade (visible customarily to a player, not to Henry).

Text markers will seem on a shade to brand any intent that can be interacted with, reported on, or is of seductiveness to a narrative.

Your several choices of radio review also uncover adult as on-screen content (non-diegetic).


Firewatch’s UI isn’t ideal (non-diegetic elements do spasmodic mangle a immersion) nor is it insubordinate (Games like Far Cry 2 have used diegetic UI elements to good outcome before). But we consider Campo Santo took actor soak as their lodestone, crafted as many diegetic UI elements as possible, and used non-diegetic UI as a ancillary expel to fill in a gaps whenever there was no other option.

And for this honest try during creation each partial of a game — narrative, gameplay, and UI — consistent with their themes of siege and exploration, we consider they merit the appreciation.

You can follow me on Medium here.

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