Hello world and welcome to a brand new blog that provides my input from information design that spans from many kinds of media. In my case, as a video game major, I feel the best way to start this whole thing off is to take a look at where I began during my gaming “career” with an example of information design from good NES games. Let’s start with three games of the action genre:
A port of the arcade game “Kung Fu Master”, “Kung Fu” was the NES’s only action game in its 30 game launch lineup of “black box” titles. Within the game’s interface, a third of the screen is taken up by a black band containing status information displaying such details as the player’s life bar -colored red possibly to indicate blood-, the boss’ life bar (why it reads “enemy” may be because the contemporary moniker “boss” wasn’t in the gaming lexicon at the time), the current floor you’re on, the amount of lives remaining, and the difficulty level which increases every time you “beat” the game (as the game’s arcade roots entail, you loop back to level one with an increase in difficulty after completing level five). There’s also the current score of both players one and two, the highest score, a timer, and the selected game mode (game A or game B). Although it’s not much to look at when it comes to aesthetics, that was never a focus for games of this era in the first place. All that needed to be focused on was that all important information is labeled the way it should with minimal flair. The life bars are clearly labeled while other info had to take a metaphor route due to space constraints (the head icon for lives and the dragon icon for difficulty level for example). There aren’t many flaws to find with this kind of interface other than it taking up too much on the screen real estate which could have been used to show more gameplay instead, but other NES action games down the road would iterate from this template and contain the info in a more concise manner.
Taking up just a forth of the screen is the status bar from the NES classic “Castlevania”. Most of “Kung Fu”‘s info is shared with this game with room to add info unique to it such as your current sub-weapon and its ammunition. One other thing to add is how the bars are sectioned in this game (named “hit points” in this case) as opposed to “Kung Fu”‘s which provides better feedback for the player to determine which enemy or their attacks poses the most threat. This holds true to the boss’ hit points to let the player know which of their attack methods is best to fell the boss at the end of the level. As far as flaws are concerned, I think the bar itself could’ve got shrunken down just a tad more at the top by removing one row of black, and there are some alignment issues not found in “Kung Fu”‘s but other than that it’s a great example of information design within the limitations of the medium. Let’s end this with one more action game that’s infamous for its difficulty.
“Ninja Gaiden”‘s status bar seems more organized than the other two games by packing all of its information as close as possible but still sectioned just enough to know what’s labeling what, and justifying all the information with a centered flush which removes the tension from the edges of the screen. Every label is followed by a dash connecting it to what it belongs to; something that wasn’t constant in “Castlevania”‘s, and there’s even a bit of logic to the arrangement of some of the information i.e. the left half of the status bar holds the info whose numerical values are constantly changing while the right half is the opposite of that. With that said, the status bar in “Ninja Gaiden” is the better of the three with very little that could be improved upon.
That’s all for the good but next time, we’re gonna focus on what makes bad information design in NES games. Stay tuned!