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I'm having a contradiction with a friend about the health bar in a game.

He designed it so that the hearts are getting empty (greyed out) from left to right, and I said to him that they should empty (as you lose life) from right to left.

My argument was that most of (if not all) the games are designed this way, and his argument was that he wanted it to be different.

My question is, it is better to keep it consistent so the users would be already accustomed with it, and not get them confused, or make it different so it would be more interesting?

Edit: The health bar, in my case, is actually some inline hearts, and are placed in the middle, and it's the only health bar in the UI at any point.

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Go arcade-style: drain your health bar / hearts towards the edge of the screen. So, depending on the placement of your health indicator you or your friend could both be right. –  Tom Jul 14 at 7:46
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It doesn't strike me that he's being all that different. He's using a bar of hearts that grey out as life expires. That's pretty standard stuff really. –  JonW Jul 14 at 8:08
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For hearts in the middle, I'd agree with you: draining from the right is more "natural" to look at. But if you had a health bar in the middle, I'd expect draining from both sides - Skyrim actually has all three: Magicka on the left, draining from the right; Health in the middle, draining from both sides; Stamina on the right, draining from the left. –  Niet the Dark Absol Jul 14 at 9:50
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I'm all for people doing things differently if it adds something new to the experience, but I feel this is just counter intuitive for people, and it personally strikes be as trying to be different just for the sake of being different. –  Tom Hart Jul 14 at 9:56
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You might find some more information over at Game Development. (Not saying this question is invalid here, but they tend to deal with game-specific UX more.) –  Bob Jul 14 at 14:07

3 Answers 3

up vote 9 down vote accepted

It's better to be consistent with other games rather than doing it opposite for the sake on being different. As we read from left to right and go the opposite direction when deleting, undoing. I believe this is the reason why it is so. We have certain mental models like this set up and going against them creates a kind of friction in the user. Imagine driving a car with the shift stick in a different position than it usually is. There's also similar principles applied in cinematography (eg:actor running from left to right=good ending)

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"imagine driving a car with the shift stick in a different position than it usually is." Imagine driving in the UK when you learned to drive in France :p –  Niet the Dark Absol Jul 14 at 9:48

I'd comment but I can't yet so, here's why I'm posting an answer:

Your perception that it will be counter intuitive is, imho, very correct. Players will get used to it of course, but when you design a UI you don't operate with the notion that it'll work fine after someone is experienced with it, but the opposite - you try to make it so that it seems obvious in the way that it works, no surprises.

If your friends really wants to make it that way, let them. In the end it won't be that bad, but it might cost him some players because they'll get a hard to place feeling of discomfort, especially if he keeps trying to innovate in places where it doesn't really matter. He might however have some overall idea he can't convey and it might turn out it works.

I'd say Niet, in the comments, has it perfectly right. Do it like Skyrim.

If you want to convince your friend tell him, it won't make the game any more original - it's the gameplay that makes a game good, never its UI. You notice a UI only when its bad, much like you only notice movie direction when it sucks.

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Be careful when following Skyrim's example of a health bar in the center. It actually shows 200% of your health, and is basically two mirrored health bars draining toward the center. It is good at showing relative things like full or nearly empty health, but bad at showing precise units. If you remove a full heart from each side the player will assume they got hit for 2 hearts of damage. But if you only remove half a heart from each side they have to spend time doing a little mental addition. Also, what happens when something only does half a heart worth of damage? –  Nathan Rabe Jul 14 at 13:59
    
Well that's easy to solve. Just remove half a heart from only one side. The total count remains the same, the effect of having the bar reduce from both sides remains the same, it just isn't perfectly symmetrical, but that isn't critical if you have few hearts, which is probably what you start out with - by the time there's too many hearts to count easily, depending on the implementation, the player will already know how things work. For damage feedback, you shouldn't have to look at the hearts, there should be other indicators that don't require the player to count hearts or look at the bar. –  ivy_lynx Jul 14 at 14:08
    
(ran out of space) if it's unclear, i'm recommending alternating which side has hearts removed, and if there's half a heart on one side, remove that before removing from the other side to keep things clean. –  ivy_lynx Jul 14 at 14:09
    
I would agree with Nathan in this case. When dealing in finite units, Skyrim's approach probably isn't the best. –  Adam Thompson Jul 15 at 16:02

Quite frankly you're both right. If you look at fighting games then you will notice a health bar for each fighter and it starts from the center of the screen and as they lose health it creeps towards the outside/edge of the screen.

Basically if you're going to implement a left-to-right health bar then this information should be on the right-hand side of the screen.

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Actually, it's not applicable to my example (i updated my question), since we don't have multiple health bars in the same time, and neither is it located in the right-hand of the screen, but your point was good. –  Iulian Onofrei Jul 16 at 6:56

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