Deathmatch Iconography

I love iconography. When used well it conveys information quicker than words, when used poorly, it increases cognitive load.

A silhouette of the Overwatch Rifle from Half Life 2.
The Overwatch Rifle icon from Half-Life 2

Certain genres of multiplayer games, like first person shooters, are fast and intense; their gamers need fast feedback. This makes a solid use case for iconography. Half-Life 2 excelled at this.

When a kill happens, gamers need to know:

Take too long to understand this and your chances of death and missed opportunities rises. To FPS players this causes, keyboard smashing, swear word using, frustration.

An in game screen shot of Half-Life 2.
A screen shot from a Half-Life 2 Deathmatch game
The iconography used in Half-Life 2 Deathmatch
A close up of the iconography used in Half-Life 2 Deathmatch.

With a glance you discover and understand the important information.


To appreciate this, let’s compare it to some other popular multiplayer shooters: Halo: Reach and Battlefield 3.

The Halo: Reach kill feedback.
Halo: Reach kill feedback. Not in the traditional top-right location.
Battlefield 2’s kill feedback.
Battlefield 3’s kill feedback.

With their reliance on copy, you cannot quickly understand meaning. It takes cognitive load to understand what you're seeing. Also, with Battlefield 3, you're subconsciously identifying the weapon: AKs-74u.

Compared to writing for the web

Our studies suggest that current Web writing often does not support users in achieving their main goal: to find useful information as quickly as possible.
How to Write for the Web by John Morkes and Jakob Nielsen (1997). Read online.

A gamer doesn't play to seek out useful information, they play for fun. To achieve that goal, they need the information presented through the UI, and they need it to be useful and quick to assimilate.

It's rare to see UX or UI roles inside gaming houses but it's pretty clear there are lessons to be learned.

Overwatch Rifle created with Zeptozephyr's Adobe Custom Shapes.