Point of Contact Blog 2 – Menu Systems and Settings

Here it is! The Point of Contact Blog 2. This one will discuss the menu systems, settings, transitions and ease of use of the menu, As well as how different layouts affect the players first impression of the game and what brings them back for more.

Menu’s in games have progressed greatly over time, from the first DOS based games which were simple 8-Bit graphics such as Liero and Zork, to today’s highly detailed menus in recent games such as Crysis 2 and Modern Warfare 3. What makes these menu’s interesting to use and how did they push the boundaries of menu systems to incorporate interesting and unique features?

Firstly what is a menu for? Well you may think you know the answer to that:

“For users to navigate through and obtain what they are looking for in the easiest and smartest manner”

If you said something similar to that you’re absolutely right, The primal use for menu is to reach the actual game with minimum fuss. A menu with rotating text when you mouse over is fancy, and the links to the game are all there, however if the buttons rotate as the¬†player¬†tries to click on them, that’s defeating the purpose of a simple to use menu. Simplicity always comes before Aesthetics.


 

You don’t want a bland simple to use menu though, that would spoil the rest of the game and be a boring intro for an epic game. Adding an interesting focal point in a menu is always beneficial, due to giving the player something to watch. In Point of Contact i’ll be adding a sweeping view of various cities, battles and storms in the background which will also display players fighting or going about their daily business. A few well known games use this technique well, these are: Minecraft and Runescape, you may also know a few others as well. This technique communicates the game play before the player even starts the game and may even learn a few things about the game. Its also very interesting to watch a battle of bots unfold without the worry of dying, players watching may even become attached to bots on the screen and see how they do.

Another game to note with a similar feature on the menu is “Space Wars” by Stubbjax02 from the game maker community. This game features a menu with an actual space war raging in the background with various ships as well as a unit they are able to control if they wish. It’s a brilliant idea having a small mini-game in the menu to get players hooked as well as making a fantastic background for the menu.


 

I think that’s enough pure text for now, here’s some pictures of the introduction logo’s and the current menu’s state:

Music is another vital piece in a menu, it acts as a precursor to the quality of the game ahead. I believe every menu should have an epic theme playing throughout the background to get the player pumped about the game. This works extremely well in multiple games such as: Skyrim, Battlefield 3, Oblivion, Halo 1-3, Star Wars – The Old Republic, Call of Duty – Modern Warfare 3, Magicka, Star Wars – Knight of the old Republic is another great one, so pretty much every very successful game ever to be created.

On the other hand games have been just as successful using dark and mysterious menu to to provoke thoughts and what lies ahead, some of these successful games are: Splinter Cell Conviction, F.E.A.R 1-3, Amnesia, Dead Space 1-2 and Resident Evil 1-5.

I’ve decided to go with both, epic and mysterious menu themes, one of which will be unlocked later to add a little change to the menu, and both songs get into the main rhythm at the same time which is 16 seconds into them to make the intro sequence easier to time right.


 

Below is the menu music i’ve chosen, it’s 2:04 minutes:
With each strum of the guitar another logo will be displayed.

Now as your probably able to see, there’s heaps to still do, such as: Make the top banner a nice font and looking spectacular, as well as adding the village below the clouds, make the options nice colors, adding an old themed border, reducing the number of clouds, adding AI which fight… Basically everything in the game will be shown sometime in the menu. Note the red and purple particles in the second picture, they are an error and aren’t supposed to be shown either.

For ease of use if an option isn’t clickable i’ve added some “unavailable” text in red under the highlighted option which is shown in picture 2, just so people don’t try to click on something that has no effect yet.


 

You can’t tell from the pictures but the clouds are actually revolving and rotating around each other and random lightning occurs inside the storm for realism. The storms will be rarely seen in-game however and only be used for a light cloud cover in average games.

After you’ve designed and implemented your menu the next step is to get a few people who have never played your game to navigate through it finding everything you ask them to, such as volume controls, starting a single player game, change your username etc. By doing this you’ll remove most of the problems now before your actual demographic plays it and then tells you they can’t find certain features. I’d be happy to look at your game’s menu’s and try to navigate my way through it to see if it’s simple to use or a little bit complicated, just leave a message below.

That’s all there is for this blog, stay tuned for the next one which will be on the topic of player movement, HUD’s and Settings.

About fluidicice

Queensland, Australia.
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