I will be posting moderately regularly observations of how games work and analysis of certain aspects of them. In this particular case, I’ll be looking at some game menus. I think when developing games, this is a vital aspect of a game that should not be overlooked. After all, it is the first element of the game that you introduce to the player.
The problem though with having a menu that is comprehensive and well constructed is that it’s hard to dedicate resources to an aspect that not many will really notice. It’s important to balance the effort put into something and the pay off received. And to another degree, putting effort into anything and not having that effort recognized is demotivating. So generally, little effort is put into elements of games/applications that aren’t directly present to the user. But they really need to be, beauty is in the details.
So the game menu I’m going to look at is “Deus Ex: Human Revolution”‘s (Not the Director’s Cut). This is one of my favorite video games. It is a first-person RPG (role playing game) based on the 2000 game of the same name “Deus Ex”. The game is relatively punishing/difficult with stealth and shooter elements. I do heartily recommend anyone to play this game. But let’s look at the menu now.
It is a pretty comprehensive menu. The first three icons let you initiate the game.
- Continue will start the game directly at the last save point on record
- New game starts a new game with a “choose difficulty” sub-menu
- Load game is particularly good as it offers two automatic save states (latest auto-save and previous auto-save) and a list of manual save states.
The load game menu is structured like this because of the gameplay and the menu itself directly effects gameplay as well, although it may not seem immediately so. Because the core of the gameplay is very dependent the decisions you make, save states are very important so that if the player makes an irreparable mistake, they can reset to a previous saved state and change their actions.
The only drawback to this load system, is that it can make the game too easy for those who choose to abuse it. In that case, all you can do is trust in the player to play the game.
The next aspect about menu’s to discuss is the ever critical “options” menu. This is more so important for PC games rather than for console games, as there is generally little reason to make an options menu for console games. The options menu give the player to ability to control,
- Video parameters, consisting of two parts; A simple set of options such as brightness, resolution, aspect ratio, full-screen/windowed, etc. Then a more advanced set of options that give control over exactly what the game renders (Anti-Aliasing, Anisotropic Filtering, Texture Resolution, etc.) so that you can tune the performance of a game to give you a more desirable experience as you play; Generally you trade off performance (generally referring frames per second [fps], higher give you a smoother experience) with Detail/Beauty. As PC builds are various, you may need to change the aspect ratio and/or resolution to fit your monitor or change up the advanced options to get the game running competently on your particular machine.
- Audio volumes. In this particular game, the audio options give individual meters to music, dialogue, sound effects, and an option to turn on captions. Audio is one of the most important parts of a video game, despite what it may seem. It is similar to movies; if you have a good soundtrack, people will be invested into the game; if you have good sound effects, you will believe the objects in the world are real; etc. etc.. In video games, sound is something you are constantly exposed to. It provides a sense of feedback (of course it’s not the only way to give feedback to a player). As the player is not actually in the game, they can not feel if they’ve actually done anything and if you don’t provide feedback, the player can’t know if they actually committed an action. And this may lead to frustration. The reason why a player would want individual meters for sound over a master controller, is that players want to have an experience tailored for them. Music will inevitably loop, some sounds will be too loud or soft, players may just dislike voice actors and not want to listen. It’s important to give the player control of their experience, so that they can be invested into the experience of playing a game.
- Controls. In here, the player can re-bind the actions of the keyboard and mouse. Controls are the most vital part of a game. Without them, the player can not do anything, what you have isn’t a game at all. But the control scheme that the developer will set as default may not suit everyone’s needs or may not be particularly convenient/intuitive. A rather extreme example of this are disabled/amputees. I remember a short anecdote about a player with one arm and to play games, he used a mouse with a plethora of buttons in order to make up for the lack of an ability to use a keyboard. But there were games he wanted to play but was unable to since there was a lack of re-bind-able keys. Again, a rather extreme example but an example nonetheless.
- And finally gameplay. This is more of an extraneous set of options in my opinion (although that opinion varies depending on game itself and in this game, it may be more important then I give it credit for) but I can certainly see why it’s available. There are a set of gameplay elements that the player may want to change to further tailor the experience while they play. In this particular menu there are,
- Automatic Inventory Management
- Show Prompts
- Show Reticle
- Cover Style
- Objective Locators
- Object Highlight
- Field of view
- Text Language
All of these serve to more so directly change the gameplay over the other options.
The final set of icon’s are “Tutorial”, “Credits”, and “Exit Game”. The tutorial gives you a set of videos that teach you how to play or use game mechanics. Useful for learning or relearning something you may not be aware of. Credits show’s the player who worked on the game and Exit Game does what it says.
Exit game is quite vital as the player won’t play the entire game in a single sitting (you’d be surprised at how many games actually forget to put exit game into the menu). Credits are there to accredit those who have worked on the game and hopefully, give the player information about the particular developers/studios involved and make them interested in other games they’ve worked on.
I have no eloquent conclusion to this analysis other than, game menu’s are important. But I want more people to be aware of exactly how important they really are, as they’re an element generally hastily put together or with little thought. A game menu really effects how a game is perceived by the consumer and that can lead to higher sales of a game and better reviews. But it is hard to find the balance between effort put in and the payoff received. It is important to know and understand this balance so as developers can avoid being burned out or demotivated. And this ability is also useful in other aspects of life; although it’s up to you to see how to utilize this.
That was the end of my first “Game Analysis (lite)”. There’s not really a particular point that I intend to make with these but they’re notes about aspects of video games, how to learn from them and make use of this knowledge not only in making video games but how to use this knowledge in our individual lives.