Posted on September 23, 2005 by Doolwind

Kill All Menus

I’ve recently been listening to some of the GDC 2005 presentations. While listening to Molyneux’s speech about ‘The Movies’ I heard a statement that I’m starting to hear more often. It went something like “I was playing an early build of the game and realised I was spending too much time navigating through menus”. Firstly I believe this shows a poor design as it should have been obvious from the initial design doc that most of the game was going to be based within menus, and if this isn’t what was intended, it should have been fixed back at this early stage. That aside however, I have a problem with what most people in the industry tend to do next. Molyneux’s solution to this problem was almost identical to Mark Skagg’s solution I heard for Battle for Middle Earth (BfME) at E3 last year. The solution was “To completely remove the menus”. Both guys loaded up the game and proudly showed a 3D scene with absoultely no menus.

To me, this is an issue. While I agree that sifting through menu’s is not what I generally call ‘fun’, I think moving to this polar opposite is actually counter-productive. Menu’s are good at doing a number of things, and if games use them correctly they can be extremely powerful without bogging the user down. When a designer decides they want to remove all menu’s from the game they are actually making life more difficult for the user. In BfME it meant every time you wanted to build a unit you had to move the camera all the way to your base, click on the small spot for the building and then find your way back to what you were originally looking at. Rather than completely removing the usual build menu from the bottom of the screen, why didn’t they use a system similar to Battle Isle: Andosia War. This game had one small icon for building, you clicked on it and it brought up a slightly larger menu where you could select the buildings to create. This way you still have the speed of a menu, however it doesn’t take up 1/8 of the screen as most menu’s do. Another option would be to have ‘hot spot’ buttons at the bottom of the screen. Each area of interest would have it’s own ‘hot spot’ button, such as your base, the enemies base or the latest game event. One click on the ‘base’ button would jump you to your base, another click on the base button would jump you back to where you were originally. Having a few small, unobtrusive buttons or menu’s will make the players life so much easier without them getting bogged down.

In contrast, I made a similar comment to the first one above when designing CIC. I believed that in a lot of 3D games today, players spend too much of their time in a 2D representation of the game world or a screen full of icons representing different game objects. In Homeworld 2 I (and most people I know) spend most of their time in the zoomed out tactical view. Due to it’s design the player is not looking at glorious 3D models of ships, but instead looking at icons representing each of their ships. You can’t find out the health of individual ships nor the direction the ship is facing. I decided I wanted players spending most of their time looking at the 3D view of the game which showed not only a 3D world, but 3D ships and objects so they could have good situational awareness all the time, without resorting to icons and other 2D representations. A game like Hegemonia did this well as all units were visible in the main view. This looked a little weird with ships being the same size as planets, however I think a hybrid of these styles will work really well.

Only time will tell as to whether my ideas are going to work, however I’m excited to be stepping out of the mould and trying something new. If you have any thoughts either way on this please let me know.