Gamedev Grievances #7: More on Menus

Last month I posted a Gamedev Grievance about menus, user interfaces, and the like. This month I’ve returned to that idea, as I’ve been thinking again about the menu system in Ambience and wondering how effective it really is.

A quick overview of Ambience’s various menus in the past:

  • Originally I had a single menu that was accessed using the mouse. However, this was clunky and slow to use – even to change a weapon or hold item, the player had to click through something like four or five different menus.
  • I then tried a new idea where smaller sub-menus were accessed using particular hotkeys – this is the system in place in the Ambience Demo.
  • However, some people who played the demo suggested that this was too many keys to remember to access all the different functions. So, I ended up developing an integrated menu where you could press Enter and access all the important functions easily. There were also sub-menus for quickly changing weapons, using items, and so on. You could also access a larger, more detailed menu using the mouse (see the GIF below).
New menu
The current menu system in Ambience.

It’s been about a month (or maybe a bit longer) since I implemented this system, and I guess it’s not too bad. After all, it looks reasonably flashy, and isn’t terribly difficult or slow to use.

But, that being said, it’s still not exactly the way I’d like it.

I know I’ve talked a bit about my perfectionistic tendencies in previous posts, but this is one of those things where I think it does matter. After all, menus and controls are the two things that players are going to be using all the time as they play, so those are definitely things that need to be done as well as possible.

The reason why I’m not happy with the current menu system is this: it doesn’t show all the options available to the player at once. That’s a big disadvantage in a game like Ambience where there are so many different options and possibilities for gameplay: weapons, hold items, stats, Ambiences, and so on. The menu system above doesn’t really show everything that’s available to the player all at once, meaning that important or interesting mechanics could go unseen for too long.

So here’s the plan. When the player presses Enter to bring up the menu, the current, single-option-shown menu above will be replaced with a full list of options that the player can choose from. Those options in turn will have sub-options, also shown more fully than they currently are, and so on. I’m thinking here about the menu system used in the Etrian Odyssey series: the menus there are really well done, considering the vast amount of mechanics that are available to the player in that series (far more than in Ambience!)

The battle menu in Etrian Odyssey: Untold. I’m hoping to make Ambience’s menu system look and work a bit like this. (Source)

Also, all the new Ambience menus will be able to be controlled using either mouse or keyboard – including the stats menu where the player can customize stat distributions, which is currently only mouse controlled. That should also prevent switching needlessly between mouse and keyboard, so the player can choose the one they like and stick to it for most of the game.

At the moment I’ve been a bit busy with study and things, so it’ll probably be a little while before I actually roll up my sleeves and start working on implementing this. But hopefully, this will be the last time I have to wrestle with menus and UI’s – if the new system works as I’m hoping it will.

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