May 07, 2014 - Menus Without Text

May 07, 2014

Menus Without Text

It has been awhile since I wrote anything up here. I have been busy with stuff outside of computer world. Things are calming down now though, for the time being.

This post will be a bit different. I don't want to talk about my actual code, instead I want to talk about menu design. My lightweight framebuffer game has seen pretty good development progress, I have implemented pretty much all of the in-game objects and enemies I wanted to create. Each one looks nice on it's own, but my test game jammed everything onto the screen at once, and it started to look ugly. So I decided to implement game modes, where the user can select which enemies he/she will encounter in a game. This, of course, requires a menu to display the choices. However, the problem is that menus typically display text for each choice and the game title as well. I could implement a text drawing system as I have done before using something like the PSF fonts or X fonts, but I wanted to be free from all that, so I decided to take the path less travelled and implement the entire game with no text at all. I figured this would not be too difficult a task; I wanted an in-game HUD, but that could be done with symbols representing health and kills instead of text, but the menu is just a bit more complicated.

I had a few different ideas for a menu. The first was to begin with gameplay, but have the menu options drawn on the play field as icons which the player can then select by shooting the one he/she wants to play. This would be pretty easy to code since I have already implemented stationary targets. It would also be a way to force inexperienced players to practice using the controls, since in my experience, this type of game has a high learning curve (I have no trouble, but I have not yet met another who can consistantly play without crashing). I could also fade straight from the menu into the game without resetting the player's position, which would have a neat effect.
I also had an alternate idea, equally simple, and more remisiscent of the original (last iteration of) Untitled One's menu (the rotating barrel). The resemblence is one of functionality, not asthetics though. In my mind, this idea looked awesome, so I went ahead and implemented it.

Basically, the idea is that each mode would have an icon, but only one icon is displayed on the screen at a time. The up and down arrow keys cause the icon to fade to black and then be replaced by the icon for the next (or last) option. The advantages would be that it's very minimalistic, and the screen never looks cluttered, and that it looks awesome.
However, I'm not sure how awesome it really looks. It looks more or less like what I pictured in my mind, but it kind of gives off this creepy vibe that I didn't expect. I don't really know how else to say it. I expected it to feel a bit like the Haiku boot loader screen, but instead it kind of makes me feel like turning on the lights. It's not really scary, it won't make a person feel frieghtened, it isn't that kind of feeling. It's more like a feeling of general unease, as if you were about to play one of those experimental games about metephorically exploring the mind a person suffering from manic depressive disorder, which isn't what my game is about at all.

So I think the wisdom we can all gain from this experience is that text on a menu really is the logical way to do it. Trying to implement menu's without text is a bit unnatural.
That being said, I am going to continue with this style until I either grow to like it or decide to change it. If I change it, I will probably try the first idea I had and then see how I like that.
Anyways, that's all for now. Till next time.