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Critical_Waste

Questions About Menus, Interface etc.

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Hello, I recently played Masters of Orion 3, and had a decent time of it but I became aware that all the menus in the game were driving me crazy. I don''t want to talk about MOO3 speicifcally but I was wondering about the menus in the game istelf. Many papers on gamasutra and gamedev advocate that the less interface and menus the player has to travel through the better the play experince will be for the player. Interface almost goes hand and hand with play control as well and is another factor. Do you think "menus" and interface are a bad thing? How much is too much? I know centain games can use more or less inerface but how much is too much? Could MOO3''s menus be streamlined? Could a person properly play a game like MOO3 without its menus? I am working on a project and have had the honor (heh) of designing menu innerface. I am leaning towards less is > more but I also feel that the player might be missing out on some of the information that could be conveyed to them through the "extra menus". Once again I ask myself: "How much is too much? Maybe at the point when I ask myself this question maybe?" Another consideration relating to our project: The menus themselves are part of the game world and are constantly updating with new information on the players surroundings. These menus are important because the "on screen real life view" is pretty much empty (we''re making a 3d space game) and there are many points of interest that need to be exmained as a whole. The game is mildly turn based by the way. So how many menus makes it too much for the player to understand? As was the case of Black&White how little menu and interface is too little? Does the player want to understand or get a better view of the game world itself and how would he go about doing that? I am not sure because I reconise that I have weird tastes in such matters but I am asking a second or third opinion from posters here. If you repley don''t feel compled to respond about the examples I provided. This thread is mainly about menus interface and play control. /end rambling thought

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yes, menus are important
a way to get around lots of menus is hot-keys.
if ur makin a 3d space sim then u could get around them by for ex makin screens in ur ship cockpit or smth like that

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It REALLY depends on the game also... a first person shooter doesn''t need as many menu''s and stuff as say, a combat simulation where you control a vart army, have radar, etc, etc. Obviously, the type of game comes into account also. Things like RPG''s need extra menu''s for equiping items and stuff, while something like pong needs only a score board. There is no set # of menu''s that is the magical number. In my game, I have a pretty good amount of windows, but the larger ones (map, chat, objects, etc) are hideable to give the player back some of the view that is missing when they are open. I may even let them set hotkeys to hide/show these menu''s, but for now you must click the little tab above/below it.

Copy/paste this in a new browser, the site doesn''t allow direct linking .

http://ready4dis.8m.com/ScreenShot_Menus.jpg


That is my menu so far, there are 4 large menu''s, which are all hideable, and some other small menu''s/tabs that will display things such as time, date, etc. As you can see, it takes up a considerable amount of the playing area, which is why I felt the need to make them hideable. You don''t ALWAYS want chat up, or the people near you list up, or your items up, or the map up... so you can hide what you don''t need and/or bring it up when you do need it. It may not be the best system in the world, but I think it''ll work pretty nicely for my game.

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I think that any good interface should minimise the amount of thinking about how to interface with the game the player does. If you have a complex system of nested menus, then you should aim to make 90%+ of the menus - primarily the stuff at deeper levels - stuff that the player never actually needs to look at to finish the game, or configuration type options that the player only needs to worry about once or twice during the course of the game. Anything the player needs to do frequently should be at as high a level as possible - keyboard shortcuts are probably the way to go - with the caveat that you also want to minimise the annoyance levels of accidentally selecting the wrong command - by minimising the chance of a mistake, the consequences of the most likely mistakes, and ideally making less common shortcuts with serious consequences for accidental use (eg suicide key) somehow distinctive (eg Esc or the only ctrl-alt-KEY combo in the game)

A way for players to customise the interface to some extent is generally a good idea too - redefining key bindings is pretty standard in most commercial PC games - console games tend more towards making you stick to their interface in detail (I still remember FF7 - redefining the buttons to match the FF8 layout and finding out that they''d only put in the customisation fairly late in the day so the game tended to revert to the default buttons unexpectedly - for things like mini-games not wholesale reversion)

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Good example of a near-invisible interface is Black & White.
Granted the game had its other problems, but the interface was quite good over all. Anything you needed to do could be done with a couple simple mouse clicks or swishes.

There''s nothing wrong with a minimalistic interface, just as long as the player knows how to do stuff, and it makes sense. I think the suspension of disbelief is often intensified by an interface that gives you more of the game world and fewer boxes and icons.

Remember, the ultimate key to ANY interface, no matter how minimalistic or how bogged down with menus and hotkeys, is how intuitive it is. The best interface is the one that the player already knows how to use, even if they''ve never seen anything like it before.

****************************************

Brian Lacy
ForeverDream Studios

Comments? Questions? Curious?
brian@foreverdreamstudios.com

"I create. Therefore I am."

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