Choices

A couple of weeks ago a review of Desert Bridge apepared at the an occasional player’s review blog. It’s mostly very positive, but there are a couple of criticisms that are addressed directly at me, so I thought I’d respond.

A couple of things I’d like to bring to Jonas’s attention, though: the use of menus, or more specifically, the use of a menu within a menu. When the game was first released, it was described as a “transdimensional portal” to the Land of Dreams. Fine, sure, but I’d rather the game tell me I can press certain keys to restore or save my game, or even quit, rather than go through hoops for that. There’s got to be some way I can switch a “portal” off when I need to.

The “menu within a menu” design is actually something that has gathered a lot of positive remarks. Yes – oddly enough, a lot of people love the fact that the game menu is an actual inventory item. It does add a couple more clicks to some processes, like saving and loading, but to me (and most players so far) the payoff is bigger than the burden of having to click more.

When I say “payoff”, I mean more than just the short chuckle someone may get out of the idea of “game menu = inventory item”. Presenting the game as a portal to the Lands of Dream is one of its central narrative devices – and having the game menu as an inventory item is an essential part of the game’s internal logic. It’s not a matter of “fine, sure”. It’s not how I’m trying to sell the game, or an attempt to be cute. To use a popular (and somewhat overused) term, to treat the menu differently would be to break mimesis.

As for making you jump through hoops – yes, the game does that sometimes. Have you noticed that the save/load/credits/quit buttons in the menu switch places at random? And that it’s always the last mushroom that gives you the De-Chickening Pills Recipe? To some people this may be annoying, but that’s fine – I think it’s hilarious. In fact, I think that people being annoyed by this is hilarious. (Please note that it’s a matter of context. Not every game should be designed like this. And it’s not like the game goes out of its way to bother you – it just teases you a little here and there, in very tiny and unobstrusive ways. Proportion is everything.)

Second (and this is probably nitpicking already), stop using Comic Sans. There are better fonts out there, for free

Using Comic Sans was also quite intentional. (I haven’t ever used it before, by the way.) Why? For the same reason that I chose to use command buttons, list boxes and even the occasional message box. Because of the “retro” mood I wanted to evoke – most closely associated in my mind with really old shareware games, deeply flawed but full of enthusiasm.

You make these choices when designing a game. And of course you have to be aware that some people won’t like it – not because they’re stupid, but because they don’t see what you’re doing, or because it’s quite simply not their kind of thing. But the important thing for a game designer to remember is that you do have these choices. A broken piece of rock may appear less perfect than a brick, but sometimes it’s exactly what you need to build a stable wall. (A weird metaphor may not seem very meaningful, but it may fit your text better than another straight sentence.)

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1 Comment

  1. Thanks for reading the article.

    I’ve always believed certain parts of the game itself – saving/loading/credits, etc. – should always be something easily accessible for the player. Not that it wasn’t in Desert Bridge, I’m just used to looking for these *before* I actually get involved in the game. Knowing that F5 is for saving and F7 is for loading, for example, lets me know that just in case I get stuck somewhere along the way, I can still recover and avoid having to start all over again.

    On hindsight, though, I can see how the “menu within a menu” concept is part of the game’s logic, after playing it a couple of times more.