The 10 Commandments Of Video Game Menus

A good video game menu is like a good roadie: It stays out of the way. But still, far too many menus waste far too much of our time. People want to play games, not mess around in menus!

We've gone up to the top of Video Game Mountain in search of answers, and have come down with 10 rules all video game menus should obey. 10 "commandments", if you will.

10. Thou Shalt Allow Players To Skip The Splash Screens

For while players are no doubt excited about the Unreal Engine, Dolby Digital and Speedtree, they shall doubtless be less psyched about them after the hundredth time they watch the opening splash screens.

9. Thou Shalt Make "Continue" The First Option In The Main Menu

For lo, many players art excited to play their game, and so they press the A button repeatedly to skip through the splash screens (provided thou art obeying commandment #10), and therefore shall likely press 'A' straight through the main menu. This pressing of A shall take them into their most recent saved game. It shall not tell them that starting a new game will overwrite all auto-save information. Please mindeth the flow.

8. Thou Shalt Not Place A Montage Video Before The Main Menu

Looketh. We art all excited to play the game in question, but we already bought it, and there is no reason to play a hypey montage video before the menu even loads. We are about to see the game itself! We do not need to see any more trailers. If the game doesn't convince us it's awesome, no trailer before the game is going to. This is not Battlestar Galactica, and you know, come to think of it, we never understood why they played pre-episode clip-montages either.

Which brings us to this Sub-Commandment: Thou Shalt Not Cut Away From The Main Menu To Show An Attract-Mode Sizzle Reel Of The Game, For This Is Not A 1990s Arcade Cabinet

7. Thou Shalt Automatically Save Settings Once They Are Changed

For it is known that players like to tweak settings in the options menu, and shall become irate if they have to enter every menu twice to make sure that whatever settings they just implemented actually stuck. Again, this is known.

6. Thou Shalt Quit Reminding Us That The Game Auto-Saves

While it is known that this is a requirement put in place by hardware manufacturers and publishers, it is also known that every single person who has ever played a video game is now aware that video games quick-save, and furthermore, if one were to turneth off the console in the middle of saving, it would somehow be detrimental to the system. However, if this were to actually happen, it would likely be because the power went out, not because the player decided this would be a good time to turn off the system.

5. We All Shall Agree Where Everything Goes

For there are but a few basic types of menus, and we shall agree on what goes where. Subtitle toggling shall forever go under audio, not video. Y-axis inversion shall forever go under controls, not gameplay. Difficulty and violence filters shall be placed under gameplay, however. PC games shall condense the "video" and "graphics" menus into one menu called "video", because we think we can all agreeth that we do not need two menus for video options and "graphics" is a silly term.

4. Thou Shalt Giveth The Option To Invert The Y Axis Before The Game Begins

In a perfect world, one without sin, all games would be like Xbox 360 games and would remember your preference. But until we arrive at that perfect world, all games shall give some sort of access to the options menu before the game begins, so that the very first thing a player does in the actual game isn't pause to invert the Y-axis. Or worse, try to pause only to accidentally skip the very first cutscene.

3. Thou Shalt Agree To Use 'A' To Advance And 'B' To Go Back

Whatever the menu or the function, the 'A' button shall move players one step forward, while the 'B' button shall move players one step back, eventually landing them in the main menu. (Or, "X" and "O" for PlayStation 3.) The 'B' button shall be required to get players into the game (we are looking at you, Mass Effect), nor shall it be used to quit the actual game (ahem, PC versions of Crysis 2 and Arkham City).

2. Thou Shalt Not Bury The Map Behind More Than One (1) Level Of Menus. In Fact, Just Anchor The Map To The Select Button Because Come On Already

Lo, it is understandable that there are a great many functions to assign to the various buttons on the controller, but the map is always one of the most important aspects of a game, and shall be easily accessible. Putting it behind even one extra layer of menus is annoying at first and maddening over time. Players shall not need to memorize a button combination just to quickly access the map.

1. Thou Shalt Always Allow The Player To Quit To Desktop

In every menu, there shall be one option called "Quit". Upon selecting that option, the player shalt be given one (1) pop-up menu that lets them either quit to the desktop (or dashboard) or to the main menu. Thou shalt not, under any circumstances, force players to first quit to the main menu, then quit again to the desktop. Thou shalt not get cute with the language in the qutting pop-up, and if thou placeth a loading screen between quitting and actually being out of the game, thou shalt rot in a special circle of Hell, where inconveniencers and meddlers go.

By obeying these commandments, game developers shall make video games a more user-friendly and enjoyable experience for all man and womankind.

So it has been written, so it shall be. One day. Hopefully.


Comments

    How about allowing d-pad (digital input) for discrete menu selection. Only allowing the use of analogue stick on Darksiders II for discrete/digital menus on the Xbox was extremely confusing. I first thought that the game crashed because I was trying to select something with the d-pad and the selection (cursor) wasn't moving. I rebooted several times before I realised that only input allowed was the analogue stick. Use digital input for digital/discrete menus and analogue stick for analogue menus should be super obvious for anyone who's done Computer Human Interface Design 101 at uni.

    Last edited 30/10/12 5:24 pm

      The PC version at launch also had a problem where you couldn't quick travel using the button they displayed on the map screen, it actually involved pressing on one of the sticks. I got stuck in a dungeon I couldn't do because I thought that the quick travel was broken. :(

      So much this.

      Cannot stand the fact that Nintendo forces you to use the touch screen in adjusting all the 3DS's settings and such. JUST LET ME USE THE FUCKING CIRCLE AND/OR D-PAD!

      Same goes for Wii. It's completely retarded that you need to use the pointer for everything and not the nunchuk's control stick, but it's ok to use a control stick when you have a classic controller or guitar hero controller attached. Even further retarded that you can't use a GameCube's control stick.

    no 8 - splinter cell chaos theory - ok so i've bought the game, now why do i have to watch the whole game before i can actually play it?????

      while im at it and slightly off topic, why is it a current trend to always have "previously on" before every single episode on a dvd. I've just watched the last episode literally 1 second ago why do i need to be reminded about what i just watched

        I know write, this did my head in when watching the aforementioned battlestar galactica. 75 episodes and every single one reminded me about how i had just spent the last 44 minutes.

          right*

          yes, but the "previously on" BSG wasn't the worst part, it was the way they showed clips from the episode before the episode even started

        That's how the episodes air. So once they're cut together like that it's difficult to edit that opening out, it's much easier and cheaper to just load the episodes as is, including the 10 second " Previously on", onto a DVD.
        There's a fast-forward button for a reason. If they annoy you that much, use it.

          you think i don't use the fastforward? of course i do, but that doesn't stop it bugging me. Plus cost isn't really an excuse, a proffesional dvd production house would the tools and know how to fix this and it would probably take one persion 1 to 2 hours tops to do the setup for a whole season

          Many shows do cut it on the DVD release. Others have an option to show the "previously on" section or not.

          The problem is that a lot of shows don't bother having proper chapter settings in their DVD release. Hitting the forward button can take you to the next episode, the next scene or 20 minutes into the episode. With chapters set up properly, the "previously on" bit isn't an issue because you just hit forward and go to the titles/cold open (also the titles should be skippable for the same reason).

          Some companies are just truly terrible about their DVDs.

            I agree so much with you on this bunny. Not an issue with chapters are set up properly. The problem is so many shows don't bother to set the chapters up propyl.

            What annoys me the most is when a series starts off with them set up right but then next season they change it (or some times even mid season) ARGH!

        Because that's what is aired on television, it's part of the episode.

        Play Asura's Wrath. At the start of each set of levels, it says "PREVIOUSLY ON ASURA'S WRATH" and shows you snippets of the last half an hour you played. And at the end of each set, it says "NEXT TIME ON ASURA'S WRATH", and spoils moments of the levels ahead.

        Contratry to how my tone may suggest, I actually thought this was brilliant. I would hate it to be standard, but it was just a clever way to show that they really wanted to make a TV show instead of making a game.

        This one I don't mind since it is part of the episode itself, just like there are 'next time on' segments at the end and sometimes I do take a break in between.
        BUT MAKE IT SKIP-ABLE, MAKE THE INTRO SKIP-ABLE AND DON'T SKIP HALFWAY THROUGH THE EPISODE!

        Edit: seems the meeting I was in stopped me from responding in a decent time.

        Last edited 30/10/12 4:39 pm

          What if you watched the previous episode 5 days ago? Not everyone watches a DVD boxset in one long sitting ;)

          The old school BSG show did the current episode snippet thing, so the new BSG did it as a homage (or thereabouts)

          Also...don't play Alan Wake then. You read pages of a book you find scattered around, and then play those events described in the pages. Spoilers galore!!! haha

    Here's one. When it says "Press Start" let me press X/A instead. Stop being so pedantic, silly game.

    Last edited 30/10/12 3:21 pm

      Most games I've played have this one sorted - haven't had a pedant game force me to actually press start in a while - at least not as far as I'm aware. But you are totally right - A or start are the same at the main intro screen.

        I think I've actually seen it more often recently on PC ports, using a controller. Also some PC games needing you to press space, rather than any key - I think Dawn of War 2 did that every time you loaded a map.

      I am pretty sure that in Skyrim PS3 you can 'press any key to continue', even though it says 'start'.

    Don't save when quitting the game then save again when you get back to the main menu. It wastes time when I'm done playing and in the long run could reduce the life of your hardware. BF3 I'm looking at you.

    Not sure I agree with the automatic y-axis setting thing. I like it inverted for vehicle controls (e.g. flying a jet, helicopter, whatever), but while on foot, where it's basically just aim/camera control (whether first or third person) I prefer it uninverted. So I'd still prefer to be able to set it on a game-by-game basis (and, ideally, have different settings within the game if the game involves both vehicle and on-foot sections).

      Homefront pissed me off in this area.
      3rd person remote control helicopters, I don't want it inverted.
      1st person deathbringer-from-the-sky helicopters, I want inverted.
      Sadly one option to rule them all...

    I disagree with number 8 and 6.
    8 I like the montage sometimes.
    6 It can be useful to know what the autosave notification image is, so a single message when first playing the game makes sense.

      6 is bearable, like you said its actually useful, 8 is inexcusable, its basically spoilers for a game your just about to play.

        I'll usually only watch the montage after playing a decent chunk of the game, to see what the devs thought worth showing off.

          the problem for me is that when i start up a game for the first time i like to watch all the intro stuff, even the logos to get me in the mood for the game, if i do see gameplay footage i would immediately skip because i would want to see it first hand in the game. However splinter cell chaos theory and i think one of the farcrys both included unskipable gameplay montages which really can sour the start of a game.

    On Nb. 6, I must say that it must always be stated if/that a game uses quicksaves, because one day you'll come across a game that doesn't (likely on PC, but anything's possible), and you'll have to repeat hours of the game because you forgot to save.
    Also, I must promote a variant abbreviation of "number #": "Nb. #", for it is known that there is not, and never has been, an "o" in the word "number", and sufficiently few people speak Latin bother maintaining the reference.

      the problem with using Nb. instead of No. is that NB is already used for "Nota Bene", which funnily enough is also a leftover from Latin.
      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nota_bene

    i disagree with 8 remember the awesome mgs2 intro

    #10 might be a legal requirement, to show each of the licensees for a minimum amount of time.

    I like interactive loading screens a la fifa.. A main menu or splash screen should display a reflection of a players campaign and progress up to that point in time.. And keep the "press start" feels right. But don't make me do it twice like the latest ghost recon

      Batman: AC was good at this. Whilst loading it had "previously on" splash screen so you knew where you were at in the main storyline. You could also view these manually if you so pleased during the game.

    Another, if it's a PC game, let me exit with Alt+F4.

    Games should find out when you last saved and NOT ask you if you want to save when quitting. If I've F5'd < 1 second ago in Skyrim, don't tell me "Any unsaved progress will be lost" when I quit to desktop.

    Incidentally Skyrim is pretty damn good at adhering to all of these commandments. The PC version, at least. It has the Bethesda splash screen, but that only lasts a short while.

    How about we put A and B back to where they were and let X and O take their proper roles(O = accept)

    not being able to skip bullshit splash screens (Im looking at you EA games) and having to press "any key/start" to get to the menu really piss me off. they are not needed at all on any platform.

    I also fully agree with everything on this list.

    Agree 10000% with this. Been playing a lot of XCOM recently, breaks most of these rules. Having "new game" as the default option is SO SO SO STUPID AAAAAAARGH.

    Also, as a side, if people don't know, in Japan O is "yes" and X is "no"; this confuses the hell out of Japanese people when they try to use my aussie PS3. Cracks me up every time. (That layout was the standard until Americans decided that "yes" should be on the closer button)

      Yeah, FFVII had it that way. I think the MGS games did too.

      Its because X and O (arguably) have different cultural meanings in America and Japan. I really don't know why more games don't allow button mapping though.

        On PS3 it's a requirement that your game handles X and O based on the console's region settings.

          That always causes a moment of confusion when I play a Japanese game, some switch to Japanese while some stay western (but the prompts remain Japanese)...

    If you invert controls for any game but flight/space sims your doing it wrong.

      FPS games on consoles are unplayable unless controls are inverted... also YOUR is wrong. You are doing it wrong.

        Inverted ftw.

    8 (and particularly its sub-category): This is usually done so that if the game is left running on a showroom or shop floor passers-by see something awesome. This is just as important as it was in the arcades.

    I'm good with 1, except that I wish more people would "get cute" with their menu language. It's fun, it adds to the flavour of the game, and it's a tradition that harkens back to Wolfenstein 3D (possibly earlier).

    Instead of having an unskippable "this is autosave don't turn off blahhh" they could simply tell us once have a tricky thing to pass it (eg press Select/Back to continue) to confirm people have read the message, and THEN they simply keep a copy of my previous save incase i didn't listen so that the file isn't corrupt.

    Dark Souls has crashed around 12 times during the autosave and everytime I start it up it has a page of dialogue telling me off, i've yet to have a corrupt save or lost any progress though so im sure they are using a double save method, no need to warn me guys.

    100% agree with this. Especially about reminding us incessantly what the autosave icon is.

    You got 5 a bit backwards. We are seeing graphics. Not a video. Having video as a title for graphic settings is a silly thing to want as it is asking the programmers to become instantly stupid and mislabel their own menus.

    #10 can often be important... such as loading data. If it wasnt "splash" screens, it would be a loading screen or they would just have to make loading the game longer..

    The one I'm sick of is one the Xbox 360. I SHOULD NOT have to choose my hardrive EVERY TIME i load the game. You're an Xbox, figure it out yourself where my save files are. If i want to load files from a different-to-usual storage device, I'll do that manually.

    Dont make the menu screen fuckin shakey like Killzone, my boss complained about that shit every day he played that game

    10 will only work if the splash screens aren't a way to pre-load in the background otherwise you have the same amount of time spent looking at a loading screen. 9 can be subverted as long as continue is the default selection. 8.1 is like having a screen saver if you leave the menu up too long. If you're seeing the eye catch, you're doing menu selection wrong. 8 proper should really be "If you're going to put a sizzle reel before the start menu, don't make it the same movie you see after you start the game." Too many times I've watched the intro movie to only watch it again after starting the game. Pre-menu videos also serve as a cover for pre-loading content.

    7 is backwards. I am never sure whether my settings have saved unless I push a button. Auto saving is what makes me double check my settings. 6, people are surprisingly stupid. Besides, it's always during a loading screen or in some other unobtrusive place. 3 is a localisation issue sometimes. (Especially Japan where O is accept and X is reject)

    Number 1 should be "Thou shalt not ever copyright loading screen minigames and forever force us to sit through them with nothing to do."

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