Gathering Storm - Menu System

December 19, 2011

I don't think I entertained any ideas for menu design other than the design used in every "Shining" series game I can think of. Growing up playing Shining in the Darkness, Shining Force and Shining the Holy Ark, it is just kind of ingrained in my head that this is the way it has to be.

"The way" referring to the 4-point compass menu. You press a button to open the menu and 4 buttons pop up in a cross formation:
(Shining in the Darkness)
From there, pressing up selects the top option, left selects the left one and so on. Confirming these options may lead to further cross menus, which may eventually lead to a specific full-screen menu for a character's inventory or some such.

I can't quite explain it, but I really like the style of it. It seems more fluid than pulling up a menu that just lists 15 different options. The fact that it doesn't take up the whole screen also keeps you better immersed in the dungeon crawling experience.

I also liked the "Shining" style of sort of animating the menu button when you select it, for example, the attack button in a battle menu might be a picture of a sword. When it's selected, the sword in the picture swings down and crushes a monster. So I did a rudimentary version of that where each button had an unselected graphic and a selected graphic with a brighter border. At some point I would like to do more animation, also animating a cursor moving from one button to the next and even animating menus moving in and out, but for now its all pretty static, which isn't so hot.

So the 4-point menu is what I worked on. Initially it was more of a conceptual problem than a programming challenge. I had examples of ways to flow through menu options, but was there an optimal way to do it? Also, I have more game mechanics than my examples, which means more menu options available.

I quickly decided on the standard 4 options for an opening menu:
-"Search" This option need to be readily accessible since it will occur quite often in a dungeon. It allows you to look at the square in front of the party - open chests, search for hidden items, gain information about weird things.
-"Magic" Out-of-combat spells that allow the party to heal, escape the dungeon, avoid monsters, etc. also needs to be readily accessible.
-"Items" The opens up into another 4-point menu to give characters more choices about inventory management, which is another large aspect of the game.
-"Tactics" This is the final option that is pretty much a catch-all for everything else the player needs to have access to when not in combat. It opens another 4-point menu.

The items menu opens up into:
-"Use" Allowing players to use restorative or special items in between battles. Something like a bandage to heal a wound or a key to open a locked door.
-"Equip" Allowing players to change their worn equipment slot, switching out a bow for a sword or some such business.
-"Give" Allowing players to transfer items between characters who each have their own separate inventory. All three of these options will send players to a full-screen inventory menu which will have different functionality depending on which option they chose.
-"Runes" The last option goes to a largely different menu that allows players to equip runes onto their equipped items, which enhance the character in various ways.

In the tactics menu we have:
"Data" - Where players can save and load game files, as well as look at a bestiary and review gameplay statistics. This will likely turn into yet another 4-point menu, but I haven't designed it yet.
"Talents" - This will open a full screen menu to facilitate the allocation of talent points into various talent trees.
"Roster" - This is where a player can change the ranks of the characters and switch the four playable characters out for reserve characters.
"Status" - Opens a largely static full-screen menu where a player can review the characters' stats, experience points, descriptions, etc.

The menu sort of got away from me when I started thinking about all the stuff I wanted/needed to cram into it and it is still not complete. I am currently working on the rune menu. As I said earlier, I haven't done anything with the data menu, and I've only drawn some rough diagrams on paper for the talent menu.

But still, that means I have implemented a lot of stuff so far. The inventory system, the magic menu, the roster menu - all very challenging things to program, and that is what I will talk about next, specifically the inventory system, the first (and hardest) thing I tackled and wrestled under my control. Well, the first thing I did after the "search" function, which I pretty much already showed and was trivial to implement.


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