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Kayzee

Annoying Menu Design

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You know, I was randomly playing Disgaea 5 again today and I was reminded of a recurring problem I noticed with the series a while ago. In fact the more I thought about it, the more I found it's not just a problem with this one series, but with a good chunk of the RPG Genre. Namely the menu design is kind of annoying. Kind of really annoying sometimes. Most often in ways that are pretty fixable.


Let me ask you the following: If you are browsing the item menu, and you see a cool piece of equipment you want to equip, would you rather: A. Press a button or something and choose who you want to equip it too right there, or B. Press cancel, go to an entirely different menu, find the item in the list again, and then equip it? Call me crazy, but I rather pick A. Having a dedicated equipment menu is still good of course, but is there any reason not to allow you to equip stuff from the item menu too? Now you may think it's a pretty petty thing to complain about on it's own, and believe me this is just the tippy top of a massive iceberg when it comes to annoying menu issues, but it's a pretty common thing in RPGs to design menus like this, as completely segregated from one another in  ways that can sometimes make it so to get anything done you have to flip flop back and fourth between menus a lot.

 

Let me go back to Disgaea for a moment here to explain exactly how bad this problem can get. Okay, for those that have never played any of the games in the series, there are a lot of really strange but kinda neat mechanics you can use to power yourself and your equipment up. But all of these mechanics are completely segregated into their own little menus. What makes it worse is that a good chink of the things you need to do a lot are not really accessed from the menu at all, but instead the menu is called up if you talk to an NPC in the game's 'main base'. So you often literally have to run around from one NPC to another as well as flip flop between menus a lot. I mean don't get me wrong, I like the idea of a home base you can get more NPCs for that provide more functions, but there is no reason you shouldn't be able to quickly access them in the menu is there (this is something I need to do in my game too for a few things come to think of it)? In Disgaea 5 for example, you have to talk to an NPC to learn abilities (and you can only learn them one at a time even though shops and stuff let you select multiple items, but that's a whole other issue), but you need to pull up a whole other menu to equip them, and to change your class you need to go to yet another NPC. Equipment is powered up though 'innocent' monsters that live inside the item (like I said the mechanics can get really strange, you even get a good chunk of powerups from playing a friggin board game) and that has it's own NPC to swap them around, another to go into the item to power it up (for a third time, the mechanics can get really strange) or power it up in other ways and... Phew! Can't you already feel exhausted just listening to my description? It's still a pretty fun game, but would it really be that hard to make the menus flow together a little better? Poor menu design is also probobly a big reason why I dislike 'quest' systems and feel ambivalent about a lot of crafting systems. There is more to it then that really, but nothing annoys me in RPGs more then needing to go to a crappy quest menu (Disgaea 5 added quests the series and it perfectly encapsulates everything I hate about quests and crappy quest menus, as if I didn't have enough to complain about), or messing around in a crappy crafting menu (sometimes just figuring out what I can make in some games takes ages).

 

So what should we do instead? Well, I admit it can be tricky sometimes, but I think it's mostly a matter of figuring out what the player needs to do most often and figuring out ways of skipping unnecessary steps. In the game I am working on for example, I am using a script that lets the player attach runes to equipment. Now the script comes with it's own scene that was meant to be called form the menu, but I am not really using it that way. Instead, I changed it so a rune could be selected and 'used' form the item menu, where it would switch to a mini-scene to select an item and slot to attach to. Though my original motivation was to allow runes to be attached though using them where as you needed to find a special place to detach/swap them, but functionally I could easily let you do both. I later kinda expanded on the idea by changing the item menu to be like item menus in Mystery Dungeon style roguelikes (I mean, that kinda goes without saying, as my game basically is a Mystery Dungeon style roguelike) where equips are displayed in the item menu and selecting an item opened a submenu of options for what you wanted to do with the item rather then just using it right away. That way you can do stuff like equip and unequip stuff in the same menu and give some items multiple uses (like throwing them at things). It makes me wonder how much I can get away with doing this way... but best not over rely on it. After all searching though your inventory can be a pain too.

 

What do you guys think?

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I agree about menu flopping. It's pretty bad, but I'm used to it. Games where menu work is too sleek and quick robs me of part of the management side, as well, though. I like a good balance of what the menu lets me do to organize ad manage my party and resources, and a good set-up for flow and functionality.

 

Hitting R1 & L1 to switch between characters in status and equip menus was a genius function some RPGs had in the late NES and PS era. I would like to see something for Ace that allows you to hit what equates to R2 & L2, in order to switch between Items, equip, skill, and party scenes. That would make the necessary flopping SOOOO much smoother and less of a hassle.

 

A Ring menu that replaces the central hub menu wouldn't be bad either, if it could be summoned again over any given menu, for fast flopping.

 

Either provide smooth solutions and give a game a bit more character compared to standard menus.

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I am pretty sure you can use L and R buttons (pageup and pagedown by default on keyboard) to flip through different party members in the equipment menu at least. I don't think VX Ace has an R2 or L2 defined though. Myself, like I was saying above, I got rid of the equip menu all together and just use the item menu to equip things. Still not sure if I want to leave the equip menu as an option though. Thinking about it I wonder if I could combine my skill menu with the item menu too. Of course my game only has a single member party right now, but I could always use L and R, or have you choose the party member first. Or maybe since I don't have extra party members I should use L and R to switch menus like you suggested.

Edited by Kayzee

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I think you should have a classic equip menu, and the reason why being, those times when you open the menu for no other reason than to manage equips, the default system allows you to select an actor, a slot for them, and you get nothing but available options filtered for you. Versus the hassle of sifting through the massive item scene (even broken into categories) just to find that one accessory with the perk you need on a given actor. It also provides that scene based solely around your gear, and how it impacts the actor.

 

Being able to hit equip from the main item scene is no substitute for a coherent equip scene. I actually find that style of equip work a bit tacky these days. Reminds me of Earthbound and Symphony of the Night, where you wanted an equip scene so freaking bad by mid-game it wasn't even funny.

Edited by Loco Choco

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Hehe, you do have a point. My game has only one party member and limited inventory, and all the armor actually uses the same slot type, but I might as well re-enable the equip menu. Only disabled it to make the main menu a bit less cluttered really.

 

Also, Symphony of the Night actually did the reverse and only had an equip scene, with you having to equip items to use them. Which would have been better if it had it's own slot or multiple slots really. It could have made using items a bit more strategic since you couldn't really spam them in the menu, but the game was piss easy anyway so...

Edited by Kayzee

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No, the way you describe it works fine. With only one character and a limited inventory, the equip from items method works better. Actually it would probably end up being much smoother. Playing that type of game, I would much rather have everything streamlined through the Inventory menu.

Edited by Loco Choco

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No reason not to have both I think, plus I am not sure if it's totally obvious how to equip stuff through the item menu unless your used to games that do that. Someday I reaaaally have to figure out a good way of doing a tutorial that isn't boring, because my game has lots and lots of odd mechanics. I will probobly end up doing what a lot of Mystery Dungeon style roguelikes do and have a mode where the player can do short puzzles that revolve around a single mechanic.... It's a great way to do it I think.

 

Anyway thinking about it, the equip menu does do a better job comparing stats I think? Though my item menu also displays an item's stats and stuff... if you have it identified of course. :3

Edited by Kayzee

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I haven't been an active gamer in so long, I don't even know what constitutes a 'Rogue-like' game. ^_^

 

 

I basically stopped gaming when I beat FFX in under 48 hours. That game executed the gamer in me. Things like Skyrim motivated me to buy a PS3 back in the day, so I ended up paying other titles like Farcry. But yeah, I'm out of the loop with the new trends and such.

 

Steam is cool, but it's also a landfill for garbage.

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Roguelikes have been around for ages ya know, since at least the 1980s. Though they never were discussed much until recently I guess and even nowadays you only really see elements of their gameplay pop up in indie titles. I kinda like to think of them as kind of like a RPGs with a little bit of an old-school arcade game bent. Not that they were actiony (though nowadays a lot of them are) or anything, but they sort of had a similar kind of vibe in many ways. They almost all have randomly generated maps or other elements and some form of 'permadeath' where if you lose you would have to start again form the start. But the cool thing is because of the random elements it's often a fresh experience every time you play and you can't just win by rote memorization alone. Their combat system is also often very tactical in a lot of ways and often involves you needing to come up with clever ways out of jams with the tools you happen to have. Like older arcade games it's often less about 'winning' or 'losing' then it is about mastery, but instead of mastery of twitch reflexes and/or muscle memory it's mastery of tactical thinking, risk assessment, and improvisation. I think they are super neato!

 

And honestly, I sort of roll my eyes every time people say Steam is filled with crap. I know steam is filled with lots of crap, but, you know, Sturgeon's law. This is exactly why we have search engines people, to, ya know, help us search for what we want. :P

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