Tuesday, 9 August 2011

Radial Menus

I love Radial menus. They're a great example of adapting a user interface around the limitations of the joypad.
You've more than likely come across them if you played any of a dozen relatively recent AAA titles, Mass Effect with it's radial pause menu, and of course its famous dialogue menu.

The recent shooter Brink, from developer Splash Damage has a particularly noteworthy implementation:

(Unfortunately I only have the PC version, so I can't speak with complete authority to the console versions, but I would be surprised if they differed significantly.)

If you look at the video of the menu in action you'll notice a few cool things going on.

Firstly, the world is blurred to draw attention to the menu and to minimise distractions (It also looks pretty).

Secondly, when the player highlights an option, the camera turns to focus at the real world location of the objective that option represents. It's a really nice subtle reinforcement of where the player needs to go, and so (hopefully) he or she will be less likely to get lost afterwards.

The icons are also quite clear and simple and easily identifiable and also come with a short text description of what the task entails. Unfortunately the text is sometimes too long to fit and so becomes a small scrolling textbox when highlighted. There is also an additional icon showing the reward for doing this mission.
All this can become too much noise on the screen (you can even see in the video that the bottom right option's description is overlapping the kill event notifications).

I have a few suggestions for how I might go about improving it if given the chance:

Integrate the Yin Yang reward icon and value with the menu option itself rather than have it floating above and separate. There's lots of empty space on each button, it could easily be done.

There's no difference between the icons for "capture the enemy health command post" and "capture the supply command post". Possibly a flag or symbol added to the icon that changes to indicate current ownership might be better than specifying "enemy" in text.
Also, I understand that they are "Command Posts", but surely the name can be shortened to "Health Post" or "Supply Post".

I'd consider moving the text description to inside the circle and only display the description of the currently highlighted option. This would mean that a player couldn't see every choice at a glance, they'd have to go through each option in turn (which would be bad) before deciding, but I think that the icons could be made more descriptive and do a better job than scrolling text boxes.
Of course this is the kind of thing you'd need to experiment with to see if it's actually possible, and no matter how good your icons eventually are at conveying the information required, it would mean a tougher difficulty curve (however slight).
However, I think you could get around that by displaying the text in a similar manner to how it is now for the first X minutes of play (whilst the player learns to associate icons with meaning), and then switch them off.
I'd be curious to know if that would work, or if it'd leave player's feeling like they've suddenly been thrown in the dark.