Once a player has bought your game, their first experience with it before they even get to play is likely to be through a menu. For PC gamers, reviewing settings to ensure the game will run properly will likely be the first step before the new game is started. Likewise, streamers and YouTubers may prepare the game ahead of time, including language and subtitles, to ensure their audience gets the best first taste of your game.
As game creators, establishing game settings for our games doesn't tend to be at the top of our priority list. And because our games don't always get the in-depth testing we require, menus and settings often don't get a proper review. This handy checklist should help you ensure that your menu covers all the basics.
For the best results, I recommend going through the list twice. Use it first when production of the game begins, to ensure that the game is built according to the options you will need to account for. Customizing player controls may have implications across the entire code base, as well as visual effects and other options.
Then, you can use it again during the testing period before the game is released, to ensure that all the options were properly implemented. This can save a lot of time when debugging the game's menus and ensure that all the relevant options are available and work properly.
This list places an emphasis on PC games because these tend to have more in-depth options, however many of these elements could be reused for console and mobile games as well. If you have any element you feel is lacking, please let me know and I'll update it.
The game settings checklist
Can you access the settings before starting a game?
Will help your player start on the right foot, without any lag and with proper language options and subtitles. Also useful for streamers who want to prepare ahead of time, or YouTubers recording footage.
Are the controls consistent?
Navigating through the menu should be consistent with player controls, including using WASD or the arrows all throughout. Confirm and cancel should be kept separate from in-game use/shoot buttons however. Displaying the menu controls is an easy way to keep things clear for the player.
This can be different in games where you can continue to control your character while navigating a menu. In this case, external menus should use these controls as well as player controls, if the player is not currently on screen.
Can you control the menu with the mouse?
Even when the game doesn't support the mouse, having the menu itself be mouse controlled will make it more user friendly.
Can you control the menu with the gamepad thumbstick and the d-pad?
Different gamepads will prioritize either the thumbstick or d-pad, and players may have a preference for one or the other. There's usually no reason to not include both in menu navigation.
Does the back button only go back one menu option?
When navigating submenus, using the back button should return to the previous menu, rather than cascade back to the main menu.
Do you have a confirmation message before backing out of options without saving?
Tracking if there are any unapplied changes to a configuration can help prevent the player losing a lot of time if they accidentally back out of a menu without saving.
Does your game support multiple resolutions in game?
Can be a little tricky for some 2d games, including keeping pixel art consistant, but consider having a system to resize the scale of the game, like doubling the pixels or displaying in its original size.
Does it allow for different screen ratios (16:9, 16:10, 25:16, 4:3, etc.)?
Many players will have screens with different aspect ratios, sometimes they can have more than one screen which has different aspect ratios.
Can you switch between full screen, windowed and borderless?
Useful for streamers and for multitasking. Bonus points if you allow the player to select if moving the focus away from the game will have it continue playing or pause it.
Can you deactivate screen filters and other intrusive visual effects?
For games which modify the display in some capacity, such as chromatic abheration and motion blur, the ability to remove these options can help some players make further sense of what's happening in game.
Can you see the effects of screen filters in the menu?
Because there's no standard when it comes to adding filters and other effects, being able to see the results immediately when toggling can save a lot of hassle.
Can you modify the quality level of the game through a single menu option?
A simple series of preset visual options helps keep these menus user friendly, with at least 4 tiers (Low, Medium, Hard, Extreme)
Can you modify the quality level of individual elements of your game?
Players expect to be able to customize to their liking, and may be able to push settings beyond the preset. This is especially useful for 3d games, and may include the following:
Particle effect quality (visual effects, explosions, atmospheric effects, volumetric clouds, fog, water)
Field of view
Depth of Field
Do you have a way to change the gamma?
Changing the lighting is very useful for horror and other dark titles.
Do you have a master control?
Being able to quickly mute and unmute the game can be very practical, as players may be playing other music in the background.
Do your volumes have individual controls?
Players may find some sound levels intrusive, or may be bothered by the music, or may even want to experience the music on its own.
Ambiance (Background sounds, the motor of the car in a racing game, etc)
Does your game support inverted controls?
Keeping every invert separate ensures that the player can customize the game to their liking. This includes making controller and mouse inverts separate, and separating on foot sections from flying sections, where applicable.
Does your game allow rebinding of keys?
Rebinding of keys is typically thought mostly for keyboards, but it's often not that complicated to make controllers rebindable as well and can help for more unusual but still compatible layouts such as arcade sticks.
Can new players easily rebind buttons?
Especially useful for fighting games where many players will want to rebind controls to their arcade stick during the character select screen, rather than going in game.
Can you easily reset keybinding?
It's easy to mess things up when working around keybinding, and it's also useful if there are different players customizing them.
Can you switch between the controller and the keyboard / mouse on the fly?
This should not be an actual menu option, but there's no reason to deactivate controls during single player. Players should be able to change between the two seemlessly. However, if your game supports controller rumble, deactivating it when the player is using the keyboard and mouse is advisable.
Can you change the mouse's sensitivity?
It's common to keep X and Y axis sensitivity separate.
Do you support extended keyboard and mouse controls?
Many gamers have customer keyboards and mice with additional buttons which should be bindable through the menu.
Do you support being able to change controls sequentially?
Useful for alternate controllers like arcade sticks which have untraditional layouts, being able to switch out all the controls in a single operation makes the process a lot faster.
Does the game allow selecting the language before it begins?
Useful for games with cold opens, but also for general menu navigation. Being able to find the language options when you can't read the language will be frustrating.
Can you select subtitle language separately from audio language?
In the cases where your game is localized to multiple languages, some players prefer original audio while having subtitles in their native language. Subtitles and menu can remain one element however.
Can you modify settings while playing the game?
Your pause menu should always include the settings options and allow on the fly changing of volume, graphic settings and other options.
Can you quick save the game at any time?
This is more applicable to games with long periods between save opportunities, but providing quick save can help people with hectic schedules still enjoy your game.
Do individual players have their own pause menus?
Can accelerate the process in multiplayer, when players can change characters or customize their controls simultaneously, during a match or at the end of a match. Especially useful when communication is difficult, such as a tournament setting where opposing players may chose different options once a match is over.
Does the main game intrude upon the menu?
If the game is the backdrop of your menu, prevent in-game elements from hindering the menu's display, such as in-game text or bright elements like a targetting reticle.
Can you toggle the ingame tips off and on?
Some games may include tips in game to help the player, and providing the option to turn them off can be useful for players well acquinted with your game, or turning them on for for players who have stepped away for an extended period of time.
Can you censor the game in-game?
For games with gore and cursing, providing an easy way to censor the game can help parents play your game on their terms when the kids are up, or off to bed.
Can you move the HUD elements?
Not always necessary, but can be useful for games targetting e-sports, so they can build an overlay accordingly. Could be useful for passionate streamers as well who want to design a layout for your game.
Finally, does your game allow your the player to enjoy their experience on their own terms?
Gamers have varied realities to contend with, such as color blindless, light sensitivity, motor control issues and so on. Content creators may want to set up your game ahead of recording. They may complete your game over an extended period of time, forgetting where they went before. Different people may also play your game on the same account, with different needs.
Providing a menu that's easily to navigate and provides proper in-game options can ensure that your players start your game on the right foot and get the best experience all throughout.
If you have additional suggestions, please let me know and I'll update the list accordingly.
Dragon Slumber: http://dragonslumber.com