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Dangerous Expectations

A few months back I released an early prototype of Journal to a handful of friends to get some feedback about the gameplay so far. The prototype was rough, and didn't even feature a title screen. My early testers were just thrown straight into the action and expected to fend for themselves.

So a few weeks back I did the obvious thing of adding in an opening title menu to the game with all the usual options: start, continue, options, extras and quit. All find and dandy because that's how games work, you load them up and the title screen is the hub for your time with the game.

What is it good for?

However a discussion on the TIGSource forums about title screen in games made me rethink why I needed the title screen at all. Of course I could just take it out to be contrary, to be different, a lot of people seem to value being different quite highly. However as my day job is a web developer I ended up thinking about the human interface implications of having or not having a title screen.

If you think through your typical interactions with a game, the first time you start it up you'll pick new game, and then almost every time after that you'll pick continue/load. Then maybe after playing the game for 10 minutes or so you might bring up the options to adjust something. Which leads me to wonder why not just automatically start the game the first time and then automatically load on subsequent occasions.

Now you could counter by saying what about multiple users on the same machine, they might need to load each time they start or you might even want to start a new game yourself. However as these are the fringe cases that don't apply in the vast majority of cases they shouldn't be a reason to delay most of your player base over and over again.

A Little Bit of History Repeating

So yes as you might have guessed I've removed my lovely title screen menu from the game. It now starts automatically, and on top of which I always thought there was something more slick and stylish about having the game's title appear over the action in-game than on it's own separate screen.

The almost depressing thing is once, I'd thought all this through and made my decision I realised that I am far from forward thinking in this regard. Look at Braid, it does all of this already and does it well. Dumps you straight into the game and teaches you how to play without ever having to rely on typical game interface expectations.

My conquest over my menu screen might not be that interesting, in fact I'm boring myself reading this back, however I think it does hilight an interesting point about expectations. I put a menu screen in because that's what everyone does, and I think that's a dangerous precedent. I think it's fool hardy just to buck all existing trends for the sake of being "unique" because a lot of tropes exist because they're popular for very good reasons. However it's always worth thinking through the things you take for granted and establishing for yourself if they make sense.

Welcome to the home of Locked Door Puzzle, the independent game development studio of Richard Perrin located in Bristol.

My primary focus is on creating expressive games that explore different forms of interactive storytelling.

For contact details check the about page.