• Rob George

Week 8: Visual Research: Game Menus and Forums

Updated: Dec 3, 2020

The Project

My main thesis project idea is to create a pre-made online discussion that reflects who the modern day retro gamers are. But it won't be any ordinary online forum, it will act as a video game, specifically an online game emulator. It will take the concepts/structures of a modern day game and transform it into an online retro gaming emulator but in the format of an online retro gaming forum discussion.

The reason for this idea is most gaming discussions are currently found online on sites such as forums where gamers can interact with other gamers and discuss anything gaming related. Most retro gamers use these forums as well and through discussions they show what it means to be a retro gamer. I also want to connect the act of playing a retro game in contemporary times. In my experience while researching about the retro gamers, I found there is a good majority of them who like to play online emulators which are programs you can use to play classic retro games from your computer. Younger modern gamers also like to use these due to easy access of games. But to me it lacks the quality of actually playing the retro games due to using keyboard keys and the possibility of using any controller you want. But since so many gamers today (modern and retro) like using these, I figured it would be a good way to attract their attention.

I would love to have this to be an interactive design and maybe it is possible but due to time restraints it will most likely stick to being an animated video and act as if the viewer is watching a gamer interact with this design. Maybe even make it a YouTube tutorial of the emulator.

The Research

To start on the design of this Retro Gaming Forum Emulator, I started researching the differences in title screens and gaming menus to get a better understanding of how the navigation of this "game" should work. I also researched the visuals of these games and looked into the structure of online forums.

UI Design Tips

When I first started researching visuals I found part of an article titled "Game UI by Example: A Crash Course in the Good and the Bad" by Desi Quintans that talked about what good UI does. They gave this list and I thought it will be very useful in my research and when I begin creating the project.

  1. Does this interface tell me what I need to know right now?

  2. Is it easy to find the information I'm looking for, or do I have to look around for it? (Are the menus nested so deep that they hide information from the player?)

  3. Can I use this interface without having to read instructions elsewhere?

  4. Are the things I can do on this screen obvious?

  5. Do I ever need to wait for the interface to load or play an animation?

  6. Are there any tedious or repetitive tasks that I can shorten (with a shortcut key, for example) or remove entirely?

Game Component Tips

Sources: From start screens to coin counters — a guide to video game UI

Video game user interface design: Diegesis theory

Narrative - the story the game tells.

Fourth Wall - imaginary wall between the player and the game.

  1. Does the component exist in the game story?

  2. Does the component exist in the game space?

Components - elements that help the player navigate, get information, and complete goals.


Non-Diegetic: Game characters are unaware of the components. Do not relate to the game story and are outside of the game space.

Diegetic: Game characters are aware of components and interact with them to help keep track of progress. The components are in the game space and are part of the story. Things like maps that the characters hold.

Spatial: Components found in the game space but the characters are unaware of them. Usually text to help guide players.

Meta: Exists in the game story but not in the game space. Characters may or may not be aware of the components. Usually visuals that signify damage to a player such as blood or screen shaking.

Video Game Title Screens and Menus

I feel this first video I found is useful because it discusses the layout and qualities of title screens and menus in video games. How the title screen and menus can either represent what happens in the game or are just there to help you navigate the game.

In this next video the gamer has some interesting input about how game menu design is created. The key points I got from this is that older (retro) games had menus that were meant for functionality, meaning simple list menus.

Then menus got a little creative where the game becomes an interactive menu through the game world. Where you're actually playing the game but viewing the menu as items in the game. So basically the menu is a Diegetic component of the game. He then notes that most of the modern games today have gone minimalist. Where the menu may not even be on the screen at all and all you have is the start screen that has the image of the game and a little text that says "start."

Retro Game Menus

The menus for retro games were more about function over form meaning it was meant to provide the player with the necessary menu options needed to play the simple game in simple list format. They usually consisted of player select, name registration, new game, start game, continue game, control options, etc.

Below are some examples of emulator control screens and start screens. Most allow you to change the keys for the controls and to start the game you just press the enter key. There's no main menu to start with and you just start playing the game. There are also console emulators such as Wii U, NES Mini, etc. that have the games pre installed or you can download them to the console and play with a controller but I'm focusing on the online computer format of retro game emulators.

Forum Structures

To complete this portion of research I looked at the structures of online forums. To start I compared two polar opposite forum sites: IGN Boards and Reddit. IGN is more clean, sleek, and user friendly while Reddit took me a while to understand. Reddit has many tabs, users, forums, and to me looks very complicated but the elements that every forum and discussion website have in common are; a menu, tabs for separate forums to choose from, chat rooms, and similar scrolling feeds.

While browsing through a retro gaming Facebook group I noticed someone mentioned the Retro Gamer Magazine which updates people on the retro gaming community and what's popular. I decided to check their site out and glad I did because they have a really nice retro gaming web design for their website.

<Back to Research Page



The Ten Commandments Of Video Game Menus

From start screens to coin counters — a guide to video game UI

Video game user interface design: Diegesis theory

"Game UI by Example: A Crash Course in the Good and the Bad" by Desi Quintans

Retro Gamer Magazine


IGN Boards

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