The Unappreciated Options Menu

In a previous article I asked you—dear readers—“Is there a right way to enjoy a game?” as I talked about “the controller setting” that has turned the gaming community upside-down: Inverted Controls.

In the aforementioned article I rambled about my own reasoning behind Inverted Controls, how I got used to this control setting, and how does it feel to be “that guy” who messes up with your normal non-inverted control settings.

But inverted or non-inverted controls are just the tip of the iceberg. As videogame enthusiasts, our gaming preferences are pretty much biased these days, back then the world could go into disarray if a developer dared to make you jump with the B-button, instead of the universally agreed A-button. But today, our preferred controller and button options are way more varied, and we are used to a lot of them due to the array of games we’ve been exposed in our lifetime; that list of games is so unique and personal to each one of us that we might end up feeling somewhat offended if a developer didn’t take our preferences into account in their new game.

Developers these days can’t just assume everyone will “get” the gameplay choices they may have planned to be the best suited to interact with their games; they need to be wary of the many, many preferences people may have.

Let me tell you my story. Let me tell you all about the games that shaped the way I like to play one of my preferred genres: Shooters.


I have mentioned this many times before, but Halo: Combat Evolved was a major influence in me back in 2001. Back then I was a raging Nintendo-fanboy who wouldn’t give a second toss to anything made on another console.

Halo changed all that and I finally dared to set my hands on other consoles and started experimenting with new things. But I just couldn’t hide my origins; back then I started playing Halo on LAN parties with some other people, and it took me some solid minutes figuring out which was the right stick layout  for me, and that’s a major setback for everyone when you have 4 consoles hooked up and ready to go.

The other kids in the room could just pick up a controller and be ready to play. Not me. Back then, I wasn’t only used to inverted controls, but also I depended on my controller to behave just like the only other first-person shooters I knew: Turok and Perfect Dark (just the strangest origins for a first-person shooter aficionado).

Those games were designed to make the most of the Nintendo 64’s controller, so moving and strafing were mapped on those yellow C-buttons, while the left joystick was used to look and turn around. Luckily for me, Halo: Combat Evolved offers different stick layouts, and I had to stare to each one of them until I found the one that did what I needed.

halo-sticks-settings

Every time I had to check which was the one that did “the thing” for me… remember how how horribly bulky the original Xbox controller was?

I was thankful that the developer took the trouble of adding all these options, including the one I was comfortable with. But things were not going to stay the same for long.

But times change.

Let’s remember that Halo set a new standard for shooting games on consoles, so every first or third person shooting game that came after it took some inspiration from the iconic franchise. Later on, I got myself a GameCube, and some of the only (actually good) shooting games that I played on the system are Hitman 2: Silent Assassin, and Metal Arms: Glitch in the System (you may have never heard about this one, try it out if you ever get your hands on it!)

Well, none of those two offered another stick layout than the default one inspired by every shooting game on the market (moving/strafing done with the left stick, and looking around with the right stick), so I didn’t have another choice than getting used to the times. After some missteps I finally got it; the downside is that I can no longer play any shooting game on the Nintendo64; their controller settings now feel as alien as they probably have always been.

And times keep changing.

While stick layout has remained the same throughout these last two generations, button layout is another story. There was a time when I could pick the latest Halo, Gears of War, or Call of Duty and there was a different feel to each one of them, but it has become clear that the last one has become the new king of the shooting genre, since the first two keep trying to emulate it.

Halo 4—the latest on the Halo franchise—had to accept this change of times and now its default button layout looks heavily inspired by the one in Call of Duty.

halo-4-default-settings

Halo 4 default settings. Why is it crouch mapped on the face buttons? That’s where important stuff tend to be!

At first, I couldn’t help feeling somewhat betrayed by the game I’ve been following these last ten years, but when I thought about it, there’s a good reason why the developers chose to do this.

This new button layout isn’t meant to accommodate people like me—the jaded videogame enthusiast who had played the Halo franchise this last decade—, it’s made to please anyone coming from playing Call of Duty trying Halo 4 for the first time. For people like me, the developer knows we’ll look into the options menu and start messing around until we find the settings we like, but you can’t expect the same patienre from a newcomer who might veer away from a game if something as simple as reloading isn’t on the button they’re used to.

The decision is a win-win for everyone involved; the developer avoids alienating someone new to the franchise, while the remaining demographic can either adapt to the new button layout, or select its preferred one from the list.

Good thing the developers have come with names for each one of these settings (Recon has remained my way to go since Halo: Reach).

halo-4-other-than-default-settings

Southpaw, Boxer, Green thumb, Bumper jumper, Recon, and Fishstick button settings (click to enlarge)

On the other hand, I can’t say the same thing about Gears of War Judgment; its controller setting totally ripped off Call of Duty’s and now I long for the button layout that set this game apart from the rest (other than being about big bulky men roadie running and bumping into hich-chest walls).


 

These are some of the reasons I check the Options menu of every new game I’m about to play, I need to be sure the game will be set according to my preferences before I start, or I’ll be coming back later to set things right.

For an academic point of view, take a good look to a game’s options menu and try to understand what is the developer trying to get from you—the player—out from those options; are your preferred options there? Are they easy to find? Why are they arranged that way? Does the developer prefers for you to play one way or another?

How important are these options for you to enjoy the game and how much would you like to be able to mess with a game’s controller? Think about it, comment, and we’ll talk about that in the next article.

Daniel Castro

Daniel Castro

Daniel is an engineer, teacher, and freelance writer and translator. He considers himself blessed to be born during the the times video games were created, and has followed their development as an entertainment and artistic media ever since. He loves talking about video games as much as he enjoys playing them, and he's always ready to introduce gaming culture to a newer audience.

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