A unique aspect of this menu is that like the gameplay itself, the mouse control is along a single axis. In some ways this has made it easier to also offer keyboard as well as controller support as we don’t need to worry about a mouse cursor. At first we wanted all levels in one scrolling list but without a free mouse or scroll bar it felt weird. The next iteration was one long list of stages but too many items in a row looked a bit messy and ultimately would limit the number of levels to what would fit on the menu which would be a terrible idea. What we have decided to go with is an episode system – though we prefer to call them acts as it is more thematic as well as avoids any confusion with episodic releases.
For the background art we liked the idea of a burning Rome and experimented with a bunch of approaches. Originally we were going to go with a pre-rendered still (like the Age of Empires I title screen) but it distracted from the logo (which still needs some work on readability/contrast and the dagger. A painted look gives some balance to the rest of the game while conveying a strong mood. Three inspirations were the cd booklets you might find in metal albums – to emphasise a darker tone as well as the importance of individual tracks or in our case, levels. Second point of reference was intermission screens in old epics like Ben Hur and The Ten Commandments to evoke a sense of grandeur. And finally the third inspiration for the background images was Alphonse Muchas’s painting “Nero watching the burning of Rome” 1885-1886:
The image both has detail and an element of abstraction. A slight parallax on the background brings it all together and stops it feeling too static. Some more polish can be done but it is in a good place for now (the gif is a little cropped at the bottom, the actual spacing is much better).
The menu features our current logo as well as a cool spinning dagger as the selection icon (perhaps one of the daggers that was plummeted into Caesar himself?). The pugio is a dagger like blade carried by all Roman soldiers. Identifiable by its wide blade shape. A lot of pugiones are speculated to have doubled as mini digging and multi-tools but their importance to Roman soldiers is unknown; perhaps a final backup after a javlin and gladius were lost.
This piece is unfinished but is a style test of what we are aiming for with the menu music – the blending of darker metal with faux-ancient sounding instruments. The music in levels will be a lot more thrash-y with faster tempo so the menu is a good chance to take a breathe and set the scene. Here is the direction for the title screen so far:
The game has a pause screen! I have never coded one of these myself before and it ended up being easier than I thought. How it works is the game takes a screenshot of the game then deactivates all of the objects in the game except the a controller which draws the screen grab with a transparent black overlay. Right now it is just showing the game is paused but later might include a menu selection to resume and quit (there won’t be saving mid level). I find it whimsical that it looks like objects are frozen when really we are just looking at a screen grab!
Save Data and progression
I have been working on the save file system. Data is now tracked and encrypted with the framework in place for tracking level unlocks, best times and other statistics. One thing we have been debating is whether or not weapons should carry over from level to level. This would be in line with classic shooters and gives the player a good sense of progression as well as making ammo usage meaningful. On the other hand, starting each level without a weapon opens some interesting level design possibilities (only bow, or melee only stages). This also incentivises players to use the weapons they find instead of saving them. A disadvantage of this however is that secrets are less important and people may not like having to start from scratch every time. All of this can of course be balanced around but currently needs some more thought.