Personal blog of Elijs 'X2Eliah' Dima

You have to configure so you can configure the configurations….what?

Game option configuration menus. A subject that’s rarely even considered, and even then mostly in the sense of “does this game have enough options or not”. Still, like any other technological feature, you really notice it when it goes bad. Seriously bad.

Cue Burnout Paradise.

Burnout: Paradise's configuration window

At least you see the true highlight of this utility – the car image!

This is what confronted me when I tried to adjust the game’s settings. If it looks wrong to you, don’t worry, because it is wrong. Demonstrably, horribly, insultingly wrong. So wrong that, in fact, the only way to get out of this is to close the configurator in the taskbar/task manager. This wrongness is, however, a good springing-off point for talking a wee bit about the kinds of configuration utilities you get to see in pc games.

The first – most obvious – kind are the options you get from within the game itself. Depending on the game’s coding, the scope on these can vary a whole lot – from basic resolution change to tweaking the 2nd reflection shading on grass branches in far lod (level of detail) distances.

Portal 2's Advanced video options submenu

All in game, and at least 3 layers deep.

The key issue with these sorts of configurators is that somewhere, sometime, you will inevitably come across an option that will demand a game restart – so you save, exit the game (which in itself can be a bit of a chore depending on just how awful is the menu system), start it up again. All that can take an annoyingly long amount of time, depending on your hardware and how well the game itself has been coded. On the other hand, it simply feels better and is subject to less potential OS-derived issues – if the player can start the game, he can adjust the options.

For some games, you get less than that, even. You get a bunch of .ini files in the game directory, where you can tweak everything the game has to offer – as long as you know what the arbitrary variable names mean. Help for these are, sometimes, found on official developer’s forum, but how many players will be willing to dig in obscure forums just to configure their newly bought game the way they want it to be?

Then… Then there are the ‘other’ kind of option configuration tools – the external ones. Often for games with their own launchers (The Witcher, X3: Reunion, Mass Effect, Fallout3, and so forth), the ability to change settings and preferences is moved either partially or entirely outside the game itself. You click on a link, and a pop-up window appears, hopefully showing you all there is to do.

The upsides of such a system are fairly self-evident – there is no need to load/start the entire game itself, and things are not subsubsubdivided into n-layers of UI optimized for xbox/playstation controllers. You get all your options upfront without any real waste of space.

X3:Terran Conflict's configuration menu

See how the options are spread across the entire window with plenty of room? DO MORE OF THIS. Seriously.

A problem that arises here, however, is that these configuration windows are subject to whatever the user has set for their general UI preferences in the operating system itself. Personally, I have all texts magnified to 125% because of high pixel density on a small screen. Well, fair enough – the option to do so is there, so why not use it. And yet this does seem to be a tremendous problem for the developers trying to create external configuration dialogues. The text size adjustment – a mere 25%!  – completely throws the window displays out of wack, and makes them literally unusable. The fact that these windows are not resizeable just adds to the insult. Some developers, like those behind the Burnout: Paradise game, apparently weren’t able to solve this technical conundrum for 3 whole years. Oh dear. Other developers – like CDProjekt RED, weren’t lazy and fixed the bugs in their game.

Witcher 2's configuration menu

Witcher 2’s developers messed things up initially, but fixed it since then. Now its all neat and tidy and functional. Quite a bit of wasted space though.

I won’t guess how incredibly hard that must have been to do – it’s not like the problem is truly insurmountable, the affected user just needs to change OS’s UI personalization preferences back to 100% text size, log off, log back in, wait for everything to start-up, launch the game’s launcher, make adjustments, exit the game, go back into OS’s UI preferences, change text zoom, log off, log back on, wait for everything to load up, start the game, play the game. See, simple!

Or, you know, you could act as a reasonable person and play a different game that was made properly. Where the developers cared enough about their player base.

~X2-Eliah wants a preconfiguration menu to configure the configuration menu’s appearance.

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