Game Design Question: How can we learn about loading high end models in menus from fighting games?

The question I come to today is what are some ways to design a menu system that displays high end character models, but avoid slow load times (which just kills the menu experience)?

I came to this question while reading an article on dragon inquistion’s menu load times, something I experienced quite often while playing dragon age. I thought to expand this to not just dragon age, but other games I have seen this issue. I can not try to poke holes and see the technical issues in the game, but I could theorize design ways to minimize this. So here are some of the games I noticed with this issue and how they attempted it.

(Here is the video from the article to demonstrate the problem)

Fighting games!

1. Soul Calibur 4

Solution: Preview first!

They used 2d images of their 3d character as a preview, then once a character is selected, all the 3d models ,including alternate costumes, for the character are loaded.

(here is a snipet of Soul Calibur 4’s character selection screen)

In their next installment, soul calibur 5, they simply used stylzed 2d images. I think here would have been a nice place to display their 3d models as in their last title, but I think the 2d images fit the style better. What I mean is they have a moving background that is 3d with a 2d character select and 2d representations of them. I think in this setup, the 2d images seem less static and flat to the user while they are deciding on their fighter (this keeps the flow going into the 3d fighting portion)

2. Street Fighter vs Tekken

Solution: Spinning Cubes!

They had a spining cube replace the character until they loaded. And you would go through each character on a board (as in most fighting games) switching out spinning cube for cube while the announcer said the name of the character you would see. Then eventually the characters would start filling instead of spinning cubes. Once the fighters are loaded up, you might notice you don’t see their whole model. In fact I think to save load times they only loaded the upper half of these models for the character select screen. To be honest you may not even need to see their whole body, just show enough to see their face and shoulders would be enough (especially if the character is turn 45 degree looking off the screen).

Last Thoughts

Looking back at Soul Calibur 4’s approach to this problem, I wondered why Dragon Age had not done the same? Why just leave the player to experience any anguish while they go through their menus?

For a game like Dragon Age Inquisition which uses tarot magic cards to represent characters for loading screens and in its appendix, I wondered why they would not do the same here. I know this could be an issue for time and resources, but I went deeper into the rabbit hole for pros and cons on this one. On one end they could have a characters card show up as a place holder until the 3d models were ready. On the other hand, would the styles be clashing? I started to notice that these highly detailed cards were usually shown in simple backgrounds. I think Bioware did this so nothing would clash with the personality and style in the cards. Who knows maybe, dropping these in a menu with weapons, armor, and character stats would be all to distracting.

So I hope you enjoyed reading my first blog post. And please post any other games you noticed with slow menu load times and how others solved that issue or how you would solve it.

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5 thoughts on “Game Design Question: How can we learn about loading high end models in menus from fighting games?

  1. This is an interesting post because you try to resolve the problem in design side which seems to be a technical issue. Actually this kind of approach can benefit programmers and players in both ways when you design the details. Thanks for sharing it.

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  2. That was some pretty sweet comparison between the selection menu in fighting games! I haven’t really thought about this before, and now you’ve brought it up to my attention; thank you. My personal favorite out of your examples was Soul Caliber 4; Soul Caliber 5 seemed to only have the cube at the start, and still took some time to load the actual fighter. I wonder if there was a way to fake the 3D without bringing up the models? Or perhaps have a low polygon model of the fighter that is stylized. Another thing I can think of is to have the models pre-loaded during loading, and just bring them out whenever needed, but perhaps that took up too much memory. I liked your suggestion of not rendering the whole model but just the top part of it to save loading time. All in all, this was a great read.

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  3. While I think that this is primarily a technical problem to be resolved by programmers and not designers, I think your dissection of how other developers solved the issue of loading models in menus is informative. I would be more interested to hear about how these technical decisions affect player experience in more detail.

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  4. My initial thought : this isn’t a game design issue at all. Then I realised it *could* also be a design issue, in that the problem could be mitigated or solved if the designer was more heavily involved. The example of Soul Calibur 4 really made the model pop-in seem part of the process rather than slow load times. Bioware probably could have came up with a better design to not have that weird gap of loading time. Maybe preload items before and after the current selection, and leave character model loading as an option – only if the player chooses it then load the character model in the background. This concept would probably be similar to Soul Calibur 4 – show the most important thing first.

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  5. OH MY GOD. I think I’ve lost years of my life waiting for screens to load. This is a huge issue when it comes to programming too, and I liked how you served both sides of that story. I just went through a programming assignment that made the server take over 20 minutes to load – it was a nightmare. I didn’t even think about Dragon Age’s loading screen until you pointed out how backwards it is – maybe it’s because the rest of the game is so crazy huge? But it’s a good thing to ponder!

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