Rough Inventory Menu Design

Based on the designs I’ve been looking at from previous games, here’s my template design for the Hanami Inventory menu:

The window design has been greatly inspired by the simple blue menu windows in Final Fantasy Tactics Advance. I’ve emphasised titles by giving them a strong background rather than using bold text. At the moment, the type face is an image which I have drawn. I’m currently using DejaVu Sans in all my development work and for the text in my HUD, but I might change this later. The typography here has been custom made to fit best into the space, so I feel that it’s the best option.

The Petal progress diagram is very rough and unfinished. This is for a feature that I haven’t implemented yet, where collecting five petals in each level will result in the collection of one full flower. This information is displayed entirely visually, like the Triforce diagram in The Legend of Zelda or the Orb collection diagram in Final Fantasy. I’ve taken a lot of layout ideas from the original Final Fantasy menu system. The only interactive parts of the menu are on the left hand side, while the right hand side contains information about items and the character. However, instead of linking to pages of lists of items, I’ve used a more visual approach similar to the one used in Harvest Moon More Friends of Mineral Town. The player can scroll through each collected item in the three available slots and see information about each on the right hand side, where there is a designated blank space for written information.

The health diagram in the right-hand column is similar to the health bar in the HUD, so that player can see which stats it correlates to. This is currently fully interactive, so when the player eats a sushi item one coin is restored to its slot.

In Game Maker, information on each item in the inventory is stored in a 2D array. This stores information about the name, description and start amount of each item (in that order!)

I have a script called itemAdd which is called every time a piece of sushi is acquired. This tells the engine to draw the correct sprite into the menu when the “S” key is pressed on the menu, ie

if global.inventory[0,2] > 0
//here, [0,2] refers to that specific information in the array

Another draw code tells the engine to draw the strings of text for name and description in its designated place on the screen. This is a general code where the figure indexing each individual item is replaced by “s”, meaning this one code will cover all instances where “s” is a figure.

The left and right keys are programmed to direct a “highlight” sprite above each slot in the inventory in order to select an item. This is simply achieved by programming an X and Y coordinate for each time the button is pressed. When an item is selected using the “X” button, this code controls the processes of restoring 1 point of health and removing the item from the menu.

To make sure the player cannot restore more than 5 points of health, I’ve programmed all figures above 5 to equal 5.

Lastly, I have a code which pauses the game by disabling all other objects and drawing a static background based on the objects on screen when the inventory was opened. This is based on a process I used for a pause menu in my last project, where I create a state called pauseon which is true when the menu is open and false when the menu is closed and the game is running.


You can see the new system work in my latest Devlog Video here!

Menu/Inventory Design in Games

Traditionally, I think the HUD was the most appropriate display of information for Platform games. GUI designs and formats seem to be very genre specific, and dependent on the type of information the player needs to customise. If the customisable info is limited, then a simple and very minimal system is required. For games where play is based on the customisation of various items and objects, the system is more complex.

If you look back to the original Super Mario Bros (which I know I refer to all the time, but you’ve really got to consider it to be the great grandfather of all great Platformers to follow!) all the information that the player needed to know were displayed in a dedicated space at the top of the screen. On the left you have player information: the player’s score and the amount of coins collected. On the right you have the level information: the current level and the time that the player has left to complete the level. Items are collected throughout the game, but they are put to effect immediately.

Adventure game Legend of Zelda had a greater need for an inventory system where the player could scroll through items that they had collected. In LoZ, the player must collect many items which have various uses. Some are offensive items such as bows and arrows or explosives, others are keys which unlock certain parts of the level, and of course, the player must find and collect the three parts of the Triforce. This need led to a specific menu design where items were arranged according to type. At the top you have selectable items which the player is carrying but may not necessarily be equipped. Having a list of stored items allows the player to pick and choose when items are used. Below this are un-selectable bits of information which cannot be changed or customised. In the middle there is a little diagram showing how many Triforce pieces have been collected. The bottom row of information is the same as the play sees in the HUD, and is a quick breakdown of map position, money and keys collected, items equipped and health points.

The RPG (Role Playing Game) Final Fantasy (the great grandfather of a dying breed of great RPGs) takes the inventory menu to the next level. Here we have a grid of information which is split into three sections. The diagram in the top left corner shows the amount of elemental orbs that player has collected. Below this is the amount of money the player has collected. Both of these pieces of information are non-customisable, and are simply a display. In the bottom left hand corner is a list of links to separate menus containing information about the customisable items that the player has collected such as magic, weapons and armour collected. The success of the game revolves around decisions that the player makes in these menus- if ignored the player cannot progress. The right hand side of the screen is dedicated to displaying character information. This is a quick overview of each character, and is easily accessible as there is no HUD system in this game.

These three games were all designed for the Nintendo Entertainment System in the 1980s, but these GUI types have run with each genre throughout gaming history. As Hanami is essentially a 2D Platformer, history dictates that an inventory menu is unnecessary. However, it has evolved and changed at times. In Super Mario Bros 3, the player was given the chance to collect an item at the end of each level. Up to three items were then stored which the player could choose to use between levels, essentially creating an inventory system which was a part of the HUD- shown at the bottom right of this screenshot.

Although it makes a game more challenging to use items immediately on collection, there’s something fair and tactical about allowing players to save up items and use them at their discretion. This is why I’ve chosen to allow the player to collect healing sushi throughout Hanami and only consume when see fit. This gives me the chance to provide a window of extra information for the player, or previously displayed info in more detail! I’ve taken design inspiration from a range of existing menu designs in games. As I was looking through various games that I’ve played, I realised that coincidentally most of my favourite menu designs are from Gameboy Advance games. For reasons I can’t explain, it just seems like they put a lot of effort into awesome menus for GBA titles.

What I like about…

…The Harvest Moon More Friends of Mineral Town Inventory

It’s simple, colourful and interesting! The inventory has a certain amount of slots which are either empty or occupied by an image of an item. When an item is hovered over, information is displayed in the info box at the bottom. The system is easy to use and understand because it is set up into a nice grid system and split into two categories: tools and items. The colours and thumbnail pictures are just nice.

…The Final Fantasy Tactics Advance Menus

Far from simple, this menu system actually takes a while to get your head around. Once you do, you can start to appreciate how attractive the whole thing is, and how consistently stylised it is, even in very varying circumstances! Most things that the player must control are inside blue-window boxes, while statistics and other pieces of information are placed in a non-accessible background. Like the example from Harvest Moon, clear information is shown before the player makes critical choices.

…The Kingdom Hearts Chain of Memories Menus

The menu system in Kingdom Hearts stretches across hundreds of pages, but all of these pages are very accessible with only a few clicks. The system has been designed so that they player can view only the information they want to view very easily, using things like menu tabs to flick through pages.

GUI Design

Based on yesterday’s speech bubble designs, I’ve spent today working out some other interface elements. Apart from the game’s main menu (and potentially a separate pause menu), there are two main GUI elements which will keep a consistent style throughout the game. One of these is the HUD (Heads Up Display), and the other is the game’s inventory.


I was previously using a placeholder HUD which shows information about the amount of flowers collected and the player’s health. The reason I placed this here temporarily was mainly as a debug object for me to test when damage was being taken and how well the flower collection ds_list was working. In the finished game, the HUD will be a quick insight into level progress, showing the same information just in a nicer graphical style.

I’ve had a quick look into how other Indie developments have incorporated HUD systems and found that they tend to be very basic, using simple icons and in some cases text only. This example from Ninja Senki is a very clear way of displaying information which doesn’t get confused with any other element on screen.

So, simple is good. There doesn’t seem much point in clogging up the screen with pointless graphics unless they are meaningful or relevant. The HUD should be concise and to the point, so that the player can glance at it quickly and get a good impression of the information displayed.

The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past has a fairly complex HUD system, but enforces clarity by using unique icons and indicators rather than using text.

The Green Bar (far left
) represents special ability charge levels
The Bow Icon (left) represents the secondary item equipped
The Green Gem icon represents the amount of rupees the player has
The Bomb icon represents the amount of bombs the player has
The Arrow icon represents the amount of arrows the player has
The Heart Capsules (far right) represents the player’s hit points.

This sounds complicated to explain, but each feature is added into the game gradually, allowing the player time to get to know the HUD and where to look for info. I’ve kept this in mind whilst designing my HUD object, even though mine will only display two pieces of information! Originally, I wanted to swap my HP figure for a sliding health bar, but keep the flower icon to display info on how many flowers had been collected. Giving it some thought, I’ve moved onto a health system which is more like Zelda’s heart capsules. Because Hana will only take 5 hits before “dying”, and each obstacle deals the same amount of damage, I thought it would be more appropriate to create an image which shows each individual hit point. You can see my thought progression in the sketches I did this morning…

I’ve tried to keep the window shape and style similar to that of the speech bubbles, which will now be a consistent theme throughout the GUI. I’ve added the character profile picture partly as a way of indicating “this is player health and partly because of some advice from I found in a forum about pixel art games- A 16×16 pixel character is an extremely distorted version of a character design, and showing a higher resolution image of the character somewhere in the game acts as a little player gratuity. On the right hand side of the image you can see a rough design for a menu/inventory, where I’m thinking of using an even large character image, based on my main concept art for Hana.

The size of the “high-res” head-shot is just over 32×32 pixels, twice the size of the entire original sprite. This took an unpredicted amount of time to create, because of the increased opportunities for detail in the drawing! I wasn’t originally sure what I was going to use as a representation of a hit point, but liked the idea of using something rounded. In the end, I’ve gone for a Japanese coin look!

This now sits in place of the old HUD, the only real similarity is that I’m still using a string of text to display how many flowers have been collected.

The Inventory Menu
I haven’t managed to fully design the inventory yet, but I’ve planned out everything that should go in it! Information like:

  • An even higher resolution character image
  • Character health
  • Health restoration items collected
  • Flowers Collected
  • Petals Collected
  • Perhaps a little info on level (at least some indication of which level the player is currently on!)

After getting to grips with the enlarged head image that I drew earlier, I thought I’d work on the full character image first! As the menu is likely to take up the majority of the screen, I’ve created this image at a height of 100 pixels (which is scaled up to 300 when displayed in the game). This is basically a pixelated version of one of my previous sketches.

To give you an indication of size relative to the game sprite and other elements, I quickly whipped up this scary little image where I placed the new drawing into the game: