I am a technician at the University of Virginia and freelance writer on the internet, most notably Gamnesia. I also write for my own tiny site, BitDetection, and am the amateur-est of game designers. Someday. Any game I can enjoy myself playing I will gladly play, genre is secondary, but I am a long-time Nintendo follower.
As the briefest of introductions, this is the first in a series on the actual Bit Detection website about the little aspects of games that make their experiences that much better. I will be adding more of this series and more soon. Nice to meet you, I hope you enjoy it.
It is the little things that truly separate a good game from a great one. That extra layer of polish can drastically improve an experience and make it all the more memorable and enjoyable. The little things make words more immersive, play more pleasant, and an entire game stronger. One of those things is the title screen.
A game’s title screen is its greeting. Barring publisher and developer splashes, it is the first thing the player sees, and is certainly the first part of the game one sees. Back in arcade days, they had to be interesting to draw the eye of potential players and their small change. A good title screen was dynamic and showed off the game beyond it. Of course, games still intended for arcades still make use of these sales-pitch title screens, but most games on the market are intended for home play. The practical purpose of the old title screen has changed to little more than a medium meant to initiate play, and over the years they have become simpler and simpler.
Now, I do not want to imply there is anything inherently wrong with this trend. Most people do not spend a great deal of time on the title screen, and if a developer had to pick between using their time to decorate the title screen more or polish the game itself, I would hope they choose the game. Nowadays, the main practical purpose of the title screen is the title menu, which even in its most complex form is fairly simple. Whether to include a global options screen in the title menu is likely the only major decision developers have to make in terms of practicality these days. That said, a good title screen can enhance a game experience far more than one would expect for its simplicity. Intro videos reminiscent of those in arcade-based games make for an exciting way to start a game when one first starts it up. It feels like the intro sequence of a television show, preparing the player for what is about to come. Frankly, many Japanese titles, such as games in the Tales of or Persona series, even model their title intros after anime openings, complete with catchy music and custom animation. This may be due to the game and anime markets being so closely tied over there, but it certainly makes for some interesting pre-game entertainment. The title screen movies that play in Persona 3, Persona 3: FES and Persona 4 are brilliant, all made with a great deal of care and attention and accompanied by awesome music. I would sometimes simply wait on the title screen and watch them a while before starting a play session. They add a great deal of atmosphere to the games and their similarities to anime openings help to establish the modern Japanese pop-culture aesthetic that the series is so well-known for.
A personal favorite title screen of mine is that of Ocarina of Time, though I know I am hardly alone on this. Barring any bias one might have from the rest of the game, from the moment the player starts it up, Ocarina of Time has set the stage for the experience it aims to offer. The screen opens with sweeping scenes of Link riding about on Epona, fading the actual title and logo in only after the initial introduction to Hyrule field. Wait long enough and the camera will make its way to the entrance to Kokiri forest, where the game begins. The newest 3DS version does not even show the title at all until the player presses a button, which only makes the whole screen stronger, as the player is given the chance to see the whole thing without the title card blocking the view. Once the player does interact with the game, it behaves exactly as a normal title screen would, with the logo and iconic “press start” visible until the player acts again.
One of the greatest things a title screen can do for a game, however, is strengthen not the beginning of a game, but the ending. When one plays a game through all the way to the end, especially a particularly powerful one, more so than a sense of accomplishment is a sense of wonder and awe. As the player sits, after all the cutscenes and credits, past the final grades and closing remarks, if the game does not simply wait for the system to turn off (or program to close), it will fade back to the title screen. In rare cases, this moment can be made to feel all the greater with the right title music. A perfect example of this is Kingdom Hearts II. Its title screen is a fairly common affair as little more than a static image with relaxing music that cuts to an opening movie with enough patience, but its music is its strength. It is noteworthy just how peaceful it is, and that calm that it washes over its audience is exactly what they need after finishing the game. After all the action of an endgame, all I want to is stew for a moment and absorb the experience–to sit and reflect–and the song, “Dearly Beloved,” that plays on Kingdom Hearts II’s title screen is perfect for this. The game Journey, on PSN, does something similar, the transition from its ending to the title screen so seamless, one hardly notices the game has gone back to the title screen at all.
A title screen is such a little thing. A minor moment in a game’s entire experience, yet a quintessential part of it. A truly great title screen, though, can be as memorable as the rest of the game itself. From fun opening movies that catch the eye to passively setting the tone to empowering an ending, a title screen can make a good game feel great, and a great game feel greater still. We would do well not to neglect them.