An infrequent method for Painting the Medium
in video games is to disguise a menu interface as a level unto itself, which the player can navigate using their game character and actual gameplay controls.
So, instead of navigating an abstract cursor across a set of icons and text labels that correspond to the various menu options, the protagonist essentially is
the cursor, and the player approaches and interacts with menu options the same way they would interact with actual, in-universe objects. "New Game" and "Load Game" might be presented as literal doors for the player character to walk through, literal buttons to stomp on
, literal crates to smash
, literal blocks to slide around
, or so on. Even if the main menu isn't presented this way, this might be applied to other menu-like features, particularly Difficulty Level
This is distinct from games featuring creative menu-cursor icons (such as the protagonist's head, hand, or full body sprite) but whose menus are still navigated in the traditional manner of highlighting/clicking on text labels or icons; a Playable Menu must
be navigated using actual gameplay controls and in-universe interactions.
Also note that the following tropes, while related to the concept of Painting the Medium
, are not considered examples of a Playable Menu:
- Justified Save Point: Checkpoints and/or Save Points manifested as in-universe objects, like using a typewriter to save your game in Resident Evil.
- Attract Mode: Demo gameplay that proceeds automatically, even if it takes place in the background while the player navigates a traditional menu overlay. Note that the player character representing the menu cursor but still working as one also falls under this category (Pitfall 3D).
- Hub Level: An actual level used to connect other levels via pathways, warps, or portals (possibly with a Save Point for good measure). Please describe the hybrids between main menu and the Hub Level only if it's indeed something special (and not just save/load screen).
- Mini-Game Credits: Playable credits (The Typing Of The Dead), which are an interactive form of Credits Gag.
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- Several I Wanna Be the Guy fangames that use I Wanna Be The Engine or its variations as a base. But not those that throw you into the game DIRECTLY after the game starts running.
- Subverted in I Wanna Be The Shrine Maiden: you have two options to choose from: "Start" and "Tutorial". "Start" is self-explanatory, but when you try to jump on "Tutorial"... Splat. Okay, let's just say the main menu IS the first level after all.
- I Wanna Be The Better Er- Engine has got a regular Load Game menu, but, at the same time, allows its' users to have difficulty selection passages, as well as the point where you may redefine the controls "on the fly".
- I Wanna Be The Fangame starts the player out in a difficulty selection room. The harder the difficulty, the more Spikes Of Doom you have to jump over to get there.
- Takeshi's Challenge, from the creator of Takeshis Castle. Moreover, you don't even have to leave the menu in order to get an ending! Just punch the title screen 20000 times and you're done.
- Spelunky's menu is a large cave chamber... with only two doors (and the Hub Level, if you unlocked the shortcut), a flare you can toss around and logo you can jump on and off (you can't die this way, no matter how much you try). Averted in the remake, as there's now an ordinary menu in the game (the large chamber is still there, now purely the main mode's Hub Level).
- Katamari Damacy to some extent: the save game select screen uses the in-game controls; and while the Level/Character/Operation select system (Select Meadow, Space Mushroom, etc.) do not, they are playable in their own way.
- The ship selection screen in Rogue Leader is a hangar that you explore on foot with your character.
- In the Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom Arcade Game, gameplay begins with a screen in which Indy selects Easy, Medium or Hard difficulty by entering one or three doors. Naturally, the "Hard" door is the least simple to reach.
- In Pitfall 3D: Beyond the Jungle you navigate Harry through the menu selection. Heck, even the cheat-menu is playable.
- Time Traveler: If this is your first adventure, select "Learn"!
- Or, if you won't move him left to the above mentioned tutorial, Marshal will automatically enter the "Play" portal.
- The Time Warp of Dr. Brain had a Space Invaders clone for its main menu. Occasionally two different rocket ships would cross the top of the screen; shooting one got you the main game's high scores, while shooting the other got the game's credits.
First Person Shooter
- The first Quake is one of the earliest examples of using this trope, combined with Hub Level: first, you choose the difficulty level by entering one of the portals. After that, when you're inside the episode select part, it starts acting more like a Hub Level... Although it's the only part where you can access the secret Nightmare difficulty.
- With this game's multiplayer support, it can be taken to the next level by allowing you to play the Hub Level in deathmatch mode.
- Latest versions of Sauerbraten do throw you into the "multiplayer map by default", should only you run the executable, but the catch is this: press ESC to summon the options menu, and you not only may point the menu buttons with your crosshair... you may actually freely walk around them.
- Call of Duty: Black Ops - the main menu actually has the player strapped to a chair, with the options appearing on a TV nearby, though it acts more like a traditional menu once you select one of the options. You can also repeatedly hit a button to break out of the chair and explore the room you're in.
- Zig-Zagged in Hard Reset. The upgrade interface has you control the Player Character...while he uses a point-and-click menu. Your mouse cursor controls the cursor on his screen.
- Lady Bug had a playable high score name entry screen, where letters were entered by walking the insect over them.
- Psychonauts has this for the main menu, in the form of the brain with several doors.
- Super Mario Sunshine's file select screen has Mario on a 2-D plane, with the files selected by hitting blocks. Mario can use all his regular platforming moves to play around the blocks.
- McKids allows you to control the character on the main menu this way also.
- Spyro The Dragon 2 consists mainly of level selection hubs and has nothing to do with this trope. Nothing, except this curious example: in the home of the first world, Hunter may propose you to switch the camera from active to passive and vice versa.
- Likewise, Zoe will do the same in the first homeworld of the third game.
- Counts for just about everything (except the credits) in Concerned Joe from Armor Games, starting with the logos, going through the main menu, and finishing with ending. Considering there is No Fourth Wall either...
Real Time Strategy
- Earth 2140 uses fully panoramic menus, mission selection and briefing screens, all scrollable and clickable with the mouse. Emphasis on scrollable. Well, you know, scrolling the area and clicking on units is exactly what you do during the gameplay.
- The pause menu of Fable III is an extradimensional space (complete with butler). The player character moves around inside to manage inventory, check quests, and examine the map.
- Magi-Nation uses it. You can even reach the New Game+ option by a secret area that you need a later-game item to access.
- System Shock 2 has character creation/background chosen by several stages of walking into one of 3 exits. Complete with specific cutscenes.
Third Person Shooter
- The iPhone-based Portal clone Wormholes has this for a level select screen. You spawn in a room with doors along every wall, each of which lead to a different level. Open doors indicate levels you have unlocked, while closed doors block access to levels you haven't legitimately reached. A Bottomless Pit in the center leads to the first level.