I recently downloaded a bunch of demos from the Playstation Store to check out some of the games I’ve missed. After playing through a bunch of them, I noticed that all of them included a loading screen that tells you what each of the buttons do, the “Button Layout” screen.

Here is an example of a button layout screen:

Of course the image isn’t an actual screen from a game, but to some people, it is probably just as intimidating.

What is so stupid about showing the button layout screen as a loading screen is that most demos actually has a tutorial that shows you how to play the game. The tutorial can be paced to progressively show you how to use all the buttons so it isn’t overwhelming, but a button layout screen is always intimidating.

A full button layout screen is of no use to the player before they start playing. If anything, it hurts the experience of the demo. If you are experienced gamer, you might try to absorb this information, but trying to remember what twelve different buttons do in 30 seconds isn’t exactly easy. If you are a casual gamer, you might just put down the controller right there and say “that game is too complicated” or “I don’t have time to learn all that.”

I was guilty of helping perpetuate this practice on BioShock. I remember adding a specific feature to the loading screen tips system so the tip text matches the button layout image. Even in the full game, one of the first tips you get in the loading screen is that button layout image. It is especially ironic for BioShock, since we spent a lot of time fine-tuning the first few levels so you got used to the controls slowly.

I am not against the button layout screen completely. There are two places where it can be helpful.

  • In a demo, placing it on the pause screen works well, since you have no control over where a new player start playing the game.
  • In the full game, placing a button layout screen in the in-game menu works OK because the player might need a refresher picking up the game again after a long break.

But the practice of using it as your initial loading screen must go.

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