One element that can be never missing from an interface that is addressed to a user is the cursor. This is because this item is the indicator responsible for showing the current position for user interaction on a computer monitor or other display device that will respond to an action from an input device. One of the oldest examples of cursor is the underscore at the end of the line in the Windows Command Prompt. Other examples are the pointer or mouse cursor in shaped like an arrow or a hand that echoes the movements of a pointing device, such as the mouse, touchpad or stylus pen.
With the aforementioned, video games can’t be an exception in the use of cursors in view of the player needs a graphic that echoes the movement of the joystick to be able to select objects, perform actions, etc. Due to the graphics of the time, the shape of the cursor in the early games was simple and the same for all types of screen, these being these the main menu, battles, shops, among others. With time and technological advances, the appearance of the cursor became more and more elaborate, in addition, as the mechanics of the games increased in complexity, the shape of the cursors within a single one diversified. Knowing this, its’ worth doing a little analysis of the evolution of cursors in video games. This post is here to do that, taking JRPGs due to this genre adopts this resource a lot. To do this, a journey will be made from the first JRPGs to those that appeared at the beginning of the 21st century. Then let’s begin!
At first, perhaps due to technological limitations or simply because it was not so important, in JRPGs the shape of the cursors was simple, most of the time being a solid white triangle. This always pointed to the right since in the games all the choices were presented in the form of a list. An example of the situation described above is the first JRPG “Dragon Warrior (JP1986 / NA1989)” or also known as “Dragon Quest”. The triangle appears at the moment to choose from a set of options when answering questions, in battle to select actions and objectives, or in the main and in the store to pick items. This resource was repeated until “Dragon Warrior VII (JP2000 / NA2001)” and in video games such as “The Magic of Scheherazade (JP1987 / NA1990)”, “Destiny of an Emperor (JP1989 / NA1990)”, “Ghost Lion (JP1989 / NA1992)” or “Earthbound (JP1994 / NA1995)”. “Bikkuriman World – Gekitou Sei Senshi (1990)” added an upward pointing triangle to target the sprite of enemies in battle. It’s good to emphasize that the latter was one of the first games to not only use the cursor within name lists, but also to point pictures.
There are some games that take this same triangle and draw only the outline like “Double Moon Dentetsu (1992)”, change the color for example to red like “Columbus: Ougon no Yoake (1992)”, or modify it a little to become an arrow like “Faxanu (JP1987 / NA1989)” or “Sansara Naga (1990)”.
A game that decided to also utilize a basic shape, but different from the triangle, was “Sweet Home (1989)”, where a white circle is the cursor.
A franchise that from its inception marked its characteristic cursor was “Final Fantasy”. If one observes this series of “Final Fantasy I” through XV (except FFX, FFX-2 and FFXI) the cursor shape that never missing is that of a hand wearing what appears to be a glove and with the index finger raised to point. In recent games of the series, the hand is not employed all the time, yet it does appear at some point.
Although “Final Fantasy” introduced it, there were other games that also used a hand-shaped cursor such as “Akuma Kun Makai no Wana (1990)”. “Chaos World (1991)” occupied it without the glove and with a different angle in order to show all the fingers.
A cursor that cannot be left out in this era of 8-bit games is the flask-shaped one that was only seen in “Zelda II: The Adventure of Link (JP1987/ NA1989)”.
The cursor is not only used to point to text or images, but to indicate waiting for the writing of letters as happens on the screen where the player names the characters. In most cases, this cursor is an underscore, also called an underline, low line or low dash that only varies in color from game and game.
Sometimes it’s possible to see this same line but in the middle instead of below as in the case of “E. V. O. The Search for Eden (JP1992/ NA1993)”. Other games prefer to place a line of a particular symbol that is replaced by the letter that is written. This symbol can be an asterisk (*) or a question mark (?). A more elaborate cursor for this screen is the rotating rhomboid applied in “SD Keiji: Blader (1991)”.
Finally, another cursor that was introduced in 1990 is one that is shaped by the corners of a square and that serves to surround the characters in “Bloody Warriors: Shango no Gyakushuu” or icons of items in “Crystalis”.
The 16-bit consoles brought with them the ability to make more detailed graphics and create new animation effects. All this was used for the design of cursors. In the first place, an effect that became very common was the blinking that was employed, for example, in “Final Fantasy IV (1991)” to indicate the focused character.
The text in the menu of “Romancing Saga 2 (1993)” or the background of some elements as in “The 7th Saga (1993)” used this effect as well.
As stated above, the 16-bit architecture allows more complex shapes and, as a proof, one can see the spearhead that works as cursor in the video game “Uncharted Waters (1991)”. In fact, “Live A Live (1994)”, a game that has seven scenarios and each one with a different protagonist, takes advantage of this new capacity of the consoles to create a distinctive cursor for each main character. For example, a leg of beef for the caveman, a gun for the cowboy, a sword for the knight, among others.
Continuing with the theme of complex cursors, a very curious one is that of the save screen of “Super Mario RPG: Legend of the Seven Starts (1996)” where it’s the protagonist himself, Mario, who is employed to select the slot where the game is going to be saved.
The launch of the so-called fifth-generation consoles invited video games to experiment with new cursor shapes and animations, since the level of detail they allowed was greater than that of their predecessors. With this in mind, the creators of “Lunar: The Silver Star (JP1992/ NA1993)” decided to design a cursor that consisted of a thick border of a gradient color that went from gold to white and which was constantly moving.
The moving gradient is seen in “Grandia (JP1997/ NA1999)” as well, however, in this case there is a fill over the focus element and the gradient goes from white to transparent.
In this generation, creating new effects and shapes was not the only thing that was done, but also improving those that existed in the days of 8-bits and 16-bits games. For example, the beveled rectangles perceived in some games like “Live A Live” look better detailed in games like “Suikoden II (JP1998/ NA1999)”.
An element that also underwent changes was the classic triangle that appeared a lot in the first games. This evolved into a prism thanks to the fact that 3D graphics were part of the characteristics that distinguished these new fifth-generation consoles. As the proof is “Final Fantasy VIII (1999)” that employed it on the battle screen to focus on the active character.
The 3D graphics were more noticeable in the TRPG such as “Tactics Ogre (1995)” or “Final Fantasy Tactics (JP1997/ NA1998)” that show the map in different angles, allowing to modify the cursor in the shape of the corners of a square used in TRPG in 2D. This is replaced by a 3D cursor above the focus element and the square on the floor where the element is located is also colored.
A custom that was gradually eliminated in games was to use the same cursor for all the screens. Although this change began in Super Nintendo with games like “Crystalis”, this diversification was more evident in the fifth-generation consoles. Examples of recent games that applied the mention before is “Tales of Berseria (JP2016/ NA2017)”. Its default cursor is a purple feather that is recursive to maintain consistency between interfaces, however, there are other cursor designs. In dialogs and lists, the focus option has a pink background with blurred edges, in the main menu the focused category icon is brighter, and in-focus character photo has an opaque white rectangle above it.
On the battle screen, the icon for the selected option is larger, glowing, and its background color changes.
Likewise, “Final Fantasy XV (2016)” has the classic hand cursor accompanied by a blue light line but, since the options in the main menu increase, there are more cursors. For example, on the “Ascension” screen there is a circular cursor. In addition, there are other types of menus with different design such as that of the restaurant, causing the cursor to change.
Finally, due to the emergence of other battle mechanics, a cursor that became popular in real-time combat is the arc of light to select an enemy and that is seen in “Ni no Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch (JP2011/ NA2013)”.
All the above allows to verify that the cursor is an important piece of video games. It’s also concluded that to design them it’s necessary to take into account the available resources, for instance the architecture (8-bits, 16-bits, etc.); the general design and story of the game to achieve a consistency between everything; and its function, for example a cursor to choose an option in a dialog presented in the form of a list doesn’t have the same objective as the one used to point a target in a real-time combat.
Well, the talk about cursors ends here for the moment. The idea is that in the future this blog will introduce more with regard to cursors, but within other genres of games in order to highlight other important features of this essential component of the graphical interface. I hope you liked this post and comment a bit about the cursors of the games you have played. Until then, see you in the next post!!
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- “Fifth generation of video game consoles,” Wikipedia. 20-Apr-2021 [Online]. Available: https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Fifth_generation_of_video_game_consoles&oldid=1018889807. [Accessed: 20-Apr-2021]
- “Underscore,” Wikipedia. 16-Mar-2021 [Online]. Available: https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Underscore&oldid=1012488955. [Accessed: 09-Apr-2021]