Unlike the previous two posts, this one won't focus on a concrete issue. Rather, it will be more about the how and why of UI design, at least in how I've thought about it.
So, the user interface - how the user interacts with the program. Who is the user? Well, us. For games, what is most important about the UI? Often, two ideas are put forward:
What are these?
How well the UI "sucks" the user into the gameworld, making him/her a part of it. Interfaces that accomplish this make the user forget they are there. Some designers have experimented with very minimal UIs in an attempt to achieve this effect. To be honest, these sorts of UIs are most appropriate to adventure and first-person genres for some reasons I think are obvious:
- First Person and Adventure games typically have the player controlling a single character at a time. The focus of the game has the same focus we normally have in real life (one-person or entity).
- These games have the player interact with the environment on a personal level, very similar to how we interact with the world in our day-to-day lives.
How would a designer make a strategy game more immersive then? Perhaps by creating a first-person frame for the player to interact through. However, I think this fundamentally changes the character of the game that is being played, and so won't really be considering it for Elemental.
Click economy refers to how many "mouse clicks" it takes to accomplish each task. The problem that I highlighted with the tech popup screen was fundamentally one of click economy. At its most extreme, a completely efficient click economy UI will only require one or two clicks to accomplish any task. Sometimes a need for click economy is the cause for removing or modifying a game feature. There is a such a sacrifice in EU3. In order to keep diplomacy on the "main window", the diplomatic complexity of the game was reduced. They sacrificed a depth of diplomatic options to simplify and streamline the diplomacy for a game with many actors. This focused the game on war, since that is what the main interface was best designed for.
For strategy games, click economy will mostly impact where information is stored and how it is displayed.
My goal for my own UI suggestions in Elemental is to focus on making the interface as streamlined as possible. Basically, identifying what information the player needs to make good decisions, and then making sure that that information is as few clicks away as possible.
At the same time, while we want the player to be as close to important information as possible, we don't want to strip out all the juicy flavor that Stardock is planning on infusing into the game. We want to cater to both kinds of players: those who are playing Elemental for the strategy and the struggle, and those who are exploring the world.
This means that UI, like most design nowadays, is going to be iterative. Some ideas will work immediately, others will need refining, that's the nature of the beast.
With all that in mind:
- What are people's thoughts on this design philosophy, is it appropriate for a game like Elemental?
- What screens are people spending most of their time on, what tasks are taking lots of clicks and being used all the time?
- What parts of the interface feel intuitive, what makes sense, what doesn't? Does this change when playing the game full-screen and windowed?
- What breaks the flow of the game, can it be smoothed out?
These are all questions I think we need to be asking ourselves as the beta continues, especially as features and game-mechanics are solidified.
TL:DR Summary: How to make less of the clicky and more of the playing?