[Suggestion][UI] Interface Philosophy & Solicitation for Ideas

By on March 1, 2010 8:29:25 PM from Elemental Forums Elemental Forums


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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:

  • Immersion
  • Click Economy

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:

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?

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GW Swicord
March 1, 2010 8:41:41 PM from Elemental Forums Elemental Forums

In terms of immersion for UI in strategy games, one thing that helps is considering period/setting of the game. Let's be honest here; strategy games tend to be significantly less immersing than other genres. If you can use the UI style to place the player at least in the right context, I think you've done your job. Empire: Total War had a parchment shifting noise associated with most button clicks which really put me in an older era. GC2 had a more futuristic looking interface which made the game feel futuristic. I'm sure there are lots of other examples. UI style is something that Civ IV kind of missed the mark on. They used that generic blue palette which really didn't set any tone. It worked alright, but not great. If elemental keeps it fantasy themed, I'll be satisfied.

As far as clickiness goes, there's always a trade off between the screen being too cluttered and having to access a bajillion different submenus to do something fairly basic. That's something that will just have to be adjusted as it becomes clear what functions need to be important.

Another question I would like to throw out is whether or not the game should prompt you to move every piece every turn. What are people's thoughts on this?

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March 1, 2010 10:49:39 PM from Elemental Forums Elemental Forums

I think CIV did well with the movement of pieces.  You cycled through each piece to move in turn, and skipped over pieces that were either busy (workers / multi-turn movement) or had been taken off the list of units (fortified).  This system does break down in the later stages of the game, when the player needs to juggle many units as they are built, but is handled well enough. With the stack movement functionality (Ctrl-click for all units of the same type in a stack, Shift-click to add a unit to the group, iirc there were also control groups, though I hardly ever used them.)

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March 2, 2010 12:25:18 AM from Elemental Forums Elemental Forums

I like screens. There I said it.

One of the things I liked most about MoM was the plethora of different information and option screens that were organised and designed in a very nice way. From flipping through your spell book, to having a tongue-wag with the fickle AI, or simply staring at yourself in the mirror, it really made you feel like you were handling the seperate aspects of running your empire, in a seperated way.

I have seen some games try to have many of their options available on the main game screen. For example, having a mouse-over pop-up menu on your city that lets you build a library or train a unit with a single click. Now this might be nifty and quick, but I think it takes away the feel of being an emperor, who does spend a lot of time looking at the map, but also consults his books and advisors, makes notes of things, and self-contemplates, among many other things.

I am glad you brought this up Sareln, as a good UI can go so far as to be a game in itself. Well, maybe I am exaggerating a little, but the game is not all about battle and war - that's what RTS is for. I think that TBS draws people who like to sit and contemplate, take their time and smell the fantasy roses.

So what I'm trying to say is - give us more screens!

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March 2, 2010 12:58:50 AM from Elemental Forums Elemental Forums

I feel where you're coming from Istari, but that's not something you want to run out of control. I'm okay with multiple screens, but not too many. I guess the whole thing just comes down to balance.

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March 2, 2010 4:17:38 AM from Elemental Forums Elemental Forums

I get the wanting to stop and smell the roses.  In my opinion, that's a good thing for reasons you gave: it gives the game depth, immersion and enhances the play experience -- sometimes.  If you've played the Tropico line of games, the almanac gave a similar experience.  Vast minutia was available in the almanac, but there were only a few pages that were actually critical to good play.

My impression then, is that we want to keep such things around, but we don't want to make them necessary. This lets multiple people play the game that they want to play, which is always good.  How would we apply these thoughts to an actual example?

Take the Kingdom Report Screen:

It has oodles of good information for empire management, but not all of that information is exactly critical for the turn-to-turn management of the empire.  However, when we try to display this screen as a shortcut on the main screen, we get this disaster:

Where we have hardly any good information at all.  I think then, that we could make alot of progress by displaying the most critical information (in this case probably #Settlements #Units, Net Income).  I think this is a good example of how we can make "good" interface changes that lets the game present relevant information to the player, while still retaining that feel of ruminating through the details and pondering... the stopping the smell the roses of empire-building as it were.

On base? Off base?

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March 2, 2010 8:23:04 AM from Elemental Forums Elemental Forums

See, that "Kingdom Report" looks more like some application's error log rather than an information summary.

Maybe it isn't the intended final form, but this just looks like you're examining statistics or a company's financial statements - in other words very boring. If I wanted something like that, I'd be playing the stock market.

It should be more along the lines of say, an image of your city with links to the treasury, the garrison, etc. Some things could be displayed in charts or graphs for comparison.

Besides that, the colours are all wrong. It sort of looks like they were going for "parchment" or "stone" but got lost somewhere in between. It isn't very inviting into the feel that the game is supposed to be projecting.

If they're using a cloth map to represent overland, why not continue in that vein and use a journal to represent information screens, a worktable of some sort (i.e. alchemist's or inventor's) to represent research, a spell book to represent the spell book, an actual tree for the dynasties, a hall room meeting table for foreign relations, a barracks for unit design, a smithy for crafting, a throne room for quests, etc.

I know they come from a software development background, but games don't have a strict rule of uniformity in screen asthetics.

Yes this is quite harsh criticism and I know it's only beta 1, but this is the first game in years that I've really taken a special interest in, and I want that immersion for myself and everyone else.

As for the clickiness, I think cut-throat optimizations should only be considered for those actions that are almost guaranteed to be performed on every single turn, whilst information, diplomacy, research screens and the like should focus on making you feel like a child in The Neverending Story.

Sorry for the jibberish rant, I've been up for around 36 hours and I don't sleep well under normal circumstances.

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March 6, 2010 5:45:51 AM from Elemental Forums Elemental Forums

See, that "Kingdom Report" looks more like some application's error log rather than an information summary.

Maybe it isn't the intended final form, but this just looks like you're examining statistics or a company's financial statements - in other words very boring. If I wanted something like that, I'd be playing the stock market.

I'm with you on this one, I really hope this is just a placeholder and will be changed in a future beta. It shows the information you need, but in such a way it break the immersion with the game.

A screen with some advisors that each have a part of this information, and give suggestions for improvements would make it more immersive I feel.


Edit. Aaaah spelling...

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March 12, 2010 6:18:30 PM from Elemental Forums Elemental Forums

I mentioned some "summary production" pages that I thought might provide useful information in a concise format in this post"


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