The Epic Prologue
Some background: I first heard about Elemental some years ago, and, like many others, was extremely excited at the prospect of a Master of Magic successor. Age of Wonders is just about the only other title to attempt to claim that lofty throne, so the thought that Stardock might be attempting to recreate the magic was an appealing thought.
I pre-ordered Elemental, and participated lightly in the beta and on the forums, with growing concern as the release edged closer and the state of the beta did not seem to significantly improve, despite repeated claims that the external betas were simply systems tests, and the internal build was a much more polished game. Any time I hear the It's Just A Beta excuse, alarm bells start going off.
So, since launch last weekend, I've been playing the release version, and I've gone through the usual stages of gamer denial, from excitement to dismay, as it rapidly became clear that Elemental, the game I wanted to play, and Elemental, the game I was playing were not even close to the same thing - I've been playing games for too long not to be aware of the risk of overhyping anything, and my expectations were fairly low for the release version, but even those lowered goal posts were missed badly.
I've played numerous games, and stomped on the AI at every difficulty level, with a variety of settings, using more or less cheesy tactics or abuses. I've also run afoul of the awful, awful <10fps bug that is still unresolved, and I've run into bugs in pretty much every major area of the game - AI, UI, Diplomacy, Tactical Combat, Strategic Map, Graphical, Cities, Spells, etcetcetc.
But I figured I could at least turn some of that frustrated energy towards some constructive feedback. I've made several posts about various major issues over the last week, but I'm going to try to hit all the areas of the game in some detail. There are fundamental, bedrock level issues with some areas of the game, and there are smaller, but still important problems in other areas. If I didn't think these could be fixed, I wouldn't be wasting my time writing this.
This series will be, intentionally, a higher level look at most areas of the game, with specific nitpicks as they arise (some small issues bother me a lot more than others, and remember: the difference between a good game and a great one are the small issues). I'm starting with the UI, as it is the fundamental way that you 'play' the game, and Elemental's UI has a bunch of stuff that drives me bonkers, plus some bugs that make dealing with armies, stacks, movement, and cities very irritating.
Since I'm going over the UI first, most of these first issues may seem 'small', but because they are UI issues, there's no such thing You use the UI hundreds and thousands of times over the course of a single play session. Any time something isn't quite right, it's irritating to deal with each and every time.
I will not be touching on the AI. The basic gameplay systems and a variety of bugs need to be cleaned up fully before the AI can be noticably improved. I'll only say in passing that the current AI, even on the highest difficulty levels, simply cannot play the game well - but this is both obvious, well known, and well documented, so I won't harp on it.
So, rather than spending my evening playing Elemental as I'd like to be doing, I'll spend it writing up a gigantic tldr. Sit back and enjoy!
The Exciting Story
Chapter 1: User Interface
The UI is the first area that new players encounter. It touches across all areas of the game. It is one of the most important, least cared about areas of any game, especially any game where it serves as your interaction with the game. When the UI is bad, even players who can't articulate fully why they aren't happy with it will express irritation or frustration with the feel of the game.
Elemental's UI is passable. It largely gets the job done. But it has some really seriously irritating issues.
- BUG/ISSUE: The ESC key should always, always, always consistently close windows/deselect cities/units. It does not do so currently. In some places it closes windows, in others, it opens the main menu. Very, very irritating.
- BUG: Hitting ESC to cancel a menu and then having it open the main menu will 'break' the cloth map occasionally, resulting in a weird view that is neither cloth map, nor fully rendered 3d world - it has the 3d terrain, but with no models/water/fow visible. I don't have a screenshot of this handy, but it is reproducable.
- BUG/ISSUE: Highlight states for clickable items throughout the UI are not consistent. eg, with a city selected, you can click on a resource in the city panel to bring up a detailed (and useful!) breakdown of that resource. I had no idea you could do this for quite some time, as the resources do not 'look' like buttons, nor do they highlight if you mouse over them. Some buttons do have highlight states, many do not. I'd strongly recommend a UI pass to clean this up and add highlight/sfx/visual consistency.
- BUG/ISSUE: Most Homomnomnom entries can be left clicked out of, by left clicking anywhere outside the book. The kingdom overview menus CANNOT be exited in this manner - inconsistent and annoying.
1A) The Options Menu has no tooltips
I probably don't need to point out why this is bad. See threads like this http://forums.stardock.com/393639 as an example of how that can negatively affect the user. There are plenty of others like it.
These are (mostly?) listed in the manual, but I'm baffled they aren't tooltipped in game.
- BUG? - The Show City Level-Up Message option doesn't seem to affect anything for me. The message always pops up.
- BUG - City Level Up messages block the screen completely, cannot be moved, and do not allow you to scroll the map. When you have a large empire and a levelup message pops up with two, three, or more cities under it, it is very difficult to figure out WHAT city has levelled, unless you have a knack for remembering whether Rrejffeffwen or Jfeffheffer that you took from the AI is the city with a Gold Mine under construction. The current resource output for the city displaying is good, but this screen should be optional, allowing you to minimize/ignore it and look around to decide what you want to choose first, based on not just the cities current resources, but also its position/development/etc.
- BUG - In a few cases, I've had the city level up message appear, but the city NOT get selected due to me clicking as the popup appeared - this meant I was picking an upgrade completely blind, as I could not see the city, move the screen, or see the resources.
- BUG - Auto Select Next Unit does not appear to consistently work for me. Occasionally I will have idle units around the map, not on Guard/Fortify and they will NOT automatically come up each turn unless I select them manually. This is a very annoying bug, as it guarantees a lot of mandatory micromanagement once I have many units on the field if I want to make sure they're all moving.
- BUG: On ALL slider windows EVERYWHERE in Elemental if you begin dragging a bumper/bar/slider and your mouse moves outside the 'track' of the slider, the slider stops moving. This is counter to basic windows behavior, and really, really annoying on some smaller slider bars/windows. To see what I'm talking about, try dragging the Tact-Battle Threshold diamonds and letting your mouse fall out of the slider, or try dragging the Load Game slider, same deal. Now try it in your web browser slider. See the difference?
- BUG: Cloth Map Color Intensity does not seem to work, at all. This kind of sucks, as I've been forced to use cloth map mode for 95% of my play this week due to the fps bug. Two screenshots with it at 0 and 100 show no difference visually.
Tact-Battle threshold is a big one that has tripped up multiple people. Auto-Move Camera in Tactical? No idea.
Some I know from past experience, but not everyone is going to - Zoom to Cursor? Sure, obvious if you're used to strategic map zoom, not so much otherwise.
This is most important in the 'Gameplay' options area, but even under the Video settings you have stuff that I have no idea what it is for: Max Texture Atlas Size? And while I've been playing PC games forever, not everyone knows what Depth of Field, Mipmapping, or Antialiasing are. Again, some (though not all) of these are mentioned in the manual, but there's no reason not to have them tooltipped.
Add tooltips to all Options in plain english that explain what they do. It doesn't take long to add, and it goes a mile for making the game more friendly to configure.
1B) Load Game does not show game details
I remember this being an irritation in GalCiv2 also - basically, the load game screen should show the game settings: Version Number, your Civilization, Map Size, Number of AI, what Civs the AI are playing, Difficulty Settings, Current Turn #, etc, rather than simply the name of the save file and a date.
If you've ever tried to play multiple games, or resume a game after being away for a few days or weeks, you know exactly why not having this information is irritating.
One of these save games is a Ridiculous game with 9 AI. One is an experimental 6 AI Challenging game. One is the last save in a blitzed AI execution test. Half of those are outdated versions and I cannot load them. Which is which? Obviously, I can use more informational saved game names instead of 'zzzz' But do I really need to write 9/Med/Chal/Ridic/Tarth/1.05a on every one of my saves when the game could simply display that information automatically? Particularly relevant for Auto/Quicksaves, where you can't customize the name.
1C) Create World has no tooltips
The first screen you see when you start a New Game, there's no tooltips to explain what the Victory Conditions entail, what the World Options adjust, and more annoyingly, what the Difficulty setting does.
Intuitively, you would think this is the game difficulty - you would be wrong. This apparently sets 'world' difficulty. What does that do? Got me. Probably more/tougher monster spawns. Maybe resources. Maybe quest locations. Maybe hero appearances. Maybe global modifiers to income or research. I have no idea!
For World Options, Notable Locations, Quests, and Pacing, I have no idea exactly what Pacing effects. Speed up or slow down research, income, or unit creation? A short tooltip would clarify that. 'Notable Locations' are goody huts (mentioned in the manual I believe, why not a one line tooltip?)
Additionally, that Load button in the top right - that's to load a custom map apparently. I had no idea what it did until I clicked it and randomly wound up loading the campaign map. The manual mentioned something about custom landmasses, but that apparently also includes 'scenario' maps, and I'm still not clear if that's supposed to be choosing a random map seed style (ala civ4 continents/fractal/islands/etc), or explicitly picking a custom map.
World Size could also use a text box that recommends the number of AI that would make for a sparse, common, or crowded game. Without any guidance, you can easily make a game that either puts you tooth and nail against the AI immediately, or a long boring monster bashing session with no AI in sight for dozens of turns.
1D) Create Sovereign
No statistics have detailed tooltips! On the 'Select' Sov screen, the tooltip for Strength reads 'Strength'. On the 'Create' screen, you get more detail (Increases Attack), but no mechanical information (increases Attack by 10% per point above 10, -10% per point under 10.
Wisdom is confusing, as it isn't available for selection in-game as a levelup choice, and yet it is an important caster stat.
Spellbook - It would be nice if you could click on a spellbook and get a Homnomomnom entry popup that listed all the spells of that school, so that you could make an informed decision.
Professions seem pretty well balanced, or at least not horribly broken, though Royalty stands out as a very powerful growth trait, and the tooltip for Assassin is confusing - does it double the first hit from your Sovereign, or from all Champions? Does it affect spells or physical attacks only?
Talents: Natural Leader, Intimidating, Cowardly, and Cruel tooltips tell me nothing about their specific Morale effects (or even what Morale does).
Hardy doesn't tell what the bonus HP is.
Naturalist doesn't tell you what type of mine it provides.
Daring seems exceedingly weak, and it is also unclear if it affects spells, or physical/ranged attacks only.
Organized is flat out broken. This talent needs to be reworked or removed.
Insane and Inefficient hardly seem like penalties, as you can simply keep your Sov out of your cities, and only duck them inside if you need to hide from an enemy. Should probably be reworked.
Equipment needs to be reworked. Spending precious permanent character points on temporary, cheap, and outdated equipment is a very bad investment.
If you provide unique/rare/powerful items, you run the risk of strengthening early blitz strategies even farther (something they really do not need).
One option that I saw someone recommend would be giving everyone a pool of gold and allowing them to buy some gear. This would at least let you kit out your Sov as a caster/melee, or maybe even add some items that provided more economic/empire bonuses, so all types of Sov leaders could pick a kit. Any gold not spent could be saved and then used in-game to purchase champions/jumpstart city production.
Backstory - hah, bet you didn't think I'd hit this one! I bring it up because it touches on another issue - the text input/parser in Elemental sucks. I'm not 100% sure, but I think it may be using the same one that GC2 did, because I remember it driving me crazy there too. In short - you create a new city, it pops up the name with the cursor input at the beginning of the line. You have to hold delete to delete the name, then type a new name. Why isn't the name highlighted already so I can simply type a new name? Why can't I use Shift-End or Shift-Home to select the line? Why can't I drag select the name? Why can't I click or double click the name? This cursor-at-start-of line behavior and the inability to use standard windows text controls is aggravating.
- BUG: Double click on an input field is bugged and often results in this cuteness. Occurs for new settlements or renaming existing settlements
- ISSUE: Create Custom Sovereign will NOT prompt/warn you if you proceed with unspent points
1E) Faction Selection and Choose Opponents
The faction selection screen is straightforward. The Choose Opponents one is not.
Altar's 'bonus' seems pretty awful in comparison to just about anyone elses.
Resoln's Death Worship ability seems excessively powerful.
I have no idea what the tooltip/bonus for the Siege Master ability is supposed to do or be telling me.
The Choose Opponents screen needs to be MUCH more clear about several points
- I've seen several people tripped up by this screen - it needs to be very clear that the 'outer ring' AIs are NOT in the game and the 'inner ring' ARE. Seems obvious, but I know I was befuddled for a moment when I saw it, and I've seen a few posts on the forums about it as well.
- You MUST notify the player here that THIS is where you set AI difficulty, NOT on the Create World screen, and that each AI can have a DIFFERENT AI difficulty set. This is not obvious or intuitive.
- This screen should also warn the player about the diplomatic effects of having Empire/Kingdom players in the game (the diplo hit for meeting another faction). For peace lovers, having all one 'side' will make the early game diplomacy a little easier. For players who want a slightly harder start, picking all opposite factions would have that effect, and for players who want a mix of both, having a mix of kingdom/empire players is important to generate more inter-AI/player relationships.
1F) In-game UI and HUD
Woo, we made it ingame.
- Suggestion: F1 should bring up the in-game Homomnomnom.
- Suggestion: Add the keyboard shortcut keys as the default right page on the Homomnomnom, with the Table of Contents on the left
- Suggestion: Add said keyboard shortcuts to the Homomnomnom.
Let's go over some issues. The basic in-game hud is pretty solid really, though there are a lot of quirks once you get into unit/stack/city behavior. But first, the basic hud.
1) Tiny Buttons. These suck. These suck a lot.
These tiny little arrow buttons are used in several places in the game, and they're annoying and irritating in every one of them. Please double, triple, or quadruple these in size.
This also goes for the tiny X's in the corners of the various windows.
There's another issue here specifically - this particular tiny arrow is used for one purpose: To let you access the Dynasty screen, which essentially 'hides' it from the player, until they fully explore the HUD.
Because 4) already takes you to the Kingdom Overview screen (the fifth button here), why not remove the Kingdom Overview button and place the Dynasties button there, removing the need for scrolling (and hiding information from the player).
One other point, it seems like if this empire 'ribbon' is staying, it would make good sense for the mousewheel to scroll left/right on it.
2) Resources. Mostly straightforward, but a few issues.
First, mouseover tooltips: Mousing over these gives you your income per turn, which is cool, but you can't click on them - it'd be very nice to be able to click on these and get an empire wide breakdown of your income per city, so you can quickly identify and remedy problem areas.
Second, Food and Elementium do not behave the same as other resources. Food in particular has confused several players. I'd recommend moving the Food off to the side, and having a special tooltip for it that explains how Food works in the game (see point 6) for more on this).
Elementium is similar, though less critical. As far as I know, Elementium is only acquired from high level goody huts (making it impossible to acquire if you have disabled), and it is only used for creating troops with certain magical gear. More relevant to this issue is that, like Food, it does not have a per-turn income.
I'd recommend bundling Food and Elementium off together in a special section, again, with a special tooltip that tells the player what Elementium is/does.
One potential issue here - if clicking on any other resource took you to an Empire summary screen, clicking on Elementium could perhaps take you to its Homomnom entry, since you don't *have* an Empire wide source of it.
- BUG? Elementium does not seem to be required to purchase the Hero Legendary Equipment, even though that unlocks equipment for your troops that DOES require Elementium.
- Major Suggestion: Add an empire wide city summary screen. Just about every big TBS I can think of has one. I realize you tried to use the Sins style 'ribbon' for this sort of management, but that simply doesn't work to quickly identify per-town level resource in/outflows, in addition to the ability to sort such a list, so you can quickly pick out your most important gold/metal/research/whatever cities when controlling a sprawling empire.
- Suggestion: Receiving 0.3 Horses/Wargs per turn is uh, a bit odd. Perhaps change that to display 1 Warg/3 turns instead?
- Suggestion: Clicking on Elementium or Elemental Shards takes you to the Homomnomnom entries for them. Clicking on any per/turn resource takes you to the Kingdom Report screen (now) and hopefully a full Empire Summary screen (later if it gets added )
3) Empire Ribbon
I see the 'what do those red/blue dots' mean question regularly, and I'm also not sure if people know they can click on the + on a city or unit stack to expand it. I also didn't catch on to what the yellow/red bars meant for cities for some time.
There's also no consistency between the yellow/red structure bars on the Empire Ribbon and the Empire colored bars if you actually select a city. These should match up, to provide a visual cue to the player.
The icons for 'city size' are totally unclear. These need to be changed to provide a clear visual indicator of the City level.
I personally find the Empire Ribbon to be a mediocre, half finished concept, just as I did in Sins. It has some utility, but I find it mostly grows to unusuable size quickly, and does a poor job of presenting useful information.
- Suggestion: Swap the blue/red 'dots' on the ribbon, and consider removing the blue dots. It's generally much more important to know which city is undergarrisoned or has a large army waiting than it is to know that a level 4 city has lots of buildings. What useful information do the blue dots impart to the player?
- Suggestion: Cities and units on the Empire Ribbon could impart much more useful information. Add visual cues (flashing, pulsing icons, auras, overlays, etc) to indicate various states: Population capped due to lack of housing. Unbuilt resource in Influence area. Not building structures/not training troops. No Garrison. Hostile AI in Influence area. Hostile monster in Influence area. Food deficit. No Caravan route. Caravan routes available. There's a lot of potential to convey more useful information than 'a bunch of dots' and a muddy icon.
- Suggestion: For units, you could display a different set of states: Enemy AI in line of sight. Dangerous hostile monster in sight (ie, CR >= to stack CR, but no warning of a 4 CR wolf). Stack at 75%/50%/25% health.
- Suggestion: When you 'expand' a unit or city, you can click on an individual unit to select it, but you CANNOT shift/ctrl click to select multiples. It would be very helpful for stack management if this worked here as well as in the main UI panel, as it would provide an alternate means of splitting/joining stacks, and routing individuals or groups of units to different areas of your empire.
- Suggestion: While mousing over the Empire Ribbon, scrolling the mousewheel cycles through cities/units.
- Possible Suggestion: Split the Empire Ribbon into a City Ribbon and a Unit Ribbon. Clearing the 'blue structure' dots might provide room for this.
4) Kingdom Report button
This button renders the Kingdom Report button in the main UI strip redundant. Remove the one in the main UI strip because this one exists.
- BUG: Pressing ESC on any Kingdom Report/research/dynasty/diplo/etc menu brings up the main menu instead of closing the window.
5) Tech and Arcane Research Buttons
See incredibly annoying tiny buttons above. You can click the tiny buttons here, but you can't click the giant bars?
- Suggestion: Allow clicking the bars to open the respective research windows.
6) Population Display
What is this for? Knowing your current total empire's Population serves no useful purpose as far as I can tell. You can compare your population to others on the population graph display at the bottom of the UI already. Otherwise, you only care about population on a per city basis.
- Suggestion: Remove Population display, move Food/Elementium over near to (but not attached to) the Turn display, to indicate their unique status, distinct from the other per turn Resources.
7) Goodie Glows
I know they change color at the higher tiers, but maybe change the base level 0 color to be something more distinct? The early white/light glow can blend into some of the lighter background areas.
Not shown in the screen, but the upper right is the terrain tooltip, the bottom right is terrain object tooltip.
These are actually quite good! Hooray tooltip person! One minor suggestion would be to add the *movement cost* to the terrain tooltip, as it is not at all clear how much harsh terrain is costing me to move through.
There is one unfortunate problem with these tooltips - the position of the bottom right 'mouseover' tooltip is very awkward when you are trying to mouse over cities in the Empire Ribbon. The ribbon is top left, the tooltip is bottom right.
- Suggestion: Have an option for the 'mouseover' tooltip to follow the mouse when mousing over Empire Ribbon items - this would greatly improve readability when examining your cities at a glance (presumably what the Empire Ribbon is intended to do, in the absence of a true City Summary screen.
1G) Unit Controls, Stacks, and Unit/City UI
Lots of bugginess and general irritation here, and that's a bad bad thing, because this is where most of the turn by turn 'play' and busywork comes from. I really think this is an area that you should focus some effort on improving substantially.
There are so many small issues and annoyances this will be a bit scattershot. Apologies, but there's a lot of problems here that need to be resolved.
1) Unit Movement
A lot of problems here, some of it very basic TBS stuff. The UI gives _extremely_ poor feedback on unit movement. This area needs a good solid overhaul, and doing so would greatly improve the intangible 'feel' of the game, as you are constantly moving units.
- Selected units do not show any sort of 'path' indicator to their destination. They also do not show # of turns to arrival. This is a big one. It makes selecting a unit to figure out where it is going and how long it will take to get there and what route it will take impossible to figure out. This makes unit movement feel very sloppy, for lack of a better word.
- With a unit selected, moving the cursor should be creating said visual path/trail to let you know how that unit will try to move if you execute a given movement order. Alternately, this could be done as a two step process to keep visual clutter down - right click once to show movement trail, again to execute order.
- Destination markers should flare/pulse/animate/ping when a unit is selected, to give you a quick visual cue of their destination.
- Destination markers in hostile territory, or targeting a hostile unit should be marked/colored differently.
- Enemy destination markers should be highlighted in the same manner when a hostile/npc unit is selected.
- Enemy destination markers to YOUR cities/units should be shown. This information is already exposed in the UI, but in a very useless manner - mousing over an NPC/AI unit will tell you 'Travelling to X, Y' coord. This is not useful feedback - a visual destination marker would be useful feedback!
- The 'Moves' UI element is far, far too small. When a unit is selected, this should be clearly displayed. Possibly as a movement bar above the unit in the 3d/cloth map view? Any number of methods would be preferable to the current display.
- W hen m ou sing o ver any terrain/destination with a unit a floating tooltip or ui element SOMEWHERE needs to be telling me the movement point cost of the targeted terrain (if adjacent) or the total number of turns to travel (if more than one tile away)
- When hovering over a hostile unit or city, the cursor/tooltip should be showing me the CR of the targeted hostile. You could even provide a 'Easy fight/Suicidal Fight' type prompt, possibly with a colorized mouse cursor to provide double feedback to the player of the danger of a given stack/unit/city.
- There needs to be a clear visual indicator of when a unit has moved/is exhausted. Otherwise, though you can hit Tab to cycle through units, there is no quick way to glance at a screen of units and see 'Oh, I need to move these two, that one has some movement left, and that one has no movement left'. Plenty of visual cues that could be used to indicate this, from floating icons overhead, to glows, pulses, particles, etc.
- Mousing over a non-allied/NAPed city or influence area should be giving you the Attack icon to indicate that moving into the area/city would be a hostile action.
- Trying to move on to impassible terrain should give a 'no movement' possible UI icon, a small audio beep, and maybe a visual pulse/X if you try to right click on it. This is most noticable when you're trying to move over 'cliffs', which is the terrain on the 'edge' of a water source, but it is also a problem near some mountains. I know I've seen a few posts about confusion over moving across 'Raise Land', and I've certainly run into the 'cliff' movement when near water, very annoying.
- Suggestion: With the Quick Move option enabled, units do not make movement sounds. I'd recommend making the movement sound once per 'move' right click, as though you were moving the unit a single step, simply for feedback reasons.
- Major? Suggestion: A movement speed slider would be very, very nice. I primarily use Quick Move because the default speed is just too slow once your empire gets larger. This also applies to movement/animation speed in Tactical Combat.
- BUG: Moving stacks of units into a city seems to cause horrendous slowdown. Moving a very large stack into a city has actually frozen my PC and locked the Elemental process while it chugged through the integration of the stack. This seems to also happen to a lesser extent when merging stacks in the field, but it is most noticable when moving units into a city. You can actually hear the quick shuffling sounds of each individual unit 'moving', so it almost seems as though there's some sort of per-unit processing going on that's causing the slowdown.
2) Unit Ejection
There's a major problem with stacks and units in cities right now - if you eject units from a city, you have NO CONTROL over where those units eject to. This is a serious problem when dealing with any city above size 1, as your unit could eject anywhere around the city. That's a very bad thing if you're trying to stop a hostile AI army or monster.
To be clear, if you select a specific individual unit and move it, you can control it, or if you multi-select units, but given the current selection behavior (no means of quickly shift clicking multiple units, ctrl/shift causing mouse lag), this is pretty annoying.
However, if you eject a unit either by pressing 'V' to eject all units, I have no idea how it determines where the units go. Similarly, if you use the eject button, again, I have no idea how the exit location is determined.
- Suggestion: Ejecting a unit, or units from a city gives a location prompt, and allows you to choose a tile to eject the units onto. This location prompt pops up any time you use V or press the eject UI button.
- Major Suggestion: Cities need rally points. I would like to be able to set the rally point for created units for any city anywhere in my empire.
- Suggestion: V autoejection does not auto-eject Pioneers/Caravans on first push. First it ejects military units, a second press ejects Pioneers, a third Caravans.
3) Stack Behavior
Moving on with unit stack behavior, for units on the field, and units in cities.
- BUG: Holding Shift or Control allows you to select multiple units in a city. Holding Shift or Control also causes a weird issue where the mouse cursor 'hitches' and 'drags' across the screen, making multi selection really irritating.
- Suggestion: Let Control select multiple units. Let Shift select a 'range' of units in a stack, as with default windows selection behavior. This would be really helpful for quickly splitting a stack, without having to ctrl or shift click 4/8 units, then 'eject' or move them.
- Suggestion/Issue: TINY EJECT BUTTONS BAD, RAWRRRR. Increase the size of the buttons
- Suggestion: Allow double clicking on a unit to eject it. This should bring up the 'eject position' prompt, suggested above.
- BUG/Issue: Mousewheel scrolling does not work on that stack, it would be nice if you could scroll the stack to the right by mousewheel scrolling, instead of clicking on tiny annoying button.
- Stopgap Suggestion: I have no idea what sorting method is being used on the 'stack ribbons' right now, I can't find any rhyme or reason to it. As a suggestion in lieu of some options to control this, have it filter Heroes first, followed by units in High to Low attack power, with Pioneers/Caravans at the end of the stack ribbon. This would ease stack management pains slightly until a better interface is put in for it.
- Really annoying BUG: New units created in a city do NOT show up on the stack ribbon until you de- and re-select the city. I think this applies to new units summoned into stacks as well, and a few other instances - basically, some areas of the UI are NOT refreshing instantly as they should.
Did you know you could click on that shield with a city selected to bring up a stack eject window? I didn't for several days! Note that it does NOT work if you click it on a stack of units in the open, only on a city. It's also kind of clunky. It'd be nice if the window extended more vertically and horizontally, or even popped up as a separate window entirely, rather than being constrained and tied to the bottom of the UI.
- Major Suggestion: Change this 'stack window' to become a more list style view that has unit filters. Being able to sort by HP/Def/Atk/Combat Rating/Cost/etc would be fantastic, and would greatly help with organizing new armies from disparate mixes of units (especially when noncombatants such as Pioneers/Caravans are mixed in).
- Stopgap Suggestion: Make Pioneer/Caravan units always filter to the front or the back of stacks, in both the stack view (above) and the stack window (below).
- Suggestion: Extend that eject 'window' behavior to unit stacks, instead of only cities, to allow for another means of splitting stacks.
- Suggestion: Allow shift selection to select a 'group' of units in this window, mirroring standard shift selection in windows.
- BUG: If the 'Eject window' is large enough to contain a scrollbar, scrolling will deselect any selected units 'above' or 'below' the scroll. Very annoying.
- BUG: Dragging the scroll bar does not seem to work at all, only using the mousewheel.
- Issue: More tiny arrow buttons RAWRRRR.
There are also some really, really freaking annoying bugs/issues with stacks and movement.
- BUG: Several times, I have moved to attack a hostile unit and wound up standing on the same stack as them! I can't quite figure out how to repro this, it seems to happen most often when adjacent to a friendly city. I'll move to attack a hostile unit and end up standing on top of them, forcing me to move off and back on. This could result in the loss of a city if this ends your turn and you just ejected your defense force. Purely supposition, but I think part of what might be causing this is the city 'eject' onto enemy 'stack' behavior - ie, you right click to move onto an enemy unit near a city, the movement algorithm moves you into and out of the city, 'ejecting' you onto the enemy stack, but not engaging it. Once on top of the stack, you have to move off/on of the enemy unit while adjacent to it to attack, because you can't attack a unit ON your tile/stack (see 4) below for more on this issue. Fixing the stack eject behavior to have a targeting cursor would also help to resolve this.
4) The Stack Tab
The 'stack' Tab that occasionally appears at the bottom of the ui when dealing with multiple stacks on a single tile is really unfriendly. I couldn't find any way to a) Attack a hostile unit on the same tile as me, or merge a friendly unit into another stack on the same tile (this seemed to happen a few times with Caravans with 'guards', and another stack in the same tile).
- Suggestion: When multiple stacks/units are standing on a single tile, there needs to be a clear visual indication that this has occured, whether the units are friendly caravans or hostile units that you somehow wound up standing on top of.
Frankly I have no idea what the intended behavior is supposed to be here. I tried pushing 'A' and right clicking on a hostile unit to attack it - that didn't work. Tried right clicking on it in the Stack Tab, that didn't work.
Same story for friendly units - as in this picture here, say I want those troops to 'guard' the Caravan. How do I do that? Right clicking on the Caravan does nothing.
I can't tell if this a bug or a really poorly implemented feature, but it is really annoying. There needs to be some way to attack a hostile unit, guard a friendly one, or merge units/stacks in the same tile.
As far as I can tell, the Stack tab serves solely to let you cycle between stacks/units in a given tile, whether friendly or enemy, but there appears to be no way to actually make those units interact. I know you can click on the icons in the stack tab, or click on the tile itself to cycle through the 3d visibility of the unit in the stack, but that's about the extent of what I could figure out to do with it.
5) The Vitals Tab
Generally pretty clean, I think this one was done well.
A few points: As mentioned before, I think Moves needs to be displayed much more prominently.
Basic stats (Att/Def/Combat Speed) need more detailed tooltips and to be clickable to bring up the Homnomnomomnom entries, with full mechanical information on those pages.
Items like these Midnight/Destiny's Sliver probably shouldn't even be showing up - you can't click on them, so why are they showing up?
I'm also not sure if the icons for Champion/Hero abilities should be showing up here. Clicking on the Channeler 'ability' brings up the spellbook, but clicking on a Hero 'ability' brings up the Hero stat page. Neither of these things are items.
- Suggestion: Breakin g that rule immediately, it would be very nice if NPC and AI Champions had their 'Hire' or 'Talk' buttons on the Vitals page! Saves clicking over to the Action Tab. I know you can right click on them to speak with them, but this only works if you have a friendly unit selected, and in the case of hireable NPCs, if you don't have enough cash, you can't check their price without visiting the Action tab.
- Suggestion: Show the gold cost of an NPC hero when you mouse over it on the cursor. Currently you have to have the NPC in your influence or be adjacent to it to check the price, and if you don't have enough, you have to click to actions, then mouseover the negotiate button to find out how short you are.
- BUG: I saw a weird case where I had a stat book of some sort on a hero, and when I entered Tactical Combat with that stack, every unit in the army had an 'Ability' of 'stat book'! It didn't do anything, but strange bug nonetheless.
6) The Actions Tab
No major gripes here, other than the usual tiny button one.
The tooltips could be improved however - I'm not clear on the distinction between Guard and Fortify, other than knowing that Fortify is unlocked, and hence probably some sort of useful defensive bonus. Maybe. Or something.
- Suggestion: Increase size of tiny annoying arrow.
- Suggestion: Allow mousewheel to scroll ribbon when tiny annoying arrow exists.
7) The Trade, Shop, and Equipment Windows
That about sums up my opinion of this and the buy/sell interface.
- Major major suggestion: Fully revamp the Trade/Sell/Buy interface into one unified whole. All buying, selling, and trading can and should be handled from a single UI window, rather than two buttons, four windows, and a whole hell of a lot of clicking.
8) The Spellbook
Unfortunately, much like the inventory windows, my feedback can be summed up with: Bleh.
I'm not a fan of the Spellbook. It kind of gets the job done. Sort of.
I hate the aesthetic, the lack of exaggerated old tome paper flipping sounds (it has them, quietly). I seriously prefer the Master of Magic spellbook to this one, and that was a pretty bad UI feature, but it had flavor. This one is bland and somewhat boring. It should be _awesome_ looking, sounding, and feeling to play with, Magic is a huge part of the game, and this is one area where pointless production matters. This shouldn't be just a menu, it should be your spellbook!
- Suggestion: Your 'Spellbook' and your 'Research Book' should NOT look the same, nor share the exact same UI. Visually/aurally distinguish these.
- Suggestion: Display # of turns to research on all spells in the Research Book.
- Suggestion: Add tabs to select Strategic/Tactical spells, and to sort spells by Spellbook (Fire/Earth/Summoning/etc)
- Suggestion: Move the tiny annoying close window X and add larger 'dogears' to flip the pages.
- Suggestion: Provide sorting tools to sort spells by type - damaging, summoning, element, cost, etcetc
- Suggestion: Add some visual and aural flare to the spellbook. Particle/glowing/moving/audio effects when you click on/learn a spell, whatever. Let one of your artists have a week to go hogwild and come up with something fun.
- Bug/Issue/Annoyance: There seems to be no way to move spells around in the research portion of the book. You can cancel or queue, that's about it. Add a means of organizing and adjusting your Research queue.
- Bug/Issue?: I'm not sure if there's currently any research 'spillover'. That is, if you research an expensive spell, switch to a cheap spell, then move on to an expensive spell again, did you just lose all that excess research?
1H) City UI
1) The City Resources Tab
No gripes here! This is a very useful panel of information, made even more useful by the fact that you can click on any resource and get a detailed breakdown. I had no idea you could do this - I'd strongly recommend emphasizing this in the UI.
My only wish is for an empire wide city level screen that has the same type of breakdown that is done here, but in a useful UI window that lets me see and sort all the cities in my empire by resource type output or building/unit production, and to change/add to those building/unit queues from one screen. Such a feature would be a major add, but would also greatly help with managing a large empire, and getting a feel for your empire at a glance, something the Empire Ribbon fails miserably at.
- Suggestion: Visually emphasize clickability of Resource elements.
- Suggestion: Display turns to level up city on the level/pop bar or alternately
- Suggestion: Display turns to population cap on the level/pop bar. This would help with planning your building queue.
- Suggestion: Provide some visual distinction to the font style/colors used to emphasize when a city has high/abnormal resource production. This would help you spot at a glance if you have a research/gildar/metal/food producing city selected. Eg, they could start as black at +1 Gildar, but when you have a city cranking out 45 Gildar a turn, it could be a pulsing/glowing white/orange/blue/chartreuse +45 instead.
- Suggestion: Add growth per turn to the population bar mouseover tooltip (I realize that's what prestige is, but more details of X pop growth per turn + # of turns to grow would be good)
2) The Building Menu
No real problems here, does a good job of showing what it needs to. My only request here would be some means of sorting the improvements. Buttons along the top that let me pick the Resource type would be fantastic, since 9/10 buildings fall into the 'Enhance Resource X by Y%' template, or 'Generate Resource X', with only a very few outliers (that could probably fall under a Military button).
It does have one major issue though - the building menu itself is fine, but when you open it, it closes the Resources pane on the main UI and opens the building queue. This _sucks_. Please make it keep the Resources pane up.
- Suggestion: Add sorting buttons.
- Suggestion: A really cool/fast way to visually 'sort' the building list would be to colorize each building. Yellow/Gold improves Gildar, Green improves Tech, Blue improves Arcane research, Silver improves Prestige, Brown improves food, Red improves military, and so on. With different 'magnitudes' of color or visual effect, you could make picking out appropriate buildings from this list a snap.
- BUG: If you select a building then either zoom out to cloth map, or in FROM cloth map, the 'building area outline' vanishes.
- Major Issue/Serious Annoyance: Selecting a building REMOVES the Resource display and shows the building Queue. I absolutely hate this behavior. PLEASE leave the Resources on display. that is FAR more useful for me to quickly see what type of building I need to place next. I don't care what's in the queue, I care what building I'm going to ADD to the queue, and to know that, I need to know what resources the city is producing.
- Suggestion: Both the Building and Training Queues have the same problem - I can't find any way to adjust the order without cancelling and rebuilding/training new units. Add some means of reordering the queue? And again, tiny cancel buttons. Rawr.
- Major BUG: When you first place a building, if you click quickly, it is possible to place more than one of a given building. Additionally, until you close and reopen the Building window, the placed structure will remain visible/selectable in the Building pane - it should be vanishing instantly.
3) The Training Menu
Oddly, unlike the Building menu, the Training menu keeps the Resources tab open, and does not show the Training queue. Almost seems like an oversight.
Only a few small gripes - more detail on the tooltips, as always.
There is one annoying issue here - it's possible to DESELECT a unit, but the unit stays highlighted in the 'active' pane, and you can't actually hit Train.
Also I hate Caravans. But that'll have to wait for another post. They're a UI trainwreck
- BUG: Change UI behavior so it is impossible to 'deselect' a unit for training
- Suggestion: Change UI highlight to be more apparent/visible of which unit you are selecting
- Suggestion: Change UI colors on Quantity/Quality selectors - white/grey aren't the two best contrasting colors to tell you which you've selected. I'm still mixing these up.
- Suggestion: For the 'MAIN' city Building/Training queue progress bars, perhaps show 'X more items in queue'? As far as I can tell, the only way to see that a city is training a bunch of troops or building a bunch of buildings is to visit the city directly and check the Training/Building tabs. Might also be a good idea to highlight this somehow in either the Empire Ribbon, or on the main 3d view ui overlay.
- BUG: This one sucks - the City HUD does NOT show up in cloth map mode - and as I've been confined to cloth map only all week, this makes city management even more annoying
1I) Kingdom Report and Diplomacy
Generally solid. Just a few tiny nitpicks and one bigger issue. Incidently I really like the Research system in Elemental - it has some of the cooler parts of the original MoO or SoTS tech trees (random, variable techs), and fairly quick tech acquisition overall, which constantly gives you new toys to play with. There are some balance/gameplay concerns here, but that'd be another post. For now, UI issues.
The main Research and 'Tech Breakthrough' screens both have the usual tiny arrows and broken slider bar problems (not a huge big deal since mousewheel does work there, but irritating in cases where you don't have a mousewheel - eg, laptop play!). More important here than in a lot of other places, because most of the descriptions require scrolling. This whole area also has the same problem as the 'Resources' tab, all of the techs/unlocks are clickable, but they don't look like buttons, or highlight like buttons.
- Suggestion: Add visual cues to indicate 'clickability' of Research entries to access Homomnomnom entries.
On the Research discovered screen, same problem with tiny arrows/broken scrollbars, but there is one information presentation issue: Currently, techs on the main Research screen show Tech Description -> Likelihood of being available -> Unlocks -> Leads To. On the Breakthrough/Discovered screen I'd recommend moving the Likelihood DOWN, and unlocks/leads to UP. Knowing the likelihood of a tech you just discovered is not very useful information, but knowing what you just acquired and what you can acquire next IS, and any time you conceal information below a scrollbar, you decrease the odds of the user reading it.
- Suggestion: Change the order of information displayed for Discovered technologies to: Unlocks -> Leads To -> Likelihood.
Next up, the Completed Research Window. I'm not actually sure what purpose this window serves. It looks kind of neat! But seriously, I haven't found any real utility from it. I can get a quick look at how developed I am in various areas I guess, and I can click on the entries, but because it's just stacks of icons, I don't really derive any quick information from a glance.
- Minor Suggestion: Override the default tooltip delay here, and make it instant, always. Otherwise, when you mouse over the tech icons here, you get a sluggish delay on the tooltip, which feels sloppy if you're trying to quickly pick out a specific tech to get more information on.
There is one other annoying UI/tooltip issue. Once again, there are lacking tooltips, specifically on certain techs. What does Expert really do? What does Fortify really do? What does Raz... do? I can't click on any of these, and none of them have tooltips. Sure, I have a basic idea at a glance, but details, details! More tooltips, and more clickthrough. There appear to be no Homomnomnom entries on these topics, and they're core gameplay mechanics. Unlocking new unit actions or troop strengths should be documented fully.
- Suggestion: Make a UI pass on Tech entries in the Homomnom and make sure that all unlocks are cross-linked and have their own Homomnom entries.
Finally, the last bit, and probably biggest suggestion: As far as I can tell, there's no tech tree of any sort. I realize this would take some time to implement, but it would be very nice to be able to click a button beside a major field of research (Imperium, Conquest, etc), and get a full tech tree chart, that can then be clicked through to get more information.
This would be a big UI addition, but I think a very important and useful one - being able to plan out your development is part of the fun in these sorts of games, and also useful for simply learning the game.
- Major Suggestion: Add full Tech Trees for each field of Research.
Still to come: Remainder of Kingdom Overview screens, Diplomacy screen.
Your team asked for criticism and feedback. This post is the result of many hours of work, hours I'd rather have spent playing Elemental But because I do have some faith in Stardock, however much I may be annoyed with the current state of the game, I figured it was worth putting in some effort to improve the game.
I'm going to wait and see how this feedback is received. I'm patient, I can wait a bit. If I see fixes and improvements going in, I'll work up similarly detailed feedback reports for the other major areas of the game (Tac Combat, Spells, Quests, Research, Unit Design, Diplomacy, Dynasty, etc). If I don't see any, I won't waste my time
If I had to summarize anything there (and I'm loath to do so, I wouldn't have bothered going into that much detail if it could be summed up quickly ) I'd say the movement/stack/unit behavior and new UI additions for that should be looked at first. It has the most immediate impact on the 'gameplay' of the game, because moving units and stacks around and interacting with cities is something you do constantly, and currently, it's a bit of a cludge.
There are some key feature requests and irritating bug/issues with the UI mixed in there though that (should?) be fairly quick fixes (eg, the resources window staying open when you build a building, or making the city levelup window not lock your screen) and would greatly improve the play experience.
Some are probably less quick, and outside the scope of an immediate patch (a unified trade/buy/sell window, an empire wide city overview screen, sorting buttons for buildings/unit stacks, a new spellbook and research book), but would certainly be nice 'quality of life' features to have once more immediate bugs and critical gameplay issues are out of the way.
But whatever you decide, use it (or don't) as you see fit.