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  Questions/monolog about SF game usabilty design  (Read 4493 times)
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Offline sma

Junior Devvie

« Posted 2003-11-05 08:59:09 »

Game design is also often usability design. So I hope I'm in the right forum here. I wonder how to create an easy to use game.

If time permits, I'd like to create a simple turn-based SF strategy game in the tradition of board games like Stellar Conquest (1974 by Metagaming, rereleased later by Avalon Hill), Imperium (1977 or 78 by GDW) or Warpwar (also Metagaming, I think).  I know Imperium best and my game should look similar.

On a hexmap you can move stacks of ship counters (aka fleets) to colonize and/or conquer new worlds.  Imperium restricts movement to certain "jump routes" between worlds.  If enemy fleets meet at the same world, they'll fight until one fleet is destroyed or retreats. A fleet needs to invade worlds to control them. There might be different kinds of ships and ground units and controlled worlds give you resources to build them.

Now, I'm looking for some ideas how to display the game so that is easy to use and fun to play (I dislike games which expose their complexity to the user).

A screen is much smaller than a gaming board. The computer also provides the opportunity to scale the game and add more players (Imperium is for 2 players only).

How does one keep the overall view?

Players should be able to grasp in a moment where their own fleets are located, where the enemy fleets are, where those are targeting at, who own which worlds, etc. Managing fleets and resources shouldn't be a burdon. A player shouldn't lose only because he didn't understand the UI.

I'd like to put no upper limit on players, map size or worlds. Furthermore, space is big, so there's no limit of units a single hex can contain.

The real board has three dimensions, but the computer can display only 2 (I don't want a true 3D game like the game Homeworld might be - I don't know it)

Some problems: I might be able to find six distinuishable color for players but I cannot assign a unique color to every player. So I need some additional label text or icon to identify the owner of a world which constraints the mimum size of a world icon.  The same is true for ship counters.  Futhermore, I'd like to know whether and/or how many units are on the surface and/or in the orbit of one world. One idea was to add tiny little dots around a world but this didn't really work out. How do I distinguish the my own lonesome border scout from the all-mighty attack fleet.  The map shouldn't display both as the same red dot.

Then I need a way to easily issue orders - preferably by mouse. I've move and construct orders. While it shoudn't be that difficult to list all worlds with its available resources as a table to see what could be spent, I need to give the player an idea where that world is located to let him decide which kind of ships he needs to construct.

It might be also an useful feature to allow the player to add notes to him/herself about the intended strategy to not forget that... or to queue orders for multiple turns.

This is because if the number of players is more than 3 or 4, I imagine that every player will do its turn at the same time in parallel, sending it to some central game engine which will process the turn and send out the results.  This might happen every 4 minutes or only once a day or week.

Another requirement would then be to visualize the results of the previous turn to get the info whether the attack from the last turn was successful or not and where the fleets are now heading to.

I feel, the central component of the game should be the hexmap and - if possible - everything should take place here or at least is overlayed on that map to keep the player a "sense of location".  As the map will become larger than the screen, we probably need a tiny overview map. This might highlight worlds based on certain criteria, that is own worlds, worlds of player X, fortified worlds, worlds with lesser defense, etc.  If you click a hex, it kind-of explodes to a still-scrollable, but hopefully large enough, box that displays all units side by side, separated by players and/or ally/enemy. This should also display detail infomation about the single units.

Now, how do I move units?  Select them, click on a "move" button, this hides the box, the map is now in "target world selection mode", then select another world in reach while the map always displays ETA? Are there better ways?

I'd appreciate any kind of ideas, suggestions and question.

Thanks for listening Smiley

.: Truth Until Paradox!
Offline Orangy Tang

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Medals: 57
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Monkey for a head

« Reply #1 - Posted 2003-11-05 10:01:57 »

All sounds good to me, with the exception of the build orders. One huge list of all places to build from isn't very easy to find the one you want, wouldn't it be better to click on the world first then bring up the options for that world?

The best way to test UI design is typically just to prototype it. Get a minimal working example up and running as soon as possible, cutting back on all the features you don't need to worry about at this state. Then just experiment with this and get something that seems intuitive to use.

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Offline AndersDahlberg

Junior Devvie

« Reply #2 - Posted 2003-11-05 14:41:15 »

One thing that makes me find games impressive is if they "scale" in their UI - i.e. a basic user probably uses the mouse clicking on buttons and menus but once you achieve more knowledge about the game you start being hindered by all this "nonsense clicking". So my suggestion is to put in keyboard shortcuts for everything (or atleast as much of all possible "gui-actions" that make sense)

i.e. to select a world:
start typing the name of the world, look in the users current view and select a matching world and select it, if [shift-]tab is pressed select next match etc etc.
Optionally display info about the selected world in a seperate area Smiley

select a fleet orbiting currently selected world
"alt+1" - open a menu which lists all fleets orbiting that planet - press enter [or type first letter/digit(s)] on a menu item to display that fleet etc etc

selecting a fleet's waypoints
pressing [shift] and clicking with mouse adds the selected world to the fleets waypoints.

Obviously *I* don't like being forced to use the mouse unless it's for something that the mouse is faster/better than the keyboard Smiley

An interface I like, despite it being not that easy to understand if you're not used to it..., is the one used in the [very Smiley] old and very funy 4X game "Stars!" - anyone else than me here that have played that old strategy game? Grin
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Offline sma

Junior Devvie

« Reply #3 - Posted 2003-11-06 10:44:24 »

Thanks for the feedback. Of course is a working prototype the best way to try out ideas. But to create one without at least a little bit reasoning seems wrong to me - and much more work.

Regarding mouse control: I had a game in mind which requires the mouse to click the planets to issue a move command but then also requires the keyboard to enter the amount of ships to move. This is IMHO the least preferable combination. Either the whole game should be playable with mouse only or keyboard only (or both) but I dislike when I need to grab the mouse, release it, grab it, ...

I remember Stars! (I might even have played it once) but I wouldn't call that old Smiley  It's a Window game, so it's probably from mid-90. About ten years older is SSI's "Reach for the Stars" - and still a great game. It might be even the oldest 4X game. Unfortunately, the old DOS version doesn't really run on Windows anymore and, well, the UI is a bit awkward. Masters of Orion also was a DOS game so it should be dated before Stars!...

.: Truth Until Paradox!
Offline sma

Junior Devvie

« Reply #4 - Posted 2003-11-08 09:57:14 »

I case anybody cares... Smiley  I started to implement my map [1].  I decided to visualize fleets with abstract spaceship icons and a number that tells either about the fleet strength or (I haven't decided yet) the number of ships. As any hex can contain any number of ships from any number of players, I decided to combine them into three sets: own ships (green), neutral ships (gray), and hostil ships (red). The map also shows randomly connected planets and highlights all hexes reachable from the selected world 7271. An IMHO nice effect, but barely usable on my system, it takes about half a second to redraw the map. I already had to draw the hex borders with unaliased lines because drawing 32-bit-PNGs (as all other icons are) was too slow...  I probably have to remove the planet number, because that iterfers with fleets on that hex. Instead, I'll probably display the number of ground units: For example "12/4/-" if there're 12 own and 4 neutral units on that planet.  The next step however is the zoomed unit display screen.


.: Truth Until Paradox!
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