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