Making the game fit the interface
Yeah it’s not supposed to be like that. The interface should be built to fit the game but after countless attempts to create something clean and easy to understand I gave up.
Strategy games often have a ton of data to display on the screen and some of it is even hidden in some menu and my game was suffering of the that issue. The fact that I’m struggling in interface design really wasn’t helping my case here. So after trying in many ways to squeeze everything in something that would look nice and would be easy to understand I decided to focus on the interface itself instead of the rules enforced by the game in its current state.
My goal was simple: a simple glimpse should tell everything the player needs to know. That means no tooltips, as few clicks as possible and nothing hidden in some menu. While it’s still a work in progress here’s what it looks so far (click for full size):
While it may seem that a lot is displayed here it’s quite simple once you play with it. Everything beside the minimap is part of the “board” allowing the player to know exactly what’s going on without having to take his eyes off the game.
To be able to match this interface I had to make a few changes to the game. The first thing I did was to remove the notion of dice rolls and artificial mechanics for combat. For example small spaceships had an evasion stat that would allow them to dodge attacks based on a dice roll. I removed that and decided that I would instead focus on making small spaceships better at getting out of attack range by being able to move twice which would allow them to attack bigger ships and then evade incoming attacks. The end result is similar to the evasion stat as small spaceships will be harder to hit for big/slow spaceships while avoiding to add one more stat on the screen.
All attacks now deal fix damages and always hit. Again I’ve removed dice rolls and it’s easier to display on the screen. If you look at the bottom of the screenshots you’ll see 2 bubbles identifying lasers and missiles. The small circles are of the same colors as the circles around the spaceship to the left. As you might have guessed blue is for shield and green is for armor. This way you can easily know how much damage a specific attack will deal to the shield or armor.
Of course as I make progress on the game new notions will added to spice up things a bit but I’ll make sure that everything can still be understood by being displayed in that clean approach. The removal of all dice rolls not only helps to build a simpler interface but also gets me closer to my first idea which was a “pure” strategy game close to chess. The faith of players won’t be decided by luck but only by their skills.
By focusing on the interface itself and changing the game to match I’ve been able to make quite some progress recently. I also think the game is more fun that way as I’ve taken away some notions that weren’t needed in the end for this particular game. It allowed me to remember that this is not a spaceship building game, not a RPG, not a RTS but just strategy and survival.
I don’t know if it’s unusual to build the game based on the interface but it sure helped me to get things forward and to make the game way more interesting by focusing on what it really is. Now that it starts to look good it means that in the not so distant future (hopefully) I should be able to post the first gameplay video and start the hype machine!