June 2011

The eternal circle of GUI design (and some new screenshots)

Odd title, but it perfectly describes my “workflow” when it comes down to the GUI of “Phase 2”. But since the user interface is such a crucial part for a complex strategy game I don’t feel bad when putting hours and hours (and days) into optimizing the interface of a single “window”, especially seing as how horribly one of my old drafts looked. And yes, I really like the current UI. It has a nice flow, looks pretty sleek and has a great usability.

But after the last redesign of some of the “windows” (though they’re no longer freely moveable, so I should better call them areas or screens) several weeks ago I wasn’t 100% satisfied with them anymore after taking a look at them recently. Especially the partitioning wasn’t very well and it was hard to distinguish the different parts of it, e.g. where the current selected tech is displayed and where your active research is located. So I sat down, did some prototyping and finally (hopefully) found a good way of making it easier to distinguish information within the new windows with a new UI element called “header panel”. It’s the one that looks like a table header with an arrow-like captionion part on the left and a normal text (and icon if selected) part on the right. I’ll now use them to separate important parts within a window and to depict important sub-information by indenting and scaling them.

So take a look at the newly re-designed research section. The left one shows the old version, the right one shows the new version :

Though the old version may look nice, I felt that it lacked overview and therefore made it hard to orient yourself and to find the information you’ve been looking for. So the new design with the headers changes this and makes it much easier to navigate through the information presented. Though note that this is still (as usual) work-in-progress, but not much will change anymore.

And I’ve also been reworking the main menu and the result screens. Those two have been on my list for a long time now but I never got around working on them. One problem with the main menu from “Phase 1” was that it was created for 4:3 displays and therefore looked pretty bad on all (now widely spread, including myself) widescreen displays. So I dumped the whole old design and made a new simple one that is centered and in-line with the rest of the game’s look, also using the day-night transition. It looks more minimalistic, but that’s the “theme” of the whole UI redesign anyway, makin the UI easier to use. And then the result screens : the original ones were done quickly and I never liked them. Back when I made them I actually didn’t had the motivation to do “cool” ones, but instead used the same design for winning and loosing with a slight different header. So I sat down and created new loosing and winning screens (that are now also used in hotseat, instead of the plain boring dialogs of dead nations in “Phase 1”) that fit their purpose, are in line with the new UI-design and are also animated. So if you win you’ll have fireworks and airplanes with colored (depending on your nation) smoke that fly above your head. Also included are more informations than in the old result screens, though I plan on adding even more info here, as there is plenty of space now. But since pictures are worth much more than words, just take a look at them :

And yes, I plan on making a video of all these new UI changes, as especially the result screens look much better in motion. But there are still parts and areas of the UI design that need to be finished before I’ll put them on video. But rest assured, you’ll get a new video in the near future, also showcasing a lof of new stuff concerning manual battles.

Game design : Game modes

Something that has been lacking in “Phase 1” was replayabilty or better said the motivation to replay the game. This was mainly due to the fact that there was only on single game mode (now called “default”) to choose from in both singleplayer and hotseat games. So basically each game played the same except for maybe the player playind it different or the random factors that change some of the AI’s behaviour.

So for “Phase 2” I started implementing new game modes as well as the possibility to change some more game settings than in “Phase 1”. This should add a lot of replay motivation, cause the new game modes will change gameplay, how much depends on what mode you choose.

So here is a preliminary list in addition to the default one (the modes below will be in the game, but some of their mechanics will change, and it’s also possible that I’ll ad more modes) :

* Alternate reality
This mode will display an alternate history in which the origins of the nations have been randomly scrambled. This means that e.g. Neweurope will occupy the regions of Übermerica along with the Oceanic Front being located where the Arabian League used to reside. Other than that the mode will mostly play like the default one. Think of it as a mode with random spawn points.

* Last stronghold (aka People’s uprising, not sure of the name yet)
The people were upset with their leaders after they’ve been mistreated for deacdes now with their homes and cities crumbling under endless wars and conflicts. So they started to organize and to dethrone their power-hungry leaders. At the beginning of this mode all leaders have been pushed back to their strongholds (special regions marked in the game’s editor) where the are protected by their last personal guard. So all regions except these strongholds are hold by rebels in the game’s beginning and the players will have to reconquer them. Other than this regional difference the players will have unlocked all military techs and have a nice personal division deployed in their stronghold.

* End of days
The globe has been ravaged by countless centuries of war and environmental damage and is at the verge of a global climate collapse that’s about to destroy al life on earth. But still the leaders of the world’s nation only think about their own advantage and about making a name in the history books of the soon-to-be-gone human race. So different to the default mode all players only have a limited amount of turns to finish their bunker as much as possible to escape  earth’s climate collapses. Right now I plan to replace global project list with a list of different construction parts for the bunker, and the winner who has finished most of them when the game will win. And also earht’s texture will be replaced by a dead and dryed out version of the normal texture.

* Soldier of fortune
This mode will make for a great dynamic and diffifult to predict gameplay. Actually the basics of this have already been layed out in an early design document, but will now be implemented via it’s own game mode. So upon the start of each turn every player/nation will be “awarded” with three bonuses/maluses that’ll be active for this turn. So e.g. you can get bonuses like lower building costs, higher military strength, faster research but you could also be out of luck and get maluses like lower earning, falling stock prices, slow research, etc. There’ll be a pretty long list of bonuses/maluses with each of them having three levels (minimal, normal, high). This mode should add a lot of fun cause it’ll shift away from pure strategy to a bit more luck to rely on.


So that’s the preliminary list of planned gameplay modes for “Phase 2”. What do you think? Do you like the modes? Or do you have ideas for totally different modes or just want ot have one of the above modes changed? If that’s the case, just put up a comment.