April 30, 2009

Alternex UI Iteration

Alternex now looks like this:

The only immediately visible change is that the numbers under the cities have been replaced with a progress bar and separate city icons to indicate their size (town, city, metropolis).

The more important change was the drastic reduction in notification popups. Rather than giving a popup window every time population grew in an unsupported city, it happens only the first time and cities emanate an obvious red glow when they're in trouble.

I'm not entirely satisfied with the way the UI turned out here; there's a lot of floating point numbers floating around the screen. It works fine, but it's still ugly. But I realized that my time is not nearly as infinite as I had led myself to believe, and I'm now just focused on finishing the high-score functionality and the extra levels. One final result of all of this UI stress is that I'm seriously considering buying a UI design book in hopes of figuring it all out. I'd love to avoid this sort of situation in the future.

April 27, 2009


Games have a feel.

It's especially noticeable in first-person games. How quickly does the player move? Does movement accelerate to a point or go at a constant rate? Is there a limit on how quickly you can turn? How fast does the game react to input? Does the player jump immediately after pressing the right button? Is there some recovery time after landing?

That's a small subset of the questions that could be asked about just two verbs: run and jump. Similar questions might be asked of other interfaces. In an RTS, do my units move as soon as I order it, or do they slowly turn and rev up first? In a flight sim, does the plane turn downwards by default or continue in a straight line (Battlefield 2 vs. HAWX)? In a tank driving game, does the tank move forwards when told to accelerate or turn to face the direction that the player is facing (Battlefield 2 vs. Halo)?

I don't think that quicker and more responsive is always better. Counter-Strike is considered more tactical than Quake III partially because the players move so much slower. Sins of a Solar Empire can be infuriating to an RTS player that's used to a faster pace, but its slowness, combined with its massive scale, turn it into a deeper-feeling strategy game. I was astonished by how slowly the player turned in the Xbox version of Fallout 3, but the game feels fine with the addition of VATS.

I wouldn't be so bold as to say that games ought to go in one direction or another; it's very probably a matter of personal preference. But it amazes me that this physical feeling of games is ignored in descriptions and reviews of games. A major element of games seems to be acknowledged only subconsciously, or sometimes obliquely in discussions about performance. It's a useful tool in the designer's box, and it ought to get the attention it deserves.