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maffyew in z2kdev

Of Interfaces

One of the key things I'm keeping in mind when working through designing the interface for this game is displaying as much useful information as I can without making it overwhelming to someone who's not an information junkie or hardcore strategy gamer. It needs to show you what you absolutely *must* know at any given time, but allows you to access extra information if you need or want to see it.

As such, I'm veering away from using numerical displays as a default, and instead using coloured bars. I'm intending on giving the player the option to switch to numerical displays if they wish - to be honest, I usually use the numbers option when given the chance, as I like to know what the "hard data" is as opposed to having it graphically represented.

Case in point - one of the few issues I had with the Baldur's Gate series on PC was the way a character's remaining hitpoints were displayed by having the character's portrait display gradually fill up with a red overlay as they became injured - let's be honest here, this game was built on the Advanced Dungeons & Dragons ruleset, which displays everything in numbers - and I wasn't given that option without hovering my mouse cursor over the character's portraits to find out. Really, I should have had an option to display something so critical constantly so I could just glance at it in the middle of combat.

Icewind Dale, based on the same engine, fixed this by allowing the player to use either the graphical display, or a numerical one put in the portrait's corner.

Comparison: Baldur's Gate vs. Icewind Dale

Lesson learned there - when it comes to an interface, you really can't make it customisable enough. Let the player get the information they need in whichever way they desire. I do think a graphical representation should be the default, certainly. It's less intimidating to new players, it has less of a detriment to immersive factor (no better way than a bunch of numbers to remind you that you're just playing a game that at it's core boils down to a whole bunch of math) and some people prefer to be able to compare things at a glance by looking at the size of something rather than a raw number.

With Z2K, at least at this stage, there are really three things that a player must be concerned about at all times when it comes to their party members - Health, Fear, and Trust. These are easily represented in bars, or a percentile display. You might want to check a character's traits or strongest skills as well, so I'm intending on making a little popup box appear next to the "quick character" display on the right hand site when you hover the mouse over each character, showing just that - their traits, strongest skills, and perhaps any illnesses or critical things affecting them at the time.

The theme I'm following here is that if the player doesn't need to know about it, they shouldn't be presented with it unless they ask for it. I'd like to keep things as simple as possible so as not to overwhelm people who haven't spent ten years tabletop gaming or playing stat-heavy roguelikes.

Want more detail? That's what the character screen is for. I'd like to avoid having people access that screen at all unless they want to do inventory related stuff though - decisions and an overall "picture" of what's going on should be able to be seen from the main user interface. If you're that determined to know every facet of a particular party member though (well - every facet that you know of so far - but that's another whole post), you can always go to that screen - it's just not going to be in your face all the time.

This game might not be for everyone, but damned if I'm going to alienate anybody I don't have to.

"I find the interface is one of the hardest aspects of game design [...] It's one of those things that should be tested and tested until everyone is happy with it."

- Peter Molyneux, quoted in Develop magazine, May 1998



March 2007

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