I have been turning my attention recently to improving the usability and intuitiveness of the design for Production Line. I run some ads to promote the game, and have to assume a bunch of people buy it and play it without ever seeing me or anyone else play it in a video, have not read about it anywhere, and are relying purely on the in-game tutorial. Of course tutorials are all well-and-good, but ultimately the aim has to be to have a game design and GUI so intuitive that it just feel obvious to the player and they don’t get frustrated or stuck.
The next update (1.31, coming tomorrow with any luck), comes with a whole bunch of cool usability improvements. Supply stockpiles and new car designs now copy all existing options, which makes them much more useful features. there are some pricing and production hints on the sales matrix, and a host of other things. I have identified 2 small areas that I think are still confusing and want to improve upon…
The first is the interface for choosing which cars to produce. Basically the game starts with just one design, and only when you have created extra models do you need to worry about this. To edit the ‘production schedule’ you need to go the the slot at the very start of the production line (there may be several lines), click it to launch its details screen, and then notice the new button that gives you access to this feature (which is then relatively well explained).
There are several problems here:
The player may not even realize they need to do this, and assume the cars are equally produced.
The player may have no idea where the start of their line is, at first glance.
The player may not spot the new button even if they do click on the start of the line.
There are a bunch of solutions to this. Firstly, I could stick a big fat warning on the car design window, along with a new stat showing production last hour, alerting the player to the fact that no production of this car is currently scheduled. Maybe add a tooltip on there explaining what to do to get to the production schedule screen?
Secondly, I could have a permanent icon floating above the start of the line indicating this is where the production scheduler is, and maybe double up as a button that launches the scheduler for that slot.
Thirdly maybe I need something more obvious than just a text button, something with icons, and which draws the players eye much more on that slot window? Just a button with ‘Change’ on it is kinda awful
Thats just the first usability issue. The second is a problem relating to missing features on cars, something that is very badly communicated to the player. The player selects which features should be applied to each of their various car designs, with some getting tons of them, and cheaper models getting few. This means that at a slot such as ‘fit wheels’ some cars will get alloy wheels, some will not. Thats fine, but sometimes the player gets out of synch, and researches the ‘alloy wheels’ tech, applies it to some designs, and then forgets to upgrade all the slots that fit wheels. (Or at least all the ones the expensive cars go through). We currently have yellow text in the showroom for cars which have ‘missing’ features, but it makes absolutely no distinction between features missing because the cars production pre-dated this feature (old stock), and ones where there was a screw-up and a feature got missed.
Ideally the screw-up should never happen, but I’m wary of stopping the whole line when this happens. That may be confusing, and will need explanatory GUI anyway. However, it may be the best option. I could reserve that yellow text just for stuff which was really missed, and maybe leave it in white or labelled differently for stuff which is just ‘old stock’. That would at least distinguish between the two. I guess I could also have a popup on the vehicle as it goes around the factory to show a missing feature, so the player notices this before it gets as far as the showroom (by which time many poorly-configured cars have been made).
For the issue with the models and adding them to the list, maybe a separate master production queue from the icons on top. This could list the Fit Axle/Chassis Slots, and click to expand the production for each one (Like the Menu for building slots does now) I think adding a way to open this from the Model creation screen would be nice,that would say simply, “produce car” which opens the list of the available fix axle slots that can start making this new vehicle, and that would let you edit the list (Eventually I would like to see that production list have buttons to allow you to move items up and down the list, sometime in Beta)
For the Issue of Missing parts, I think a Slot manager would be helpful. It could List all the slots, then in this list, show which slots have which upgrades with a series of icons (with float text) that show when selected, or not available. This may help with slot management and those missing slots that don’t get upgraded in the sprawling factories. Another thing would be to make the slot manager window float, so we can position it. Also including a button to move the map to the location of that slot from this menu. (This is similar to the Staff manager window used in Roller Coaster Tycoon in my head, that’s hows I see it)
But as for the missing components, and this is just a thought for later in the game, a news scroll that feeds the player alerts on the production line. “Workers at Fit Electronics are saying they can’t fit In Car Radio to the 6000 SUX model”
“Workers at fit door panel are saying they can’t fit central locking to the Luxury SUV”
Each of those would hover for a bit, and allow you to zoom right to the location of that slot to fix the issue
Just some thoughts, If I had better paint skills, I would try and mock some of these up visually.
The Production Schedule is a major controlling aspect of the game. Access to it should be clear and obvious and available from key screens including the ‘Factory Floor’ however I am not a big fan of ‘clutter’ or ‘Icon Furniture’ in the factory for the sake of it ( I would like to see all ‘overlays’ toggleable(?) )
A button from the car design screen that links to the Production Schedule
An Icon on the first single slot ‘Chassis Assemble’ would be ok, but not once it is split to ‘Front Axle’ + (I think by this time players would have accessed the Production Schedule at least once and know where/what it is )
An Icon/Button in the top ribbon menu
A permanently dismissable ‘pop-up’ window that appears 1) the first time a single ‘Front Axle’ slot is placed and 2) the first time the car design screen is accessed; reminding the player about the production schedule.
For the missing parts and as a general management tool (as suggested by nutbarz ) a slot manager of some sort is essential.
Either as a list of placed slots and their overall upgrade status or something more detailed. Maybe this information could be linked to a research subject around factory efficiency or production data gathering?
Again as suggested by Nut’ being able to interact with the list and click on a slot in the list and locate it in the Factory will be very useful. Late game management with sprawling factories becomes a nightmare if you try and make specific productions lines for specific models.
To be honest … i have given up on that idea when playing late game unless i blanket upgrade everything all the time, which is easy enough to do cost wise once a factory is up and running but takes away from the whole efficiency theme and having to plan efficiently and carefully when you can just chuck a load of cash at the problem.
I have ‘spreadsheeted’ the whole production line and I use a RAGG coding on cells that indicate 4 upgrade conditions; Red=No upgrades / Yellow = Slot has researched but not purchased upgrades / G = all upgrades researched bought for the slot. / GG = All possible upgrades researched and bought.
ok i used purple for the last one as the green in my sheet was the same shade as the slot!
The missing components are always a problem. With a long production line you will always have cars that miss parts if you upgrade an ‘in production’ design.
With the better functionality of copying car designs with all the features this should be less of a problem.
One Idea would be to allow cars that have unfinished parts to re-enter the production line or be diverted to another re-fit line.
The check would be done at QA. But am really not sure how easy it would be to develop one line in and two lines out, we start getting into branching on the production line eek!. I imagine that is a whole new ‘bag o badgers’ code wise
On the Production Line:
As of now cars pass through slots they don’t require (Aircon / Polishing) the ‘Re-Fit’ cars would pass through slots unless they need the required missing part fitted. This would of course impact the efficiency of your main production line or require the building of a ‘Re-Fit’ Line.
The Re-Fit line:
Refit lines could be started with a special slot and finished with a special slot to allow a different set of rules within the re-fit line… i.e. no ‘next slot not found’ error. Fit slots with the required parts could be placed within the Re-Fit line.
A few thoughts:
This would be good if it really wasnt a problem to sell cars with missing parts. Its great that i can see my Compact Model with no Sunroof looks like an Open Top but Im sure a customer would not buy the car looking like that, but it sells anyway and at the same price!
Should these cars be sold at all or should they be re-cycled with a component scrap value? Ok I would buy a car with a missing Car Radio but when the whole roof is missing? Should there be an ‘essential’ parts list and a ‘extras’ parts list to decide if a car is unsalable? You already have the features split by category anyway.
Cars gone through Re-fit or around the Production Line again would be holding an increased production cost. Is it worth doing it at all from a cost perspective?
[Edit] I just wanted to add I like the idea of an Icon / different coloured car icon as the car travels around the factory to show it has a missing part, if there was also some way to flag the slot (shade it a different colour; grey/black) where a car has passed through and not had a requested feature fitted this would be really useful.
…and fantastic work Cliff. Loved the blogs… especially the technical ones. I want to see the cat wearing the hat though![Edit]
Great feedback all, thanks.
I’ve never sued the slot-list thing in other tycoon games, preferring to interact with the real world view, but I guess I am in the minority there and that such things are genuinely useful.
I definitely agree that having more information on a car as it travels around is a worthy goal. Maybe just a floating red ! to indicate its missing a feature generally considered essential, would be enough to click on that car and see an improved car details window showing its current missing features…
Actually its not as simple as it sounds, because you need to ensure the car has already passed the slot where such a feature would have been installed… yikes.
I made improvements to the GUI for production scheduling in 1.31, its at least harder to not notice the button now when you click on the relevant slot, but I agree that a permanent or maybe dismissible/togglable icon above the fit axle / make chassis slot would be much more helpful.
Notice how you get big blocks of the same color. I understand the aesthetic appeal, it clearly separates the line into categories: chassis, body, paint, engine, wheels & steering (these are two separate things in real life), accessories/electronics/QC (essential finishing touches). But it would be nice if there were dark gray lines between adjacent stations of the same color. Not outlines all the way around, rather only where two stations of the same color are adjacent. The lines should be somewhat thick (like the gray lines between tiles which appear alongside the colors, but darker and perhaps slightly transparent in order to alpha blend with the block colors), and the thickness should perhaps scale with the zoom.
The peach, red, dark blue and cyan are certainly memorable. I remember that they represent categories: engine, chassis, manufacture of intermediates, and finishing. But notice there are three very similar green hues, which means that I can’t remember what any of them correspond to. Try to keep the hues reasonably spread out on the RGB wheel. The wheels and steering could probably be made peach to match the other engine stations. They are under the engine tab after all, and included in the “Fit Engine” station, and currently there’s not a lot of peach in a full 150s assembly line (see the screenshot). I noticed that they are the same green as import and export, which suggests that the color was an accident, that it was meant to be peach to begin with. The limey green of Body stations could probably be shifted farther toward chartreuse, toward yellow. The peach and tan are too similar, so the peach (engine) could be shifted a little more toward orange, and the tan (part manufacturing) could be made moderately more luminous and saturated.
– Conveyor belt overlay –
It would be a good idea to have a simplified, clearly understandable overlay of the conveyor belts which is visible whenever the colored blocks are. Perhaps, you could overlay a thick white line down the center of each belt, with dots at junctions and a single, simple white “arrow” on each belt tile (which is just a simple pair of swept-back lines, like the head of a penciled arrow). Junction tiles might need a smaller arrow at each edge which has a connecting belt.
– Toggle icon visibility –
There should be a keyboard bind, and maybe a GUI button, to toggle all of the icons off, EXCEPT for the icons which show what each station does, whose visibility should remain bound to the solid block colors. The toggle turns these off: car icons, import icons, warning icons, and warning infoboxes. Also, the white part of the green/yellow/red car icon can be given a little permanent transparency.
– Schedule button / icon –
I agree that it should be more convenient to access the car production schedules. Even though I know how to reach them, I have to do just enough searching to click the “Fit Front Axle” station that I can tell there’s something wrong with this manner of exclusively accessing a critical menu through a nondescript game object.
This is the best way, I think: The icon shouldn’t have text, as these icons are persistent (unlike warnings) it should just be an icon. And like you say, clicking on it should bring up the Change Schedule dialog, and the white button for Change Schedule in the station dialog should be removed. This saves you two clicks, because usually when you click the first station it’s only to immediately open the schedule dialog, which is unnecessarily indirect, and you have to close both windows after. Then, you only click the station when you want the same type of dialog as every other station. You could also remove the cyan-background rectangle in this station dialog (the one which indicates which car from the schedule is next to produce), as you can click the middle of the station to find out what car is being made (though it’s invisible), just like every other car on the line. You can always look in the scheduler to see the order as well.
As for indicating missing upgrades. I’m pretty sure the best thing to do here, is to make the floating schedule button change into a unique warning icon whenever it has scheduled a car with upgrades which are unreachable from that origin point (that is, there is no path which allows the car to reach a station at the right time with the right upgrades). This check should be made every time you add a design to the schedule, and every time you create / remove / upgrade a station or belt. When you install the upgrade in an appropriate station, the icon will immediately revert. If you click the icon (thus opening the scheduler dialog), the icon will also appear next to each of the corresponding designs in the scheduler and also next to designs in the dropdown list for adding to the schedule. When you mouse over the icon by an already-scheduled car, it shows a popup list of the scheduled upgrades for that design which are unreachable at the current moment. When the icon is not in warning mode, maybe it could look something like a list, with horizontal bars.
Cars with missing upgrades in the showroom could be given a red rectangular outline (aligned with the floor, as if it were red tape) to go with the tooltip which specifies the missing upgrades.
– Designs –
I think, this change is important: it is most sensible to make car designs permanent once committed to manufacture. Potential rules for this feature: In the “Car Designs” dialog, the tabs will take on a different color or some other visual distinction which shows some as being “in-progress” designs (there has to be a better name for this, maybe a “draft”?) and others as being designs “committed” for manufacture. Only the in-progress designs can have features added or removed, and only the committed designs can be scheduled for manufacture. In-progress designs have a “Commit” button on them (maybe “Commission” would be better) which permanently (and without confirmation dialog, it’s unneeded here) changes it to committed. Any design, whether in-progress, committed or archived, can be duplicated into a new in-progress design. (Duplicate is a better word than copy, as it implies more directly the creation of a new medium rather than an overwrite or some kind of in-game clipboard for pasting.) Any design, whether in-progress or committed, can have it’s price (final markup) changed at any time, and this will be immediately reflected for cars on the floor, just as it is currently.
Default names for duplicates: When you duplicate a design, the duplicate’s default name should have a number appended to the end with a particular format, such as “(#)”. When duplicating, a parser checks to see if the design being duplicated has such a number, if it does it is truncated in preparation for the new number. It checks to see if a (1) version already exists, if it does not, it makes it. If it does, it checks to see if a (2) already exists, etc. So, if the player names a design manually with this format, it can be recognized by the parser if ever it tries to make a duplicate with the same name and number, meaning it will skip that number. Naturally, every time you make a duplicate design it will be immediately focused so that you know which one was just created. This is just a scheme to make useful default names for duplicates, they can still be manually overwritten.
The tabs in the “Car Designs” dialog should be stacked vertically on the right side (same side as scrollbar and add/remove feature buttons), so that you can see up to at least 10 tabs at a time rather than just 4. And an extra vertical scrollbar, one on the far right for the designs, and the already-existing one.
I think “retire” is a much better word than “archive”. As in “retire a design”.
Right now the showroom is hard to use. It shows all the cars you have but if you are running at speed 3 and try to scroll it resets to the front of the pack every time a car sells. You can 87 Sedans and 12 Sports cars and there is no way at a glance to tell how many of each vehicle you have in the showroom. From the main interface, you’ll have 99 cars on the tag but no idea what the product mix is. This should change to show on the main interface how many of each type of car you have in inventory. Thus you could compare your inventory with what is happening on the market screen, in terms of how many sales and production per hour you are engineering.
It would be really awesome to merge the screens together so you could see your product mix in production, i.e. what rates you are attempting to produce in a pie chart, with what product mix you have in inventory in a pie chart, compared with what the current market demand is in a pie chart.
This would allow you to identify shortages or surpluses based on the market demand.
Looking at all of this data together I could identify that I have too many Compacts in production, 7/hr when demand is only 5, and I have not enough Sedans in production, only 4/hr, when demand is 5/hr, or enough supply of Sedans, only 42, less than 25% while overall market demand is almost 33% of this model type.
I would love to see a production scheduler that would indicate percentage rather then a number of how many to make before the next one (possibly sliders??) and the pie chart presented above for the showroom would be awesome! (the showroom overview right now is not that good) and production statistics that would indicate how many cars of each model are being made / hr
Another GUI feature I’d like to see is a rate meter function. Where you could build a rate meter showing rate/hr and rate/day at a station, this could show the overall up-time and run-time wait on parts and wait on slot wait on next car meter. While we have a meter showing the rate for each car, it would be helpful to be able to identify trends or bottlenecks based on what has been going on for the last 24 hours.