Giving orders to units is very click/window heavy at the moment. This gives flexibility (to the player and the developer) but I believe the existing functionality can be more efficiently laid out. The entire idea of choosing orders from a window when there are so few of them in total only makes sense because the ‘list’ is a list of ‘activated orders’; if you remove this concept, by saying that the list of orders is there you turn them on or off instead of adding them, flow is easier.
Here are all the orders in the game currently (unless I missed one, which would be pretty embarrassing). As you can see, not only do they all fit, but there is space to spare to make the sliders more useful with actual numbers. If you can envisage this list being dark and allowing the player to activate chosen orders (and prohibiting the impossible combinations) you can see that the ‘add orders’ window is now redundant. Right clicking on any order can still pop up the actual window, and for orders with targets this is necessary on activation and makes setting ranges to weapons easier. No functionality is lost, and changes to orders are now faster. There is also space to add a button for ‘make default orders’, to make this function more obvious (perhaps with a light to demonstrate the ‘current’ orders are the default).
I would suggest a few renames, as well, to make functions clearer without the explanatory text (‘cautious’, for example, could be renamed ‘fall back’ or something so the percentile obviously shows the damage level they retreat at, and not some percentage of ‘caution’). While the logic is different, I would also suggest combining ‘escort’ and ‘formation’ into a single order. They cannot be chosen at the same time, so no functionality is lost, but setting ‘escort’ to distance zero should do what ‘formation’ does now (even though this isn’t really what ‘escort at distance zero’ would mean, it saves on space).
Obviously this is not what I would expect a new orders window to look like; but it is an effective ‘proof of concept’ that without losing functionality or demanding a great deal of effort the orders sequence can be improved. I think it is similarly possible to streamline the design window and the deployment list. What do people think?
EDIT - I forgot to add, that with regard to orders and clarity, I’d like to see some kind of ‘orders AI feedback’ in the game. Whether it’s a ticker or a speech bubble or whatever, I think it would make the working and interaction of order clearer if the player recieved ‘communication’ from his ships about why they are doing certain things. For instance, if a frigate switches targets or moves away, it’s useful to know why, and a ticker saying ‘Morning Glory is assisting Nuclear Kitten’ or ‘Morning Glory is moving to maintain formation’ or ‘Morning Glory is finishing off an enemy’ would allow players to judge how his orders shape the battle without infodumping.
Since I imagine the AI works with balanced priorities, it is already switching from one behaviour to another, and exposing that to the player with some kind of output would be good. Embellishing it to be a ‘blow by blow’ would be great, but possibly require more work. It’d make a great UI element though, especially as I notice people are interested in the idea of captains or taskgroup elements etc. Definately something with potential for the future.
Actually, that’s something else. In the debrief screen, this sort of thing could allow the player to go back and see what happened when; a low-quality replay (minimap + text, perhaps) which could perhaps be saved and replayed, without needing to redeploy etc. I haven’t had the game very long, so can the veterans tell me if same deployment = exact same events in battle? Is there any fuzziness? I guess at least accuracy is somewhat random.
I’ve considered the idea of ship comms output before, and still like it. My only beef with that orders layout is it’s inital complexity. I like coplex games, but I also like games that don’t scare people off when they first see the UI. I’ve made one like that already (http://www.democracygame.com)
That’s an important concern - perhaps the tutorial level could only show a few of them, or something similar? Working out the orders, what they’re good for, things like that are an important part of the learning curve, but it unfortunately necessitates a lot of clicking back and forward. I’m not sure how much work each ‘scenario’ is to implement, but 2-3 tutorial levels could gradually expose the full orders set … or use the first 3-4 ‘medium’ missions and put an option or ini flag for ‘tutorial complete’ to show the lot afterward?
Perhaps breaking it up into 3 sections or blocks (say, ‘movement’, ‘targeting’ and ‘priorities’) would make it a bit more accessible by being more like a standard RTS ‘stance’ system? The orders fairly neaty break down into groups like that (especially the escort/formation/keep moving set). Obviously the mockup is pretty bland and not very informative. Informative tooltips would really help, and I personally think most of them could be replaced by tooltipped icons (especially the on/off ones like ‘vulture’ and ‘coop’). A row of icons along with the movement triad and the targeting priority sliders would be a lot better than the mockup.
EDIT - blah, I can’t believe I forgot this. A UI like this would of course be purely optional, and rather than messing about with tutorials or whatever to hide the denser UI, the game could simply default to the current system with a button to fold a new system out on a tab, have an option to toggle it, things like that.