[Suggestion] UI improvements

Been playing the game the last few evenings and I know how useful it can be to have fresh eyes view something and so I have been writing down notes as I went. I sorted the notes into two categories:

Minor UI tweaks that would just make the game more polished:

[] In the main factory screen you can use the wasd keys to move around, but elsewhere such as in research tab w and s don’t work for moving up and down.
] When loading a saved game your mouse moved over the Delete button to get to the Load button. Swap these to prevent any accidents
[] When paused if I hit the keyboard shortcut to pause or click the pause button it should play. Same for Play => pause. Think of the play/pause remote button for any vcr/tivo/dvd/etc
] When the game starts don’t stop loading just because the application doesn’t have focus. :
[] When selecting a grayed out research item in the text box it should show how many months it take to research and the initial cost per use. This is not information that players should be required to memorize from what I can tell.
] When an ingredient is being discovered show the days/months left to match what the research tab does
[] Ingredient selection doesn’t behave consistently, sometimes I can select the wall, sometimes I can’t. Selecting the top of the wall should always select the current ingredient at that port.
] Provide a keyboard shortcut to select no tool. Often you want to go from creating belt to selecting medicine to look at, but first you have to right click in an empty spot and accidents occur way to often.

When playing the game the fun part is building on the factory screen. Bouncing between tabs trying to figure out what goes to what is not fun, making mistakes because I was confused isn’t very fun. The following is a list of small tweaks to the existing UI that can be made to improve the experience without a UI overhaul.

[] Stop re-sorting cures and ingredients. Because players have to jump between tabs so much it is incredibly frustrating when the cures re-arange themselves behind your back. When laying out a complex factory line I would regularly jump tabs and think I am working on the top right ingredient and cure #3 in the top row. When these are re-arranged behind my back I am completely lost and more than once have made mistakes. If there is only 1 change you do out of the entire list it is this one.
] On the ingredient tab just like you can eventually see what the competition is using, always show me what I am using. Much of management sim games are about always having something to do next and the game leading player in the direction of what to do. Having to spend two minutes bouncing between tabs just to remember which ingredient I am using just to determine which one should get the upgrade points is not fun especially when I discovered that the code already had a way to display this information (for other players).
[] On the cure tab put a player dot next to the Cures that in the company tab it currently shows the company is producing > 0. This will rapidly let the player see what currently is being produced and helping them decide what to do next. In some levels such as in “Two is the magic number”, I was supplying 8 of the 11 level 2 cures, but figuring out which ones I didn’t have was beyond difficult and really only doable by writing it out on paper. The game should effortlessly remind me which ones I have yet to do. I shouldn’t have to convert from the made up names to pill color to factory floor to cures.
] The ingredient tab has 2 columns, the Cure tab has 4 columns. If they both had 4 and were always in the same order it would make the users life easier knowing that the row 1, column 1 of cure X matches up with ingredient 1,1. This suggestion while small is more work than the rest of the suggestions, but has a high payoff so it was worth mentioning.
[] A 1px progress bar on the bottom of the research and ingredient tabs showing the highest % done task. This would let you at a glance see for example that a new ingredient is about to be done or there is a while before the new machine will be ready so go ahead and use a bunch of the old ones without switching tabs.
] On the cure and company tab provide a link/button that when clicked will jump you back to the factory floor centered on an output that is producing that cure. This is often the starting point to do the next thing such as upgrading that cure.
[] The ingredient tab could have the same link/button to goto an existing input
] When viewing a drug in any screen if one of the effects can be upgraded or removed show a white line above the range where it can be removed. This allows the user at a glance to see that this option is available and if so what minimal work needs to get done to do it without having to hover the mouse over the item.

Throughout the game players shouldn’t need to rely upon tooltips for basic information. Font/Color/Size can be used to show significant information all while taking up the same amount of space. Grab the book The Visual Display of Quantitative Information, by Edward Tufte which will give you a lot of ideas about how to present things in a denser fashion which for management games is crucial. A good book for here and games in the future.

Combined, these tweaks would really help to improve the new players experience and keep them in the action, help them understand what to do next and overall have fun. Many are minor and you could easily combined them and call it a ‘major’ release because together it would be a big step up and with the changelog/marketing around UI it would get some of those players that got stuck early on to try playing again and then they would talk about it which would get more players, etc.

Some more notes from the last few nights

[] When a drug is active on the factory floor there should be some visual distinction, say it glowing or something. This would help catch those out of bounds errors and give further indication of what is going on without having to use the debuggers.
] On the Cure tab when showing a drug that has a requirement that currently has not been found there should be some sort of indication that it needs to be found before the user goes off building a production line.
[*] In the beginner levels don’t hide the research that isn’t enabled for the game, just disable them or have a dotted line going off or something. This way the new player knows that there is stuff disabled rather then several I have talked to who thought that everything presented in the beginner mode was it even though the text said otherwise.

I have reached the end of my notes though. Playing on my macbook pro (i7 8GB ram, latest OS X, SSD,…) there is some bug that causes causes the frame rate to drop to single digits and mouse clicks rarely work eventually in any game I play. I even tried playing a custom game with no AI and before I had built a third production line I hit the bug. Never got to play an advanced game “the way the game is intended to be played” because I just can’t make it through an Intermediate game without the framerate bug appearing. Not being able to complete a game or build any factory of any decent size is a show stopper for me. I would be happy to help debug the issue if anyone is interested, but otherwise i’ll just wait for the next patch release before I play again. The game has a fun concept, a little ruff around the edges, but I had fun even with what I could do.