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Diodor

UI - integral part of a RTS

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I used to think the user interface in a RTS is somewhat separated from the game core (units, attack types, resources, upgrades, etc.). A good interface is convenient of course, but definitely not defining for a game. Is this belief justified? Is it possible to build an original game on top of a user interface system? How can this be achieved? I''ll note that there''s no rule saying the user interface should make it easier for the player to give his forces the orders he wants. In fact, I bet some interesting games can be achieved by doing just the opposite: crippling the user interface. A good simulation of medieval battles, with all the difficulties of giving order without modern technology should be most interesting. The Total War series is (arguably) just a classic RTS with a different UI - proof that an expressive user interface may be the first step towards bringing real large scale strategy to the RTS. Creating logical constructs like supply paths or front lines, and then assigning to these units and buildings may be another idea. Imagine creating a front line, assigning a supply to the front line, and assigning a couple of factories to the supply line - resulting in all new units reinforcing the front line.

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The UI is the single most important part of any game. It is the one (gameplay related) element of the game software that impacts on all the other (gameplay related) elements.

If you take any game and replace the UI with a better one the user will be better able to play the game and get to all the good parts. They will then be able to experience the great depth of gameplay, learning curve and other gameplay related features.

Take that same game and change the UI for one that is worse/harder to use and you limit the users ability to play the game and to reach those parts of the game that have been so well designed. they will never experience the great gameplay so in effect (for the user) the game is worse.

Developers often go out of their way to make a UI user definable just because it is so important for the user to feel comfortable with the UI. The ultimate goal is for the user to reach a state of unconcious competence - they play the game without thinking about the controls.

quote:
I'll note that there's no rule saying the user interface should make it easier for the player to give his forces the orders he wants. In fact, I bet some interesting games can be achieved by doing just the opposite: crippling the user interface. A good simulation of medieval battles, with all the difficulties of giving order without modern technology should be most interesting.
You are confussing game play machanics with UI interface. Crippling a UI is a really, really bad idea as it leads to user frustration. The way to achieve the mentioned example is to allow the user to issue the orders as normal but the result is controlled by the game mechanics - the messenger gets lost/killed, they don't hear your shouted command above the noise of battle, they can't see the flag signals through the smoke etc etc. These are acceptable examples of a well implemented system of difficult order giving. They may cause frustration but it is the accepted frustration of the limits that did exist in that era.

Having a UI that didn't respond to your clicks when you tried to select someone to order them or that deleted/lost orders you typed in or other varients of the UI "getting in the way" would be bad examples. In those cases the player's frustration would be with the software rather than with the world simulation. The player can't immerse in the game world because the UI gets in the way, reminding them that this is a piece of software. They can never achieve unconcious competence.

Dan Marchant
Obscure Productions
Game Development & Design consultant

[edited by - obscure on July 2, 2003 9:05:09 AM]

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quote:

Original post by Obscure

You are confusing game play machanics with UI interface.



That pretty much sums up my post: UI and game play blend together in RTS games - there is no clear boundary between them.

About crippling the UI resulting in potentially interesting gameplay: how about a tiny strategy game where all the player has as user interface is one button that can beat a drum with all the units on the field responding to different sound patterns on that drum? The challenge and the fun of this game _is_ the UI.

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There is a very clear boundry because the UI is part of the software whilst Game Play is the output from the sofware that is generated as a result of user interaction. However I can see that from a user point of view they could be viewed as the same because the type/quality of input (via the UI) has a big inpact on the output. The UI may be the most important element that affects the game play experience but it is still seperate from it from a development perspective - This is an important issue because when trying to make a good game it is important to focus on exactly what each element of the software does and how it affects the end result.

quote:
About crippling the UI resulting
This is a really bad choice of words. Crippling denotes that something does not function properly. Hence my example of a UI that loses player input. What your describing isn''t a crippled interface but rather a simplified interface. It may only have one function but it does it proprly. You are also adding a layer of abstraction to the game, which is where your interesting game play concept comes in. Instead of ordering the units directly by clicking on them you are sending a signal, which they interpret.

The drum example is a great one as you could include issues like distance and local environmental sounds (waterfall) etc which have an effect on the results. Others similar systems could include semaphor, morse code and smoke signals.


Dan Marchant
Obscure Productions
Game Development & Design consultant

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