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Good interface for tracking moving plot?

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The lieutenant is preparing to mutiny against the captain... ...The captain believes the young reporter is really a spy... ...The young reporter is secretly in love with the lieutenant, but torn by her orders from her controller, the diplomat... ...The diplomat secretly wants revenge on the captain, and is using the reporter to feed the lieutenant false information, which should trigger a mutiny, which will force the captain to be killed or resign in disgrace... How do you keep track of it all?!?!?!?!? We've talked here a lot about the technical problems with a changing plot, but as a thought experiment I was wondering about the practical UI issues. If the scenario above could change continuously, even be different from game to game, how might you represent everything that's going on without having the player search through pages of information (especially each time they quit for awhile). Because it involves plot/story, would it be too crude to represent the characters in, say, a ring of portraits and show a web of connections between them based on attitudes? Characters portraits might be grouped near each other based on allegiances, rather than locations. You might also have a button to show plots in play, radiating from one portrait to others, showing possibly conspirators / helpers, and the progress of the plot. (???) So you might have something like "assassination" linking two characters, who are allies, pointing at a third. The pointer would stretch and get closer and closer the closer the plot was to completion (like a combo arrow / progress bar).
If not, how would you keep players straight on possible alliances, time to certain known events, clues / conjectures and motives without making them keep it all in their heads?

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Have you played the Sims2? It has a very nice interface for keeping track of interpersonal relationships, which could probably be extended to do a more "quest-centric" UI. If you haven't played it, it basically has a "relationships" panel, which includes a row of small portraits of everyone you've met, with a few small meters and icons below each portrait representing their friendship level, relation to you (spouse, enemy, roomate, etc.), and some other things. Mousing over the portraits pops up a tooltip with their name and a brief description; mousing over the icons and meters tells you what they mean. You can click on the portraits to bring up a menu for other panels, such as a family-tree type diagram of that person's relations (also done with portraits), or a "memories" bar, which shows events that happened between you and that person, in the form of icons that you can mouse over for more info (eg. a pair of lips as "First Kiss", or a frowning face for "Got in an argument."). I think it's a great example of a clean and fast interface that still lets you delve into more complicated data if you want to.

I think this system would work well for your example. You could have a "plot characters" panel that would show everyone related to your current quest/plot. So there'd be portraits for the lieutenant, captain, reporter, and diplomat; underneath them would be icons representing their relation to the player: trusted friend, enemy, unsure. You could then either click on each portrait to get a tree-type view of each of their links to the other plot characters, or have one big diagram of all the links to each other, which might be too messy to take in at once. So you could have the lieutenant's portrait with a red line and angry face to the captain's portrait (the line representing "enemy"). Mousing over the line between them would pop up the title to the quest entry, and clicking on it could bring you to your journal entry with more in-depth info, eg, the tooltip would be "The lieutenant's mutiny.", the journal entry could be "Earlier this morning, I overheard the lieutenant conversing with the troops and spreading vicious rumors about the captain. I have a feeling that blah blah...". You could also do a variant of the Sims2 "memory" panel. You click on the Diplomat, and you get a row of icons: The reporter's portrait with a puppet string overlaid, the captain's portrait with an angry face overlaid, etc. Mousing over each of those would similarly pop up a tooltip with a quest title that could be clicked for a more in depth journal entry: "Controlling the Media" -> "Talking with the crew I get the feeling that the diplomat has been leading the reporter around by the nose. I'm not sure I can completely trust anything she says at this point, blah blah.."; "Unspoken Rivalry" -> "I can't help but notice an uneasy tension whenever the diplomat and the captain are in the same room. The crew refuses to speak about it, but it seems as if they have a shady past..."

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There should definitely be a way to view all the relationships of a given type. And a special option that shows all of the most critic negative relationship info, so you can quickly get a grip of what your most immediate problems are (especially useful if you don't play for a few days). Actually that should be reformulated as "whatever relationships need immediate attention" (though that doesn't sound much like a space adventure game :P ).

A tree view would be the most obvious way to display this kind of information, but it could be better. There can be so many characters that it would end up being confusing.

Maybe this would work: the "relationships" screen shows your portrait in the center, and then the portraits of all the other characters, or at least the most important/relevant, laid out in a circle around it. There would be an arrow going from your character to one of the others (or vice-versa), color-coded for easier reference, and with an icon in the middle.

Hovering an arrow/icon with the mouse would give you more detailed info. If you're interested in "navigating" to another character, click its portrait, and it moves to the center of the screen, displaying that character's relationship to all the other characters. This way it's pretty easy and intuitive to view this kind of information.

There should be the kind of filters/view options that I mentioned earlier, for easier reference. And an option to show all the characters in the circle (no one in the center), and all the arrows between them instead - this should be useful if you narrow down the number of arrows using the filters, to show all the relationships of a given type at the same time.

I'm sorry if that sounded a bit confusing, but I think it would work really well :)

And Wav, this might seem like it's not related at first, but it should give you some nice ideas for this UI:
http://www.erasmatazz.com/library/Mind/Consciousness.html

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