Now that we have a much more detailed view of how we envision the specifics of Clockwork Empires, we’ve been revisiting much of the UI we initially wrote to carry us this far. Now we’re looking at it with an eye for usability and better presenting the information that should be important and visible to the player. You may recall the revamp of the Work Crews element last month – the element that we’re looking at right now is the character information panel.
We have been getting away with a very crude character UI because most people don’t seem to expect that a deep, complex character simulation is going to give you a way to immediately decipher exactly what is going on within that character. Not only is that a tall order to ask for a user interface but it might even lower your appreciation for the simulation by peeling back the curtain a bit too far. A certain element of mystery can be a good thing.
But now there’s a cost that I’m realizing we need to bear. The game needs to be presenting players with an accurate concept of its state in order for them to be able to make informed decisions about how to interact with the game mechanics. Some hidden information is great, as long as it can be usefully inferred, but too little makes the game feel random, and makes the meaningful choices that players are making to affect the state feel insignificant – something we currently suffer from. For example, what exactly does it mean to a character to be forced to work day and night for three days straight?
So we need to show more information about our character behavior algorithms, which is an especially interesting challenge because we designed them expecting to never need to visualize them. This UI redesign has been a process that’s been going on the last few weeks, and we probably still have some work to go. My goal is to allow players to easily see how to influence the characters, and to see the impact of that influence immediately, rather than waiting for the character’s eventual behavior to give a vague impression of a response.
The characters still have a lot of unpredictable autonomy, as the focus of the UI is now more on why the character has a particular mood, for instance. But what they do within that mood is still very much up to them.
One of the things we’re exposing right now is the relative strength of the character’s internal emotions. Since the characters can be happy while still being somewhat angry, the current opaque model shows seemingly random mood swings. By making this data visible we can show how and why those happen, and give players the ability to resolve issues before they happen.
We’ll be hammering this out over a couple of experimental patches before it hits the stable branch, so when you have a chance to play with it a bit let us know what you think!