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Tales from the UI Skunkworks: Military Management, Episode One of A Gazillion

User interface design is, honestly, one of the most difficult parts of creating a game.  Every button has a profound impact on how people will be motivated to play (or not play) a game.  I suspect this is why so many games seem to almost consciously decide not to experiment too radically with UI.  It’s so much easier to just build it the way people are used to rather than building it the way that perhaps it should be.  We’re no different; Dredmor’s UI has a lot of flaws that we didn’t see at the time of development. For instance, it turns out that Inventory Management isn’t actually a super fun mini-game. Even then, we completely overhauled the Dredmor gameplay UI some 4 or 5 times before we settled on a system which is still flawed, and to this day leads people to play the game in a way that detracts from the experience. Such is game development.

Not like this. Never like this.

We are doing our best to apply the lessons learned from Dredmor to Clockwork Empires. Not all of these lessons are applicable, of course, as CE isn’t a Roguelike — and there are a lot more moving parts to control. Granted, there are also a lot more strategy/management style games with real-time mouse-based UIs to draw from, and we have played a ton of them; however, by virtue of making a game that crosses the genre-streams a bit, none of these systems perfectly fit the needs of CE. For instance, dropping a Starcraft control scheme on the game would be inappropriate because Starcraft is (arguably) about competitive micro-managing, optimized build orders, and a bit of gambling on the current “meta”. In contrast, CE is ideally about creating stories within its simulation.

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