Ours is never going to be a game with “instant action”. It might seem a minor semantic but its one that worries me a lot. It’s a chasm waiting for people to fall into. In BF2 or CS, the particular map you are playing tells you everything you need to know. Being a good team player might require you to absorb a little more information, but if you focus on fragging the right side you can be “good enough”.
But our game needs you to be slightly more aware of the scale and context of what you’re entering. Some Rats believe in an instant action button that spawns you and displays a pop-up with mission orders, etc. Some Rats believe in a “rapid action” button that gets you to the reserved-vehicle screen ready to go.
I believe in guiding the player.
What would instant action do? It would use some criteria to determine that this is the fight for you, and if you click the button you’ll spawn there. Why is that neccessary? Because you have to search through a lot of information. Why do you have to search? Because there is a lot of information that isn’t sorted, organized or presented in a fashion conducive to finding a fight. Why is the information the way it is? Because advanced players can make use of it to build a picture of what is going on and then make a supremely informed decision as to where to play.
We don’t have to take the current UI away from those people. But if we’re talking about “advanced” players, then they don’t need their interface to be the default interface – the current pages we have could easily be moved down a tab, and simpler, guided pages made to be the defaults for various UI steps.
Consider this: Selecting a destination for “instant action” would be like a contest. The game would line up all the candidates, score each of them, and thus determine a winner, throw the rest of the information away, and only use the one result.
But you could keep that list. Show the player the winning fight, by default, and provide them with back/next buttons to cycle thru the list in order.
Don’t get mired down here in the minutae of “how do you sort the list?” or “what determines which fight is best”. My point here is that the UI/game should be doing this searching for you. It has all the information, including information we might not want to show you but that we’d be OK with using on your behalf to put the list in a good order. And, that the player be able to change the sorting rules goes without saying.
Once you have this system, you also know what icons/attributes/information are important to display on the map. You can’t assign values to the properties of a fight without ascertaining whats important to know.
With such a system, I think its wholly feasible to go back to an old map-driven first page. Read on before you freak out.
There may be side-bars. There would certainly be tabs to let you view the information along other axes. You want to see the orbat? Good for you. You want to look up fights by AOs? Great, have a tab.
But this front map would be more than just a map. This would be the guided map. It would show some kind of inset-panel showing the properties of the fight that are used for selection; something relatively small with a few, simple iconic values to give you a rough picture of whats going on.
And back/next buttons.
The little info panel for the fight might have icons indicating relative numbers of troops, bases held, etc. Don’t get yourself sidetracked on the minutae.
One argument is that this is yet-more-stuff to look at. That’s wrong. This is less information for you to look at. This is the baseline premise. And yes, the info-panel for a fight might contain a fair amount of information. But that’s OK too. The average player isn’t going to pay it much attention anyway, but as he players more and more, and if that iconography is well re-used, e.g. on the briefing room screen, then the player is going to learn them as he goes along. The way you learn what all the spell icons mean in an MMORPG as you encounter them.
Obviously there are other changes that have to make this work, but the basic principle is to make the default not having to search for a fight. That doesn’t mean that you should make it impossible to search for a fight, or that you should be unable to view the information in similar ways to which it is presented now.
Pick a persona -> Pick a fight (and perhaps have your mission selected too) -> Be presented with a vehicle and an effective synopsis of what you are about to jump into. [More] for the full briefing page.
I believe those steps still need to be there, so that the advanced/expert user can defy the machine and see the details that otherwise might be missed, and so that a beginner can take a step back once he’s had his fix and analyze the situation and learn more about the game.