Livin' In the Red
Hey Folks! Hope everyone had a good weekend. I decided to splurge and pick up Battletech, largely because of its mercenary outfit management bits. A lot of what's going on there is similar to what I'd like to do, so there's some stuff worth researching. Plus, you know, fun :)
Per last week's devlog, I'm thinking the next thing I should focus on is giving the game a sense of urgency. That ticking clock where every second drains some resource, and is a force against which the player is working. In this case, that force is money. You have salaries to pay, a ship mortgage to meet, docking fees to cover, supply costs to absorb...every minute you exist in this game, somebody's got their hand out to you, awaiting their cut.
I think Battletech's way of handling this is a good start. You have overall funds for your outfit, estimated costs to maintain your mech, and ditto for salaries. From that, you get an estimated monthly cost, and it projects how many months you can last at that rate. You also have some sliders for adjusting salary and maintenance each month, which affect morale and other things.
The bank loan and interest is sort of a central focus, which I also like. Not every player in the space prototype is going to have this, but few players are going to completely avoid owing someone, somewhere some cash. So outstanding debts are also important.
I think the space prototype will probably need a few more bits of info, at least. For one thing, the currency situation is more complex. (Probably at least two major currencies.) Ongoing maintenance costs are also a bit more detailed. You don't automatically deduct dollars at the end of the month to keep fuel and food on the ship. You have to source that manually, which means finding a supply and buying or stealing it. So that part happens through gameplay, in part.
I think what that means is we're going to need a snapshot UI with a bit more context to it in this game, which is in today's screenshot, at the top right corner.
"Cash" in this case is the total liquid assets available to the player, across currencies. (You may have half your money in Xinhua, and the other half in Ceres, for example.) And the unit of this UI is a modified Greek sigma. Partly, just because it looks right. But also, sigma has some meanings in math and finance which are somewhat appropriate to current cash status and flow.
To the right of that is a bar/line graph showing a recent history of your financials from a year ago through to the present. The green line is your "cash," or the amount you can spend without selling anything. The red vertical line is the current time, which moves to the right as time passes. The dark red bars are your actual monthly expenses each month over the last year.
The horizontal orange line, and the orange bar at the far right are showing projected costs, but I have yet to sort out which is which. My thought so far is that the orange horizontal line, or "water line" shows your average monthly costs, based on history. And the orange bar at the end is how much money you're expected to pay based on outstanding bills.
In other words, you're on the hook for that orange bar already, for things like salary, mortgage, or other debts "on the books." The orange line, on the other hand, is a more realistic picture of what you'll likely owe based on past expenses. It might include things like repairs, which nobody wants to need, but often come when you least expect them. Or things like food/fuel, which you could technically ignore, but you wouldn't get far without :)
I think that layout makes sense. If the green is above the "water line," you're healthy. If not, you're in trouble. And the long line represents an average over time, while the single bar at the end represents a specific point in time.
And, when you click on this, you'll probably get a more detailed overview.
What do you think? Is this a fairly intuitive at-a-glance UI for your financial state? Could you see danger coming soon enough to deal with it? Or am I over-engineering again :)