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 :)

Tags: Ostranauts


Rovlad's picture

>Is this a fairly intuitive at-a-glance UI for your financial state?
Honestly, I don't get it at all, aside from if green is above red then it's good. If that's all I need to know then it's good enough I guess.
Why not have a ledger type thing with actual numbers instead of weird graphs though?

ra1's picture

I like the projected expenses idea. However, 90% of the game is presumably in transit. What can a player do during the trip to alleviate expenses? Turn off lights?

Also, I don't think that what happened last year December has anything to do with this year December. Presumably, in a year, I will have made major changes to my crew and ship, likely drastically affecting my expenses.

dcfedor's picture

@Rovlad, that's basically it. If green is above the orange, you'll pass. Otherwise, you'll be in debt come month's end. All the other bells and whistles are there to give some more context to the orange line, in case you don't trust it.

But you're right I may be trying to cram too much into that one thing. All the player really cares about is if they can pay their current bills come end of month. So I can probably get away with a more simple number and on/off warning indicator if there's a shortage.

As for the ledger, that's totally in the cards. I pictured that being on its own screen, since it'll have a lot more info to digest. Something like clicking "Cash" readout at the top to see more detail.

@ra1, good question. I think there are things you can do before a month starts, and things you can do mid-month, and ditto for before launch and in-transit. Some examples:

  • Change course to capitalize on an opportunity. (E.g. sell cargo to a closer station for less profit, to cover impending bills, shake-down a nearby station/ship, etc.)
  • Change from full burn to "coasting" course to save fuel (in exchange for more time).
  • Cut rations/supplies to stretch them longer.
  • Put crew on repairs, fabrication, and other jobs you'd otherwise pay for.
  • Mentally brace your crew for not getting paid. (Or quell the mutiny.)

Basically, the same sort of stuff they do in Firefly/Expanse/Cowboy Bebop when in-transit and needing to scrape together more cash.

As for last December not affecting this December, yes and no. There are some expenses that come up less often than monthly, and it can be useful to see your expense history. The real-world example that immediately springs to mind is tax season. Or annual licensing/permit fees. Membership dues. That sort of thing.

Also, you might average one major maintenance/repair expense every 5-6 months, or everybody's hiring ships during the 3-week period this planetoid comes really close to this other station.

Of course, a lot of this is just pie in the sky until the game is made to care about that stuff :)

Dan Fedor - Founder, Blue Bottle Games

layarion's picture

will modding for this or Neo2 be kept in mind from the ground up?

OverHaul Mod
DevKit is an upgraded BBC mod.
Improve your mods.

Rovlad's picture

The more I think of this, the less I like this interpretation.
If I own someone something, or have an outstanding account, or whatever -- I want to see it in cold hard numbers, not a weird graph which basically tells me jack shit.

Rovlad's picture

Especially if it's supposed to be a big part of the game, you probably want the player to know that he's 5k in the hole instead of "hurr my red line is below a green one (or vice versa), who knows what that actually means".

dcfedor's picture

@layarion, yes. Although, I might be overcompensating by trying to make everything moddable this time around, and it's causing development speed to slow to a crawl. I'm trying to make as much data-driven as possible, but will inevitably need to hard-code some things to avoid getting lost in cross-referenced text files.

@Rovlad, forget about the graph. It's probably not happening anyway :)

There's a full-screen ledger planned for detailed info like this. Line items, dollar values, subtotals. Basically what you'd expect from a budget.

The graph thing was just meant to be like an indicator light, but with more detail than a simple light. I.e. "oh damn, the green line just took a dive" or "the orange line just jumped," then click on it to see the detailed ledger to find out why.

But at this point, I'm scrapping that because it's a lot of setup time for a non-essential thing. I'll likely do a simple red/green cash number that does the same job. At least until this system calcifies a bit.

Dan Fedor - Founder, Blue Bottle Games