UI Spitballing

Hey Folks! More experimenting today, as I messed around with ideas for showing what's going on with AI on the ship.

In today's screenshot, there's a new UI feature to show the currently selected AI. It only shows up when AI is selected (and not, for example, a door). The rough idea is to give a bit more situational info about what this AI is currently experiencing. It's pretty self-explanatory, but I'll go clockwise from the top left.

Top Left:
Large animated portrait to show more detail. The portraits I added before are a bit hard to read when along the bottom of the screen, and smaller sized. So I wanted to see if having a bigger version helped. I might be able to do more detail if I keep this UI, such as more facial features, more subtle animations, more buff/debuff icons, etc. I'm also thinking I can make this portrait swap between different AIs if the selected AI is having a conversation. E.g. show whatever AI is talking at the moment, or cut to their face if they suddenly react.

Top Right: This is just a list of current (visible) conditions on the selected AI. Similar to combat in NEO Scavenger, this is just the stuff we can see as an outsider. (Unless the selected character is us.)

Bottom: A message log for this character and anyone involved with them. So this character's current activities are listed here, as well as any interactions they have with others. It's basically the same as the old one at the bottom of the screen, except I right-aligned anything spoken/done by other parties to make it clearer. Kind of like an SMS chat log.

It needs clean-up, for sure. This is just a draft, after all. A lot can be done here to make it clearer/prettier.

But I think it might also be worth pursuing as an alternative to the bottom UI I had before. There's a lot of room here to show stuff. I can reduce the condition or message lists if need be (they scroll), the portrait, or whatever, and use that space to add more stuff. I can also add buttons to open deeper UI for the character if I get that far. (E.g. an inventory?)

Of course, that loses the instant awareness of seeing all crew faces at once along the bottom. But then again, that row of portraits at the bottom can't go on forever. What if there are 9 crew members? 19? 50? I looked at what folks are doing in games like RimWorld, and the current record for colonists there is 235. 235! How would I even do that?

I probably won't be good enough to make a game supporting a crew that large. (It'd crash.) But still, 8 may not be enough.

Another approach, which might make more sense, is for each AI to have a Sims-like status bauble over them on the map. So we get bird's-eye view of AI status, and if any of them are red (or flashing, or pulsing, or whatever), that AI needs attention. Maybe something like yellow if they need attention, and red if it's life-threatening?

Anyway, I could do that and remove the bottom UI row of portraits. Then, if the player wants overall crew status, they can zoom out and just look at the baubles.

Of course, what happens if you drag a box around multiple AI? Who is in the blow-up UI on the left? Do I only show the row of portraits when multiselected like this? And again, what if there are too many to fit?

Lots of problems to solve. But that might be okay to ignore for now. The main question is: does this new UI make the game better? Easier to use? Can I leverage it to make things more fun?

Tags: Ostranauts


matsy's picture

At the end of the if a player is wanting 250 odd AI's they would be wanting grids and data like how you see your stuff in OTTD which I guess isn't what you are aiming for with this.

Rovlad's picture

Since you're still tinkering with portraits, I thought I would mention Underrail. It had a portrait showing up for selected creature/NPC/player with some stats (much like you have now), which weren't animated, but they had animated background lighting, which was ever so subtle but greatly improved the whole thing. It was also being used in dialogues if I recall correctly.

So for example your character's portrait could look quite different depending on whether they were standing in shadows, near a fire barrel, or under flickering lights. All done without any "real" 3D effects, just background animation.

The more I think about the whole thing, the less I think there is a need for a whole swath of portraits on the UI. From what test gifs you've shown so far, they look more distracting then useful (and kind of reminders that they're all more or less clones). But of course this could be because they're just test cases for emotions now and further improvements might change that.

In Rimworld your characters could veer off quite far while collecting junk or doing jobs on the other side of the map, so quick-selecting them via UI was quite useful, but how often would this be needed in completely close quarters environment? Guess there must be more of a game first to actually make an informed decision.

dcfedor's picture

@matsy, yeah, I wasn't really aiming to have the capital ship experience :) I bet some players will want to, but the main goal is for a more intimate, ensemble-type crew. I.e. 1-10 members.

@Rovlad, interesting. I had to look at a handful of screenshots before I started to see what you mean. Different background images, different "lighting" (brightness/tinting?). Probably also different clothes/equipment.

I think the Underrail portraits are nicer looking than the animated portraits I have so far. Mostly because the deformation doesn't work consistently well on mine (polygon tearing/stretching). And I think they improve immersion in the scene.

The main down side I see to the UR portraits is that they don't improve dramatic interactions. Without facial expression, one has to read the text logs (or rely on some sidecar UI like buff icons or stat descriptors) to know if trust was betrayed, if someone was threatened, or if an NPC is beaming.

Which is okay. I mean, 90s RPGs did that all the time, and you can get some really engaging story that way. I'm just hoping to find a way to dispense with writing all the dialogue in advance like I did on NS, just to have it ignored after the player sees it once or twice :)

I'm still not even sure this goal is attainable. Maybe procedural drama just isn't interesting to watch? But on the off chance it is, I think this is an experiment worth wasting a bit of time on.

Dan Fedor - Founder, Blue Bottle Games

Rovlad's picture

Pretty sure that depends on complexity and how believable the said drama is. The Sims is still one of the best selling games ever which at its core is nothing but procedural relationships and tamagotchi style gameplay (I remember being genuinely sad when they died), while losing a colonist in Rimworld is an inconvenience at best, game over at worst, but hardly any emotional impact.
Go figure. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

Now that I think about it, it's probably because The Sims is (mostly) about day-to-day life of Joe Average instead of a bunch of colonists on an alien planet and thus is much more relatable.

matsy's picture

Seeing as there is no new post to read while I brush my teeth this morning I did have a thought. Depending on how much time it takes to create these. If you plan to go Kickstarter style I would be very tempted to pay more to see my beard in game ;)

@Rovland are you telling me you didn't just surround the house with a pool and take away the ladder?

Rovlad's picture

I usually took the ladder away AFTER they went for a swim when I wanted to get rid of someone. :)

dcfedor's picture

Ah "The Saw: Sims Edition," an old 'net favorite :) Denying one's sims basic needs or meticulously orchestrating "accidental" deaths.

Sorry about the lack of post on Friday. Our fridge bit the dust Thursday evening, and it was a mad scramble to find a repair person who'd touch it (LG brand), then to find a new one (too much time/money to fix), and find someone to help us move/deliver fridge-shaped things on zero notice. All while moving our food to the patio for semi-cold storage.

Sort of like FTL: Domestic Edition!

Anyway, I can see how sims would engender more sympathy than Rimworld characters. I think part of it is indeed the setting, but a possibly larger part might be the awareness of their emotional needs.

In Rimworld, we know about physical needs, and a more nebulous mental state (which, to be fair, is composed of granular things like environment, overworkedness, fun, relationships).

But in the sims, we have a crystal clear view of their desires, failures, and emotional struggles. We know what they want, how they're trying to achieve it, how they fail, and how they rebound.

Similarly, shows like Firefly and Cowboy Bebop get under our skin as we learn about character vulnerabilities, flaws, and desires. The spaceships are cool, the adventures gripping, but the drama endears them (and their worlds) to us.

Dan Fedor - Founder, Blue Bottle Games