Why detailed combat info sucks, and how to fix it

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peterb1201
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Why detailed combat info sucks, and how to fix it

Post by peterb1201 » Sat Nov 20, 2010 1:01 pm

Here are some of the problems with the data FoG presents when you turn on "Verbose information"

1 - Unit names are repeated multiple times.
2 - Die rolls ("4,3,6,2") and results ("attacker hits=2") are intermingled with no structure.
3 - No visual cues to distinguish "good" from "bad" events. Skimming is impossible. You have to actually read carefully.
4 - Events that affect the attacker and the defender (or, alternatively, the player and the opponent) are intermingled.
5 - Intermingling of text, numbers, and symbols (eg, "=") makes the text hard to read.
6 - The "status information" panel is too small to hold all the information from a combat. There is no visible scrollbar (even though scrolling works) so it's not clear to the user that they can interact with it.
7 - Point 6 means that the verbose information linebreaks at unhelpful places, further cluttering up the panel.
8 - During the enemy's turn there is no way to pause the game, so the panel is flooded with detail that no user can possibly read. This problem gets worse in larger games.

Here are some suggestions to make it better. I'll be trying to address all of the above except point 8.

Let's start by looking at an example of what a combat looks like today:

Image

This is the prototype of the unreadable verbose information panel. It's so busy that I can't even begin to explain which parts of it I don't understand, because I can't even parse it. It doesn't all fit in the panel at once, so if you want to actually read it, you need to scroll through three vertical screens of information.

Let's make it better. We're going to do this in three phases, separated roughly by how difficult they would be for the developer to improve.

Phase 1 will be adding just a little bit of color to the important numerical results to make them stand out.

Phase 2 will be adding structure to the text.

Phase 3 will be adding some very simple graphical elements.

After phase 3, we can take a break and people can chime in with comments, and suggest further improvements.

PHASE 1: Use of color.

Image

Just doing this makes it much more clear what the heck happened. However, some men are red/green colorblind, so let's do a mockup using cyan/orange instead of red/green:

Image

Personally I think the red/green version is punchier and more clear, but you'd probably want to let colorblind users have a switch in the settings for accessibility.

PHASE 2: Organization.

This is still a torrent of information all jumbled together. Let's organize it in a semi-tabular form to be more useful.

Image

Just by doing this we get a few immediate benefits. First, we don't have to keep repeating the unit name (which can be long and bulky) over and over and over again. Second, the user can tell visually which results apply to which side -- "I am on the left, and my opponent is on the right." Thirdly, we've gotten rid of a lot of the symbols ("x=y") because the relationship is implied spatially.

PHASE 3: Images

We can push this further by using images in place of the numerical die rolls. Doing that immediately draws the users' eyes to the die rolls, eliminates the need to have text explaining "this is a die roll", and lets them interpret the result intuitively, via pattern-matching:

Image

I've highlighted the "successful" die rolls here with an outline. Whether or not you'd want to do that in practice I'm not sure, but I wanted to see how it would look. I also eliminated the "DR=0" non-die roll completely, although I guess if you felt it was important you could use a glyph of a blank d6.

Here's the same mockup, only this time in green/red instead of cyan/orange:

Image

Now that we have something actually readable, I can immediately form the question "What does the die roll in the cohesion test actually do? What does the [-1] mean? Is that a modifier, or the total result?" Phase 4 of the process would be specifically visiting just the cohesion tests and reformatting them to be more comprehensible.

But, before I do that, I think it's time to take a breath and ask people (and, especially, the developers) what they think.

Regards,

peter
Last edited by peterb1201 on Sat Nov 20, 2010 8:57 pm, edited 2 times in total.

ianiow
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Post by ianiow » Sat Nov 20, 2010 4:24 pm

Nice one Peter. This is MUCH better!

Gersen
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Post by Gersen » Sat Nov 20, 2010 4:38 pm

yes - much better.

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Post by Xiggy » Sat Nov 20, 2010 4:43 pm

Nice.

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Post by CheerfullyInsane » Sat Nov 20, 2010 5:24 pm

Fair enough, I'll be the sole voice of opposition then. :wink:

While I'll agree that it looks nice, and is easier to understand than the original display, there still remains 2 points of critique.
First, it's not really necessary.
After having played for a while, all the mechanics become second nature. Speaking for myself, I never have detailed combat turned on continuously.
If you start to read through each and every combat during a game, you'll never finish it anyhow.
Only times I use the detailed system is when I'm wondering if the target actually rolled *that* well to escape destruction.
Otherwise, the detailed pre-combat is enough, listing the POAs and the reasons for them.
Now, this obviously means that there's a learning-curve to the game, but then what strategy-game doesn't have that?

Second, and more importantly, organizing the combats into columns and colors is all very well.......
But that'll use up at least a quarter of the battle-screen, meaning you can't have it turned on continuously anyway, so you'll end up switching it off and on.
IMO more hassle than help.

Now, if you really wanted something to ease the learning-curve, I'd much prefer an ability to do a step-by-step walk-through of each game-turn, and for the real wonder, a playable log for the entire game.

Consider this my 2 cents......Aw hell, make it a nickel.

Lars
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Post by omarquatar » Sat Nov 20, 2010 5:55 pm

it's great :D
though i wonder whether this combat system really deserves such effort :(

76mm
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Post by 76mm » Sat Nov 20, 2010 6:04 pm

I agree with peterb that some improvement would be useful, currently I NEVER turn on detailed combat results, for the reasons peterb lays out.

I'm not sure what cheerful means when he asks for a "playable log for the entire game"? I don't think I would ever go back after a game to see what happened with that spear unit on the left flank on turn three, for instance.

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Post by TheGrayMouser » Sat Nov 20, 2010 7:24 pm

omarquatar wrote:it's great :D
though i wonder whether this combat system really deserves such effort :(
If you wernt taking the time to post nice scenarios to share I would wonder if you even liked the game at all :?:

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Post by CheerfullyInsane » Sat Nov 20, 2010 9:11 pm

76mm wrote: I'm not sure what cheerful means when he asks for a "playable log for the entire game"? I don't think I would ever go back after a game to see what happened with that spear unit on the left flank on turn three, for instance.
Nor would I, but then both of us are at this point pretty certain what happened during a game.
What I meant was a log that you can walk through action by action to figure out exactly why you lost.
It would help with analysis of ones first few games where most people myself included, are playing by feel rather than knowledge.
Not to mention that it would make AARs a lot easier to construct.

My point was that the number of possible modifiers on a combat are fairly small, so improving the detailed combat display is currently on page 3 of the list of improvements I'd like to see :wink:

Lars
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Post by omarquatar » Sat Nov 20, 2010 11:01 pm

TheGrayMouser wrote:
omarquatar wrote:it's great :D
though i wonder whether this combat system really deserves such effort :(
If you wernt taking the time to post nice scenarios to share I would wonder if you even liked the game at all :?:
i like the game very much...too bad the combat system is awful...IMHO of course :)

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Post by hidde » Sat Nov 20, 2010 11:06 pm

I don't play with the detailed combat info and never have. If it had presented something like the OP suggest I might have used it in the beginning. As it is now it's too much like work and I lose the immersion factor. I rather play and have fun than try to penetrate the information it gives.

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Post by cothyso » Sat Nov 20, 2010 11:32 pm

I'll second the insane one :)

Combat details misses some points, but it is fair enough at this point. It can have some better formatting, maybe I'll put up some example later on.

But the whole combat system is way too simplified and arbitrary for my tastes. Anyway, it is FoG, and you'll have to take it as it is and accept it, or go away, as there's no real computer game alternative atm (I-Magic's GBCE is too old, but even so, it does seems in many ways better than FoG, HPS's Ancient Warfare series has an awful interface/manipulation system, Tin Soldiers series is way too simplified and so on).

Hopefully, not for long. Soon enough my AWG (ancient war game, a temporary name for this personal project) concept will be ready to be presented, and the webpage for it too.
Last edited by cothyso on Sun Nov 21, 2010 9:04 am, edited 1 time in total.

peterb1201
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Post by peterb1201 » Sun Nov 21, 2010 12:41 am

CheerfullyInsane wrote: Second, and more importantly, organizing the combats into columns and colors is all very well.......
But that'll use up at least a quarter of the battle-screen, meaning you can't have it turned on continuously anyway, so you'll end up switching it off and on.
My point is that the detailed combat info is already useless, to the point that if you keep it on all the time, it might as well not be there at all. If we moved to a world where it only appeared when you turned it on, but when you turned it on it was actually meaningful, that would be an improvement.
Now, if you really wanted something to ease the learning-curve, I'd much prefer an ability to do a step-by-step walk-through of each game-turn, and for the real wonder, a playable log for the entire game.
I agree that that would be a great feature as well, and I brought it up in another thread. But it's not a zero-sum game. I am perfectly happy to ask for both. I went to the trouble of constructing UI mockups specifically because "nicely format the calculations that you are already displaying" seems like an easier feature request than "add full-game replays".

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Post by CheerfullyInsane » Sun Nov 21, 2010 11:17 am

peterb wrote: My point is that the detailed combat info is already useless, to the point that if you keep it on all the time, it might as well not be there at all. If we moved to a world where it only appeared when you turned it on, but when you turned it on it was actually meaningful, that would be an improvement.
Well, it's not useless, just a little hard to read. I mean, the info is actually there.
I agree that that would be a great feature as well, and I brought it up in another thread. But it's not a zero-sum game. I am perfectly happy to ask for both. I went to the trouble of constructing UI mockups specifically because "nicely format the calculations that you are already displaying" seems like an easier feature request than "add full-game replays".
You're right, one doesn't exclude the other.
However, in my experience (and from what I hear from others) the detailed combat display isn't used very much after you gain some experience, so I'd rather have HexWar use their limited resources on something that was actually useful. Such as a log-file, a dedicated key for screenshots to help with AARs, the ability to use higher resolutions, etc. etc.
As for which is easier to implement, I have no opinion. I know bugger-all about game-programming, so I have no basis for supporting either option.
Though I can't help but notice that the replay-feature is already in the game, even if it's only for a single game-turn.

Lars
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Post by Archie » Sun Nov 21, 2010 11:32 am

This would be a definite improvement to the game, as people new to the game would be able to follow what at times are strange results. Plus it has a good look.
I would like it adopted.

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Post by TheGrayMouser » Sun Nov 21, 2010 2:31 pm

omarquatar wrote:
TheGrayMouser wrote:
omarquatar wrote:it's great :D
though i wonder whether this combat system really deserves such effort :(
If you wernt taking the time to post nice scenarios to share I would wonder if you even liked the game at all :?:
i like the game very much...too bad the combat system is awful...IMHO of course :)
Just curious, what do you find in the combat system is so awful? I feel the POA system and inteaction between diffent troop types is pretty good.

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Post by davouthojo » Mon Nov 22, 2010 10:08 am

I like it! Like Hidde, I've never played with detailed information on, but would if it looked like this!

A couple of small edits to your mockup to make it even simpler:

1) Replace “Player 1” with “Mid Republican Roman”, so it can be taken out of the next line
2) Remove "POA" – it is on the left
3) Remove "Attacker" and "Defender" - since the information whizzes past to quickly, you will only see it when you are the attacker
3) Add a row for number of Dice
4) Remove “new strength” – it is on the left; in fact, I would replace this number with strength loss as the most relevant number for the combat

beserko
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Just say no ..........................

Post by beserko » Mon Nov 22, 2010 2:21 pm

I just turn it off. Caesar never had a system like this! Also many times I have had stats like 70 %vs 30 %(with Hvy Cav vs bowman no less) and still lost like 130 men to 5 LOL. I have given up trying to figure out the odds and pretty much ignore them. Sometimes I just tell those housecarls who are looking at 20%vs 80% odds just man up and attack. Often I am pleasantly surprised! You are right though, the detailed info is a head scratcher.

One thing though. At times it is my turn and I pincushion an enemy Leader with arrows. I wonder, has anyone ever killed a leader that way? I haven't. :?:

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Re: Just say no ..........................

Post by batesmotel » Mon Nov 22, 2010 2:29 pm

beserko wrote:I just turn it off. Caesar never had a system like this! Also many times I have had stats like 70 %vs 30 %(with Hvy Cav vs bowman no less) and still lost like 130 men to 5 LOL. I have given up trying to figure out the odds and pretty much ignore them. Sometimes I just tell those housecarls who are looking at 20%vs 80% odds just man up and attack. Often I am pleasantly surprised! You are right though, the detailed info is a head scratcher.

One thing though. At times it is my turn and I pincushion an enemy Leader with arrows. I wonder, has anyone ever killed a leader that way? I haven't. :?:
Leaders can only be killed in combat, not with missile fire.

Chris
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Post by cothyso » Mon Nov 22, 2010 3:18 pm

from programming point of view, I think the text colors are the most difficult thing to add (depending on what type of text they are using for the console).

the most efficient, important and simple enhancements would be:
- re-sizeable/bigger summary window
- summary window's text dropped into a log file
- possibility to visually scroll the text (like in a visible scroll control, which is a little bit more complicated)

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