Fun game, poor interface

Buzz Aldrin's Space Program Manager (SPM) Road to the Moon is the ultimate game of space exploration.

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jgf1123
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Fun game, poor interface

Post by jgf1123 » Wed Nov 12, 2014 5:14 pm

The first time I sent a man to the moon (Gemini with direct ascent module), I got goosebumps. Already have 45 hours logged on Steam.

That said, the game's interface is annoying. I mentioned a couple things back when I had time to keep up with beta-testing (to be fair, some other things I did complain about did get addressed):
jgf1123 wrote:
Deadmeat1471 wrote:To be fair, the BARIS ui was awful. This game is actually a slight improvement on it, even now. But we don't love BARIS for its good UI :D
I'm going to have to disagree with that. Okay, sometimes it was hard to tell in BARIS what components were needed for a particular mission, or what missions you should complete before others, and moving astronauts between programs took more clicks than necessary. But to R&D in BASPM, I have to go Headquarters -> Location -> Category -> Program -> Mission -> Configuration. Even horizontal navigation between screens within a configuration is not clear. In BARIS, you clicked on R&D and you were there.
http://slitherine.com/forum/viewtopic.php?f=226&t=45930
jgf1123 wrote:You should either use a scrolling window (all personnel on one page, but you have scroll to see them) or display as many items as possible on one page (without scrolling) and then flip pages to see more, but not both; otherwise you force the user to navigate two sets of controls to do the same job: look at personnel. The former option seems to be more common, and I think it is the better choice.
http://slitherine.com/forum/viewtopic.php?f=226&t=45951

If I was to write a Steam review, it would probably go like this:

While Buzz Aldrin's Race Into Space has the catchier name, the title of Buzz Aldrin's Space Program Manager is an accurate description and not just a tip of the hat to Football/Adventure/Duckpond Manager, et al. BASPM is very much about managing staff and projects to hit prestige goals while staying in budget. (In comparison, BARIS was also about managing projects and staying in budget but also about knowing when to make a riskier launch before reaching max R&D in order beat the other side to the goal and when to skip steps to catch up to the other space program.)

In BASPM, you have three different staffs to manage, including recruiting and training, and I spend most of my time in-game managing them, in particular SET. Most every season, I have some personnel coming out of advanced training. Then there's projects reaching max R&D so those personnel have to find a new assignment. Therefore, almost every season I have rejigger their assignments, deciding who researches what and who goes back to school.

However, the only place I can see all my SET personnel together is on SET Department page. (Despite my complaints above, the SET Department page is okay. I still think scrolling and paging is a dubious design choice, but 95% of the time I don't need to see more than the top 10 personnel in a skill.) Then I have to navigate to a different interface to assign them. This takes at least two clicks: click the Projects icon in the lower bar, click either Manage Rockets or Manage Payloads, then scroll down to the project. Yes, not only can't you assign researchers to project on their department page, but assignments are done on two separate pages. There is a way to assign SET to payloads and rockets from the same page, but it takes 3+ clicks to get there: first the Project icon in the lower bar, then scroll to find the project, then possibly click through to the correct mission (I'm looking at you, Agena docking and lunar lander testing missions), then click R&D Mission Components. Wouldn't it be more natural to, say, monitor personnel and assign them to tasks using the same interface?

This isn't the only interface oddity. Ideally, you want well-trained flight controllers just in case something goes wrong (and in long missions with 20+ steps, something will probably go wrong, even if reliability is 97%). Having the right flight controllers means knowing how many of each you'll need (unless you just happen to know that no mission needs more than one propulsion controller and by when you need that 5th trajectory guy). But to get that info, you again have to navigate away to the project's page, pick a mission, click the information icon, click on a season, then click on the flight controller information. Then I have to do this will all the missions in a project because not all of them have the same number of flight controllers. But it's needing to first select a season that really irritates me. Why? Because the screen I see upon loading mission information is pretty useless: it just tells me the number of seasons. And then, in order to get to the information I really need (like number of flight controllers or their contribution at each step or the number of steps), I can't even go their directly because first I need to click on a season before those buttons are activated.

I'm pretty sure I know why the interface was made this way. The theme in the interface design is that everything is arranged hierarchically. Personnel go on their department page. Research is done under projects. The mission information is probably stored in files organized by project, then mission, then season, then steps, then broken down between components and flight controllers. (I spent an inordinate part of my PhD mucking with file formats.

To this, I want to add that the Automatically Assign Best Candidates button when filling flight controllers isn't perfect. Specifically, what I think happens is that

Briggs
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Re: Fun game, poor interface

Post by Briggs » Wed Nov 12, 2014 8:16 pm

The iffy interface is pretty well-documented. To be honest, though, I don't really mind that much. Just press on and get used to it. Once you have 10 hours in the game it becomes manageable. Given the choice between the developers giving their time to UI work or new content, I'd hands down take the new content.

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Re: Fun game, poor interface

Post by Palarran » Thu Nov 13, 2014 1:07 am

I agree. I think many of the interface design decisions are based around releasing the game for Android and iOS. If the player is limited to a touch screen they make perfect sense. But they're unnecessarily difficult for mouse users.

jgf1123
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Re: Fun game, poor interface

Post by jgf1123 » Thu Nov 13, 2014 2:14 am

I repeat: It's a management game. The UI makes it harder to manage. This is bad design. Yes, you certainly could "get used to" having to double-click to do anything in a RTS, but people would rightly complain that it is unnecessary.

And if I was on a touch screen, I would still want the ability to assign SET personnel from the SET Department screen, so I don't buy that argument.

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Re: Fun game, poor interface

Post by IainMcNeil » Thu Nov 13, 2014 9:57 am

The UI is not limited by the any iPad design. It was just organised in an hierarchical way that was fine when the game was simpler. Over time the complexity has layered on and now as you say some of the tasks do feel a bit cumbersome so we should have a look for ways to improve. Sometimes you cant see the wood for the trees when you've been looking at the game for 2 years or more. Tooltips were an oversight which have been added and will be in the first update.

If there are specific issues people are having we'll look for ways to address them.

For example the lack of info on which astronauts and controllers you need is something we can look at adding. We just need to find the right place to show it. The problem is that programs have lots of configurations and they can have varying requirements.

Allocating SET personnel from the SET screen would be nice but we'd need to think about how we showed the list of available R&D projects. How they were ordered needs to be thought about too as it could be a long list.

If there are other specific issues we'll look for ways to solve them.

Thanks for the feedback.

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Re: Fun game, poor interface

Post by Briggs » Thu Nov 13, 2014 11:30 pm

Iain, I think the Mission tab at the bottom right of the main interface is underused. Currently it only leads to a pair of tabs (Missions Planned/Missions in Progress). Maybe a third tab could be added: 'Launch Mission' or some such thing. There's a lot of real estate in that tab, plenty of area to fill up with option and info. I think something to the effect of:

'Missions' window -> 'Launch Mission' tab (should probably be the default tab as it would be the most used tab) -> list of current open projects in descending order on the left -> select desired project which shows missions for that project on the right -> click desired mission to schedule that mission

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Re: Fun game, poor interface

Post by Tssha » Fri Nov 14, 2014 9:30 am

If I may suggest, another fun idea would be to sort the projects by average parts readiness (showing the percentage on the list itself would also be nice). That'll save about a dozen clicks when figuring out which projects are "ready" and which ones need more time to cook.

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Re: Fun game, poor interface

Post by Xiaomaoxin » Fri Nov 14, 2014 9:15 pm

Iain if you are now looking to improve and throw away the app limitation argument I would like to refer back to my post about right mouse to close/go back functionality that I made months back in the beta :) In my opinion being able to use a right mouse click to go back and close windows is at least as basic a functionality as the tooltips since it makes life a lot easier if you dont move for clickspots for that. Hope you or Nacho are still looking at this thread and see this, dont want to start a new one.

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Re: Fun game, poor interface

Post by IainMcNeil » Sat Nov 15, 2014 7:51 am

Right mouse is not just unavailable on iPad, it is PC only so you can't do it on Mac so we're unlikely to make that kind of change. We'll look at the other ideas and see what we can do. In the mean time grab the latest version and see how it feels!

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Re: Fun game, poor interface

Post by nico7550 » Sat Nov 15, 2014 10:08 am

Hi, this is a simple question of binding :-) There is no back/previous button on Ithing ?

Xiaomaoxin, from my opinion, it's no more time to ask for deep changes, better start to set your list of wishes for part 2 and prepare to fight for them...

An old proposal send to the dev team from may 2014, I try to visually concentrate the BASPM mission selector set of screens into one.
But the best would be a mission constructor to reduce the number of screens.
Mission screen.jpg
Mission screen.jpg (236.78 KiB) Viewed 2526 times

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Re: Fun game, poor interface

Post by N_Molson » Sun Nov 16, 2014 7:30 pm

I've played this game quite a lot and honestly got used to the interface. There is really a lot of things to manage, so I guess that a "multi-layered" system was inevitable. But as Iain said, there's always room for improvement. :wink:
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Re: Fun game, poor interface

Post by ladlas » Mon Nov 17, 2014 8:31 am

A couple of things which could be improved:

* When all SET techs are occupied and I click on an empty SET box in R&D, I would like the list of already occupied techs sorted by relevant skill. It's easy to choose the correct one when you have five techs, not quite so when you have 30.
* I would like a reliability percentage breakdown for each component in the schedule mission screen (not the correct name, sorry, I know), instead of just an average. On second thought, it would be nice with an average as well.
* Everywhere I see a picture of a component I would like to be able to click it to go to the R&D screen.
* From the payload R&D screen, I would like to be able to easily go to each (relevant) program where that component is being used. Usually, a payload is just used in one program.

That's just from the top of my head.

jgf1123
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Re: Fun game, poor interface

Post by jgf1123 » Thu Nov 20, 2014 6:35 am

I take the view that the actions you do the most often and the actions that you spend the most time doing should be made as simple and painless as possible, including integrating the info you need to make those decisions. Try to minimize the number of seconds / number of clicks needed to bring up the info you want or to perform the action you want.

I spend a lot of time futzing with my SET personnel. I have a lot of SET, and a lot of the game is making sure the right projects are getting researched for the next series of launches. Mostly it is making sure that my top people in each category are working on a project while the others are training. So I would like to be able to rank SET personnel by a particular stat and assign them to projects or training from the same interface. If a player is sorting by a particular stat and then decide to assign a SET to a project, they're probably thinking of project in that category, so you can make those project the first ones that pop up (and allow them to scroll or select another category if that's not their goal).

The peculiarity of SET is that each project is particular category and R&D only cares about that particular skill. It's a system that promotes specialization. It might not even be crazy folding the R&D and SET pages together, so that projects and SET are organized together by project categories. I know you want to keep some 'DNA' the same between the 3 personnel management screens, both for coding reasons and user usability purposes, but SET works differently from astronauts and flight controllers because the latter two do their stuff during the mission while SET does nothing during the mission; all their work is done before mission happens. From an interface perspective, astronauts and flight controller management should work with the mission screens while SET management has most to do with R&D.

I'm not sure if the order of the SET in the R&D matters, but whether it does or doesn't, they should automatically be sorted by skill after every change in the R&D team and change in their skills, rather than being stuck in a particular index until the player manually updates them.

There's not a whole lot that I really annoys me with the flight controller interface. I wish that their mission commander stat (or whatever it's called) was listed so I don't have to calculate it by hand while figuring out what role they should be training for. While assembling missions, I would like to see all my personnel, including the ones in training, and have a button that removes them from training and assigns them to that position (probably with a confirmation box). Ditto for the astronauts. If the astronaut I want is still in training, I would like to be able to pull him/her out of training from the assemble mission page rather than having to navigate to the astronaut page, do it, then navigate back.

As for displaying the number of astronauts and flight controllers needed, I suggest that each mission have that information on its front page, not hidden away under the info button. For multi-season missions, you can show a range. On the project's front page, it can show a range from all of its mission configurations.

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Re: Fun game, poor interface

Post by peyre » Wed Nov 26, 2014 7:10 pm

Another idea for when/where to display personnel needed, how about this?

I think it would be a good idea, when you start a new program, for the game to warn you if you'll need more personnel. For instance, say I've just finished Explorer and started Mercury unmanned suborbital. The game tells me $1250 (or whatever) is deducted from my funds. Also in that window it could say something like "To launch this mission you will need 9 additional flight controllers", so I could then go straight to the mission control building rather than being stopped in my tracks several turns later when I try to assemble a mission and delayed two turns while I hire and train the additional staff needed. For the manned mission, when you start that you could be warned "To launch this mission you will need 3 additional flight controllers and 1 or more astronauts" ("Oh right, I need to hire those guys!")

This might be less practical to implement, but maybe in the news screen, when it tells you you've lost a given person (say, a flight controller), if you now have too few to launch the mission(s) you currently have on the drawing board, it could prompt you that additional flight controllers (or whatever) will be needed.

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