Over the past three week, I have been putting all of my time and energy into the development of the game Prosperity. This resource management game had players collecting various resources in order to construct a grand tower unlike any other, in the name of God. For the most part, the game was very well received. People seemed to enjoy the resource management side of things, and found getting to that next tower level a satisfying accomplishment. And let’s not forget the wonderful music produced by Sam Mclean, which got nothing but praise. However, there was one major issue with the game, that made a lot of people struggle early on – they had no idea what they were doing.
This issue was primarily due to the user interface. I was already aware that it was ugly (I made the panels in about two minutes in Photoshop, and am certainly no artist) but I did not realise that the way it was constructed and present would have such an impact on the way people played. So, I’m going to take a moment to look at a few different aspects of the interface, and how they could have been done better.
This is what the players were first presented with. An empty landscape and a bunch of letters and numbers. Now, we can’t assume that the player has read the instructions (as few did). So, what can they get from this. Wood, Stone, Iron, and Gold are things in the game, and they can Hire Workers and Expand the Tower. As for all the letters, numbers, and arithmetic symbols, there’s not real indication as to what they’re for.
One simple mistake here is that whilst all the letters (which represent the various resources) are color coded to match the workers, the resources at the top of the screen aren’t. Whilst this would not have made it entirely clear what those numbers and buttons were for, it at least would have reinforced the link between each of the respective resources.
But, the big problem with the interface (or at least one of them anyway) was that there was no clear explanation as to what the plus and minus buttons do, even if you do understand that the letters mean resources. What the buttons do is assign workers to collect each resource. What the buttons convey, is essentially nothing. Presumably, the plus button will add something to something else, and the minus will subtract that thing. Beyond that, there’s nothing.
Though how to clear up this confusion? Obviously, we need to make it much more clear what the button actually do. One way to do this, would be to clarify the information around the buttons. For example, if that entire panel had the heading ‘Worker Assignment’ and each resource was followed by a ‘0 Workers’ rather than just ‘0’ it would make more sense that pressing plus would assign a worker to that resource.
Another issue is that the panels used for both information and buttons are the same. Given that all of the resource information at the top and sides of the screen are on the dark blue background, one could assume that everything on that background is just information and not interactive. However, this is not the case with Prosperity. A simple solution is to give all the buttons a different look from the rest of the interface. Perhaps a different color, or a different border, or a different panel style.
It was also mentioned that the difference between the buttons’ active and inactive states (when you can and can’t press them, depending on your resources) was not clear enough. Whilst the became darker and grayed out, it was not entirely clear why. In part, this can of course be fixed by making the contrast between the two more substantial. Though furthermore, it could be improved by also changing the appearance of the tool-tip that appears when you hover over the button. Changes could include things like highlighting costs red if you have insufficient funds, or the tool-tip itself could change color/style to reflect the current state.
Now, I could continue to go on and on about all the things wrong with this design but I simply haven’t the time. So I’ll likely make another post about interfaces in general a little later on, no doubt from the perspective of everyone’s favorite office sim – Casual Office Extreme. So until next time, dear reader…
You can play Prosperity here.