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Change to the Interface


Philippe
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One of the problems with CMx1 was that the interface could at times be very awkward. While most of us learned to adust, the problems with the interface are thrown into high relief when you try to use Franko's true combat rules.

The rules themselves were a great idea, but the game interface was simply not set up to handle them properly. The problem is, though, that the things that the interface should have been able to do to handle the true combat rules it also should have been able to do to accomodate normal play.

Game interfaces are a funny thing, probably require a lot of programming resources, and aren't exactly the meat and potatoes of groggy debate. So the subject hasn't gotten the attention it deserves.

But a well-thought out interface is the difference between a game that is intuitive and a pleasure to play, and an exercise in frustration, a constant fighting with the game controls until you learn how to overcome them or give up in despair. Though not strictly related to the interface, vehicles moving in convoy down a road come to mind in this context.

I haven't come up with a unified interface approach and don't intend to. This needs to be done by at most one or maybe two people, because a camel is a horse designed by a committee.

But I can highlight a few things that the designer should be thinking about when this gets implemented.

* It is hard to see different terrain levels in-game at the lower viewing levels, and almost impossible at the higher levels. *

This has been a problem from day one. I do not advocate making any radical changes to how terrain is viewed in-game. In fact, I am very much opposed to that. But I think there are a couple of things that could be done to alleviate the problem.

Create some play-aid toggles that can be turned on and off separately from every thing else. The first and most obvious one is the grid pattern that some people seem to like: at least that will spare us having to watch people making gridded terrain mods.

Because the grid pattern won't help much when you're in top-down view, what is also needed is a toggle for contour lines. This is really important when dealing with terrain that is made up of low rolling hills -- tall enough to have reverse slopes that you can hide behind, but not tall enough to stand out clearly in an overhead view. Once again, distorting the normal appearance of the landscape would be a really bad idea.

Both of these toggles need to be able to be turned on and off separately from each other. As an aside, it would be really nice to be able to do that with the North Indicator as well. The global pay-aid toggle switch is great for setting up screen shots and I wish people would learn to use it. But it would be nice if you could be a little more selective about what gets turned off.

Besides the toggles for play aids, something needs to be done about the views and how the camera moves in-game.

With regard to camera views, the lowest possible top-down view in CMBB is too high. I like the view, but there needs to be a top-down view similar to the lowest one in CMBO. And possibly an additional one that is even lower.

As for normal views, there is a big problem with the level one view, and I'm not sure it can be fixed. In addition to the level one view that is currently in CMx1 there needs to be a true eyeball FPS type view, probably set to look out from where a unit is at about throat level or a little lower. You need this for figuring out how far forwards you can move and still stay under a reverse slope, or still be in the cover of buildings. Or simply for figuring out whether you are in cover or not.

Finally, I think one of the big problems in CMx1 is that you can't often tell what the lay of the land really is from the different camera views, so you have to resort to walking around the map at level one. The problem, of course, is that the camera controls for taking a level one walking tour simply aren't there.

This is probably going to be a programming resource hog, but it needs to be done.

You have to find a way (another toggle?) to get view direction control into the mouse so that you can move around the CM landscape the way you move around in an FPS. This is essential for figuring out what is where in terms of being under cover or being exposed. I don't play FPS games so I can't recommend how to go about this, but I'm sure the mechanics are well developed. Adopt them. It won't be a betrayal of intellecutal principles to go with the better mousetrap.

My final interface comment may have more to do with my antiquated rig, but I'll mention it just in case. When drawing lines on the map the pointer sometimes becomes unstable and jumps around. This doesn't happen that often, but it can be a real problem when it does. Get in close and try to set a covered ark over bumpy terrain and it sometimes starts skipping between 40 and 140 meters. If you really nead to conserve ammo, that's a problem. Or try to set a movement path down a winding gully (for which you should be suffering no command delays other than the initial one of saying "Go down there"...grrr) so that your troops stay below the enemy's line of sight, and have the movement line to the next waypoint refuse to stay stable enough, forcing you to expose men who would, in real life, have no trouble staying out of view. As I mentioned before this could just be a problem with my rig, but it does highlight the fact that if something like this is going to work the individual components have to be as stable as possible.

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Create some play-aid toggles that can be turned on and off separately from every thing else. The first and most obvious one is the grid pattern that some people seem to like: at least that will spare us having to watch people making gridded terrain mods.

Because the grid pattern won't help much when you're in top-down view, what is also needed is a toggle for contour lines. This is really important when dealing with terrain that is made up of low rolling hills -- tall enough to have reverse slopes that you can hide behind, but not tall enough to stand out clearly in an overhead view. Once again, distorting the normal appearance of the landscape would be a really bad idea.

That is one very well thought out post!

smile.gif

I think that the new "tiles" are 8 m x 8m BUT they aren't tiles the way the old 20m by 20 m tiles were tiles that could be modded so I doubt that a grid of modded 8x 8 m "tiles" will be possible in the game.

I FULLY and unequivocally support the request for contuour lines on the map and SURE they should be able to be toggled off and on. BUT I think Steve et. al. have been somewhat resistant to this request for some time now.

The game interface deserves to be looked at for sure!

-tom w

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This really breaks down to 2 different things, what you as the player sees, and the orders your units need to have.

For the units, I reckon you need to give orders such as; "Move to here, keep yourselves under cover" or "Make best speed to here". I think that would better approach reality and remove having command delays for following a gully, keeping in cover etc.

The AI seems to be able to do this sort of plotting as is, as evidenced by the waypoints it can give to units; e.g one of the shortcuts I used to use playing massive battles in CMBB was to give my T34s "fast" orders and make sure they went through a patch of tall pines, the AI would then plot the quickest path, saving me command delay and boredom.

So a solution here may be a "Move to here under cover" order (etc), the AI lays out a suggested path, using waypoints with a certain "give" and you can accept as is or change it.

Opens a can of worms with the "give" but it may be worth looking at. ISTM that it would also scale gracefully for bigger battles.

Seeing things from each soldiers perspective starts to get a bit messy I think, as his mates may be fully exposed to fire at the same time, also it seems to be against the design philosophy of CM.

The other point is what we as a player sees. There've been many suggestions for LOS helpers, but the best I've heard is clicking the map at a position and everything in LOS is shaded.

Also, I don't think there's need for gridded terrain with contour lines, the lines would give more information.

Edit; sorry if I'm rambling, my temp is 102 but falling.

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Originally posted by Philippe:

One of the problems with CMx1 was that the interface could at times be very awkward.

[snips]

But a well-thought out interface is the difference between a game that is intuitive and a pleasure to play, and an exercise in frustration, a constant fighting with the game controls until you learn how to overcome them or give up in despair.

While I agree that user interface design, and usability generally, are vitally important matters that don't get half as much emphasis as they deserve in most software, I'd have to disagree that the CM series exemplify poor interface design. On the contrary, I consider CM to have one of the best-designed user interfaces I've yet seen. Unlike almost any other reasonably intricate simulation I have encountered, I found it possible to download the demo and start playing straight away. "Fighting with the game controls" is something that I have never had to do -- well, maybe, once, when trying to select a section that was in a horribly piled-up mess of vehicles and obstacles. But most times, the UI is a pleasure to use.

How usable anyone finds a particular interface depends a good deal on personal taste, so it may be that the CM interface appeals to my taste but not to yours. However, I think the amount of discussion and complaint about the interface in the forum has been pretty minimal over the years. People natter on about performance and availablity details of weapons and, whether a particular aspect of the game engine is reasonable or not, but I have seen very few whinges about the interface. I suspect that most people just don;t notice it's there -- a sign of excellent interface design.

Originally posted by Philippe:

* It is hard to see different terrain levels in-game at the lower viewing levels, and almost impossible at the higher levels. *

Now this sounds more reasonable; it can be difficult, especially in the lighter-coloured terrains, to see exactly how the ground "works". This is one reason why I dislike playing in snow, and prefer greenish backgrounds to desert or steppe. Still, to be fair, seeing how the ground works in real life is difficult. In both CM and real life, though, understanding the ground is one of the most important keys to tactical success, so it's worth adding some aids to help the player do it.

Contours I would like as standard, and I think this is justifiable, as in many cases real-life commanders would have countour maps available to them to do their terrain appreciation.

I would quite like a tool that shows the viewshed from different elevations at a point on the ground by shading in the ground that is "dead" from that spot. However, that is a good deal more than was available to real-life commanders during WW2. As I believe that the CM designers deliberately decided not to permit the LOS tool to be used from arbitrary points on the map, so I wouldn't expect to see such a thing in CMx2.

All the best,

John.

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Originally posted by John D Salt:

Now this sounds more reasonable; it can be difficult, especially in the lighter-coloured terrains, to see exactly how the ground "works". This is one reason why I dislike playing in snow, and prefer greenish backgrounds to desert or steppe. Still, to be fair, seeing how the ground works in real life is difficult. In both CM and real life, though, understanding the ground is one of the most important keys to tactical success, so it's worth adding some aids to help the player do it.

A set of high contrast terrain mods would work wonders. A toggle would be nice, though, to toggle between photo realism and something more "gamey". Soemthing like the following, taken from CMAK both stock graphics, and then ASL modded "grass":

screenie1.jpg

screenie2.jpg

Even subtler colour tints would be helpful. Yes we can mod these ourselves, but what would be most useful would be a toggle in-game.

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Whilest posting about the GUI interface I would like in any new CM to be able to sort and edit the scenario list directly in the scenario options screen (Where one chooses a battle). It would be useful to be able to have sub folders to separate for instance different theaters, new scenarios, already played battles, large battles etc. etc.

A column for comments and victory(defeat) indicators would also be great.

David

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Philippe,

Some excellent ideas. Your "Gully problem" is an especially vexing issue. Sending a squad down to the end of a gully, or 120 meters down a gully to flank an enemy shouldn't impose a 45 second command delay penalty because it requires 10 waypoints to keep your men in the gully. I'm not sure if this can be solved (if at all) by better waypoints or better AI.

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I think the way it works now is actually about right, the idea of a grid or contour lines would undermine the game and make things worse as you already have to detailed knowledge of the ground ahead.

(Something that hopefully relative spottin g will improve).

Over the years I've made about six CM1 models of the 1km2 around my house, with some degree of success, ( I like on the Black Isle in the North of Scotland, all rolling barley fields and strips of mixed forest and farms).

The field beside my house looks flat from a distance but when you actually walk through it it's full of dips and bumps which can have a real effect on sight and line of fire when you model them.

These dips don't show on any map because they are mostly only a dozen mtrs across and a few deep or high. So if you were to put contours in you would be able to plot a route with an accuracy that you couldn't do with a map or visually from a distance.

The frustration with the 45sec delay in the gully is for me accurate and correct, as once in it you would have to go slow as from outside it is really hard to know exactly where it goes, and easy to losse your bearings.

Whether intentional or not the need for multiple way points simulates this slowing due to staying in cover moving in unknow dead ground and having to "take a peek" to affirm your position.

With View 1 ( ground level) it is hard in the game to pick out subtle changes in height, but hey thats because it's difficulty to do in real life too. There is rarely such a thing as "Flat Ground" but it's not till you try crossing it that you find out.

Believe me you can hide half a platoon in a dip that you would see till you walk in to it and it woun't show in any map.

On the interface issue, I once suggested replacing the fire and move orders with a sort of 3 coloured circle, Red, Yellow and Green.

Red would be fire, Yellow cover, and Green , move.

Click on a clour and it would expand, So all green would be move full speed don't use cover and don't fire, All yellow would be take cover and stay put, ( a suppressd paniced unit might be locked yellow.)

Ammo, Casualties, Fatigue, Suppression and Morale would all effect the "Wheel" and how much you could change it, so that as well as a way of issueing orders it would also be an indicator of unit status. (They could even appear beside units when you clicked on them),

This might be a way to allow more flexibility about how units move, a half green half yellow advancing unit would naturally use cover better than an all green, mostly yellow with a little green would crawl forward etc.

I doubt the "TriWheel" will make it in to the interface, but I think it would be a good way to control units, perhaps in another game, where it allowed you to quickly order units by balancing their "Firepower, Protection and Movement).

Peter.

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Tsk, tsk, tsk. You guys are, once again, thinking so much 'within the box'. ;)tongue.gif

As we know, the new engine will feature dynamic lighting of terrain instead of flat lighting, which means that shapes of terrain are much easier to see.

FDF1.jpg

FDF2.jpg

In this example from Operation Flashpoint, even the slightest bumps in ground can be recognised with ease. THIS is much more like what CMx2 will be like.

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Originally posted by Vanir Ausf B:

A roster would be nice too.

*runs for cover*

Do I take that to mean that the idea I was espousing in the "Newbie Friendly" thread of an in-game popup orbat that would allow you to select a unit ( and see its relationship ) has been comprehensively rejected before ?
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Originally posted by aka_tom_w:

</font><blockquote>quote:</font><hr /> Do I take that to mean that the idea I was espousing in the "Newbie Friendly" thread of an in-game popup orbat that would allow you to select a unit ( and see its relationship ) has been comprehensively rejected before ?

You could say that ;)

-tom w </font>

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Originally posted by Baneman:

</font><blockquote>quote:</font><hr />Originally posted by aka_tom_w:

</font><blockquote>quote:</font><hr /> Do I take that to mean that the idea I was espousing in the "Newbie Friendly" thread of an in-game popup orbat that would allow you to select a unit ( and see its relationship ) has been comprehensively rejected before ?

You could say that ;)

-tom w </font>

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Originally posted by Sergei:

IIRC the reasoning behind the lack of roster was, according to Steve, that it was in conflict with the design philosophy of CM, or such. So you're supposed to be going around the map, not clicking on OOB's.

Right. Tedium always was and stil remains part and parcel of any wargame design.
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Originally posted by RMC:

</font><blockquote>quote:</font><hr />Originally posted by Sergei:

IIRC the reasoning behind the lack of roster was, according to Steve, that it was in conflict with the design philosophy of CM, or such. So you're supposed to be going around the map, not clicking on OOB's.

Right. Tedium always was and still remains part and parcel of any wargame design. </font>
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Originally posted by Baneman:

</font><blockquote>quote:</font><hr />Originally posted by RMC:

</font><blockquote>quote:</font><hr />Originally posted by Sergei:

IIRC the reasoning behind the lack of roster was, according to Steve, that it was in conflict with the design philosophy of CM, or such. So you're supposed to be going around the map, not clicking on OOB's.

Right. Tedium always was and still remains part and parcel of any wargame design. </font>
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Not surprisingly, I completely and totally reject the notion that CMx1's interface isn't slick and intuitive in general, but specifically for a game of its depth. If anybody can point to another sim like CM (that's tough right there smile.gif ) that has better UI, I'm all ears. And even if there is one out there, I can point to a few dozen that are far worse.

UI is a very tricky thing, for sure. As it is we spend an enormou amount of energy on it. The first mockup of CMx2's UI was made in January of 2003. Here we are, more than 2 years later, and it is still evolving. It's only been within the last few months that it has got to about 95% finalized, but there will be things that get tweaked all the way until after release time. And since CMx2's UI had the benefit of 5 years of CMx1 UI experience behind it, and another 6 of other game design experience, the UI you will eventually see is the product of nearly 14 years worth of experience. Yup, UI work is a real bugger!

Proof that all this time was well spent? The list of UI suggestions above. I'd say that they all fall firmly in the category of "gripes" and "personal taste". A game of CM's complexity to have such a small list of UI complaints... well, you can't see or hear me patting myself on the back, but if you guessed that I am typing this with one hand you'd be correct :D

Now, back to the topic...

As Sergei stated, but not as clearly as I will, you guys need to stop thinking about what CMx1 was and instead think of what CMx2 will be. I've already stated that the terrain mesh is a lot finer, that we have dynamic lighting, and lots more VRAM at our disposal. So... the suggestions here are much ado about nothing. We've already fixed the problem and we didn't need terrain lines and other artificial things to acheive it.

Delays... I don't know how many times this has to come up... people have completely unrealistic expectations about how long it takes units to go from A to B in real life. Even with command delays the units in CMx1 move faster and with fewer mistakes than any real world unit could ever hope to acheive. Arguing against command delays is therefore akin to arguing for a less realistic sim. Unless, of course, someone can come up with a viable alternative. Here we are some 6 years since the CMBO Beta Demo and we still have yet to hear of a better system. And it certainly isn't for a lack of trying ;)

Are command delays perfect? No. Would the game be more or less realistic without them? Less. Has anybody else come up with anything better? No. Therefore, are they a decent substitute despite the shortcomings? Yes.

Steve

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Originally posted by Battlefront.com:

Are command delays perfect? No. Would the game be more or less realistic without them? Less. Has anybody else come up with anything better?

1:1 modelling and multiplayer where each player gets to command exactly one person. Wouldn't really be CM anymore, though. smile.gif

Some guys have played OFP online and gotten good at squad tactics, etc. Not aware of any OFP company commanders out there, though there were some interesting mods dealing with indirect artillery command...

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The Order of Battle issue is a rather long winded discussion to get into. Or at least that has traditionally been the case the last 100 times we discussed it :D

There are some coding issues that go along with this feature (i.e. we have too many things to do, not enough time to do everything), but largely it isn't a problem to code. It doesn't hit the hardware at all, so one of the usual hurddles to feature requests actually isn't there.

The bottom line is that a line must be drawn between too much and too little information at the fingertips of the player. The main reason is that the player already has far more information than any commander ever would, so any effort to increase that knowledge has to be carefully considered. This is the same with the "LOS from anywhere" request.

In both cases we've said NO because the player already has too much of this information at the ready and therefore we didn't want to make matters worse by making some of the few difficulties the player has melt away. It is a slippery slope for sure, but we've always felt that the little bits of chaos that the player has to deal with would be eliminated by a full Order of Battle feature (including unit status and what not) and LOS anywhere. The entire nature of the game would be changed and not for the better.

I know some people disagree, but we are the keepers of the vision. If each one of you had equal say as to what should or shouldn't be in the game CMx2 would be unplayable. So we pick and choose what to do based on how it fits in with the overall vision. You might disagree with a particular decision we've made, but obviously you don't disagree with our overall handling of the game's vision. Otherwise none of you would be posting here :D

Steve

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Steve wrote:

As Sergei stated, but not as clearly as I will, you guys need to stop thinking about what CMx1 was and instead think of what CMx2 will be.
I for one am willing to take this plunge. Alas, the boundaries of my imagination are such that some sort of concrete assistance from BFC to further this transition might be necessary.

It wouldn't have to be much, but I'm having trouble making the leap without some sort of visual push. Huh? Eh?

:D

BDH

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Originally posted by Battlefront.com:

... but we've always felt that the little bits of chaos that the player has to deal with would be eliminated by a full Order of Battle feature (including unit status and what not)...

I agree and disagree.

I haven't spoken up in detail on this before and so I am going to honour you all with my personal vision of the ideal unit list for CMX2...

But first, IMHO the problem with not having a unit list of any kind:

A company commander knows his unit inside and out. For example: he knows he has 4 infantry platoons and a couple of 60mm mortars per platoon, he knows he has been provided with a platoon of armour to assist him in his attack.

A wargamer takes control of German Mountain troops this game, Russian Guards that game, Canadian Armour another game. Each scenario is slightly different, and if not historically correct, (ie a quick battle) you can really end up with a mish mash of troops.

I would think that a company commander would keep track of what is going on in a FMP for example (with the assistance of his HQ officers). It might not be complete, but he would know who is supposed to be where when and why.

-------

So in the context of a company level strategy game, I wouldn't expect (or want) a God's list with every single detail of every single unit. I would hope to have a list of all my units that I started the battle with, knowledge that a company commander should have in his mellon (for example their quality rating green - veteran - crack etc...) and selected reported information. As far as reported information goes, if a unit is out of command (radio out, no radio - no LOS, totally routed, destroyed) then I would expect to see 'Out of Contact'. If a unit is under heavy fire, then I would expect to see 'Under Heavy Fire'. Other reports could include 'Enemy spotted', 'Enemy Armour spotted', 'Nothing to report' etc...

Incidentally the Companies, Platoons and Sections would need to be identified by Number and Letter so that the report made sense.

The main argument against this is that company commanders wouldn't likely receive status reports every friggin minute.

Maybe - just maybe - there could be a command for a 'requst sitrep'. This would generate a report for any units that 'can' report in. If abused by the player, units would eventually stop reporting in, maybe lose Morale etc...? Maybe it can only be called every 5 turns or something?

I agree that a God's list takes a lot of the fun out of playing a strategy game, but I also think having to keep track of my units on pen and paper is best left to a table top wargame, where I get to paint the whites of the Russian SMG platoons eyes and the slogans on my t34's by hand.

Is there no solution that can improve the game?

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