Author Topic: Alpha 117 Impressions, Recommendations, Bugs, etc.  (Read 550 times)

Offline Insignus

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Alpha 117 Impressions, Recommendations, Bugs, etc.
« on: April 11, 2017, 02:40:09 PM »
Note: This forum post is an abridged version of the attached word document.
EDIT: Document Updated to ensure critical marks aren't displaying by default. Also, I forgot that Word defaults its protected view to "Read Mode" instead of "Print Layout" mode, because Read Mode looks like garbage.

AI War 2 Alpha 117 Impressions

There is definite potential here. The Alpha is playable, has a number of core mechanics on display, I encountered only 1 hard error, and at no point did any system crashes occur during my 3 hours of gameplay.

Given that its very early alpha, I'll hold off on making judgements on enjoyment or fun. I was a fan of AIWC, but I tried to approach this in new light. My initial play through was documented using Plays.tv, and is available to the developers with annotations.

Critically, I consciously avoided engaging design documents or instructions to get a good new player experience on that recorded play through. This showed me that a number of things are intuitive (Although perhaps because I have played AIWC). Others were not. I then did a few additional play-throughs after reading some (not all) of the design documents (Are they archived somewhere centrally?) and the release histories, in order to qualify my suggestions and observations. If I've missed something or if I'm stating obvious things that you're already aware of, don't hold it against me. Just telling you what I see and what I think could be done about it.

I included recommendations on many items as per my standard methodology. Also because trying to problem solve things is a useful form of skill training, in my view. If you don't like them or think they're presumptuous, that's your right. A listing of recommended tasks based on relevant recommendations is included at the end for easier reading. I did attempt to reference the developer "To-Do's" prior to including them, but could only find them for one of the developers. I also gave a brief glance at the issue-tracking system.

A formatted version of this document, with all of the observations and suggestions, including a table of contents, and advancing headings, has been attached to this forum post in word format for ease of use reading. My Apologies if Word is not your format of choice. I could un-pack all of it back into a wall of text forum post. I may do that if its an issue. Otherwise, most document readers can interpolate Word 2013. It just may look funny.
I also packed you a bag lunch.


Summary Listing of Recommended Tasks (Note: This is based on the preceding 13 pages of the word document that documents these things)
Short Term:

Remap Hotbar Key Maps based on likely usage - Control Groups First, Menu Last.
Text Wrapping on Some UI Panes is off (Possibly a non-native resolution issue that can be deferred until graphical option menus come online)
Rebind Right Mouse Default to Cancel Build Orders in Build Menu Context
Left-hand Ship List Pane White Box Bug (See video from 0:15 onward)
Remove Controllers (Ship) from Band-Box selections
Add "Ark Health/Shields" persistent read out in upper right corner under "View Planet"
Move Hovered Over Entity to upper right under "Ark Health/Shields"
Rename "Hovered Over Entity" to "This Entity:" "Entity" or strip the name off entirely and just present the info.

Mid-term:

Consider spacing out turrets and adding a few different formations to provide variety.
Perhaps add a checkable box for collapsing the ship list into by a single unit by type list with either a card stack graphic or a stated number (x5-6) etc to save screen space.
Tech Pane Flow-chart Style for selected tech unlock options.

Long Term:

Revisit CPA Warning time frame - 25 minutes may be more appropriate.
Controller Modules that diversify function similar to AIWC command station types
ARK vs. Space Dock Production Balance


?
Conclusion

Thank you for reading this document/post. Again, as mentioned, a video is available, I'm not posting it outright here because I couldn't locate the policy on Early Alpha Footage, which I know some developers can get touchy about. Let me know and I can make it public on Youtube.

Overall, I think this game has potential. As I perceive it, the challenge you appear to be running against is making the game more accessible than AIWC, but not losing the complexity that many people loved about the original, all while wrapping it up in a sparkier package, and on top of that ensuring that its distant enough from AIWC to be classified as its own original stand-alone product.
I wish you the best of luck in shooting all 4 of those gaps in succession. I've always enjoyed your games; AIWC was always a great trainer in problem solving, and Bionic Dues was always just hilarious fun for me. So I'm sure you'll find some way to make it work. Just figured I'd do my part.

Note: What some forumites might view as overkill and officiousness in formatting, I view as efficiency and professionalism.
« Last Edit: April 11, 2017, 03:36:42 PM by Insignus »

Offline keith.lamothe

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Re: Alpha 117 Impressions, Recommendations, Bugs, etc.
« Reply #1 on: April 11, 2017, 03:24:03 PM »
The bagged lunch was delicious.

Thanks very much for the feedback. I'm not commenting on all of it as there are fairly straightforward things like "don't include controller in band-box" that are already going to happen, just haven't gotten to it.


Ark construction - you can claim derelict flagships that function as mini-Ark's for most purposes. Balance of its survivability, etc, and especially as the game progresses still very much in flux.


Controller simplicity - structures you can build to customize the planet's economic impact (convert power and/or metal => more fuel, convert fuel and/or metal => more power, etc) are planned; I put in some of the framework for that today.


Space dock - the functionality for "set orders for everything produced here" (rally points, auto-FRD) is actually in the game, I just disabled it for the time being because the related UI was a mess

The role of these will solidify as the defensive and offensive games do. Running around everywhere with your Ark is currently the thing to do, but that won't last.


Turrets - the power caps will be going up. Still figuring out how to best handle the all-power-units-have-per-planet-caps thing, with them still costing Science.

On their usefulness, Cloaking/Tachyon, Tractors, and Gravity haven't been implemented yet. Coming, though.

To some extent there's not currently enough need to hold territory (defensive depth, key resource spots), and not enough communication of the need that does exist (i.e. fuel cap).


Science - the numbers not being rounded is temporary; almost all balance numbers are computed based on formulae rather than being specified so they come out oddly specific.

Knowledge hacking will actually be returning (with hacking in general)


Starships - there's just the one type of flagship (MkV starship) right now; the MkI-IV versions will be built and die like normal.


On the ordering of the master menu at the bottom, you can actually test out a different order yourself by modifying GameData/Configuration/KDL_UIWindows.xml, specifically the order of the element children of Window_InGameMasterMenu.


On the control-group-numbers thing, the RTS convention is a good point. The difficulty is that we were chronically short on keys in AIWC, and the keys that existed were often impossible to discover without reading a reference. Some functions required _multiple_ modifier keys being held, and some were simply not available outside the arcane context menu (of my own devising) or multi-tab windows that occupied most of the screen.

In short, this is way more complex than the RTS games that established that convention.

That said, having (some_modifier)+number be a direct selection of that control group is a good idea, though ctrl is iffy since it normally means "assign selection to that group". It would also make sense to have a further option to flip it to (some_modifier)+number operating the numbered button, and the unmodified number going straight to the control group.

Have ideas or bug reports for one of our games? Mantis for Suggestions and Bug Reports. Thanks for helping to make our games better!

Offline Insignus

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Re: Alpha 117 Impressions, Recommendations, Bugs, etc.
« Reply #2 on: April 11, 2017, 06:31:20 PM »
I figured there were a good number of things in there that would be straightforward and obvious, or that simply hadn't been prioritized and hotfixed yet.



Question on the control groups (Curiosity): Is it that way - ordering the menu and debug menu as first and second - because you need it for jumping into builds, triggering a command or testing a function, then jumping back out to modify, rebuild, and then retry it?

But I'll definitely try my hand at modding the .xml file. Again, I personally appreciate the concept you're trying to go for with the menu tree functionality. It makes sense to me. And I agree that information management and organizational overload was definitely an issue in AIWC.

But, I would posit that if the goal is to make information more accessible, the users that would benefit the most from that are those for whom the system used in AIWC was too much of a turn-off (The "SO MANY BUTTONS!" crowd that plague all games). The AIWC veterans will already be used to that complexity.

Therefore, meeting them halfway by putting the most common things near their most intuitive fingers, might help ease them in so they aren't immediately forced to re-learn basic things when they start the game. First you hook them in by deceptively convincing them that "Oh, this is a strategy game, I can probably win this"

Then they get hit by a CPA and realize that they need to completely rethink their approach and drill down on the meta-game, generally by reading the various tooltips and tutorials (More on that later)  But by now, they've had enough fun that they can internally justify spending time on it. Which is kind of devious, but I'm all for encouraging adaptive development (Read: Messing with the Audience), and I'm a big fan of "Easy to Learn, Hard to Master" style games.

On the actual mechanics of it, I agree that ctrl is the go to modifier for everything, and that it's also the intuitive assignment key, which would cause problems. Perhaps Shift+[n] for control groups? I'd also be curious as to whether or not using Tab to flip through control groups would catch on, that is, if you aren't going to use it like you did in AIWC (I personally didn't mind turfing all the deep-dive stuff into the extended menus - the "Save/Load Preset" took care of most of that for me)


If you want a fun idea to file away for much much later on the tutorial front, I had a thought for another game recently in which the game uses some basic cues to track what players are struggling with, and prompts them adaptively on how to fix it, as we are all used to front-end tutorials (Oh hai! Welcome to the game! Click on this guy then right click on the map....), but rarely do we get any intuitive input on how we failed. At high skill levels, this is part of the fun and the challenge. At lower skill levels, when we're still learning the basics, this is frustrating. I remember in AIWC, there were large cross-sections of the AIP mechanic that threw me for a good bit, and didn't incentivize me to drill down and learn why I was failing on that basic core gameplay mechanic. I was trying to conquer the galaxy on level 7, then got over that, won on 7 and 8, and now of course, I'm trying to conquer the galaxy on 10, just to see how far I get (4h23m at 23/80)


I think this sort of system would work for AIW2 because you all clearly have strong backgrounds and a body of experience in triggers, events, and logical structures, and it never hurts to ease people in to complex systems. But that would be well after beta and you've finalized the core mechanics, of course. Key there is to build a map that enables you to link your tracked changes to tutorial items - as your instructional materials get more expansive, it becomes more exhausting to filter through them and make corrections and updates.


But again, overall, this is actually pretty functional for an early alpha. The fact that I only got a single error message, at this early a stage, is itself an accomplishment. Re-reading what I wrote, some of my points may have come off as bossy. This is just a style I use to boil things down so people don't have to wade through extra language to figure out what point I'm making. I am genuinely impressed, and look forward to seeing what y'all come up with!

Just as long as you re-use some of the AI Taunts from Bionic Dues. Those were so hilarious.