Author Topic: Devs Requesting Feedback: New Lobby Design  (Read 578 times)

Offline etheric42

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Devs Requesting Feedback: New Lobby Design
« on: August 28, 2018, 04:07:11 PM »
Feedback request: the custom game lobby

Hey everyone, thanks for tuning in to the AI War show.  This episode: the lobby!

For those of you who don't know me, I'm Eric.  Much like Badger, I'm a volunteer helping out with AIW2, but instead of being elbow-deep in the code I have been providing assistance designing the UX/UI.

We need some feedback on the upcoming lobby changes.  With all of Badger’s great work on the factions, we really need to get an interface in place to let people dig deep on them.  This interface is for the “create custom game” lobby.  We have had plans since early this year to create prebuilt scenarios for players to be able to start interesting games without all the fuss, but that is going to be built out after the normal (or “custom”) lobby.

We had some designs in place for the lobby, but the pivot and the enhanced focus on non-player-non-AI factions is putting us back at the drawing board to see if we can’t build something even better.  Keep these caveats in mind: this is in no way final, but instead just a way for us to start the conversation with everyone and get your feedback, as well as shraing the path we have walked down and some of the concerns we had with the previous draft.

The new proposal


Reduce, reuse, RECYCLE HUMANITY

So here we are.  The concept behind this is to use as many existing elements of the UI as possible, to  that both provide thematic unity and to reduce the number of bespoke elements that need to be created.  As usual, please forgive the poor quality of these mockups.

In the bottom left corner we have the toolbar that has the settings icon (which has a way of exiting the game back to the main menu as normal), chat icon and timer/speed settings.  I’ve coopted it by changing the timer and speed settings into the start button (which would say “ready” if you were not the host, and has a countdown timer before the game starts if there are multiple players) and the load/save preset buttons (we are still planning on having a quick game preset screen, but I am not sure if the design for that is changing at the moment).  Then up from there we have the sidebar with the tabs on the left and the content on the right.  The tabs would be advanced settings (which would just launch an advanced settings popup instead of changing the tab, in order to make it easier to build in tons of advanced settings), factions tab (pictured here) and maps tab (see next screenshot).

In the factions tab you can boot players or factions (x), see which players are ready (checkmark), add more, change the colors, or go to the advanced settings (the ge-ar box to the right) to get the tabular window popup.  RandomTroll doen’t get a color because he’s spectating, but that may change depending on how we implement spectating players.


The map is not literally the territory, figuratively

Here is the map tab with the options for generation we have so far.  There aren’t a lot, but I did not want the map options to pop a new window since there is a value to seeing them immediately adjacent to the map.

In the upper-right corner is the instructions for how to navigate the map (collapsible), which is useful for first timers that skipped the tutorial (which happens more than you would think).  Since the map creation tab is quite empty, we might just put that into the sidebar and reduce some more, but I think there is at least a little value having it there.

How would you chat in the lobby?  The same way you would chat in-game (which has an mockup drafted but I expect to see a few more changes before implementation due to some other UI changes that occurred).  Many people would just use a voice solution like Discord or Steam, so no reason to take up a huge amount of space just in the lobby for it.

What do the tabular popups look like?  A lot like the the settings screen.  Tabs on on side and a table of dropdowns on the other, tooltips as necessary.  We are open to feedback on that as it has not been finalized yet, but I wanted to see how people felt about the sparse top level we have here first.

(Another idea I had knocking around was to move the maps tab to a box in the lower-right corner or bottom-center, and then explode the factions tab to a tab for players, a tab for AI and maybe even a tab for every major “other” faction class.  But my problem with that is most of the tabs would be relatively empty, especially in single player games with one AI and no other factions.)

How did we reach this point and what were some of the drafts and problems we went through?  I’m glad you asked, I included a lengthy retrospective below, but for people who are short on time, let me hit the important questions for the new draft so they can feel free to stop here:

  • Is this too minimal (are you having waking nightmares of hunting through advanced options menus to find the one you want to change?)
  • How does it feel having that big map there?
  • Is it easy to find the “start” button?
  • Is it a problem to offload the “back to main menu” button to the settings popup (the same place you’d find it in-game)?
  • Are there other tabs you’d like to see?
  • How do you feel about that floating set of map instructions in the upper-right?
  • If we were to add the top bar back in (in order to better match the way it looks in-game) what would you like to see there?
  • Are we walking down the right path or would you like to see something radically different?
  • What’s your favorite lobby screen from an RTS or 4x game?
  • Do you have a better name for the “other” factions?  (AI War runs into the problem that you’d normally call all the non-player factions the AIs, but AI means something special here.  You can’t call them the non-humans because there are human other factions.  In RPG parlance we’d call them NPCs, but even the AI factions are NPCs.)


AI War Classic


Hello old friend.

In the original game, the screen is focused on the map.  That was really important since the galactic terrain (choke points, etc) was very important for at-edge-of-skill-level play and also because your bonus ship was based on what planet you selected.  The game options were tucked into tabs to the bottom left and player options across the screen on the right.

There were a few advantages to this.  One I find is that a large splash of art in the form of the map gives the eye something to focus on and makes the “hundreds of options” less stressful.  On the other hand I hate having to crawl through all those tabs to learn what settings I might want to change and work in a tiny box compared to the map which I’m not spending a lot of time interacting with (or I am interacting with it after I’ve made setting changes in my tiny box).  If you’ve got some other loves/hates about this setup, please share.

AI War 2 (current)


The new hotness.

This version dropped the sidebar, but that’s likely temporary until multiplayer can be integrated.  Everything else is similar though, tabbed bar across the bottom, large map up top.
Bonus ship types are not tied to planet selection anymore (even after the pivot), but with your king being your home system again, starting planet choice is important for defensibility.  This version inherits a lot of benefits and disadvantages of the previous version.

AI War 2 (initial proposal)


Visions of what could have been.

This is the plan for the lobby that was decided on before the pivot.  It’s a pretty radical departure from the previous lobbies.  I wanted to de-emphasize the map to make more room for settings and bring it more in line with what I see in a lot of 4x and RTS games (many of which don’t even show you a map at all in the lobby).  Another big selling point was the diversification of entities on the AI’s side, so a lot of space and emphasis was spent there.  The map could still be seen full size in a popup using the “expand map” button across the bottom and a lot of settings were tucked behind “advanced” buttons that would pull up more popups.

Please ignore the red/green kick/ready buttons/indicators up with the players, we would have used a better scheme for color blindness in final.


Zoom and enhance!

The advanced buttons called up popups with treed tabs along the left and table setting along the right, as well as a safety that can be turned off to access even more customization options within this screen.  The goal was to make everything accessible, but have layers for how deep players want to engage.  I have a tendency to suffer from analysis paralysis (I actually play some tabletop games with chess clocks or timers in order to try to break myself out of it) and there is a good chance that if I am thrown with a lot of options up front I will either not start the game at all, or spend all my playtime looking through options and then the moment I start I begin to think if I should have gone back and picked different options.  So the idea to help with that, while still leaving a lot of flexibility in the system is:

  • Preset scenarios
  • Lobby with all the most basic options
  • Advanced options with all the relatively fair options
  • Safeties off to make the most crazy, unfair setup you can think of

With the changes from the last few months we have to make a few tweaks and this is a chance to go back and revisit parts of the design that we weren’t entirely happy with the first time.  The big points are:

  • The “other” factions are now a major part of the game anymore thanks to Badger’s hard work.
  • The “AI council” is both not flexible enough (who knows if we will end up with as many AI factions as we have “other” factions in this game) and asks for a lot of complexity that may not be present in the early access version of the game.  (Plus, what if someday you could play an game of AI war without any AI factions?)
  • The map has been de-emphasized so much it is at odds with AIWC and even if this is a re-imagining of the first game, it is still a sequel and needs to adhere to conventions defined by its parent (unless there is a good reason not to).
  • Having some of the basic options on this layer is still probably too many options and could lead to analysis paralysis.  It may be better to tuck every option possible behind settings windows and let those windows sort by priority.
  • By tucking all the options behind windows, and setting those windows up with tabular standardized formats, it would be easier to add crazy amounts of options instead of having to resize and refit elements as they are added.
  • Originally the host could set it so that only the host could change the individual players options (beyond things like color and bonus ship) in order to prevent player “cheating”, but having layers of permissions to set up for what should be a friendly cooperative game seems pretty unnecessary.

With those in mind we went back to the drawing board built the draft you saw at the top of the post.  Let us know what you think, on the new draft, the old stuff, but in particular the questions I asked earlier (which I’ll reprint here for emphasis and convenience):

  • Is this too minimal (are you having waking nightmares of hunting through advanced options menus to find the one you want to change?)
  • How does it feel having that big map there?
  • Is it easy to find the “start” button?
  • Is it a problem to offload the “back to main menu” button to the settings popup (the same place you’d find it in-game)?
  • Are there other tabs you’d like to see?
  • How do you feel about that floating set of map instructions in the upper-right?
  • If we were to add the top bar back in (in order to better match the way it looks in-game) what would you like to see there?
  • Are we walking down the right path or would you like to see something radically different?
  • What’s your favorite lobby screen from an RTS or 4x game?
  • Do you have a better name for the “other” factions?  (AI War runs into the problem that you’d normally call all the non-player factions the AIs, but AI means something special here.  You can’t call them the non-humans because there are human other factions.  In RPG parlance we’d call them NPCs, but even the AI factions are NPCs.)

Offline x4000

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Re: Devs Requesting Feedback: New Lobby Design
« Reply #1 on: August 28, 2018, 04:25:13 PM »
Personally I'm a big fan.
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Offline BadgerBadger

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Re: Devs Requesting Feedback: New Lobby Design
« Reply #2 on: August 28, 2018, 04:49:46 PM »
A few quick notes.

I'm okay with this design, though I do kinda miss having stuff on both sides of the galaxy map; it feels like the right side is mostly wasted space. What if we put the Map Options/Game Start Button on the middle right? Could you throw a quick mock with that on and see what we think?

For factions, I had an idea for how to simplify things for a novice player. I'd like to split the factions into 3 sets; Hostile, Friendly or Chaotic. For factions that can have different alignments we will just define 3 versions; for example "Friendly Marauders, Enemy Marauders, Chaotic Marauders". Then we give 3 tabs, one for each type of faction.  I want a first-time player to find it really easy to make the game Easier, Harder or Crazier without having to read a dozen faction descriptions.

I'd like each minor faction (or whatever we call them)  to have 2 options available at the default view; "Intensity" and "Colour". Some factions will need an "Advanced" button  (Example: Broken Golems need to know whether to spawn Exogalactic Strikeforces at you or not).

At the moment there will always be a "Hunter Fleet" and "Warden Fleet" shared between all the AIs, and those have some tunables. They need to be placed in the AI section
« Last Edit: August 28, 2018, 04:52:33 PM by BadgerBadger »

Offline x4000

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Re: Devs Requesting Feedback: New Lobby Design
« Reply #3 on: August 28, 2018, 05:12:28 PM »
I like those notes quite a bit.
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Offline chemical_art

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Re: Devs Requesting Feedback: New Lobby Design
« Reply #4 on: August 28, 2018, 05:24:02 PM »
Seconding the request for breaking down factions to hostile, friendly, and chaotic. Keeps things simple and tooltips can always elaborate.

Also for moving the ai options off to the aide, in it's current form I thought they were a faction that could be disabled. Since they are an ai quirk, they should be lumped into their own group
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Offline RocketAssistedPuffin

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Re: Devs Requesting Feedback: New Lobby Design
« Reply #5 on: August 28, 2018, 06:25:36 PM »
Disclaimer first: I'm one of the apparently few people who had no problem with Classics UI, and actually feel slightly nostalgic about it.

The first picture, I like the consistency with the ingame sidebar, with the same overall location. Spectating is a cool feature. Agreed on keeping map settings next to the actual map image, it'd be annoying switching back and forth. I feel like that bit should remain its own tab, for later incorporation of any galaxy features that'd be seeded in game start, like unique capturable structures, or terrain etc. That feels a good place for it.

The tabular popups being like the setting screen, I support this. Having similar and consistent menu structure is a simple way to streamline usage. I think the...buttons on the left running vertical should have defined box outlines. I know this is very early, just the rest of it does. They don't feel like buttons. Same with Settings/Chat on the bottom.

As for the questions:

Not bothered at all by it being minimalist. As long as it's clear where I have to go to find something, I'm happy.
Big map I like, is like Classic.
Start button is in similar location to Classic, so I have no problem at all.
Offloading back to main menu...in a way it both makes and does not make sense to me, for both versions. Having it in the settings popup is consistent with how it is ingame, but still feels weird that there's no immediately visual back button, in a set of menus.
I don't have any tabs I'd like so far.
Instructions...it seems collapsible, if so I like it. Cleans up out of the way if not needed anymore.
Top bar...I have nothing for that.
Seems a good path to be going on. Nothing is making me particularly note it as an issue.
Favourite lobby? AIWar Classic. No problems whatsoever, loved the visual, again it's even nostalgic to me.
A different name? Always "Third Parties", or "Non-AI Factions".

Ah, Classic lobby. One thing I like about it is things are tucked away, they're not "in your face", taking up enormous bits. The map bit is actually fairly empty to me, so that doesn't bother me. Changing settings was not a problem at all. I've actually spent a long long time on there, trying to decide settings for a game, and the music was one of the best things. Especially the Light of the Spire title theme. I really really miss that in 2, the main menu music just stops once you go into the lobby. I suggested this change but it was never taken up.

2s lobby...I don't have many problems, other than the music. That, and the bottom bar almost feels too big, but comparing the images it seems normally proportioned, so I dunno.

The initial propose, I hate. Saw it and immediately disliked it. Feels like things are put everywhere, and popups for menus? Don't like those either. Having to close them would be annoying, I don't like having too many separate windows or tabs open at once. I'm rather prone to overload, having autism and OCD (That may influence how I see these).

For the big points...again I really don't like the idea of everything being in separate windows and popups. I'd much rather use tabs like the ingame UI has. Don't have much else to say, other than map was too small, and chat too large. Classics size is perfect.

That's all, though there being two volunteer devs makes me wish I could do more...maybe best stick to simple XML mods/fixes, since I'm prone to overload and anxiety...


Offline etheric42

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Re: Devs Requesting Feedback: New Lobby Design
« Reply #6 on: August 28, 2018, 06:55:23 PM »
FYI I am traveling until Thursday evening, so I'm going to let this post sit out there and percolate and get feedback from as many people as possible before I start chiming in with my thoughts and throwing out more drafts.

Other than to say (can't help myself): there have been some great suggestions so far and I'm excited to hear more. That and a reminder that these mockups are very mockupy and made using a vector drawing program.  I'm focusing on content over the way it looks since Chris will be the one skinning and developing that end to fit his preferred visual style.  Where elements already exist (like the chat and main menu buttons) I just slapped some quick text on there so I could focus on the more novel elements.  I am kind of a jack-of-all-trades, except for art where I'm a deuce.

Offline HeartHunter

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Re: Devs Requesting Feedback: New Lobby Design
« Reply #7 on: August 29, 2018, 04:48:07 AM »
I think about change colour and font, becouse its seems like windows program right now.
I like supreme commander UI and starcraft.

Offline BadgerBadger

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Re: Devs Requesting Feedback: New Lobby Design
« Reply #8 on: August 29, 2018, 11:32:06 AM »
The diagrams being shown just are mockups; the actual UI is going to look nice, this is just to show where UI elements will be located on the screen

Offline Draco18s

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Re: Devs Requesting Feedback: New Lobby Design
« Reply #9 on: August 29, 2018, 11:22:52 PM »
As long as I see the map, big and bold, first and foremost until I start UI diggin' I'll be pretty happy.

Offline etheric42

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Re: Devs Requesting Feedback: New Lobby Design
« Reply #10 on: September 05, 2018, 07:00:30 PM »
Since HeartHunter mentioned SupCom and SC2 as lobbies they liked, I thought I'd start off this post by including images of both that I pulled from Google:



EDIT: Puffin let me know that my Starcraft 2 screenshot was ~8 years out of date.  How embarrassing.  Thanks Google!  Here's an updated one courtesy of the avian:



Very simple setups, trying to make it clean and clear and get on to the game.  SupCom has a game options page.

Now to go through notes:
I'm okay with this design, though I do kinda miss having stuff on both sides of the galaxy map; it feels like the right side is mostly wasted space. What if we put the Map Options/Game Start Button on the middle right? Could you throw a quick mock with that on and see what we think?

Since the game itself only has a sidebar on one side, I feel it is worth replicating that in the lobby.  If we feel crowded, then sure throw a new sidebar on the right, but until then I think this is a local maxima.  On the other hand, throwing start game/etc buttons on the right works if Chris doesn't mind creating a new UI element for them.  Incorporating that into another draft.
For factions, I had an idea for how to simplify things for a novice player. I'd like to split the factions into 3 sets; Hostile, Friendly or Chaotic. For factions that can have different alignments we will just define 3 versions; for example "Friendly Marauders, Enemy Marauders, Chaotic Marauders". Then we give 3 tabs, one for each type of faction.  I want a first-time player to find it really easy to make the game Easier, Harder or Crazier without having to read a dozen faction descriptions.

I'd like each minor faction (or whatever we call them)  to have 2 options available at the default view; "Intensity" and "Colour". Some factions will need an "Advanced" button  (Example: Broken Golems need to know whether to spawn Exogalactic Strikeforces at you or not).

At the moment there will always be a "Hunter Fleet" and "Warden Fleet" shared between all the AIs, and those have some tunables. They need to be placed in the AI section

Perfect.  I wasn't sure where we were with AI factions, whether it was back down to 1 or what.  Of course if you can add/drop AI factions then it can be built out just like the other factions lists.

Also for moving the ai options off to the aide, in it's current form I thought they were a faction that could be disabled. Since they are an ai quirk, they should be lumped into their own group

Do you mean moving the AI options off to a separate tab entirely?  I'd be afraid that it would only have one or two entities there and just be a mostly empty tab.  Of course that could be bypased by making the tab just pop a full AI setting screen instead of showing a tab.  Hrm...

Disclaimer first: I'm one of the apparently few people who had no problem with Classics UI, and actually feel slightly nostalgic about it.

I don't think you are alone, but it is hard to know if that is because people got used to it or if it really helped power-users out, plus we really want to make it easier to get into for new users.  I think there are a lot of people who would love the complexity of the game if they could get over the complexity of the UI.

and popups for menus? Don't like those either. Having to close them would be annoying, I don't like having too many separate windows or tabs open at once. I'm rather prone to overload

Then when we get to the settings popups for this new version we'll need your attention.  I definitely don't want overload, but we can't put everything on the top level or else it's back to overload again and the mandate for this game is "let players play they way they want to play" so we need options for everything.

So here's the draft:



Bottom-left corner has been returned to what it looks like in-game, just with the time/speed stuff greyed out.  Factions tab has been tweaked with the categories Badger suggested, plus an extra column of buttons (ark for players, difficulty for the AI and intensity for the other factions).  I removed the "add another" and "remove" buttons from the AI section because they shouldn't have been there to begin with.  I moved the map instructions down and connected them with the start/main menu/preset buttons with the idea that if you collapse the instructions they "roll down" until just their header and the buttons are visible.

I added the top bar back in to keep a consistant frame with the in-game screen.  Futuristic human military design actually has the three pieces of the monitor sourced from three different planets as part of the peace concords of [redacted].  The bar is blank though, except for a place for the player to name their campaign (prefilled with their username, the word campaign, and maybe a number there in case they don't bother to rename it).  I also standardized the color borders for each group of factions because CRAZY IDEA, what if the border colors are locked down on a per-grouping basis (so all AI has the same border, all humans have the same border, all friendly factions have the same border, etc) to make it easier to identify friend-or-foe at a glance.  If we run with that idea, then I'll need to put in another tweak to allow the team-border-choice to be set.

Looking at the friendly factions / enemy factions / chaos factions again, I'm not sure about the word "faction".  But I also don't think friendly / enemy / chaos is enough (especially since the AI is THE enemy).  Anyone have any refinements to that suggestion?

That's it for now, hit me with what you've got.
« Last Edit: September 05, 2018, 07:11:42 PM by etheric42 »

Offline zeusalmighty

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Re: Devs Requesting Feedback: New Lobby Design
« Reply #11 on: September 05, 2018, 07:09:19 PM »
I removed the "add another" and "remove" buttons from the AI section because they shouldn't have been there to begin with.
Players will be able to add more than one AI opponent so this might need to come back

Offline Ovalcircle1

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Re: Devs Requesting Feedback: New Lobby Design
« Reply #12 on: September 05, 2018, 10:46:43 PM »
Maybe instead of Friendly/Enemy/Chaos, have Player-Aligned/ AI-Aligned/ Self-Aligned.
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Offline BadgerBadger

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Re: Devs Requesting Feedback: New Lobby Design
« Reply #13 on: September 07, 2018, 04:53:31 PM »
I'm still a bit concerned as to how the sheer number of AI-related options is going to be handled. There will be a lot of them, and each AI can potentially have them, and the code is (hopefully) going to readily allow for > 2 AIs.