Some time ago I played the demo of Sins of a Solar Empire. It's a space RTS game from Stardocks. It's quite complex and it take a couple of hours until one get enough familiar with everything to be able to play.

To help you, there's a a context info/help panel on the bottom right, that pops-up when the mouse is over an item. On the left side, starting at the top – there is an icon-list of all your assets. At the beginning I was quite often searching for a particular ship (like the 'builder' unit) in the icon-list on the top left while having the ship info, from the icon under my mouse, in the panel on the bottom right.

Now, the thing is, I've a 22" widescreen display and I noticed that it's quite a distance for the eyes to move. Doctors probably will love that as it's like eye-training … hehehehe 


Not the best tooltip position in this case

… but doing this often feels annoying. Actually one might even move the head too. Thus when searching for an item it's: move mouse to an icon, move eyes, read text, move eyes back, move mouse to the next item, move eyes back to the info panel … repeat until desired item was found.

In addition to that, typically in RTs games, you have the "build" menu section, usually at the bottom, and the amount of resources in your procession, usually at the top. It's not always like that but quite often and it's the same with 'Sins of a Solar Empire'. And the distance on my screen from bottom to top is also quite large. It's of course less the the diagonal but still significant. Thus when you want to check if you have enough resources to order/build the desired unit/component, you may wind up in the same procedure like described above for the info panel. Fortunately this has been solved quite well in this game. The info panel is right beside the build menu and not only it gives information about the unit but also the numbers of required resources will be displayed in red when the player has not enough of them.

All info in proximity

So this is an interesting topic. Today application designers not only need to consider dual-screen setups but also the variety of sizes and aspect ratios.

I just downloaded the Titan Quest Demo , it’s a Diablo like ‘Talk, Slay and Collect’ RPG game. As usually I talked to somebody and he asked me to free him and the villagers from an evil monster. So i went up the map, killed the thing and came back into the village – but by a different way. There were some people with icons to whose I had not talked yet. They all told me about the evil, evil monster in north (that I just killed). So i went to the man who game me the mission and he was of course very happy that I killed that thing. Suddenly the icons of the other village people changed and when I then talked to them they thanked me also about having killed that monster in the north.

Screenshot from Titan Quest Demo

Now what happend here? The other village people said dialog X until quest A is not completed. And the quest was only completed by talking to the inital mission starter. It’s really something that kills the immersion: NPCs asking you for something you already did. Spellforce 1 was also a specialist in that. You fullfiled a quest before they asked you for it, then you talked to them and they gave you the mission. You then talk to them right after again and they rewarded you. Hey, game/level designers, what about scripting some more checks??! So we can rather have dialogs going like this "Oh please, kill that evil monster", "Oh, you mean the one from the north? Oh I just did that! Wasn’t thaaat hard!", "Oh really? Impressive! You don’t know how much you helped us with this. (…)" {reward etc}.

Another example is the game Freespace. The before-last mission is to protect your mothership while the evil alien enemy-mother-ship is attacking yours. I guess the designer wanted me to kill all the incoming missiles but all I wanted was to bring that alien mothership down. It took me a while to figure out how but at the end i managed to shoot it into pieces before my mothership got destroyed  – mission accomplished, because i protected my ship. So next and final  mission: "the alien mothership is escaping, follow it into hyperspace and destroy it." "What??? I just did that!!" You see? Breakes immersion.