Brad Wardell's views about technology, politics, religion, world affairs, and all sorts of politically incorrect topics.
"Don't be afraid to borrow.."
Published on January 24, 2006 By Draginol In GalCiv Journals

Before Civilization 4 came out, we were kind of on our own in terms of turn based user interface.  I don't want to say that no turn based strategy games came out since GalCiv I back in 2003 but I hadn't played any extensively.

So when Civilization 4 came out, there were a bunch of very innovative user interface tweaks.  I also really liked the Civpedia.  The Civpedia stores a lot of information that is presented to the user at the time of execution. But there's a lot of good stuff in there that I'm sure users would like to have access to from a single place.

But it always brings up the issue -- if we borrow too much from Civilization 4, would users complain?  What many gamers don't realize (and in fact most non-gamers as well) is that the game industry isn't like other industries.  Game developers don't *generally* see other games as "competitors".  We're all part of the same team -- trying to make good games.

I talked to Soren Johnson about this very issue (designer of Civilization 4).  One of the features we wanted to put in was something to indicate that there were no more units to move.  In Civilization 4, when you finish moving everything that can be moved, the turn button changes color letting you know that you could press turn and not miss a unit getting its move in.  Soren's response was "You shouldn't be afraid to borrow interface elements. If you don't people will just complain!" 

I think something as obviously good and logical as color-coding the turn button would be one of those things.  It was one of the things Soren suggested we changed based on his beta experience with the game.  There were numerous other UI tweaks like this.

In the real time arena, there are certain user interface conventions that have become standard.  When games come out and don't make use of them, many gamers (myself included) become frustrated.  As much as I enjoy Age of Empires 3, there are a number of UI conventions from Rise of Nations I wish they had borrowed. It would have made Age of Empires 3 a better game.

But I suspect many game designers feel trepidation about borrowing ideas and suggestions from other games.  I know I do.  I don't have a lot of shame. I believe in the "Great artists steal" but I do feel some shame.  I love how you can look at a city in Civilization 4 on the map and see what it's building.  We actually tried to do something like that but it didn't work out as well with our UI.  After release, I'd like to come up with something like it still for the bonuspak.

Another thing from Civilization 4 I liked (and Soren brought up) was how you can look at a unit and tell if it has moves left.  A little green dot appears if the unit has all its moves left. Yellow if it has some moves. And red if it's out of moves.  This was another one of those things that I'd like to put in as a bonus pak option.   The issue is how to do it cosmetically.  In Civ4, you have a fixed camera (unless there's an option I'm not aware of).  In GalCiv II, the camera is free form. So we want to make sure what we put in looks okay regardless of the angle and direction. 

I think in time many of the innovations in Civ4 will become "Standard" in Turn-based strategy games.  If you don't have Civ 4, you can get it here:

Comments (Page 1)
on Jan 24, 2006
Sometimes borrowing is a godsend for some games.
on Jan 24, 2006
Quote [Another thing from Civilization 4 I liked (and Soren brought up) was how you can look at a unit and tell if it has moves left. A little green dot appears if the unit has all its moves left. Yellow if it has some moves. And red if it's out of moves. This was another one of those things that I'd like to put in as a bonus pak option. The issue is how to do it cosmetically] Quote
I think you could color code the windows on the ship. This would give the clean appearance you were looking for and you would be able to tell the ships status at anytime just by looking at its windows.
on Jan 24, 2006
I know you guys have lots of ideas to come up with, but I just thought I'd give you one. Since we're talking about lots of objects in space that can move, why not graphically show whether or not something has 'used up' it's moves with the engines. For example, a glowing or fiery engine means that that unit or group can still do stuff.

I know you're also worried about being able to tell whether something has been spent or not no matter what angle the object is being viewed. Maybe something as simple as an engine glow or maybe highlighted borders around the avatar could be lit when it has moves, or dimmed when it has been spent. The glow could also match the civilzations colors, and may make it even easier to see when zoomed out (although from the screenshots, you guys got the 'pop' of color you were looking for pretty well).

Anyway, just an idea. Thanks for reading.
on Jan 24, 2006
Or maybe indicate it by some kind of cool-looking vapor trails coming out of the engines.
on Jan 24, 2006
Hmmm, I don't know. Unit colour coding doesn't appeal to me that much...
If it's an option however, it won't hurt.
on Jan 24, 2006
Yea the color coding of units doesnt really appeal to me either. But the idea of having the engines glow to represent if it has turns or not is a very logical and convienent way, in my opion at least. I'd vote for that choice if this were a vote . . . .
on Jan 24, 2006
FWIW, as you zoom out on the map and get a more strategic view, you'll not be able to see the engines running. Or if the ship is oriented other than your camera angle. Or if it's grouped as part of a fleet and you're panned back. etc.
on Jan 25, 2006
I am not a huge turn-base computer game guy (I do love board games though, go figure!) I like the visceral action and sound of RTS; I like to see my battles played out, I like to see the big ogre over there pick up the puny little human guy there and toss him. I like to see rockets fly, laser shoot and explosions!

However, what I also love are Space-opera / exploration / 4x games. I tried MOO3 and... no thank you. Bad interface coupled with bad decisions. That did get me interested in GalCiv I though... and I really enjoyed it. However, it didn't keep my interest past a couple of months... but it was enough to keep me interested in the future of the series...

I also really like really well designed games. I pre-ordered Civ IV (after playing the new Pirates! - I had too! I was hooked on the original on my Apple IIe waaaay back when...) based on the interface and mood of that game. I was never turned on to the prior incarnations, but things I had read said the total redesign was going to be good. I also admit an interest in being able to play MP over the net with my buddies in the course of a few hours or even across days. I was not dissapointed. THEY REALLY GOT THEIR ACT TOGETHER and the UI in that game ROCKS! Sure, there are a few things they could do better, but damn... they did a great job. I agree that copying features from games that are marked improvements makes sense, and should be encouraged - otherwise things are too stagnant. With everybody learning off of each other, it forces innovation to make a competing product (IMO). And the gamers win, which is the point.

Anyway - I pre-ordered GalCiv II sometime ago and have messed with the beta some. You guys have definitely made some smart decisions with the gameplay and the UI. I am sooo looking forward to spending turn after tunr ramping up my espionage, running the political game, building ships, watching them fight (even though I may not have direct control, I think it was the smart thing to do - keep the focus strategic and not bogged down)... I have a feeling I will be playing this one for a long while.

That being said - please; steal away from Civ IV and whatever every good idea that you can think of for a bonus pak. Every touch that you make that improves the user experience is worth it. When features make sense and gamers wonder how they could have played any other game without that feature... that is precisely what needs to be copied. I can definitely identify with the Rise of Nations comments - they did very smart things too and they were rewarded for it. Control points from Ground Control II and Dawn of War were smart ways to get people out on the map fighting. Now everybody is copying them - and noone is taking flak (from my POV) for doing so. Sure, they don't need to be included in all games, but such features work for the right game.
on Jan 25, 2006
My one interface complaint at this point is that I'm never exactly sure where a planet is when I'm picking the next thing to build there. In Civ III it's easy to tell, because the city screen is basically the map of the surrounding area.

At the start of a turn you get a column of alerts that tell you what's finished being built, and if you double click, it opens that planet up. But where is that planet? Where the planet is is a big factor in what I want to choose, and it's a hassle to remember the name, close the screen, open the planet list, find it, click it and then go back in and choose what to build.

There should be a button or something to show the local area around the planet. Or maybe - and this would be easier on the devs - when exiting the planet screen, auto-center on that planet so it's a simple matter of exiting and going back to the planet screen once I know where the planet is.

My solution so far has been to name planets things like "Culture" and "Research" which is kind of dumb. And BTW, can you rename a planet or did I miss that option?
on Jan 25, 2006
I don't mind the color coding thing at all, in fact, I think it'd be a wonderful addition. That said, I'm colorblind, so I'd also like an option to change color schemes for UI elements. Think that'd be possible? As almost 1 out of 10 men are also colorblind, this could be a useful setting to have.
on Jan 25, 2006
My solution so far has been to name planets things like "Culture" and "Research" which is kind of dumb. And BTW, can you rename a planet or did I miss that option?
Same here. I usually give names such as "Upper Right", or "Lower Drengin Border" so that I know where the planet is and what is appropriate to build there I would certainly like some other way of knowing where the planet is (a little map of the universe in the planet screen maybe?). I don't really have any great ideas on how this could be handled, but I would certainly be happy to see such an improvement in a Bonus Pak
on Jan 25, 2006
My "borrowing" suggestion:
Scrolling the main map with the arrow keys in Civ4 is easier than making large mouse movements to "edge-scroll" in GC2. (If this is already an option in GC2, I missed it.)
on Jan 25, 2006
No offense to civ 4 fans, but I hated the interface for civ 4. Granted the civpedia was great, but the use of small text and icons made it hard to see what is happening quickly.  A friend of mine who is also a fan of civ didn't like it as well.
on Jan 26, 2006
For my taste as well, there's just a little too much on the map in Civ4.
on Jan 26, 2006

Scrolling the main map with the arrow keys in Civ4 is easier than making large mouse movements to "edge-scroll" in GC2.

Just left click on an empty area of space and drag to move the camera around quickly. Or left click on the mini-map to jump to a location.

Whoever mentioned renaming planets - you can do this already. Just select the planet and click on its name in the info bar along the bottom of the screen, or click the icon that appears to the right of its name in the info bar.