An interview with the developers behind FE14 was recently published in Famitsu, and one line stuck out to me in particular.
Higuchi: From the start until “Radiant Dawn,” we built up the view that those games are the “ideal FE style.” But with that sort of game, one new problem was born: we reached the logical conclusion that it was always difficult for newcomers to pick up.
BwdYeti’s response summed up my thoughts quite well: “yeah that means you aren’t teaching your players well enough, it doesn’t mean make it easier.”
I think that, by and large, a lot of these learning-curve issues can be solved with GUI improvements.
Which leads me to what I’ve been thinking about all day: the preparations screen. In all FE games, the focal point of the main prep. screen menu are the options; GBAFE in particular devotes a large amount of screen space to the “Command Help” box, which offers a lengthy description of the menu options.
To me, that seems like a terrible waste of design space. By using the prep. screen to summarize key information for the player, we could make strides in easing that aforementioned learning curve.
These are mock screenshots, so I figured I’d post about it or sth. Cuz I’m sure people in the skype chat are tired of hearing me talk about it.
- Pick Units: This offers a visualization of your party distribution, grouping them together by “Class Type.” Shows # Deployed/Total in Party. It would help new players perhaps realize that their party is too weighted in favor of one class type, or that they’ve managed not to train members of another entirely. Additionally, in the Pick Units screen itself, it would be helpful to add a display of the party’s Average Level. The underlying gauge displayed compares a rating of allies and enemies (sum of main stats + 5 for each support + 1 for each weapon rank / # of party members, then square the result). Credit to the Yetiman for coming up with the gauge.
- Trade: The focus here is on making inventory management more intuitive. As your total Net Worth (sell value of all items and weapons + total gold) fluctuates, the player could infer that their weapon supply/durability is running low as their net worth drops closer to the fund total, or realize that they have a surplus and should consider selling off extra equipment. Putting the Stock (supply inventory + items in unit inventories/max carrying capacity) total here also helps make the information more complete; you can tell if you’ve just got a few valuable things, or a lot of worthless things with that context. Displaying Healing item uses would also help the player keep track of that important bit of stock. It could also contain a notification of Armories/Vendors on the map (and could allude to a Secret Shop with some cleverly-placed ellipses). Another thought was that, in the Trade menu itself, an exclamation mark could flash over the map sprites of units who have a weapon in their inventory < 30% of its max durability, to flag units in need of new equipment.
- Fortune: At first I wanted to display the Rank stars here, but after thinking about it, I believe it would be more beneficial to the player to receive a representation of the numbers behind those ranks. Largely, these numbers should help incentivize players’ formulating strategies to adapt for their short-comings. Seeing the Win:Battle ratio, for example, helps a player strategize around that number (perhaps they’re happy to maintain it, or strive to improve it). Seeing an Average Turn Count would provide players with a “score to beat,” in a sense, and similarly incentivize strategy tailored to that goal, while keeping track of Casualties would help inspire more caution as the body count rises. Average EXP Gain (EXP per ch/# of units deployed averaged) would offer a numeric benchmark for making adjustments to EXP distribution; if the average is 120 EXP per unit per chapter, a player can strategize around that to balance the levels of party members by emphasizing their usage for kills. We want to avoid “numbers overload,” but at the same time, give players numbers that make them better players.
- Save: Basic information about the save file. Perhaps, if there were hacks that allowed for the free toggling of difficulty/gameplay modes, this would be more useful for keeping track of current settings.
- Difficulty Toggle: zahlman suggested disabling “Start to Fight” on the main screen as as a safety feature. In its place, I think that would be a good place to put a difficulty toggle. Allowing players to freely change their difficulty level, and perhaps even freely toggle Casual/Classic modes too, gives incentives for players to challenge themselves. So long as the rewards increase with the difficulty; say a player, who is suited to Normal mode, decides to tackle Hard for two chapters with the promise of more gold, an additional rare drop or two, etc. Even if the player goes back to Normal for the rest of the game, there was an incentive to increase the difficulty, to challenge the player’s abilities, in order to make the game easier in the long run for them. With a Casual mode toggle, something like that might be better suited as an on/off feature, rather than a 30-chapter commitment. In its current implementation, Casual mode essentially creates two different styles of gameplay within the series, rather than acting as a crutch. As players develop their feel for the game, and less of their units hit 0HP, they’ll see that they’ve gotten better. Then, perhaps, the threat of permanent death won’t seem so scary anymore?
Thoughts? Have other ideas on improving the GUI? I’m interested in hearing what people have to say.