Last week I talked about my inspirations and initial concepts for gameplay during the Campaign Mode. If it seemed a little difficult to explain the new systems, well-
Yeah, players didn’t know what they were supposed to be doing.
One of the biggest issues was the complexity of the systems I made. When presenting the new PAC system in class, the professor urged us to simplify the ruleset, since it was difficult for him and our classmates to understand. The moment I realized we had a major problem was when my team members explained aspects of the design incorrectly- I couldn’t even get them to understand it. The game needed to be streamlined in a way that kept as much of the depth I wanted to express.
An Extra Credits episode on depth and complexity in games, which I remembered when trying to minimize complexity
So, I started with the values the player dealt with; previously they had been referred to as “PAC Budget”, “PAC Spend Percent”, and “Campaign Budget”. While perhaps accurate, they didn’t exactly tell the players what their purpose was- very few people understood that the Campaign Budget was going to be used for their debate ammunition. Also, mixing a unit of monetary value with PAC Budget and a unit of percentage with PAC Spend Percent didn’t help either. These variables were renamed to be more literal as to their function: Campaign Budget became Debate Budget, and PAC Spend Percent became Poll Budget, and was now expressed as a dollar amount.
When I ran these changes by one of my roommates, he also had an interesting idea of having each player only have one national PAC, as opposed to one per state. The systems involving storing and retrieving money in PACs would still be there, and players wouldn’t need to go through an extraneous layer of putting money in each state and then adjusting the percentage of that value- they could just put the exact amount they wanted in directly. I was really excited about this decision, since it still allowed for all the systems I had created to exist, but reduced the mental load on the player drastically.
The second big issue I had to resolve was the UI, since it wasn’t getting the job done of having the players understand the game. Having done a lot of UI work on my previous production game, I had initially tried to hold to the rules we followed there- minimize the amount of UI on the screen at one time, and keep UI specific to a unit on the unit itself. I think I had initially gone about this the wrong way, though, since I tried to have state-specific information inside the area of a state, as well as player-specific information above the heads of the avatars.
A UI mockup from last week showing the old layout and PAC system
In order to minimize clutter, I wanted to show state-specific UI only when a player was in a state’s area. This was a problem, though, since there was a ton of stuff we needed to show with each state, and the area available for each wasn’t consistent. We hadn’t even had room for polling info with this layout- obviously this wasn’t going to work.
I started talking to my designer roommate and walking him through the game. He mentioned having some elements of the UI be persistent to ease up on clutter, but I didn’t think having the state info use this would be wise. It then occurred to me that if state UI was based on one of four players being in that state, then only a maximum of four states would have their info displayed at the same time. If these UI elements were moved off to the side of the map, then suddenly I had something a lot more clean-looking:
The new Campaign mode UI mockup. State-specific information is off to the left (not scaled properly), while persistent player UI is at the top
I took my roommate’s advice about persistent UI, and used that for the player information themselves. What’s really convenient is that the decision to reduce PACs to one per player actively helped trim the amount of information players needed to keep track of, further reducing the number of elements needed onscreen. I was told that replacing the polling percentage and money spent in each state with pie graphs would further help compress information, and that’s something we’re actively looking into.
We weren’t required to do anymore playtesting during this stage, but I urged my team to go again, so that we knew how players would react to our simplification efforts. The results were better than I had hoped- compared to the old PAC system, which about 50% of players understood, the new system was understood by 75%. In addition, when asking if testers understood every UI element, an astounding 93% said they did.
It would be very foolish of me to claim that this half of the game is now perfect, but there’s been a marked improvement in the reaction of players. After several weeks of my efforts falling flat, it’s encouraging to see some positive reactions.