DW2: Let's talk about the User Interface

The Galaxy Lives On! Distant Worlds, the critically acclaimed 4X space strategy game is back with a brand new 64-bit engine, 3D graphics and a polished interface to begin an epic new Distant Worlds series with Distant Worlds 2. Distant Worlds 2 is a vast, pausable real-time 4X space strategy game. Experience the full depth and detail of turn-based strategy, but with the simplicity and ease of real-time, and on the scale of a massively-multiplayer online game.

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Galaxy227
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DW2: Let's talk about the User Interface

Post by Galaxy227 »

All user interfaces in game design should accomplish two fundamental goals: function and form. The first goal, function, pertains to the actual usability of the interface, such as where the buttons are located, what organizational structure the interface adopts, how many layers deep the interface should go, et cetera. These are all factors that make up how an interface functions, and arguably are the most important ingredients in any good user interface—for you've hardly got a user interface at all without it properly functioning.

The second goal, form, is purely the aesthetics of the user interface. How large should this button be? What color should that button be? These types of questions are what an individual will ask themselves when designing the form of an interface.

It pains me to admit, but should not take you by surprise, that Erik, Elliot, and the rest of the developers of the Distant Worlds series are not the most "interface-savvy." Distant Worlds: Universe struggled to have a functioning interface, let alone an attractive one, and countless players have shied away from the magic of Distant Worlds solely because the interface was overwhelmingly... terrible, to say the least. In retrospect, I feel I can safely admit the first installment of Distant Worlds missed the mark on both its function & form regarding UI.

As a result, of all the improvements one could long for in a Distant Worlds sequel, to me, (surprise, surprise!), the most principal improvement was the user interface. My god, I've always thought, how much less of a headache Distant Worlds would be with a functioning interface. My god, I've always thought, how pleasant Distant Worlds would be with an attractive, clean, candy-for-the-eyes interface. I wept over function and form.

Then the gameplay reveal came for Distant Worlds 2. We were treated with a tour of the new UI, which was packed with a plethora of new icons, menus, and tabs. Gone were the days of screen-wide spread sheets for everything in the game. In addition, a healthy portion of the information was presented neatly on the playing screen. To me, this was a dream come true, and would surely attract a new generation of Distant Worlds players. The game had a functioning interface!

Then time passed. I looked back on the gameplay reveal and began to investigate DW2 for flaws in an effort to provide feedback. For whatever reason, my attention was focused almost entirely on the user interface. Something was wrong.

It lacked form.

I was not the only one who didn't feel completely satisfied with the new interface for DW2. I noticed people began commenting on how it appeared throughout the forums and other places around the internet. Some were constructive, others were flat-out rude, but all shared a common theme: it didn't look attractive. It was ugly, they said, and unfortunately I couldn't agree more.

I wanted to bring this to the attention of Erik but failed to untangle my mess of words. It's difficult to describe exactly what feels wrong about the looks of something, and I knew I wasn't going to provide any useful feedback with an opinionated paragraph or two. There's plenty of those already.

I convinced myself the only way I was ever going to demonstrate exactly how I believe the UI should look is by creating the appearance of such an interface myself. So I went about to do precisely that. Below, you will first find the original screenshot of DW2's interface, followed up by my own rendition presented alongside a gif to quickly compare the differences between the two. I believe my UI works to bring Distant Worlds 2 into the 21st century, de-cluttering, simplifying, and modernizing what was before a retro mess.
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Galaxy227
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RE: DW2: Let's talk about the User Interface

Post by Galaxy227 »

Distant Worlds 2:

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Galaxy227
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RE: DW2: Let's talk about the User Interface

Post by Galaxy227 »

My rendition:

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RE: DW2: Let's talk about the User Interface

Post by Galaxy227 »

Gif for drawing a quick comparison:

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RE: DW2: Let's talk about the User Interface

Post by Galaxy227 »

My interface makes every effort to retain the original function of DW2's UI, (which is actually quite well-made), while simultaneously improving its form. It's the appearance that needed some work.

And again, I am going to stress the user interface was the most principal failure of DW:U, and before anything else, should be at the forefront of development in Distant Worlds 2.
I highly suggest the developers of DW2 invest some much-needed love into the looks of their UI. A sleek, modern interface would greatly expand DW2's playerbase, and in my opinion is well worth delaying the current launch schedule, assuming the team's resources allow as much.

Let me know what you guys think, and whether or not something akin to my interface would be a worthwhile improvement.
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RE: DW2: Let's talk about the User Interface

Post by Sild »

I wouldn't say the UI was/is terrible. Yes the esthetics are outdated, but aesthetically it's not just the UI that is outdated. It's something I can live with, however. Functionality wise, it does the job.

That said, while your rendition dosen't change much, I do prefer it,and would like to see the UI change in that direction. Maybe with a bit more visual depth to it.

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RE: DW2: Let's talk about the User Interface

Post by Miletkir »

Nice work you did there mate. It is indeed cleaner and much easier to read... but at the same time it's become like "just another Unity interface". In the process you took away the identity of the original UI and the little it had that made it look like some sort of console / command board.

I'd say it needs the cleanliness you achieved, but by staying true to its identity. The frames and gizmos need to stay, or others should replace them. Shadows and 3D buttonized effects have an aesthetic and immersive role too. I wouldn't want a Windows 10 version of an UI... I want something that is integrated to the rest of the game and carries me to outer space.

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Galaxy227
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RE: DW2: Let's talk about the User Interface

Post by Galaxy227 »

I do agree that it lacks some resemblance of soul, and also fails to encapsulate what Sild best-described as "visual depth." My inspiration was almost solely rooted in Endless Space 2's UI, an interface that also shares the same minimalistic, "Windows 10" design that my rendition holds. I think ES2 pulls it off though by the addition of some seriously fantastic art, which obviously DW2 won't have in abundance, and which my rendition lacks entirely.
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RE: DW2: Let's talk about the User Interface

Post by OnePercent »

Only issue I had with DW:U ui was the fact it is so tiny and DIDN'T take up a larger portion of the screen, making the font hard to read especially in the fleet tabs.

I also prefer the way it is shown in the current DW2 build, though I do agree with you that they should make it a bit more contrasted, and also allow us to properly scale the UI in game to suit our visual needs.

I think FWIW we should also consider the comparison of a heavily compressed twitch stream image vs a new rendition UI at full resolution, let's get a raw image of the UI for a better comparison.
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RE: DW2: Let's talk about the User Interface

Post by DrWolfsherz »

I like the brighter font of the mockup. Readability of the font is also better. Might be due to low quality screenshot of the original video though. My main concern is, that if this is the same font than in DW1 it might cause some trouble on higher resolution screens. I am curious to see a 1440p screenshot of the interface, not from a video but from the actual game.
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RE: DW2: Let's talk about the User Interface

Post by Miletkir »

ORIGINAL: Galaxy227

I do agree that it lacks some resemblance of soul, and also fails to encapsulate what Sild best-described as "visual depth." My inspiration was almost solely rooted in Endless Space 2's UI, an interface that also shares the same minimalistic, "Windows 10" design that my rendition holds. I think ES2 pulls it off though by the addition of some seriously fantastic art, which obviously DW2 won't have in abundance, and which my rendition lacks entirely.

To me, Endless Space rather represents what I don't want a UI to be: a bunch of 1 pixel thick lines. There's nothing to it. And recently there have been so many games going that route. Where's the fantasy, the creativity, the immersion? As was said elsewhere, rescalability imposes some tough constraints and perhaps some classic artistic UI are not possible anymore. The most integrated and immersive UI in a strategy game was perhaps:

Image

In more recent titles, for instance, I consider Total War UI to be references, especially Attila, but for something closer to the theme discussed here, take Homeworld, the Remastered version:

Image

It's clean, sleek, user-friendly, and has a clear space-vibe, without being overdone with arts and textures.
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LordMM
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RE: DW2: Let's talk about the User Interface

Post by LordMM »

God, Don't give me such a nostalgic attack with that screenshot of Star Wars Rebellion. I think the font style and size is correct for the original DW2 UI, but the brightness you have added to it should stay. So much easier on the eyes.
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RE: DW2: Let's talk about the User Interface

Post by SirHoraceHarkness »

As long as the ui is open for modding then fancy graphical overlays can be made but will be restricted to a certain resolution. But modders tend to be highly focused on what they do so expect them to have multiple res versions to cover the popular sizes.
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RE: DW2: Let's talk about the User Interface

Post by Miletkir »

ORIGINAL: LordMM

God, Don't give me such a nostalgic attack with that screenshot of Star Wars Rebellion. I think the font style and size is correct for the original DW2 UI, but the brightness you have added to it should stay. So much easier on the eyes.

I shed a tear too.
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Sild
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RE: DW2: Let's talk about the User Interface

Post by Sild »

Miletkir does raise a fair point. If the UI is made slicker that way, care should be taken to not lose it's "soul" and fall into a generic style.

Ofc, mods are always an option.
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RE: DW2: Let's talk about the User Interface

Post by Latisrof »

Hey bud, good post! Just a couple questions, what in particular is unfunctional about DWU and DW2 UI's. Maybe we could see some real change if you made a list of improvement's, personally I've never encountered anything broken within DWU UI, but I guess time will have to tell when it comes to DW2. I'll accept the UI's aren't pretty but that is to be expected from small developers who are making very systems heavy games, let's not forget stellaris has a good looking UI though lacks in the depth of systems we are used to, like micromanaging nearly every ship in your empire for example.

I'll have to make one complaint about your UI though, the reason your UI looks better is because it is fully transparent, but this isn't typically done in game design because although it may look good at first once you zoom out on the map, it will become completely unusable due to the background colors becoming inconsistent, you would see big red and blue balls through the UI terminal obscuring your view. This is why I think Erick and the crew went for something darker, I'll give you credit though against the blackness of space it looks really nice.
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RE: DW2: Let's talk about the User Interface

Post by Galaxy227 »

I'm not even going to dive into the mess of DW:U's UI, there's plenty to be said and enough experience with the game would have you familiar with it's issues.

As for Distant Worlds 2, functionally speaking, the UI appears fine. Aesthetically speaking, I'd prefer something else, but of course that is a highly subjective statement. What I can definitively say is the moment you leave the Matrix Forums echo chamber, you'll find a large majority of people, time and again, shooting down Distant Worlds solely due to its user interface. This occurrence is rooted in the UI's inherent flaws, regardless if you're personally comfortable with DW's interface or not.

As for the transparency of my rendition's interface, I borrowed from Endless Space 2's appearance. What makes ES2's transparent UI work against any background, regardless of color, is a fine balance of opacity coupled alongside a considerable amount of blur. These two factors allow the interface to work against even the most appalling backgrounds, which can be seen here, here, and here. With proper care, transparent interfaces are absolutely plausible, and in my opinion work to give the impression of less clutter; it feels more airy, spacious, and free.

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RE: DW2: Let's talk about the User Interface

Post by Jorgen_CAB »

I totally agree on the readability of the UI. It needs to be much cleaner and the most important thing that it is easy to read. Make the background more opaque and the text brighter would do a ton for the overall presentation of the UI.

While I don't think the old UI in DW:U was bad from a functionality point of view it certainly was not good and outright bad from a readability perspective, especially on high resolution monitors.

The new UI seem very good from a functional perspective and that is certainly the most important (for me personally)... but... I have also seen allot of bad words being mentioning about how the UI looks from different forums with the new DW2 UI as well.

I also think that the developers should take some extra time to make it look just a bit more modern and improve the readability and use more contrast so the important things is highlighted and the text is easy to read. In my opinion they would actually earn quite a bit more money in the end if they did this so it should even be for selfish reasons, not just to support my preferences (I will buy the game anyway). ;)
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RE: DW2: Let's talk about the User Interface

Post by Latisrof »

>I'm not even going to dive into the mess of DW:U's UI, there's plenty to be said and enough experience with the game would have you familiar with it's issues.

Wouldn't it be easy to provide at least one example? I have plenty of experience with the game, and of course it was slow going from one page to the next but that was obviously a technology problem. Like all and all it wasn't like the UI didn't work...

>What makes ES2's transparent UI work against any background, regardless of color, is a fine balance of opacity coupled alongside a considerable amount of blur.

Actually I disagree with this design choice as it's obviously overcompensating in it's attempt to display information clearly. In combination of a transparent background and thin info barriers it becomes difficult to understand when one slide ends and the other begins, especially with all of the background colors seeping through. For example this UI may seem clear at first but these thin white lines are going to become difficult to notice against the contrast of brighter more over powering colors. What the DW2 Dev's did I think is take the best of both worlds, coloring in the boxes of space between critical information with dark color's to split the information up so it can be seen.

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RE: DW2: Let's talk about the User Interface

Post by Galaxy227 »

I've refrained from arguing on any subjective matter up to this point, and will continue to do so. It's not worthwhile or productive to bicker about whether or not transparency is viable. My only point was it has been achieved in the past, and is my personal preference.

What isn't subjective is the irrefutable fact that an overwhelming majority of strategy gamers refuse to play Distant Worlds due to its interface. For the sake of the argument, I'll link two recent threads from two different forums (here and here), but evidence is hardly needed if you've ever paid attention to Distant Worlds outside of the Matrix Forums. The interface is, at best, inefficient & bland.

It would be incredibly worthwhile, on orders of magnitude that I simply cannot stress enough, for the developers of Distant Worlds 2 to invest time into redesigning their UI. And by no means does a redesign have to bear any resemblance to my rendition. My rendition serves only as a subjective, visual example of what I personally think DW2's UI should look like.

The current appearance of the user interface for Distant Worlds 2 is the most disruptive factor in measuring the game's success, and only serves to hinder sales from here on out. As a long-time player of the Distant Worlds series, I strongly urge Erik, Elliot, and the rest of the developers of Distant Worlds 2 to reconsider their approach to DW2's interface. The fruits of a sleeker, more modern UI far outweigh the labor involved in creating it.

Get out of the echo chamber.
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