Wednesday, 19 February 2014

BB#53: The Bracketview

EVE often gets called spreadsheets in space. A major reason for this is the overview which isn't too dissimilar to a dynamic excel spreadsheet. It is packed full of important information such as distance, velocity, radial velocity, transversal velocity, ship type, player name and a bunch of other items. Often the game could be played only using the overview and keyboard shortcuts without actually having to look at the space around you. I can understand why gamers who haven't played EVE get put off when they see the user interface. It is rather busy and the reliance on interacting with the overview consistently during combat isn't particularly engaging or immersive gameplay.

EVE players understand the importance of the overview. It is an incredibly important tool and the table format is probably the best way to display this information in a way that is easy to scan and read. However the general complaint is that it takes up too much screen real estate. I personally think that the current overview is fine. It could use some tweaks, like more customisation options or extra tabs for more presets. I think the current format of the overview needs to be kept. Removing or drastically changing the current overview is the wrong angle to take in my opinion. I think a better option would be to have a way to toggle between the current overview and a simplified overview or display the information elsewhere in another format, allowing the overview to be toggled on/off depending on the situation.

To start off, in a combat situation, here is the key information provided by the overview:

Name: Who did the FC tell us to shoot?
Type: Do we have a chance of killing them?
Distance: are we in range to lock/shoot/scam/web?
Velocity: Can we catch them if we choose to chase?
Transversal and/or Angular Velocity: Can we track the target (if tracking matters with the particular weapon system)?
Radial Velocity: Are they moving towards or away from us?

I think all or some of this information could be transitioned to the bracket system or into a simplified overview in some way, without drastically cluttering the screen in big fleet fights. Here are my ideas:

Name: Who did the FC tell us to shoot?

Well, I think this is the most difficult to get onto the bracket system. Adding permanent text to a bracket in a large fleet fight would be unreadable and cause too much clutter. We can already scroll over a bracket to see a name, but this doesn't help identify targets. However, we do have a broadcast system for target calling without using the overview which highlights a target in space. So I think improvement of the broadcast system would be an approach to solve this particular problem, with better highlighting of targets in space or additional target marking options for FCs.

Type: I think this could be reflected by symbols within the current bracket system. Keep the current colour system and add extra white markings into the central area. For example you could use a central dot as a frigate and a dot with a vertical line through it could be an interceptor. The idea would be to have very basic symbols that wouldn't be TOO cluttering in a fleet fight to be visible, to get a general idea of fleet composition. Obviously this would require careful design decisions.

Distance: We can use the tactical overlay for this. It could require a little tweaking for better visibility in the vertical direction however I feel it is a suitable method for gauging distance in a skirmish and for major fleet fights you can highlight a target to see this information.

Velocity: This is where things get tricky. How to show this without using text? This is where we start to use the sides of the square. I would add a marking to the left side of the square which moves up and down. Up is max velocity with the bottom being stationary.

Transversal Velocity: Similar to velocity however using the top of the square. Right being max and left being 0.

Radial Velocity: I'm not sure if this is necessary, as you can view the bracket either moving towards or away from you, though I know many players like this information on their overview. In this case use the right side of the square in a similar fashion to velocity, though with the center being 0 above being positive values and below negative values.

So how about some examples for visualisation? I've mocked up a couple of examples of how these new brackets would look and how to interpret them:

Possible bracket profiles for moving and simplifying overview information
The general idea is addition of markers to the brackets which indicate velocity, transversal velocity and radial velocity on the left, top and right sides of the bracket respectively. We can also determine ship type via addition of a symbol and also observe distance using our tactical overlay. The idea here is, with a little practice, get important information about an enemy or friendly ship from a quick glance. Looking at brackets labelled A, B and C we can identify different information quickly. In A we can see that it is a frigate, it is moving at its top speed, it has low transversal and highly negative radial velocity indicating that it is on a direct approach towards us. Of course, this would be apparent from watching it move on screen. In B we can see a frigate at top speed, medium transversal and slightly negative radial velocity indicating that is also approaching us but may be attempting to spiral in. In C we see an interceptor, differentiated by the vertical line and circle, at max speed, max transversal but neutral radial velocity indicating that it is in an orbital trajectory around us.

What do you think? I don't feel that this is perfect, however I think it is a sensible approach. Simplify some of the overview information to allow for either a toggleable, simplified overview or move some information to brackets in a way that is relatively easy to take in at a glance.

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