Friday, July 8, 2011

Ascension polish

Jmac referred to UI issues in this morning's post about Ascension for iPad. I have indeed been swearing and muttering about the UI (as I play incessantly). But don't get your hopes up for another tirade of designerly bile. This isn't the sort of bad UI caused by being an idiot, and then patching the patches on the patches until the result sinks into its own mire. Ascension just isn't right. It can be made right.

I rather assume that Incinerator Studios knows they have lobby issues, and decided to ship something rather than delay the project for a complete lobby rewrite. Nonetheless, for the sake of my own serenity, I will run through the diagnosis.

In short: game creation is clunky and misleading. The initial choice is "play offline" vs "play online", which sounds like the right lead-in. If you choose "online", you're offered the choices "create game", "find game", and "game list" -- the first sign of trouble: "find game" and "game list" mean the same thing, surely? If they don't, what's the difference?

If you try to "find game", you're presented with a list of tables -- fine. You select one. Bang, back to the previous screen with no indication that anything's happened. Huh? After some flailing you discover that you have to enter the "game list" and select the game you just selected. Except that this sometimes puts you in yet another unnecessary screen, where you discover that you're "waiting" -- gosh -- and you will eventually have to hit "back" and then select the game again.

Creating a game, again, dumps you back to this menu with no indication that the game got created. And throughout this process, the UI occasionally interrupts itself to tell you that it's been "disconnected from the server" -- meaning you have to push a button to get back to where you were.

The offline branch is nearly as bad. You can get into a game with a minimum of fuss -- "play offline", "create game", "start" -- three taps. But when you finish, the process to start a new game (and you will want to start a new game) involves hitting "done" and "quit", backtracking through those levels, just so that you can forward-track through them again. Five taps for "play again"? Bad.

But this is not a cavalcade of bitter failure. It's basically one mistake: the "game list" shouldn't be a screen. It should be a list, visible from all the other screens. When you create or join a game, a new entry pops down into the game list. Tap it and go. If one of the games becomes ready, that status change is immediately visible. This pretty much makes all the problems go away.

Oh, and if you get disconnected from the server, it should reconnect and refresh the list. I mean, that's just common sense. Keep the list up to date. There's no reason the player should have to think about TCP streams.

(You still want to streamline some things. For example, there really doesn't need to be a list of offline games, most of the time. You're only in one at a time. Just go straight to the game-setup screen. If you step out of an offline game, and then come back, then sure -- you'll want that list-of-suspended games, together with a "create new game" option. But don't present this list of six empty slots by default.)

(Also, remember my favored avatar for the offline game setup. I hate being that apprentice guy.)

A friend pointed out some in-game annoyances as well. It's weird that you double-tap a card to zoom to a closeup, but then single-tap to zoom out. Why not say that a single tap zooms in and out, whereas a double-tap means "fire!" Double-tap is a better shortcut for advanced players than the flick gesture, which is weirdly persnickety about where you flick the card to. (If I try to flick three Cultists off the heap, I inevitably wind up killing two and leaving the third to hobble home unharmed. C'mere, sonny, you're not getting away that easily...)

Yes, you should leave the flicking and dragging in place -- it's correct. I just want the double-tap too.

And the game screen really doesn't need to be so noisy. I know, the art is nice, but dim down the background another 50%. Nobody's looking at it.

I want to end on a positive note, though. The "end turn" button -- the way it turns green when you have nothing else left to do on your turn? Genius. Obvious, like all genius ideas after the fact, but genius nevertheless.

Okay, I think that's it. Go rewrite some code. Be the archetype of correct iPad lobby behavior. Show everybody how it's done. ...That way I won't have to rewrite this post every time another damn game ships.

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