19 September 2010

The Emissary Dialog

King of Dragon Pass has 19 dialogs (the original had 18, but I decided to split out building fortifications, rather than crowd the War screen). Most of these are pretty straightforward, but I was a bit concerned about the Emissary dialog. It’s pretty packed at 640 x 480, how would it work at 480 x 320 pixels? Especially when user interface elements need to be larger for iPhone. The desktop version could get away with packing the radio buttons 13 pixels apart, because you can hit that fairly easily with a mouse. But fingertips need much bigger targets — the iOS Human Interface Guidelines suggests 44 pixels is ideal. And I’ve found that sliders need to be bigger than they were, in order to have any chance at precise manipulation.

Still, it works pretty well. Keep in mind that the artwork isn’t necessarily final. But by putting the goals into a scrolling list, it works.

This dialog is actually an example of King of Dragon Pass’s complexity, by the way. There’s actually a lot of validation going on to make sure players don’t inadvertently do something dumb, like try to end a feud when there isn’t one, or send an emissary to give gifts without actually bringing anything along.

13 September 2010

No Tula Screen

Although it was charming and evocative, the annual Tula screen (which showed the clan lands as an overview) won’t be in King of Dragon Pass for iOS. The graphics would be hard to scale effectively to the smaller screen. And the screen was insanely complex. It had hundreds of graphics (for example, 114 different temple elements, and 51 different elements in the town), which were placed on an isometric grid (the illustration shows what some of the fortifications looked like, on that grid).

And of course, it was sensitive to game play (besides the obvious of showing more cows as your herds increased). Some of your land could turn to swamp, and that was shown on the Tula screen!

I’d rather spend the time supporting iOS features, like fast task switching and Game Center.

It’s possible that some of those graphics can be reused elsewhere, but a 21 pixel high horse probably won’t work anywhere else.

12 September 2010


“A good game is a series of interesting decisions. The decisions must be frequent and meaningful.”  -Sid Meier
That quote was the first topic in my King of Dragon Pass design notes (an Acta outline). We tried to follow this advice. Interactive scenes usually have five options, and we tried to make them all reasonable. “Do Nothing” is sometimes possible, but it's always a conscious choice, and probably has some meaningful impact.

On the other hand, I’m trying to simplify King of Dragon Pass for the smaller iPhone and iPod touch screens. So far, radical simplification has eluded me. But I’ve managed to slim things down a bit. In a few places, I’ve removed the choice altogether (there’s no more Wheat/Barley/Rye choice on the Food screen). Most of the time, I’ve removed options that don’t add much. For example, you can no longer have the Water element as your clan’s ancient enemy (this had almost no impact). And raids can no longer target enemy fortifications.

Most recently, I took out two of the choices for Sacred Time magic. Children and Hunting seemed the least useful. The screen is now less crowded, and you still have 8 areas (16 checkboxes) to spend 7 points of magic.

In one case, I discovered that there was a totally meaningless choice! Somehow there had never been any impact of choosing the Healing of Orlanth as the clan’s first important event. I fixed this bug, since I didn’t want to remove the choice, which serves the narrative purpose of introducing the goddess Chalana Arroy. (two other early events are gone, however).

I’m still looking for uninteresting (or unnecessary) choices, to either remove or make meaningful. Thanks to everyone who has commented so far.