these are exciting times for Sacred Fire. With story writing-related feedback implemented last month, this month was finally time to work on improving the user experience.
While working on the story, I always struggled how to write an update for you guys, as all the progress on the game was mostly spoiler territory. But for this month’s update, my hands are not tied so I’m trying something new – a detailed write-up.
You might want to get yourself a hot cup of coffee. Now I can tell you all about the lows and exhilarating highs of working on this dream game.
THE U & I STORY
The biggest issue to address that stood out from the playtesting, was that the players tended to stay focused with their eyes at the bottom of the screen. There was simply too much happening at once on-screen at each new turn. So people kind of tuned out after a while and focused on what mattered the most – the text down below. This reduced the experience to a text-only game.
THE BITTERSWEET FIX
The previous solution to this was to introduce the different game modes, reducing the verbosity of the UI. The game modes with simple UI fixed the cognitive demand of following what’s going on. But they also crippled the sense of insight and control you had. Both so central to the design of you being in charge of telling your own story.
THE SEARCH FOR LIGHT
I wasn’t happy with that, so I did a few experiments. The goal in my mind was to make it feel less like a text-based game. I tried displaying the choices not as a list, but in different formations and placements. To make room for that I tried minimizing the UI progress bars. And… that went nowhere at all. The experience fell apart.
Luckily Unity, the game engine we use, is great for running tests like these. I quickly realized:
· I need to keep the choices as a text list
· I need to keep the UI with the bars
So basically what we had all along was solid, I just needed a reason to bring my eyes up the screen at each text line. So I ran a test with the new story text appearing at the top of the screen, and immediately knew I was on to something.
This meant bringing the UI progress bars to the bottom of the screen and that’s when the magic happened and the layout clicked.
It felt very natural to read what was happening at the top of the screen, then have the pop-up texts in the scene tell you what stats changed and to see a summary of where you are at, with the progress bars at the bottom.
Hopefully, there are not many cultures out there who are accustomed to reading bottom to top.
RIDING THE WAVE
Once I realized the bottom UI acts as a summary of your current state of mind in the micro top-to-bottom eyes loop, I added small green arrows, showing the change that happened this turn. It immediately felt like a proper turn-based game, where you know exactly what happened at first glance.
The only thing missing was a gradual reveal of that information, to make it less cognitively demanding to go through that top-to-bottom micro loop. Matus Koprda, our coder, has done a great job of laying out the code architecture in such a way, that it’s easily tweakable. Unity also has a nifty way of handling timing and sequencing.
So as of today, each “turn” starts with an animated reveal of the new story text line, a sequence of pop-up text properly placed on top of relevant characters and the bottom progress bars capturing both the resulting state and the change at this turn.
FINISHING WITH GRACE
It may sound like such a small thing, but this micro-loop is literary what you as a human being experience for thousands and thousands of times as you play the game, at each line of the story. So making this less taxing means you’ll have a much better time playing the game.
Further tweaks were made, like decoupling the tutorial tips from the story text. And simplifying the rules of how you regain motivation and control your emotions. It all helped to achieve the intended sweet spot, where you can easily follow both the story and feel in control of what’s going on tactically.
I’m very happy with this Fundamental Quality Upgrade. It wouldn’t be possible without all the feedback from you, our backers who play-tested the preview build tirelessly.
Also a link to a freshly minted build should be in all Firestarter Guild members’ mailboxes. Please try out the new UI and let us now what your think. Your voice matters.
As the title suggests, this was the first of the fundamental things to address. Next on are:
#2: changing up the pacing of the core game mechanic – the choice making. The solution is related to the next Upgrade #3, the combat, but I have another idea up my sleeve. So expect a detailed write-up on how it all went sideways before I found the light.
#3: The combat: I can already see in my mind, how to use what we have, and make combat great. More on that later.
Once all the fundamental things are behind us, it should be relatively smooth sailing to:
#4: Finish up the story.
#5: Make Sacred Fire look beautiful.
This last two will take considerable effort, but the envisioned new role-playing experience will be already there in perfect shape.
To be honest, I have to will myself every day to hold on of starting to make art for the game – the tools and the resources accessible now, as opposed to the time when we ran the Kickstarter, are amazing. I’m sorry to be a tease, but you’ll have to wait and see for yourself when we get to that part
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