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User Interface and Other Changes for Phoenix Point (Backer Build 3)

Gaming RPG Usability and Accessibility
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Introduction

Note: It looks like a major update landed on Tue, 5 Mar 2019 and it was about 3.1GB. It appears that it was mostly a map and texture upgrade – more muted map colors so the UI stands out.

I do realize that the game is currently in alpha of beta status and the release is towards the end of this year, so there is a lot of work left to be do. This document is here to add my voice to the choir of those who like the game and who want to give their thoughts on what the game needs and how to make that happen, I hope this document will be useful in stirring up thoughts about the game, its mechanic, and its usability.

“Who the hell is this guy!?!?”

Hello, everyone! My name is James O’Neill and I am new to Phoenix Point (PP), having just purchased it a few weeks ago (Tue, 19 Feb 2019), which is during Backer Build 3 with Backer Build 4 coming out this month (March). I found out about this game through several Facebook ads which popped up. After having seen an ad for this a few times I decided to give it a whirl.

A few of my friends have played games like this (including the XCom IP itself) and I have always been curious. Also, due to the RSI (Repetitive Strain Injury) in my arms/hands I can only really play turn based games so that is where I have remained since this issue popped up quite a few years ago.

If you want to know more about me you can check my blog’s About Me page for all you could possibly want to know about me.

Geek Cred

I am a long time geek having played Dungeons and Dragons (Spelljammer, Birthright, Planescape,Ravenloft, Forgotten Realms, Eberron, Dragon Star) for over 25 years as well as other RPGs such as Alternity, Star Wars and Fate (more recently), as well a little bit of GURPS, Marvel, and Shadowrun. I have also played board games such as Carcassonne, Risk, Axis and Allies, Settlers of Catan, Pandemic; a little table top tactical games such as Mordheim and Warhammer 40k, a smidge of Bolt Action; years ago I also played card games such as Magic: The Gathering and Spellfire.

I have started playing computer based games all the way back in my early childhood with the original Atari 2600 with Pac Man. Then in my teenage years with the Nintendo and Super Nintendo. The Legend of Zelda and Super Mario Brothers RULEZZ!!. As an adult I have played with Playstation II, III, IV a little bit with my parents. On my own as an adult I have mostly played computer based games such as Neverwinter Nights, and then some MMO FPS’s like MechWarrior Online and Star Wars: The Old Republic although I have had to stop playing FPS games like these years ago.

I will say that I have NOT played an XCom game nor any other game in this genre, so this is my first foray into this genre. Athough, in recent years, I have been playing other turn based computer games such as Mordheim: City of the Damned, Stellaris, Battletech due to the issue with my hands as mentioned above (RSI).

Technical Cred

As far as my technical training, I have a BS in Computer Information Systems (computer programming) and an AS in Computer Networking Technologies. My long time career (13 years) is as a  Web Standards Based Web Developer where I care about the specifications, accessibility, and usability. Specifically, I have training and some experience in usability and have been a Certified Usability Analyst (CUA). So, for me, a clean and intuitive User Interface (UI) is important, especially with me getting older. UI’s that are not clean and intuitive begin to annoy me very quickly. Don’t make a person think!!

Much of my thought process and the way I think of things will be from the standpoint of web design, which I do understand is quite different than game user interface design although, when it comes to UI’s there are very many similarities.

Applicable Technical Skills

Photoshop

Keep in mind, I know just enough about Photoshop to get some things done, but there are definite limits to my ability. In this document I will provide as many mockups as I can to illustrate my ideas, but take my work with a grain of salt and as an example of what could be done, but a professional graphics or UI designer could make it look a lot better. =)

Usability

I have had quite a bit of usability training, but I have not had a lot of experience working with it, but this is an amazing area to study and my interest sprung from the next section: Web Standards Based Developer

Here are some important usability terms for your to understand for I will talk about these a little bit below:

Affordance
the area of an item available to be clicked on. An item with low affordance is difficult to click while an item with high affordance is easier to click on. We should always aim to increase an items affordance and make it easier for clickable things to be clicked.
Cognitive Load
means how much thought is required for someone to figure out how  to do something – increases the amount (load) of thought required (cognition). High cognitive load is bad and low cognitive load is good. Don’t make me think!!
Mental Model
when a user works with an application they begin to develop a mental model of how the application is supposed to work (processes, operating assumptions, and ideals, application’s interaction model, etc). This mental model is built through time using the application. Other mental models are also applied from external factors and experience such as using expectations of operating models from other apps which can bring with them other mental models for how things should operate. Ideally we can avoid this through a clear UI.
Operational Load
refers to the amount of work a user has to do in order to accomplish something. The less a user has to do the better. Too many clicks to get info or to do something is bad.

Ensuring that the game’s UI is intuitive enough to guide us to what needs to be done is important because if it is not clear then there can be confusion and force the us to think or guess (increase cognitive load) and force us to bring in other mental models which may not be correct for this application, and therefore increase user frustration. For some aspects where usage is set it may be useful to allow the user to adjust the way it operates to more better conform to the user’s mental model, but this is not always possible.

A lot of the changes I suggest will use color as the primary means of conveying information. Within accessibility this should not be done, so some of these techniques will have to be evaluated for those who have the various forms of color blindness to make sure they work, or additional methods used in order to ensure the information is received. Unfortunately, I only have so much time to dedicate to this post so this will have to do for now.

Web Standards Based Developer

Within this context, being a Web Standards Based Developer means I care about web standards. usability and accessibility. Also being web-focused means I really care about UI’s and clean layouts. My mental model and the way I think of application design will come strongly from this area of work.

My First Impressions and Basic Bugs

First Impressions

I have been playing off and on for a few weeks now, so here are my impressions of the game and some annoyances I have noticed. This will be a small section.

As complex as this game is, the UI is quite well put together. I did watch quite a few playthrough videos before purchasing so I already had an idea on how the game works, which meant I did not go into the game and its UI with fresh eyes.

  • The Aliens seem like they are the result of an aberrant mating a piscoloth (from Dungeons and Dragons), a velociraptor (cause they are fast), and a honey badger, because honey badgers don’t give a !(#*#!! They are deadly.
  • The game is deadly, even more so in the mist. Also, I have not played with an Armadillo yet.
  • Mobile Hive Queens are brutal! One hit on a soldier and it is DEAD!
  • I like that each new game is completely randomizes your starting conditions which increases long-term replayability.

I am looking forward to:

  • faction diplomacy interactions
  • class upgrading/perks
  • multiclassing
  • research and technology
  • equipment upgrading
  • base upgrading

… when/if these get implemented.

Annoyances and Bugs

Veloci-Aliens

The aliens move waaay toooo fast. Those bastards are all up in my grill before I even see them, kinda like Skaven from Mordheim. Super annoying. During the game it is hard to judge how far they can move to engage my unit, so planning my turn is difficult. Although, I am sure everyone complains about this! =)

Alien Shooting Camera

The camera does not move quick enough when the aliens shoot to see and properly assess who the target is and what happened.

Turret Targeting

When the Technician’s turret targets a soldier that has been controlled by a Mindfragger it should target the Mindfragger and not the soldier. Losing a soldier to an overly protective and panicking turret really, really sucks!

Better Overwatch and Return Fire Control

Too much ammo is wasted on Overwatch ad Return Fire with shots that would not really hit. It would be nice to have some control over range, hit chance, or facing. Perhaps even selecting the target we want to trigger on.

Errant Duo Shot and Room Clearing Targets

The successive shots for these should assume the same target instead of having to find it again. I have had a few too many shots go to the wrong target because I expect the next shot to go to the same target.

Occasional Loss of Soldier Focus and Movement Lines

Sometimes, when a soldier ends his turn automatically, and then shifts directly to the next soldier, the soldier’s movement lines are gone and the camera is centered on the mouse. I have to right-click to get the centering off and to have the movement lines to show, which sometimes results in an errant move.

Endangering Panic Recovery

Sometimes, when a soldier panics he runs forward past friendly lines and towards an enemy (and sometimes next to one). Panicking is irrational I do understand, however further endangering one’s self is ridiculous. By default, they should probably run towards the exit point, away from danger. =)

Small Text

I am over 40 so my eyes are starting to get worse so we need to take a look at the text sizes in the UI, especially for the ammo!! =(

Missing Mobs

A Hive Queen would not deign to show herself on at least one missions so I could not complete it, although in that city mission, I could tell where she was supposed to pop out. Also, there has been a rare moment where I have been unable to find the last alien to finish a mission even though I have cased the whole place… twice!

Organization of Thoughts and Improvements

In this rather large 30 page document I am going to go over my thoughts and annoyances with the game’s UI and how I think we should fix them which shall be broken down into 3 main areas:

  1. Squad Management Layer
  2. Tactical Layer
  3. Geoscape Layer

Squad Management Layer

Squad Roster

Phoenix Point Resources

I would like to see the Phoenix Point Resources overlayed at the top of all of the Squad Management screens just like in the Geoscape layer, because knowing the amount of these resources will ioform many squad decisions we make.

Resources Bar (Phoenix Point)
Resources Bar (Phoenix Point)

I have found myself looking at buying things and wondering what my resources were. Each time I had to click on what I may want to buy to see what my options are and then it goes away, which keeps my mind from having the ability the think and plan because I do not have the data I need. Having the Resource Bar in all of the Squad Management screens will work well with the equipment metadata idea below.

Add Soldier Button

We need an add soldier button when the food is above the 100 pt threshold. If our food supplies are not above the threshold then the button needs to be greyed out with hover text explaining that you need at least 100 food in order to train a new soldier. You can see that below with the green button on the right. It is not the best example, but it can get you started on thinking about this.

Train Soldier Icon (Phoenix Point)
Train Soldier Icon (Phoenix Point)

Table Layout

Numbers of Soldiers in Location

If we are down a soldier we may not know it by looking at the roster. If I am running a full crew of 8 and there are only 7 there, then I cannot easily tell I am down a man without counting. By adding numbers to the UI we can know how many soldiers there are without counting would be helpful.

You can check the following mockups to see the numbers applied.

Soldier Class Priority

The default column order should be changed slightly to:

  1. Class
  2. Name
  3. Equipment
  4. Status

With overall squad analysis, moving Class to the first column seems like a great idea because the Class icon is a single solid icon which is easier for the mind to parse and is much easier than interpreting words, plus, at least for me, the order of the classes is more important for analysis than loadout because I keep the loadout basically the same for each member of a given class. What I do to one sniper, I will most likely do to the next one too.

You can check the following mockups to see this change applied.

Roster with slots numbered (Phoenix Point)
Roster with slots numbered (Phoenix Point)
Limited Use of Soldier Name

Because my in-class loadouts tend to be the same, a soldier’s name is not so useful, although it’s primary use from a gameplay perspective is differentiating between two soldiers of the same class. From an immersion standpoint I understand its significant use in making the stakes of the game immediate and real when your actions affect soldiers with names. Names make it more real to a player and greatly add to immersion.

Customization

Even better, we should be allowed to change the column order to our preference and it should be saved so we do not have to keep correcting it each time we go into an individual screen. Perhaps someone really wants status first, which may make complete sense to them and their mental model – flexibility is good here within this table.

Column Sorting

We really need the opportunity to rearrange our soldiers during squad management the way we want to:

  • drag and drop the order
  • having the table sortable by column
  • having certain soldiers stickied to the top (and being able to arrange their order of stickiness)

You can see these triangles added to the table headers in the image above for sorting.

Soldier Location

In order to ensure there is no confusion there needs to be some separation to show if they are in the base or on plane which would make this screen more apparent and easier to work with. I have left a few too many times for a mission down a man and had to return because it was not obvious that they were at the base and NOT on board the plane.

Having two areas within the squad roster table will make it more apparent where our soldier are:

  1. the top half would be who is on the plane
  2. the bottom half would be those who were on the base.

These could be separated some space (white space good) and then use a background change to differentiate locations.

Keep in mind, the following is not the best example (that color of a purple is not the best), but it should give you an idea how it could look:

Squad roster with soldiers in jet separated from base (Phoenix Point)
Squad roster with soldiers in jet separated from base (Phoenix Point)

Of course, drag and drop should be allowed to move them to and from base and plane.

Operational Teams

It may be useful to be able to group several soldiers into operational teams. If we have a full 8 soldiers which are broken down into 2 operational teams  it may be nice to have these color coded here, as well as in the initiative and the formation tabs to help keep these teams together. Perhaps I have my snipers operating together and the rest of the team is broken up into 2 other teams, and so on.

All that may be required is to have a different color for their icon and name text and to have a like 6 different color options available for the user to choose from. This could be broken down into another tab, but the Squad Management tab should do just fine if we use color.

Perhaps we can just ctrl-click on the soldiers we want in a team and then a dialog box comes up to have you choose a color (not the specific colors available in the UI (white, orange, green) and to choose a name for it – perhaps set to default options (alpha, bravo, charlie, zeta etc). Then at the top of the page it will list the team’s name and their associated color.

The Tactical Layer could have the class icons for initiative and the class icons over the soldier colored according to their operational team too. This is not a really big deal, but is a thought, and it might be overkill adn it may not really work with some of my other recommended changes.

Soldier Initiative

With veloci-aliens who are part honeybadger shooting at up and charging into our ranks, chaos is how a soldier gets killed!! Follow the plan!  A military squad would operate with a set Tactical Mode of Operation (TMO).

OK, so this one really, really annoys me. The initiative order of the soldiers seems to be randomized for each mission. I cannot for the life of me imagine that a crack military organization would operate in such a chaotic method. Having each and every mission’s soldier initiative randomized greatly increases my cognitive and operational load, and has me making mistakes that I do not need to be making, and therefore it also increases my frustration with the game. Initiative is one of those areas where allowing the UI to conform to the user’s mental model model is a great idea and would reduce frustration and streamline game play for them.

We should be able to set the default initiative order we want them in. Perhaps this could also be another tab in the Squad Management layer. To maximize affordance (clickable area) we can allow the entire row to be drag and drop with the hover event showing the drag-n-drop arrows so that people know that they can drag and drop.

First Bar

Similar to game play, by default, the bottom would be the first to go. I have added a bar to the bottom to ensure that this is made apparent to the user (reducing confusion making apparent the applications operational model).

We could also make it so that if you click on or drag the First Bar to the top when it is at the bottom:

  • the First Bar moves to the top of the roster
  • arrows switch to point down
  • numbers reverse order so 1 is at the top showing that initiative starts from the top
  • reverses the current order of the soldiers

Doing so for this screen allows it to potentially match the person’s mental model for initiative making it easier to work with. Where this bar is should also determine the way the Tactical Ccreen’s initiative flows too – bottom first here then bottom first on the Tactical Screen for consistency for the user.

Initiative Tab with First Bar at bottom (Phoenix Point)
Initiative Tab with First Bar at bottom (Phoenix Point)

Soldier Drop Positions

This is also one of those things where military units do not operate as a form of chaos. Marching orders matter and helps to keep your fellow soldiers alive.

Similarly to above, we should also be able to set the soldier drop positions – where they are placed when a mission first starts. This is less of an issue, but in cases where there are mobs right there pointing shooty things at your out of the gate, which does happen in this crazy Phoenix Point world, party formation could be very important for your team’s survival.

Perhaps this could also be another tab in the Squad Management Screen. This could even come with some level of standard formations. There could even be an dynamic option based which uses AI taking which takes into account the soldiers present where you can set a basic pattern and then the AI will interpolate from there based on how you historically adjust your units. We should even be able to name and save specific formations so that we can reuse and modify them. I think that the default drop area size in 6×6 hexes.

Below is an example with the cursor hovering over Isaac Moore which also highlights his icon on the grid.

Formation tab with Technician Isaac Moore highlighted (Phoenix Point)
Formation tab (Phoenix Point)Formation tab with Technician Isaac Moore highlighted (Phoenix Point)

Soldier Healing

When we have soldiers that need to be healed before we move out it would be nice to not have to go to the map and guess how long it takes or to watch carefully to stop it at the exact moment.

An icon on the individual soldier would be convenient to allow time to pass quickly and precisely in order for the soldier to heal. If there is a world event happening then a flashing exclamation mark could pop up over it  that could be clicked on to take us to the world map for us to check it out.

Here is an hourglass with a heart which still seems too big and possibly too busy:

Individual soldier healing example with a grey clock and red heart (Phoenix Point)
Individual soldier healing example with a grey clock and red heart (Phoenix Point)

Or here is an hourglass with a heart which still seems to big and may take up too much space:

Individual soldier healing example with a grey hourglass and red heart (Phoenix Point)
Individual soldier healing example with a grey hourglass and red heart (Phoenix Point)

Or how about not using the heart especially with the red which may have it stand out too much:

Individual soldier healing example with just a greyed out clock (Phoenix Point)
Individual soldier healing example with just a greyed out clock (Phoenix Point)

There could even be an icon on this screen which allows for time to pass until all soldiers are healed. Perhaps to the Far right of the Status table header. Click it and time passes until all are healed. If things are desperate because we are in a time crunch then we can use the button for a specific soldier.

Equipment

Class Filter

Class Filter checkbox (Phoenix Point)
Class Filter checkbox (Phoenix Point)

The Class Filter checkbox is a great feature, but is more squirrely than I would like making it difficult to click effectively, requiring several clicks to get it to take effect. This needs to be a cleaner process – such as clicking on the words also will toggle the checkbox which increases this features affordance making it easier to use and less frustrating. This is similar to what would happen in a properly designed web application. This should be the case for all checkboxes within the game.

Ammo for Equipped Weapons

Color Coding Equipment and Its Children

We could color-code the weapons and ammo by color coding the aura around each one that is equipped. Each of the equipped slots could have their own specific outline color. If a weapon with ammo is in an equipped slot then its ammo is simliarly outline in inventory with that slot’s aura. If something that does not have ammo is highlighted then its other examples are highlighted. We may also want to change the default aura for all items to grey for the rest of the items in order to allow this effect to stand out.

Below, you will see the sniper rifle’s aura is yellow and so is its ammo. The pistol is orange, and the health thingy is purple.

When we click on an item perhaps it can highlight itself and its children by making their borders solid which would make it clearer they are related if that is what we are working with.

Not sure why the Hellcat’s ammo (I think that is what it is) is limned in green so brightly. That should change to be more muted like the others so it does not stand out so much. Maybe a designer REALLY likes the Hellcat?

Color coding equipped weapons with their ammo (Phoenix Point)
Color coding equipped weapons with their ammo (Phoenix Point)
Equipment Management Metadata

We could have equipment’s quantity in inventory and purchase metadata added to each slot which would make it easier to figure out what you want and can do (reducing cognitive and operational load) instead of having to click on every… single… item to check their stats. This may be overkill here, but we could have the following 4 numbers on each slot.

  • Upper left – quantity of this item in inventory
  • Lower Left – cost to produce this item
  • Upper right – quantity of ammo for this item in inventory
  • Lower Right – cost to produce the ammo for this item.

However, the icons for the larger items like the sniper rifle will have to be shrunk a little to allow for this. Keep in mind, I do not necessarily have the correct numbers here. This could be expanded to the items in the Stores too which would make it easier to figure out what you want and can do instead of having to click on every single item to check their stats. This becomes even more useful with the Condensed Inventory from below.

Equipped equipment with their metadata of quantity in Stores and cost to make more added (Phoenix Point)
Equipped equipment with their metadata of quantity in Stores and cost to make more added (Phoenix Point)

Checkboxes could be added to the UI in order to toggle these on and off depending on what the user prefers.

Ammo Management

In the space to the right of a weapon that uses ammo, when the weapon is selected, we can have 3 slim options:

  • increase ammo in soldier’s pack as a plus sign (+)
  • decrease ammo in soldier’s pack as a minus sign (-)
  • minimum ammo threshold

It would be nice to set a minimum ammo threshold, so that if there are clips left in the Stores then they will automatically get transferred to this soldier’s inventory, perhaps priority will be given based on Initiative order.

Minimum ammo threshold and buttons to add and subtract ammo from a soldiers inventory (Phoenix point)
Minimum ammo threshold and buttons to add and subtract ammo from a soldiers inventory (Phoenix point)

Condensed Inventory

The default Store organization should put related things together such as weapons with their ammo, so we do not have to look through it to find them (reduces cognitive and operational load) as they are spread out.

More usefully, it could even condense things by having 1 slot taken for the first item and then show the item metadata from above which would make the Stores so much easier to use due to less visual clutter. With the metadata, we could toggle off showing ammo since that is shown in the weapon’s metadata.

Perhaps this can be a UI display option – Condensed Inventory. This will decrease the cognitive load when working with a equipping a soldier and getting a handle on just exactly what you have.

We could also have checkboxes to filter by equipment type: weapons, ammo, health, other. They could even have the refillable things such as ammo and health items first to make it even easier to use.

In order to add the checkboxes I had to move the section title of Stores to the previous line.

Take a close look at the clutter of the stores from above and then take a look at it now in its condensed form:

Condensed Stores with each type of item having only one slot with metadata of quantity in Stores and cost to make more (Phoenix Point)
Condensed Stores with each type of item having only one slot with metadata of quantity in Stores and cost to make more (Phoenix Point)

Encumbrance and Pack Size

The encumbrance rating is hard to read which due to a low background to text color contrast, so we need to fix that. We can just get rid of the background there and just set the text color to a grey so it does not stand out too much.

Also, we should add in the backpack size too, which I also want for the Tactical Layer. I am not sure if we will have packs of different sizes (differing carrying capacities), but in case there are and we have a scroll bar, then this will be useful. Having access to this on the Tactical Layer will be especially useful on Salvage Missions.

Encumbrance and pack information (Phoenix Point)
Encumbrance and pack information (Phoenix Point)

Equipment Schematics

OK, now in this layer we can add a tab for the schematics for all of the weapons, ammo, armor, and other tools we collect. Because, once we get a hold of them we know how to make them. However, currently, if we do not have a copy of the item then we cannot create a new one. This tab will serve as a repository and list for all of the equipment that we have recovered so that even if we do not have a current copy we will still be able to make another one. This may also tie into serving as a repository for other technology our scientists research too.

You can see the button below in the upper right. This screen will look just like the condensed equipment screen, but there will be much, much more in it.

Adding Schematics tab (Phoenix Point)
Adding Schematics tab (Phoenix Point)

Tactical Layer

Soldiers

Soldier Initiative

Turn Status Icons with current soldier's highlighted in green and the soldier the mouse is hovered over is highlighted in orange (Phoenix Point)
Turn Status Icons

For each mission the starting Soldier Initiative order should be pulled from the Initiative tab in the Squad Management layer.

At any time during the mission I should be able to drag and drop those icons to dynamically change their initiative for this round/mission and the new order should maintained from round to round, so I can change my initiative order as needed and as combat conditions require. These changes to initiative here in the Tactical Layer would NOT affect the initiative order in the Squad Management Layer, so your default initiative would not be affected.

Soldier Turn Statuses

Here we shall see the power color coding and and muting to assist in enhancing a user’s experience. In some ways this shall resemble HTML’s link states (hover, focus, visited).

We may want to add a darker transparent background for these icons and their statuses which would help us control their presentation better.

Turn Status with current soldier's highlighted in green and the soldier the mouse is hovered over is highlighted in orange (Phoenix Point)
Turn Status with current soldier’s highlighted in green and the soldier the mouse is hovered over is highlighted in orange (Phoenix Point)
Active Soldier

The current active soldier would have a green left icon and green highlight on its space to show the relation. The bright color would make it easy for a person to find the active soldier easily through the darker colors of the map.

Waiting Soldier

A soldier who has not taken their turn yet shall have their left icon white and have NO space highlight.

Highlighted Soldier

When mouse is over a soldier (or its icon) then their left icon should show orange and there should be an orange square around its space to highlight it, which again makes it easy make associations quickly due to color association.

Finished Soldier

A soldier who has completed his turn will have a muted and greyed out class icon and no space highlight.

Healing Mode

Whenever the current character has a healing mode (medikit, technician arms) selected we need some UI changes to assist the player to quickly assess who and what needs to be healed and to help ensure that the correct soldier gets healed. I have often found this process confusing and was not necessarily sure which person I was healing or which was targeted because there is no direct visual feedback to let me know.

OK, here I will suggest a few UI changes to make things more apparent and easier for the player to assess what is going on.

  • move heal target icons
  • highlight technician and target of healing
  • squad health and status UI

Visual feedback is always a good thing when making an important decision like determining who will live or die in your squad.

Move Heal Target Icons

The heal target icons sometimes get lost to the far right side which can make using this ability more difficult. The heal target icons should be moved above the Encounter Bar so it is more front and center, and not hidden off to the far right, which will make them easier to work with and, having it center line of your sight, makes it easier to see too.

Move heal target icons above Encounter Bar (Phoenix Point)
Move heal target icons above Encounter Bar (Phoenix Point)
Highlight Technician and Healing Target
Targeting Confusion??

In the image below, a Technician is the target. Which one? There are two. The target of the heal is not easy to discern which causes us way to much cognitive load to try to figure it out. Honestly, I still have not figured it out yet and have made deadly healing mistakes, so this needs to be clearer. Perhaps, the technician’s stats which are not so muted is the target?

Healing target confusion? (Phoenix Point)
Healing target confusion? Which Technician is it?(Phoenix Point)

Here are some UI changes that can help make this process clearer beyond just having the camera shift slightly to center on the target which does not really help to clarify who is the target.

  • distinguish technician that is the healer
  • highlight soldier target
  • use arrow keys
Distinguish Healer Technician

We should mark the technician that is the healer, so that we know who the other potential targets are. To do that we can always put the healer first in the line and change the color of his cross to mark him as the healer.

See next image for example.

Highlight Soldier Target

We should highlight the target of the heal by:

  • muting the surrounding soldier’s stats and bringing forward the target’s stats
  • color the brackets around the target
  • color the class icon in
  • color the bracket around the target’s icon in the Encounter Bar
  • get rid of the green cross on potential healing targets since that adds a level of confusion and makes it more difficult to differentiate the icons from each other by muddling their outlines and making them look too similar

Here you will see that the technician who is the healer is the current target of the heal.

Distinguishing the healer with pink coloring and removing green cross from other soldier's icon (Phoenix Point)
Distinguishing the healer with pink coloring and removing green cross from other soldier’s icon (Phoenix Point)
Use of Arrow Keys or Numbers

We should also probably allow the arrow keys to cycle through the valid targets which can make it easier to work with.

Perhaps, even use numbers while numbering the targets with 0 for the healer, so it is harder to make a mistake?

Squad Health Status UI

When entering into a healing mode, the side class icons should present health status of each soldier near their class icon which makes getting a quick overview of your squad’s health easy. This will also reduce time and cognitive load due to NOT having to look all around the map while clicking from soldier to soldier to find that one you are looking for that needs to be healed.

This Squad Health Status UI should show:

  • current health
  • statuses
  • mute those who are fully healed or if healing cannot help more
  • accent those who priority heals such as when they have:
    • 4 HP or less
    • Bleed status
    • Mind Fragged
    • low morale
  • show which ones can be reached this turn

This Squad Health Status UI is also something that could be invisible normally, but shows when you hover over any of the class icons for more than a second or two to keep the UI less cluttered when that section is not specifically paid attention to.

When the Squad Health UI is triggered the Squad Class Icon Bar adds the following:

  • colors their icon red if they are at or below 4HP, Bleeding, or Mindfragged
  • adds the icons for the Bleeding or Mindfragged status below their heath, almost ready to panic (I don’t have that icon yet)
  • those who are NOT within range to be healed this turn have their health boxes turn a darker blue
  • mutes those who are fully healed or cannot benefit from more healing
Squad Health UI (Phoenix Point)
Squad Health UI (Phoenix Point)

Pack Icon

I hate not knowing what an individual soldier has in their pack without wasting their actions. I would presume each soldier already knows what is in their pack, so this should be readily available info.

Is this the Sniper with the extra grenade? Does this Assault dude have the medkit? Does this guy have room to take the time to check out that box and actually pick some stuff up? No… clue!

OK, so here we will want to add an icon so we can get the stats for what is in our pack, such as:

  • current encumbrance
  • slots left
  • what is currently in pack

We will add an icon in the Tactical Layer that appears when a soldier is selected. It will appear next to their class icon and the other turn icon thingy there, and will be partially shaded to show how full it is so we can have some idea on a glance. However, when we hover over it or click on it then it will give us more info.

Pack icon with it data (Phoenix Point)
Pack icon with it data (Phoenix Point)

Mission Map Overview

I am not sure if this would be a good thing or if it would clutter the UI too much, but a Map might be useful to be able to reference, perhaps as as keystroke option or a UI button.

Aliens

Alien Movement Aura

A light circle that shows how far they could move with a full turn move and a second circle which is the average of their ability activations to show where they could move if they did something else other than just move so we know how screwed we really are. This is something we could also show if the alien is clicked on too.

This should probably be a togglable feature in the game options since this will probably not change once it is set. Perhaps having the options of:

  • Movement Aura Trigger
    • shows on unit hover only
    • on all of the time
  • Movement Aura Type
    • shows max movement
    • shows partial movement for action

Missing Mobs Timer

As a method of fixing the aforementioned missing mobs issue, there could be timer which pushes the mobs to appear and engage if so much time has passed and no combat has happened which would prevent player frustration and to ensure all mobs make it onto the board and a player can finish a mission.

Boxes, Dropped Items, and Trading

Searched Boxes

On the Encounter Bar (where you see the icons for enemies and boxes) if you hover over the icon it should show you what is in it once you have searched it.

Dropped Items

Items dropped to the ground too easily get lost into the background never to be found again.

These need to be highlighted so we can find them again. Perhaps they could show up on the map as a white bag in a similar manner to the boxes and should even show up above the action bar, where the boxes are. When we hover over the icon it will show us the inventory of the drop. Clicking on it will take us to it on the map just like the boxes.

The icon used should be easier visually to differentiate from a box so the lines should not be too boxy otherwise on a cursory examination it would not be easy to find what we are looking for.

Below you see 3 found boxes and 2 sets of dropped items which show up as a slightly trapezoidal bag with a grenade on it. I have the boxes separate from the dropped items to ensure they are easier to search through.

Dropped items showing as bags in Encounter Bar (Phoenix Point)
Dropped items showing as bags in Encounter Bar (Phoenix Point)

Box Recovery on Successful Mission

This may be part of the mission economy/decision math, but following a successful completion of a mission (not a retreat) we should be able to recover all of the contents of the boxes present. I have noticed that this does not happen.

If decision economy is meant to limit what we actually recover based on our tactical decision and pack loadout, I get that. This forces us to make decisions during the game not only in how much equipment we take so we can pick up new items, but also in the tactics and decisions we make during the game.

Trading

Trading Items should be easier than:

  1. Soldier 1 dropping items to the ground
  2. Soldier 2 picking up items to the ground

This may be just complaining here and, maybe to do so will mess with the action economy a bit, but this could be streamlined by adding and additional step to the inventory action.

When clicking on the inventory icon and you are next to someone, perhaps there should be target icons like there are for healing:

  • one for the ground (which should be first)
  • one for a box or a bag
  • one for each soldier touching

Again, as with the healing methods of clarifying targets we may want to use highlighting to make sure we are doing what we want.

Geoscape Layer

Flight Paths

As a thought, flight paths should include hitting refueling stations that are on the way, which reduces cognitive load and allows us to traverse the map without having to worry about fuel in the short term. This might be an option we can toggle off and on depending on need. Perhaps with specific time constraints that this might be something to turn off.

This was a bit beyond my Photoshop foo. Ultimately, the outline of the several circles formed by the various refueling stations would form a bubble of sorts within which you can travel and the computer will map the flight path according to the most efficient use of fuel. But, once you go outside that then you will be at your own mercy, like normal, until you get back and refuel.

Refueling Station Potential

On locations which have the potential to have a refueling station there should be an always present icon on the map. I really hate having to travel to ta location to see if the ablity to build one is there. I know I saw one and now I need to attempt to plan where to put one and it does not show up unless you go there which wastes valuable time and increases frustration.

In the image below you can see one in the upper left-hand corner and is greyed out and slightly opaque to show one is available to build.

Potential refueling station greyed out (Phoenix Point)
Potential refueling station greyed out (Phoenix Point)

Pre-mission Warnings

In order to prevent not going into a mission unprepared we should have pre-mission warnings of 2 types:

  • soldiers equipped with fewer clips than designated minimum threshold and then the cost to equip them appropriately.
  • soldiers whose status is not Ready

The example below is not pretty – rough but functional. If these situations do not exist then the buttons would be gone.

Mission Dialog with orange buttons to add ammo and to heal soldiers (Phoenix Point)
Mission Dialog with orange buttons to add ammo and to heal soldiers (Phoenix Point)

We could click the Ammo button to fill up our ammo to our minimum ammo requirements for the price indicated. We could also click the Heal have the clock advance exactly enough to have all soldiers ready for deployment.

Hard to Read Red Text

Also, the red text here is difficult to read because the contrast between the text and the background is too low. They may need to either choose a lighter font or possibly create a lighter background for the red text.

Conclusion

Hopefully, you guys like what I have put together and perhaps even supercharged your thoughts on how to make PP’s UI easier to use, more convenient, and more intuitive which can make the game even easier to navigate, play, and maintain immersion.

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James O'Neill
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