Pandor: First Contact - Just Announced Space 4X from Slitherine and Matrix


Haha, yeah, city screens are a UI nightmare. We were aiming for a big audience with Civ 5, so we wanted to find ways to make the city screen as inviting as one possibly can be. The result was something fairly minimal, and probably not featured enough for the hardcore. I wanted to also have an ‘advanced’ mode for experts, but I just couldn’t find the time.

In future projects my goal will be to include more, but have all of the actions grouped into one part of the screen. I think it’s tough on players when info and actions are mixed together, and with a screen as complex as this organization is huge. Of course, doing that also comes with trade-offs. Never a right answer, it seems!

  • Jon


Will this game have story intermezzos like Alpha Centauri? I know it was a small thing, and it was the same thing repeated in every game, but it really did so much to make me care about the planet, mind worms and so forth. I wish more games would do something like that.


We will have narration in the form of reports that come up as you explore the planet and the situation develops. In fact, just these days we are arranging voice acting for said narration.


Brace yourself! Rant incoming :) &[I]<now edited to remove Ambien excess hyperbole>[/I]

[I]short verson:[/I]

I’m really all about usable interfaces for someone with extreme pain. I love art, appreciate expressive styles, but too often you’ve got some art student who doesn’t really play games building an interface that they want to stand out… so they can say “hey I made that!”. I don’t believe interfaces should have a signature on them. It should be done by a team with a keen understanding that less information is not more, and how to balance the two extremes.

I really disliked the Civ V interface [B][I]vs.[/I][/B] Civ IV. The lack of hard information, the kiddie graphics instead of numbers, not being able to click the values in the top left screen. The lack of tons of graphs and charts and the history. I know some of it was added way later in sparse form, and modders fixed some of the interface. But it was really disappointing to me. Also, the hardcoded box dimensions for data was just not right. The interface meant a lot of ridiculous (and needless) scrolling. If one wants to make an artistic and inviting interface that’s nice - don’t make small boxes that make you want to chew your index finger from the pain of carpal tunnel from scrolling and scrolling and scrolling. Here is what happened to Rome Total War 2. They went a step farther in minimizing and everybody hates it including professionals like the individual who wrote this thread:

Simcity V also went the route of limiting information and metrics we had in the past and people don’t like it when you compare it to what we had in Simcity IV. Locked windows that can’t be moved or resized. Barely any information to manage and the information that is available looks like it was designed for a 1st grader with giant text and super simple numbers. It’s like game designers suddenly decided, "Humans have become too stupid to deal with math and statistics! “Don’t expose them to that, they may have to think outside the box we’ve made for them!”

I know the Civ team and Rome Total War Team and Simcity Team thought it was a great idea to have a single, super simple, interface that doesn’t break “style”. What I see is choosing style over substance. As long as it doens’tbreak style we just don’t care how usable it is in the end… if it looks good!
Remember the mod window stuff for Civ V? Who can’t design a simple box the text fits in? And I know that was due to hard-coded box sizes, but having to scroll a billion times to look at mods, and when you selected one… having to start all over again was maddening.

Meanwhile look at Paradox Interactive. Their games are loaded with information which is yes, overwhelming beyond belief at first, but as you delve in it becomes a joy. And how has it worked for PI to not dumb down their games or make super simple interfaces? CK2 has sold better than they ever expected, so next time someone tells you “simplify interface at all cost!” you can look back and say "Hey we had a good game and we would have sold just as many copies (or more) than we did if we had a more involved interface).


While I sympathize with a lot of what you say (I liked Civ V’s interface, though), the only number I’ve seen for CK2 is over 300.000 copies sold, which puts it well, well bellow what Civ or Total War games do… It’s also stupidly cheaper to produce, of course (thus really profitable), and a great game, but their user bases are NOT comparable…


Civ V’s interface was fine in a way. It was beautiful & artistic but [B]unnecessarily [/B]stripped bare. That’s what got to me. And based on the narrow version of the interface design it crippled a lot of other things that should have been in the game at release or within a few months post-release. Items that were core features of past Civ games. Rome Total War did the same thing. Shogun Total War 2 has a beautiful and wonderfully functional interface. They threw it all away and worse made more work for themselves by not re-using stuff that people were thrilled with. Change for the sake of change isn’t good. And once again, making us scroll because you made fixed small boxes when you could have all the data you need in one nice expanded page… Ughh. The character skills * tech tree’s portion of RTW2 is probably are the worst offender’s where you have no idea what’s further up the tree:
Shogun 2 vs. Rome 2 - you can clearly see they sacrificed an expanded view to fit the artistic presentation which kills the actual PLAYERS ability to make good decisions.

Scroll baby scroll!! (note there are 100+ factions so the smaller listings of Rome are much worse than Shogun)


Here you can see the character skill portion of Shogun Total War 2. You can easily see what skills you want to focus on:

and here in Rome 2, you have no idea what skill will lead to what later skill

Granted the Rome 2 interface is much more professional looking and I guess “prettier” in many ways over Shogun’s, but developers cannot sacrifice the user’s ability to figure out what they want to do just to fit an aesthetic. There’s no reason they couldn’t have the “knwon factions” box larger and with less spacing so you could see 10 countries at a time instead of just 4. with just 4 at a time, and over 110 factions that is an insane amount of scroll.


I have to say I really, really liked Civ 5’s interface. I think I look for a slightly different thing in a game than you, jpinard, because I do value the style of the interface, just as I value the style of a game as a whole. For Civ5, specifically, I liked the way that the icons stacked up at the right side of the screen for info and to-do-this-turn items (I think more strategy games should do this, or at least do it as well as Civ 5 does). I liked the big icons that were easy on the eyes, and the way that the city screen changed slightly as you clicked build/buy on the left or collapsed/uncollapsed the building/citizen management boxes on the right. I generally preferred Civ V’s to Civ IV’s interface, especially when you were at war and so much information was displayed in lines of text at the top that faded away (though Civ5 is guilty of this, to a lesser extent, as well). Sometimes scrolling got to be an issue, but it generally didn’t bother me so much.*

Maybe I’m not as good a Civ player as you (and really, I’m probably not), but Civ 5 still has plenty of numbers for me. For example, I never had trouble determining specifically where I was getting my science from, so that I could figure out if, say, planting an academy and then multiplying the science yield by the city’s modifier was better than just bulb-ing for the immediate tech boost.

I also liked Shogun’s interface, particularly the style. The tech tree and skill trees were easily and obviously laid out. Haven’t played Rome 2 yet, but it does look to be a problem there, from those screens you posted.

I will say that I really enjoy the interfaces for both CKII and Victoria 2. I also wish more strategy games would use tooltips like the guys at Paradox do.

*I should also say that I have no carpal tunnel issues, nor colorblindness, but I understand not everyone is as lucky as I. I had a friend who loved Alpha Centauri but was red-green colorblind and had tons of trouble with the xenofungus–not something you want to mistake!


That sounds very cool. I’m going to have to keep a closer eye on this.


ooomalley - I love numbers, and graphs, and charts. The extra data adds a phenomenal level of extra immersion that many designers have lost sight of.

Matrix/Slitherine - sorry for hijacking your thread. I figured it was important to interject at this stage so you hopefully wouldn’t make the same mistakes the RTW2 team did since Jon brought up interface design. Very excited about your game!


jpinard, the Rome 2 interface is clearly geared towards large screen tv’s, i.e. consoles, as evidenced by several small tidbits the studio has let slip over the past year or so. They are gearing their games to be released on consoles.


What better way to attract the console audience than by burning all bridges with the PC ones, eh? :)

(Couldn’t they make 2 interfaces, one for TVs and one for monitors?)


My PC is hooked to the TV. I can play Civ5 just fine. Elemental is also possible. CKII is impossible for me.


Out of the blue this morning I got an email inviting me to join the beta of the release candidate (current release date is about 10 days away). I must have applied a long time ago and forgot about it.

I’m downloading now, but not sure how much I can say. I don’t remember signing an NDA, but I’d rather play it safe.


Well I’m curious as heck


Given that there’s a couple full-blown “Let’s Play” threads on their forums, I think the NDA is probably up.

Release date is in two days and inquiring minds want to know how the game is shaping up.


Loving all of the vids I’ve seen of this so far, but does anyone know how much this game is going to cost? I’m trying to decide between this and X: Rebirth. I haven’t bought a new game in months, but between the two I mentioned and the X-Com expansion, this may become an expensive month for me.


I don’t think the NDA is up - those videos required special permission. If the game does in fact come on in two days I’ll have plenty to say about it,


Yes, I just read a forum post that seemed to say exactly that.

I am interested in learning how well this was done. It seems very clear to me that it is pretty much a direct homage to Alpha Centauri, almost looking to be the same game with more modern graphics and updated UI, etc. I just watched a Let’s Play where a guy was playing what clearly looked like the Hive Faction from Alpha Centauri. It was funny, it was renamed the “Solar Dynasty,” but although they renamed the leader, they kept him with an Asian name “Prime Minister Yi” (as opposed to Chairman Yang). They even have a “quote” from him about people needing guidance and control for the good of the collective.

They also have an active planet, with alien forces (akin to the mind worms in Alpha Centauri), etc., that becomes more aggressive/responsive over time, ability to design your own units, and other features that are pretty clearly directly from Alpha Centauri.

I just hope the mechanics and AI are there.


I take it that being Slitherine/Matrix, this won’t be published on Steam or other major digital distributors?