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Rome: Total War Discussion
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Total War Heaven » Forums » Rome: Total War Discussion » Why Is the User Interface So Awful?
Topic Subject:Why Is the User Interface So Awful?
posted 31 October 2017 08:21 EDT (US)         
I just want to list all of the stuff I can because I really enjoy this game and have played hundreds of hours BUT so much of the user interface is horribly, horribly designed and I can't understand why.

1. Almost no tool tips, the ones that do exist contain almost no information - usually just the name of something. Why? Low resolution? Pretty sure when I got this game shortly after it came out my PC had 1600x1200, doesn't seem legit, and on the strategy map especially video performance shouldn't really be an issue, even for the time it was released.
2. Disconnected Information Screens: In order to get useful information, you have to click on the unit/building - but sometimes it's a right click. Other times pertinent information (say on a city) cannot be accessed from the menu at all, and instead you must click on one of the lower buttons to open up your Faction Menu and then click another submenu. Why not at least have a link between the lists and submenus and the main information screen for a specific city, unit, etc?

Strategic Map:
1. Pointlessly Bad Camera Controls: You cannot rotate the map. You have a very limited ability to zoom in or out, or change the angle of viewing. This makes #2 much worse.
2. Units blend in with the background, especially non-military units. This makes keeping track of spies and diplomats very difficult and tedious, and very often it's almost impossible to tell whether one or two armies are in an area if it's straight-on and thus occluded by terrain, cities or other units. Sometimes even if you can see the unit it's almost impossible to click on it due to the fact that it's almost entirely blocked and you can only click on certain parts of a unit to activate it.
3. Huge User Interface with a Huge Font, so that barely any information is contained and most/all of the map is blocked when you open a menu.

Battle Map:
1. Deployment is incredibly finnicky and almost impossible to get straight, troops in different units are are always listing away from each other on one flank. or overlapping in ways that disrupt formation. There is no ability to make templates of armies, or to arrange units 'block' style so that they actually form neat lines. It would be fine if the 'drag and drop' method existed (but even still it's too goddman sketchy and arbitrary and disrupted by menus and borders that occlude a quarter of the screen or more) but there's no reason you shouldn't also be able to pop down a grid and line up your initial deployment. During deployment you should have banners with numbers for each troop in an off color from the currently selected unit always visible.

2. Horrible Movement Controls: #1 is made worse by the arbitrary pathfinding AI and crap method of giving orders to troops, so that they jumble up and randomize their position in ways that cannot be controlled and don't make any sense. Any attempt to move your line results in people pouring over eachother, ending up at a completely unpredictable angle to the target, randomly turning the wrong way, or just flat out screwing up the entire formation you just put together. You can't just tell the troops to march forward or wheel, you have to click a spot and hope that it decides to end up in some coherent formation that isn't suicide. If you try to draw out the lines using the drag method you not only cannot see where you were going to position other troops meaning you either have to keep clicking back and forth or just guess about where you put down the last end position. If you try to use the drag method it will completely ignore any formation or positioning and just lump them all in a rectangle where each troop has roughly equal frontage, your general's cavalry and velites each taking up a position just like your hoplites in some random point along the line. This is Total Retard and not a formation anyone would ever use for any reason, in game or IRL.
I'm not complaining about disorder and lag in reaching positions, which is totally realistic and OK. I'm complaining about how it's impossible to give coherent orders that tell the troops roughly where they should be in relation to each other and make sure they're at least pointed the right ****ing way. Likewise, as with #1, you should be able to DESIGN TEMPLATES and order troops to arrange themselves in that format at a position you click on.
Troops also can't 'remember' to do anything in order other than shift-clicking for waypoints, for example, you can't click 'wedge' on a cataphract and then click a place for him to go; you can't have your archers drop a ram and form up behind it - you have to click drop, unpause, and then give them orders to form up in a certain pattern.
As with #2, you should have numbered banners and faded location markers showing where your troops are supposed to be GOING at all times, and likewise corresponding numbers on every unit banner. This could be turned off for a restricted view/Fog of War mode, but as it is ordering troops to do basically logical things like "DON'T LINE UP FACING EACH OTHER BUT AWAY FROM THE ENEMY WITH YOUR LIGHT TROOPS RANDOMLY IN AN X EVEN THOUGH I NEVER GAVE ANY SUCH ORDERS" is so difficult that any 'assistance' from such indicators is more a reflection of common sense and spatial awareness that the computer utterly lacks. If I want to make ridiculous formations, or if the units get overlapped or disordered while moving, that's FINE, but this crap of them just 'deciding' to finish moving and consider themselves fully finished in their movement with such outcomes is absurd.
It is also impossible to give orders to a unit to march and attack in formation, that is if I tell my pikeman to go forward I can tell him to stop short, to try to walk through while basically ignoring attacking enemies, or order him to break formation and randomly attack a particular enemy unit in a blob. What I cannot do is to tell him to engage in an advancing melee, engaging enemies in his path but maintaining formation as best as he can. This is especially annoying because this is basically WHAT PIKEMEN DO. While having them break ranks and engage the enemy as much as his unit can should be an option (currently what happens when you order an attack), I don't think the order to 'walk forward and attack anyone that get's in your way' is an unrealistic order, nor do I think that telling several units to march in order this way is unreasonable or unrealistic. Granted that terrain, attacks, etc. will disrupt the ranks and slow flanks, the point is that it should not require ****ing sorcery and random luck to keep them facing forward and offensively marching at an opponent.

3. Horrible Camera Controls: This further accentuates #1 and #2. You cannot zoom out far enough, you cannot shift your angle enough. In deployment this means it's a total bitch to see where all your units are at, and you constantly have to click-and-reclick hoping to find just the right angle so that you're not running into other troops. It also means frustrating click-fests as you try to deploy troops only to find the red line (often invisible from your deployment view) screwing you up again and again, or some unclear border of a terrain feature that stops you from laying down a position at all.
This is true even if you take all camera restrictions off. I could see some limitation on viewing angle during a battle - especially with general view on - but the camera is just too damn close, too obscured and too flat. This results in endless frustration if I'm trying to deploy, this adds nothing but frustration and does not simulate any realism. It would be fine if most of the map was covered in FOW during deployment, but this shitty camera angle business does not hide anything, it just makes control incredibly tedious during deployment phase. Again, to be clear, a limited viewing angle and range DURING THE BATTLE makes perfect sense (though when I turn it OFF, it should be ALL THE WAY OFF - I should be able to view the whole map by zooming out, select troops without worrying about selecting twenty random troops because they're occluded by each other, etc.

That's all I can think of right now. Obviously this is an old game, but I don't know why some of this nonsense got past beta testing. What's worse is that, unlike TW Rome 2, RTW's interface and camera controls is mostly hard coded and thus there are no mods to fix it. This game is really good, but so many key elements of the INTERFACE are awful, in a way that accomplishes nothing whatsoever and should be obvious to anyone playing - let alone designing - the game.
Terikel Grayhair
(id: Terikel706)
posted 31 October 2017 11:34 EDT (US)     1 / 2       
I'll bet that felt good to let out.

Seriously, though. When I started playing it (a few years after it came out), the controls and screens were on par with other games I had played to that point. I reconfigured the controls to fit my fingers better, and make them easier for my addled brain to remember, but the rest was experiencing the battles and learning how to manipulate what I had to defeat the foe.

There is a certain fog in war. Even during exercises and wargames (out in tanks tearing up the real estate), things get screwed. Once, the XO of our company was the only tank on our objective- the rest of us were roaming far to his north. And this on a battlefield (training area) with which we were very familiar. So it does happen that units become dispersed and think they are obeying when actually they are not. The game does this quite well at times.

Since this game came out, interfaces and controls have advanced by leaps and bounds. I find this one easy enough to use, but I have lots of experience and practice with it. You appear to be accustomized to later-day interfaces, which are leagues ahead of what we had back then.

Practice makes perfect. Experience and more experience are necessary, but the reward- crushign your foe and see their remnants driven before you- are worth it.

Oh, and the next defense we had, near wher the XO made his one-tank stand: we crushed the attacking battalion. Totally. It looked like a frikking cemetery down there.

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posted 31 October 2017 15:37 EDT (US)     2 / 2       
The thing is, that I've been playing this game since it came out (give or take a year). I've always found the constant clicking-and-reclicking, low information density on huge screens, etc. annoying. What really cheeses me about it is that they never fixed any of it.

There are games of similar time period and earlier that have far better interfaces. For example, Hearts of Iron 2 screens contain vastly more information, and when you go into your Ledger (equivalent to scrolls) you can get a ton of information on every unit and province in the game, you can click on them to bring them up on the map. You can set battle controls so that your units move in specific coordination with each other with specific tolerances for losses - all of this is real time, with vastly more individual units than any Total War game ever has had.

The three main problems are the needlessly restricted camera angle, the horribly low information density and oversized nature of basically every screen in the game, and the primitive movement controls that only have two options, drag-and-draw formation or click-and-pray.

Being able to group guys to hold formation relative to each other should not be a big deal, either. Even if issues of terrain and enemy encounters disrupt this attempt, the AI should at least attempt to hold some semblance of the formation you just spent half an hour setting up in the tedious deployment mode.

I understand fog of war and communication issues between wings, but I can guarantee you that 99% of all battles did not have troops who are not in contact with the enemy ending up in an arbitrarily long X that disrupts both formations and makes no military sense, or with two ranks of pike men facing EACHOTHER but with their back and flank to the enemy. This will happen even when I specifically give totally different formation orders with the drag method. In part this is just awful pathfinding AI, which is on the level of Warcraft 2, but even if the formation lags and gets broken up while moving there's no reason that they shouldn't reform in roughly the correct positions when they have plenty of time and the general is literally right behind them. Formations breaking on contact with the enemy or in a forest I get, formations breaking 2 seconds after deployment and your general inexplicably rushing THROUGH your line of pikemen to take up the van is absurd.

[This message has been edited by Cheimison (edited 10-31-2017 @ 03:39 PM).]

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