Welcome to Jester's Trek.
I'm your host, Jester. I've been an EVE Online player for about six years. One of my four mains is Ripard Teg, pictured at left. Sadly, I've succumbed to "bittervet" disease, but I'm wandering the New Eden landscape (and from time to time, the MMO landscape) in search of a cure.
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Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Heart transplant

There's a new blog banter out and it's a tricky one for me. Here it is:
The Overview. Is it sufficient? If not how can it be improved? Is there some way to replace it? Does it give too much information, or not enough? Please be creative and specific as the overview currently is the heartbeat of the GUI.
If I hadn't promised myself about 18 months ago to do every blog banter, I'd probably skip this one. ;-) But since I did make that promise to myself, I won't. But I'm keeping the promise despite the fact that I can hardly think of a more risky post to write from an :nda: perspective.

After all, I'm on the CSM just now. I've attended two CSM Summits. I've talked -- fairly extensively! -- with the UI team in those summits, in after-hours conversations, and on Skype. I assure you you cannot do those things without the Overview coming up, and coming up pretty significantly. As Kirith correctly states, it's the heart of the UI... the very thing that launches and reinforces the "spreadsheets in space" meme that has surrounded EVE for more than a decade. Oh my yes, it's come up. And I'd be lying if I said I haven't seen mock-ups for things the UI team was thinking about doing to it.

How do I comment on it without letting some of that slip? Answer: you don't. It's impossible.

But I can address the topic from a completely different direction. EVE's Overview (whatever its form) should at its heart do five things:
  1. It should be attractive, both eye-catching in and of itself and pleasant to look at.
  2. It should be immediately intuitive... something that can be taught to a new player in just a few minutes.
  3. It should present all the information that the EVE player needs while in space.
  4. It should not present information that the EVE player doesn't need. And...
  5. There should still be a means of manually filtering information quickly based on player needs.
Today? Well, two out of five isn't bad. Or maybe it is, I don't know.

The thing you have to understand is the Overview today does two things very very well: it is hugely information dense but at the same time it is still pretty easy to teach it to new players. And those two things make the current Overview a really terrible-for-you, but highly addictive drug. It's the nicotine of EVE. And any attempt to wean EVE players off of it -- particularly the hard-core EVE players who also tend to be the most vocal -- is going to be met with screams of rage.

Let's look at the very first goal: making the Overview attractive. Rixx Javix went out and found examples of five or six screen-caps of modern UI design. They're just lovely, lovely things. And all of them have poor information density, are really non-intuitive, or both. You could make the Overview prettier. It wouldn't even be that hard. But most of us aren't interested in pretty when it comes time to pull information out of the Overview. We need to know that the enemy has 20 ships at 10km, 15 at 40km, and 10 hanging out at 100+. Right now, I get that information at a glance because each line of the overview is only 18 or so pixels tall, each separated by a single pixel line. Make the Overview prettier and I guarantee a scroll bar becomes involved. And scroll bars are evil. Matter of fact, I'm trying to remember any other game I've played... ever... where a scroll bar was involved.

Similarly, right now the Overview presents it all: information the pilot needs, doesn't need, doesn't care about, and... the information that is absolutely critical. And it's all mixed together and chances are you're using a lot of it even if you're not conscious of it. So let's say a pretty Overview is the solution if it's also "smart." To which I say: define "smart." If I'm skirmishing in my Rapier, I might care that 20 Thoraxes at 40km have me locked up. But I guarantee you I care more about those two Crows moving at 4000m/s 65km away closing from my left and right flanks. I've learned that through experience and instinct. Let's say you're doing The Blockade against Blood Raiders. Who do you care about more? The battleships at 10km or the elite cruisers about to drain your cap dry at 45? Is a smart Overview going to be able to make the same determinations? That'd have to be a pretty freakin' smart Overview.

And that brings me to filtering. EVE players are going to demand the ability to filter even what a smart Overview presents to them. The ability to spot dictors and heavy dictors is critical for a super-cap pilot for instance. The ability to sometimes ignore everything except loot can be hugely lucrative. The ability to spot bombers quickly is sometimes the difference between your ship living or dying, whether in 0.0 or in an incursion site.

While EVE players bitch about the current Overview, will the bitch louder if these capabilities are taken away from them for a prettier, more modern, smarter Overview? I don't know about you, but I'd estimate the chances of it are roughly 104%. But that's just a planning number.

CCP has been known -- from time to time -- to push something through they know will be unpopular when it speaks to their long-term development goals. But this is something that is going to have to be looked at carefully, planned carefully, and changed even more carefully. Because if you're gonna do a heart transplant, you only get one chance to do it right.


  1. suggesting that the overview could not be the "best way" is in on itself heresy. the best way to display information is via tables. and this is not me "eve player" talking, this is me Accountant. if someone finds a better way, there's a ton of money to be made with that idea, it will most likely revolutionize the dull world of billions of accountants, administrative employees, and the like.

    honestly all i have to say is, smarter people have tried to come up with something better their whole lives, and they failed. tables rule, deal with it.

    any attempt to do it in other way better be supported by some other gameplay restriction, like the whole dogfighting thing in games like StarCitizen or the X series, which is the only thing that lets the lack of an overview make sense.

    outside of those self imposed gameplay restrictions, eve has made it clear that the overview is the way to go. any other system will simply make people go. "oh... wouldn't it be nice to have the ability to sort all this information instead of looking at the icons clump up on the screen?"

    now, the overview staying an overview, there's a ton of room for improvement, dynamic filters would be nice, or the ability to set more than one overview, and a MUCH better integration between the overview and the watchlists, as opposed to the current ZERO integration. (and yes, i said "watchlistS" there's hardly any reason to be limited to just one.)

    after those things i would simply stop improving the overview, and introduce a new idea. how about Hull determined UIs/overviews?

    there's little point in having a combat designed overview or UI when flying a Noctis. and there's a lot of improvement to the noctis that heavily depends on having a better UI. new loot organization, new salvage mechanics, etc, etc. currently the crappy noctis UI makes it so the best noctis, is fitted with 8 tractors, and 5 auto salvage drones... clearly there's something wrong with the ui.

    same with supers, command ships, Logistics, etc.

    there's no reason why a logistics cant have a full overview of the fleet and its status. and there's no reason not to give Command ships the tools not only to act the part (organizing fleet movements, and positioning), but also to efficiently relay the information to other combat oriented ships.

    how about being able to coordinate ship scanning information, probing and all that in the command ship? if a prober in fleet probes something down, the CS on a command role can see it, and relay its position to others... if the ships are specialized, why not their UIs?

    currently, FC have to rely on alignments, anchors, and not having people forget to turn off overload on their prop. the first is very limiting, setting up a proper skirmish on a gate with no celestials behind you is near impossible. the anchors are the main offenders when it comes to players not "playing" eve, and instead orbiting the anchor and pew pewing. and the last one, well its unavoidable. on a burn everyone will have different overload times, attention spans, and repair cycles. and this is assuming the fleet is flying doctrine, if not there's a million other problems... different falloffs, alignment speeds, warp speeds, cycle times, etc etc.

    if all this problems could be mitigated by giving FCs a proper UI, where they can set zones in space, instead of anchors, create alignments instead of relying on celestials, and properly command the fleet after knowing in full detail what the skill of every pilot will allow them to do, and more importantly what is the other fleet made of, then eve would be better because of it. and i don't expect any of the "vocal" eve players to complain much about it.

    1. Kenneth, what is the frequency?

      There was already a day gone by where you could have a lot of different overview tabs all filtering things differently according to their purpose. CCP chopped that down to give us, what is it now? 4 or 5 tabs only. A huge step backwards IMO.

  2. I would have arranged the 5 requirements differently.

    1). Show what it has to

    2) Don't show extra stuff

    3) Be intuitive

    4) Flexibility/filters

    5). Be pretty

    Of these, with modification, the eve overview accomplishes 4 out of five. The last, aesthetics, is less of a requirement and more of a perk because I can live with the overview, but trying to play eve without the other 4 would be miserable.

    I feel it's less an issue of the limitations of the overview but is instead a problem that stems from CCP's imprecations of the overview within the game. I've been playing for over three years and I still remember the day I FINALLY learned to fully customize my overview. It was the BEST, MOST predictive day of my early playing time. Instead of trying to re-invent the wheel maybe CCP should instead spend that time and effort actually analyzing what the players need (for every different play style) and updating the default overview to something useful.

    For instance, tabs. Why doesn't the default overview have tabs? Or a tutorial teaching how to make new tabs? Also, why isn't angular velocity and velocity on the default overview? How about NPC's? Why is there different boxes to check for regular rats, incursion rats and 'mercenary' rats when they all show up as red 'X's that you have to shoot in missions regardless. Just make a generic NPC frig, cruiser, BS and Capital.

    I think that, much like everything else in this game, the overview never really got past a rough idea. It's still in beta level game play. But instead of recognizing this, CCP just assumes that since everyone has been getting by with it for 10 years, that the faults of the overview are it's limitations and not their poor implementation of it. Honestly the best way that the devs could identify these issues is to either watch 100 people play through eve for a few hours. Don't coach them or help them, just watch and ask them afterwards what they thought was the hardest or most cumbersome aspects. Do the same with people who have been. Playing for a month or so, and then again after maybe a year. And do it one on one, not with some BS questionnaire.

    I bet if they had a serious one on one Q&A session with new players they would be amazed at the things they would find confusing or misunderstood that they, as Devs, just take for granted. And that's the real issue here.

  3. that pic of the twitter quote. lol. INSTANT REMINDER OF THE OLD RADAR IN THE LOWER RIGHT

  4. I wonder how do they do that in real world armies, navies, airforces?
    Is it pretty more usefull there then in eve?
    Don't be fooled by sci fi movies there they main gial is to make it look pretty an fancy nit to be usefull.

  5. The Overview should be top the item in the "EVE has a lot of science" post from a few days ago.

    There is so much potentially interesting information and settings options that it takes hour of fidgeting to get where you want to go.
    And when you think you're done, you keep tweaking it for weeks.
    As a noobish player, I always felt it was a really tiresome chore to try to apply the Overview science.
    I try to avoid it as much as possible.

    It reeks of information overload and totally remove the "fog of war" incertitude of not knowing exactly what's around you.
    It also robs the "command" ships of their main functions: tactical analysis.
    No one need information processing done by another player because they have everything in their own display.
    The lowly frigate pilot can be as effective in tactical analysis as their tech 3 cousins because they have the same information interface to work with.

    If it was to be corrected, extended information could be restricted to command/lead ships that are not available to new players.
    The Overview for normal ships could then be redesigned with less information in it; making it easier to use.

    Sure, many people would scream at first but it would add a thrilling aspect to roams:
    Unless you're bringing a slow vulnerable fleet command ship with you, you're flying almost blind.

    It would also bring player interactions to a new level in fleet battles:
    You must trust in the tac-analysis skill of your FC and follow his directions to be more effective. The FC, on the other hand, has to pull back a bit from the thick of the fight because he's handling tactical decisions for many players at a time.

    That'd be freakin' awesome.

  6. It's a small thing, but I wouldn't mind seeing HUD/Overview integration, and think it would improve things.

    Basically a selected option on the overview that would say "show this on the HUD icons." So if I keyed for (to make an example) all dictors to be flashing yellow and linked to the HUD icons, those icons on the screen would be flashing yellow.

  7. I've been playing for nearly two years and still find the overview....challenging to work with. I have Sarah's overview pack, but the tabs, filters, and the thingies you call the boxes in space, I forget, it's all just very confusing. I've lived in Null for over a year and I've made the overview work but I'm flying around with an unsaved hackjob of a main tab. I've read several hours worth of pages on how to modify the overview. I guess it's just something I don't get.

  8. I've never had a satisfactory overview, and have spent far too much time reading and tweaking to no apparent benefit.

    What I'd like to see, both in the overview and in eve in general is more player-assistance from an AI. Basically, a virtual wingman who would point out things that are of potential interest to me. Think Jarvis from Iron Man. In terms of an overview, I'd like to have two of them - one "normal" one, and one that only showed things that fit a set of criteria that I define (e.g. agressing me, angular velocity exceeds x, etc.). I'd then probably sort the normal one by range so I knew what was going on around me, and use the second for actual combat, etc.

  9. What we need is a easier and more intuitive way to customize our overview and its tabs.

    Current overview could easily achieve 4 out of the 5 things you said just by doing this.

    I haven't used for a long time any other tabs than one because setting them is so damn horrible job with a feeling that it randomly puts all the changes you made for one tab to all the tabs and sometimes not.


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