Saturday, 14 October 2017

Is a roguelike user interface bad?

The user interface issue is more complex than it appears. Lot of players and even developers say that when there is a key for every command it's bad design. But is it? I think the answer is somewhere between extreme solutions. Less often used keyboard commands could be moved in a menu or something like that and there are many ways to reduce keyboard commands and make the user interface easier, because in many cases you can automate tedious, repetitive tasks. A simple example is open command (o) for doors, you could make the door open when bumping into it or remove direction key question if there is only one door near the player.

If the game has lots of commands then it can have a large number of keyboard bindings to them. I think it's not "bad design", it's just how it is. I've been following ADOM's development and difficulties it has with "new" players that possibly have never even played a roguelike. It's kind of hilarious to think that you would even try to make a complex roguelike more accessible to casual players, but I guess some people try it anyway when trying to reach the maximum commercial potential. Yet it may work, because a traditional UI of a roguelike could be improved for sure.

The reason why UI is so hard to get right is that it simply is a difficult problem that requires lot of thinking and design (=work) not copied from existing games which has been a kind of trademark in roguelikes. ADOM for example is very much like Nethack so it carries the load of Nethack's ancient UI. In attempt to keep the familiar ADOM experience for old players it could end up staying in some kind of limbo where too drastic changes are discarded as a possibility.

I'm not afraid to use lots of keyboard commands in my roguelikes, but there are those repetitive tasks which could be made easier somehow or even removed in some cases. A great way to handle these issues also is make them optional for people who actually like to perform them.

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