What is a major mess in many games with multiple units is... trying to order them around. After Total Annihilation I haven't come across another game that let me play the game without forcing me to jump through all kinds of UI hoops.
You already mentioned that there will be groups / squads / wings to order around. Kind of expected that but I'm thinking of a twist to it.
The "grab a unit and order it around" definitely has a certain charm. I'm just thinking about the details.
The scope of such an order should always be able to affect the currently selected ship and / or the group it is in.
Thinking of several things at once, actually, so *breathe*...
- The entire inside of the orders circle would be a button. Nothing fiddly (god no!), just one large button.
This is the only new UI element I'm suggesting.
All it controls is the attached / detached state of the ship. (I really believe in KISS)
- The inside of the orders circle would show what ship is executing the order and what the target will be.
(if that can be displayed small enough and still be readable? Hard to tell.)
- A graphical border would show the current group status of the grabbed ship.
- No group, no border.
- Ship is part of a group: border of closed chain links
- Ship is part of a group but temporarily detached: border of open chain links.
- A 90° section on the bottom would be made of differently coloured links.
If any other ships in this group are on detached duty: open chain links instead of closed.
This is just to keep an eye on your overall group status.
- Clicking the center "button" does not execute the actual ship order just yet.
It only toggles between attached and detached duty while the menu stays open.
The order I click next can so be given to only one ship or to the entire group.
- A double click on the button recalls all detached ships back to this group so it's back to a coordinated unit without having to bunnyhop through any menus or "catching" any ships on the screen.
- Left-mouse-button dragging the button outside the entire orders window would explode it into whatever full group management UI you are cooking up.
Not because you couldn't do it in a simpler way but because it would be a cool effect. Hey, games are all about putting up a good show! =)
- Orders queue.
This is a big wish, I know. Hard to do unless you're working it into the system at a rather low level. *nudge* *wink*
Shift-clicking an order would put it on the ship's (or group's) queue and the ship would execute it after it has completed it's current task.
This way one can give an entire group of ships a list of targets to work through. In this order.
I outline the game plan and my ships execute it.
I only need to take charge to handle unexpected events like detaching a damaged ship from the group.
This is what an admiral does. Not micromanage ships every step of the way through an engagement like in X3. =)
Come to think of it, I wrote an X3 script for "bookmarking" ships all over the universe, hotkeyed group control, and an orders queue some 3 years ago.
I really really hate it when the interface gets in the way of well... me. =P
- Blow-Up Highlighting
When you mouseover a ship, this ship / model / outline is displayed much larger than to scale.
That way you can much more easily and directly see what you are trying to click. Reading a lot of text labels becomes optional.
The actual mouseover area does not grow so you can still target things beside it.
- Orders While Paused
Maybe I should write this in 15 different colours, underlined, and blinking.
This is super-important to me.
Once you're dealing with fleets, multiple ship types, and 3D positioning, you will be hard pressed to do the admiral thing because in the game, you don't have a staff to deal with all the minutiae of a complex battle.
Alternative: A slider where you can adjust the passage of time while "paused" from 0 - 100 %.
This way the OCD micromanagers can have their way but those who'd rather like a more "realtime" or "bullet time" feel, can have their perfect game.
- Selecting objects in "cluttered" situations
- When hovering over such a mass of objects in the zoomed out state, the tactical interface would wait out a certain delay, maybe a second.
- Then it pauses the game (or slows down time as per the "pause" setting) and presents the player with a drop down like that.
- You can use this drop down to select targets exactly the same way you would on the graphical UI. Assigning targets or selecting ships for ordering.
- If the player moves the pointer outside that menu area, the game resumes immediately.