THE PREVIOUS DESIGN
Air Map Mode with Air Zone and Airfield.
In Hearts of Iron 4 one of the three types of warfare the player can conduct is aerial combat, which takes place between Air Wings (Fighters, Bombers etc) within Air Zones on the map. The image above is how the interface used to look,
In order to create an Air Wing and make an aerial fight take place the player goes through the following steps represented in this flowchart.
Air Zones were selected by clicking on the map. Air Wings were assigned to Air Zones by selecting the Air Wing and right-cklicking it over to the Air Zone. To assign a mission the player selected one mission to one Air Wing at a time.
Each Air Wing type can have different missions, e.g. Bombers bomb building, Fighters do dog-fights and Naval Bombers bomb ships. How effectively an Air Wing will fly its mission depends on the weather and how far away its Airfield is from its assigned Air Zone.
The Tyrol Airfield, with the Air Wings that are stationed within it and the Alpine Region Air Zone, with the Air Wings that are assigned to it.
Each Air Zone had a collection of statistics, for air battles that had occured within it during a set amount of time (30 days, 12 months and 5 years). There the player could access data like how many enemy troops have been bombed, how many enemy planes have been killed or how many of the player's troops have been bombed etc.
Statistics over the battles within an Air Zone.
The flaws to be solved and redesigned.
This interface was not very popular with the players. They regarded it as very abstract, very unclear and unintuitive. They had a hard time keeping track of where all their Air Wings where, why the enemy was performing so much better, what the result of the last battle was and so on. As a result the whole aerial combat suffered a great deal.
Air Zones and Airfields:
Compared to all the other military units in the game (Armies and Navies) Air Wings were not represented on the map. They only existed within the small Airfield windows and in the Air Zone they were assigned to. This made it hard to keep track of where all the Air Wings were in relation to locations on the map. Sure you got text on each Air Wing element that specified the Air Zone it was flying in and the Airfield it was stationed in. As in the example above; Airfield is Tyrol and the Air Zone is Alpine Region.
But where is Tyrol? Unless you previously know it is an area within Austria. So imagine trying to manage all your wings within an Air Zone, scrolling through them all, checking if they are able the execute their missions efficiently and checking what Airfield they are in. In this scenario you would want to move some Airwings over to another Airfield. This was done by opening up two or several Airfield panels and then left/right clicking them over to the desired Arfield.
Airfield overload, cut off from events that are taking place on the map.
This made the screen very cluttered with only a few clicks. While the player would be in the process of rebasing Air Wings the game map would be severely blocked and the player's attention to events taking place on the map cut off. The game does support a pause function, so the player could do this process while the game was paused. However before the Air Wings could be rebased to another Airfield the game had to be unpaused and a few in-game days had to pass. So while waiting for the planes to rebase the player could either choose to close all the windows and go back to the map, before opening up everything again and assign the Air Wings a new set of missions. Or just sit idly by with all the windows are up until the planes had rebased, hoping that disaster hadn't hit the troops on the map.
Statistics and Ari Zone information.
The statistic overview for the Air Zones where insufficient in conveying the necessary information to the player. It gave the results of what had happened over a set amount of time, but it failed to fully explain why certain results occurred. E.g. if the player had an Air Wing of Bombers in an Air Zone they could be disrupted, due to overwhelming enemy planes or Anti-Air guns (AA-guns). But the statistic view, or the Air Zone info did not give any indication as to why the player's planes were being disrupted. Sure the Air Zone indicated how many planes were flying within the zone and how many AA-guns were in it, but it never indicated what the cause of the disruption was. So the player had no cause to act upon and counter.
There was also no way to see what planes the enemy had, or how good their stats were compared to the player's. So instead of receiving information like "our speed is too slow" or our "attack strength is to low" the player were left with just throwing more planes into the Air Zone, hoping that the sheer number would balance out whatever stat that was insufficient to overpower the enemy's planes.
What my redesign resulted in.
To solve the issue of the planes' presence being too abstract, I decided to take a look at how other units within the game are represented. Ground troops are always represented as markers on the map, similar thing with naval units (while in port or idle). Given this fact it would make sense if air units were also represented on the actual map, because then the player can more clearly see each Air Wing and in what area they are operating in, rather than having them exist in another “layer” that is not visible on the map.
In the first sketches that I made for the new interface I tried to structure all the wigns within a so called "Air Fleet", where each Air Wing could be a part of a larger group while still being able to be individually spread across the map. Similar to the Army interface, where each division can be a member of an Army but be able to move indipendently.
This iterration proved to be too complicated, messy and time consuming, so what I ended up going for was to have the Airfields as selectable containers for the Air Wings. Similar to the old design, but instead of being loose pop-ups they are pinned to the left side of the screen (like the Army and Naval interrface).
Air Fleet sketch. Each wing is a member of a larger group. Like a Division can be part of an Army and a ship a part of a Fleet.
Airfield sketch. All Air Wings are individual units that are stationed in an Airfield. Selecting an Airfield selects all Air Wings in it.
Army and Naval Battle screens.
For the sketches for the Air Combat screen I also looked at how the combat screens for Naval and Army looked like. They both arrange the two clashing forces on oposite side of each other and display variables that has an impact on the overall battle. The following image was the result.
Air combat sketch. The player's units are displayed to the left and the enemy's to the right.
In the sketch the window is split into two sections; the top that shows the result of Fighters vs Fighters and the bottom that displays all the other missions, their effect on the enemy and what enemy planes they encountered. By using filters for the missions the player would be able to filter the result for each mission and what the result of the enemy's missions were.
So the changes that I made resulted in the following; the old Air Zone and Reserves window has been removed and each Air Wing is represented on the map, within each Airfield. So when the player clicks on an Airfield it selects the Airfield and all of the Airwings that are stationed in it.
Redesigned Airal Map mode.
When an Airfield is clicked the wings stationed in the airfield is displayed to the left of the screen (like with ground and naval units). There the player can, as before, assign air wings to missions, add new air wings, add aces to a wing etc. I took inspiration from how the naval interface displays different missions that the unit can perform (at the very top of the listed units). This made it possible to assign missions to multiple Air Wings at once, rather than in the old interface where it was done one by one.
Redesigned Air Units.
Redesigned Air Combat screen.
Combat is now shown within a separate window at the centre of the screen, that summarizes the total amount of plane classes engaged with each other and losses on the player's/enemy’s side. It splits the the window into two sections, where the top displays the result of dogfights (Fighter vs Fighter) and the bottom that shows all the bomber related missions (bombing of buildings, troops etc). The player can also choose to display the result of the latest air battle (last sortie) or of the last day, both for the player's Air Wings or the enemy's. It is also possible to view the overall combat results that stretches over a week, a month or a year, by pressing the diagram button next to the cross in the top-right corner.
By hovering over the plane icons the player gets a tool-tip that lists all the individual plane classes and shows if the stats of the enemy's plane are worse, equivalent or superior to the stats of the player's.
The Air Zones also changes colour depending on how good the player is doing within that zone. Green means that the player's Air Wings are winning, yellow means that the battle has yet to produce a clear winner and red means that the player is loosing within that Air Zone.
The final result proved to be an satisfying solution and an improvement to the flaws in the old interface. It made air combat more clear and the interaction with the Air Wings more streamlined and accessible.