Touch and Go: Tough Choices

Touch and Go: Tough Choices

Our irregular update on the progress of Frozen Synapse iPad continues…

Welcome back to Touch and Go – I haven’t posted for a long time because we’ve been doing a lot of boring behind-the-scenes stuff, but I thought I’d update you on where we are now.

Recently we put out a small beta to test some of our assumptions about the UI.  Here is the UI we were working with initially:

So, what were the results of the test?  Here’s a distillation of the “negative” feedback we got (i.e. the most important stuff):

1.)  Too many button presses / the UI is too clunky

2.)  People would like a radial menu for orders that emerges from the plan, which is opened by either holding down a finger or swiping the screen

3.) Doesn’t feel seamless and smooth to use yet: linked to a load of different issues including pinch-to-zoom etc.

The reaction to this kind of thing for me personally normally goes like this:

– Argh, this is a terrible situation!

– Let’s try and change everything and put in all the things that people want

This is obviously bad but luckily those feelings go away pretty quickly.  The best thing to do at this point is keep discussing and figure out exactly what people are actually trying to say to you.

We decided to look at the most common actions in the game and how to make them easier…


When making interface changes in this way, it’s always important to keep core decisions unchanged and then work on the actual issues at hand.  Every suggestion was directly investigated, though, so we knew exactly what people were asking for.  We looked at radial menus, but ultimately concluded that they don’t offer any advantage over an area of the screen with distinct buttons; in fact they are probably marginally harder to use on the iPad.  A large (and it would have to be large) radial menu covering up the screen wouldn’t be an improvement over a smaller menu at the side.

So, the issue here wasn’t about a radial menu, it was about the ease of issuing orders.  People were telling us that issuing orders was too difficult.

Swiping to open a menu is very fatiguing (as is holding down a finger) – most apps that offer this also offer a button – it’s not something you want to do with a commonly used interface element.  After playing with a lot of ideas, Ian suggested keeping a core set of order buttons visible at all times, with a small menu for advanced stuff that doesn’t get used very often.  This is what we’re working with right now and it’s a significant improvement.

Making Waypoints

This is currently accomplished by tapping a button and then tapping the screen.  Personally, I like this, because it’s easy to do and it never happens by mistake.  However, I have a particular predilection for overly modular interfaces and this isn’t helpful.  So we’re re-introducing double-tapping to make a waypoint; this didn’t work initially when we tried it but everyone concluded that was probably down to implementation.  We need a quick shorthand for doing this, as it’s the most common action. so this is what we’re doing.


There was a lot of useful targeted feedback around things like pinch-to-zoom, certain UI modes not working correctly and so on.  We’re now embarking on tidying some of that stuff up.

I’m currently confident that we’ve made a big leap forward for the UI, but it’ll go back into testing for a while to figure out how far we’ve truly got.  Once that’s resolved, we’ll work on making the game look nice and then tackle the menus and secondary stuff before we go into final testing.

I’m keen to get a build that we can start testing by the end of the year.  All of these interface changes keep delaying the project, mostly because making any change to the UI results in a spiralling vortex of bugs from which it’s often impossible to escape.  The main programmer on the project JamesU described it thus:

We’ll keep working hard on this and I will also try and do better with keeping everyone updated.  I’ve always been 100% committed to making a good iPad UI, and not making the game feel like a quick and dirty PC port: it will get finished and it will be good!


3 Responses to “Touch and Go: Tough Choices”

  1. Bubleeshaark:

    Awesome! I am excited to see your decisions and to test the next beta! What is there definitely works, it’s just a matter of improving it. I have no doubt that we’ll only see improvement from here on!

  2. bonestorm:

    I hope that you guys can fix the bugs posted at the forum and improve some features to avoid players leaving incomplete games at the moment of the iPad version.

  3. wildaeros:

    Thanks for the update. Here’s hoping for an Android version at some point.