revised "Wheel of Planets" for better graphics

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eleazar
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revised "Wheel of Planets" for better graphics

#1 Post by eleazar »

Perhaps this belongs in the brain-storming forum, but since my motivations are primarily visual, i'll start it out here. This idea will have implication for later design features once aliens are implemented. I know this has been discussed ad nausium, but i doubt ever from a visual/recognition perspective

Background:
I accept the KISS concept of the "wheel" rather than a multi-axial representation of planets, as the right kind of thing for FO. But the rather cavalier way various types of planets are strung together on that wheel bothered me a little. It also bothered me that all the planets not on the terran end looked and sounded dead. But more importantly (from my visual standpoint) is that looking at the planets in the sidebar, it would almost be impossible for a player to guess which planets were 1 terraform step from others. Most of the planets visual appearances don't provide any clues as to where they belong on the "wheel." And i couldn't think of a way with the current planet definitions to do that.

So i played around with various ideas untill it all came together, like this:

Image
note new planet graphics were quickly assembled to make a general point.

Image
note current EP wheel for comparison.

Explanation:
This 12 planet wheel is divided into 4 groups of 3 planet types: 3 atmosphere types punctuated by 3 kinds of atmosphere-less planets. The idea is that all organic life in the FO universe is based on 3 basic types of organic chemistry (indicated by the big colored ovals) Each of thse 3 groups of planets would have clouds and oceans of a distict color. The planets in the middle of each group would be the most colorful, they are the ones supporting the most life. (just like terran life can live all over this planet but is in the greatest variety/volume at the tropics)

Methane and Chlorine as the 2 exotic atmospheres are picked nearly at random. People with greater understanding of theoretical-chemistry can think of something better. Just pick one that would work at higher temperatures than earth, and one at lower. Many of the names could be better.

Yes, this has 3 more planet types for the player to remember, but it also has more obvious structure, so it should be easier for the player to grasp.

I don't have time to explain all the reasons. Suffice it to say that this kind of wheel allows artists to creates some really cool exotic (extra-solar) planet types, and provide visual cues pointing out where each planet belongs on the wheel.

Edit: added atmospheres and better names.
Last edited by eleazar on Mon Dec 11, 2006 4:26 am, edited 3 times in total.

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eleazar
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#2 Post by eleazar »

Here are some quick examples of planets graphics that make more sense with the wheel above.

Image
Image
With my wheel, Tundra and Desert planets are primarily distinguished from Terran by the amount of heat. This can be intuitively visually indicated by the position of the oceans.
* Obviously the Tundra planet is cold, but otherwise earthlike because the icecaps cover nearly the whole planet.
* While on the desert planet, liquid water can only be found in quantity near the poles. (the graphic was done quickly the continents wrinkle badly at the poles.)
But both are obviously human-habitable (at least in some areas) by the familiar white, green, & blue of our kind of world. Whereas with the current wheel Swamp might look more human friendly than desert, but isn't.

Here's an example of an exotic alien environment. Clearly not a type of planet found in our solar system.
Image
Similarly by moving the "oceans" around, and covering large areas with a single color similar to what can be found on a barren planet, the position of an exotic alien world on the wheel can be established.

Note: the fact that i'm describing some evironments as "marginal" by no means indicates that life or even intelligent life won't be found there. As land creatures only a fraction of our planet is really habitable for us, yet here we are.

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Geoff the Medio
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#3 Post by Geoff the Medio »

eleazar wrote:...the rather cavalier way various types of planets are strung together on that wheel bothered me a little.
The ordering may appear somewhat careless, however it isn't. As here, the included types are basically taken from MOO (Terran, Ocean, Toxic, Inferno, Radiated, Barren, Tundra, Desert), but excluding a few (Jungle, Arid, Minimal, Steppe) that seemed redundant or too human/earth-centric in perspective, and with an addition (Swamp) to fill a gap between Ocean and Toxic.
It also bothered me that all the planets not on the terran end looked and sounded dead.
The idea is that there will be very non-human-like lifeforms that like these environments, but would consider terran oxygen/nitrogen atmospheres with liquid water to be "dead".
Most of the planets visual appearances don't provide any clues as to where they belong on the "wheel."
I don't see this as a big problem. Being able to tell where a planet is on the wheel immediately from its appearance would be good, but how important is it really? If we throw in a diagram of the ring showing all the planet types and what environment rating each race / empire has for them, I suspect that after a few games, players will learn the wheel structure.

The current FO selection, based partly on the MOO planet types, has a good set of fairly distinctive and space-operatic single-environment planet archtypes. Exactly what Swamp and Toxic are isn't clear from their names, though that can be excused by the lack of scifi set on inhospitable Venusian-type planets or commonly-used name for this type, and becomes clearer from the description. Otherwise, the archtypes are mostly quite memorable and clear, so one or two oddballs is probably not too much of a problem.

With your suggestions, this is much less the case, I think. The basic chlorine-methane-water is problematic, as it's not really clear why these are of primary importance or very interesting, and they aren't really common in scifi / space opera. I realize you built it around three arbitrary types of organic chemistry, but even if better fleshed out, it's still essentially an appeal to realism without a good design / fun justification. Additionally, the border cases near methane and chlorine are quite indistinct compared to tundra and desert. The middle three classes of barren seem redundant, unless better names could be found for each.

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eleazar
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#4 Post by eleazar »

Geoff the Medio wrote:
eleazar wrote:...the rather cavalier way various types of planets are strung together on that wheel bothered me a little.
The ordering may appear somewhat careless, however it isn't.
If the order cannot be readily discerned, than the supposed order does not benefit the player. Picking and choosing from Moo planet types and bending the line into a circle is cavalier. But if you'll notice this was listed under "background": in other words these objections are what started me thinking about this, not the reasons i proposed this.
geoff wrote:
eleazar wrote:.It also bothered me that all the planets not on the terran end looked and sounded dead.
The idea is that there will be very non-human-like lifeforms that like these environments, but would consider terran oxygen/nitrogen atmospheres with liquid water to be "dead".
This game is only concerned with comprehensible aliens— aliens similar enough to build, fight, trade, and bargain with humans. Sentient nebulas and other exotic beings that share no concerns with humans are irrelevant. So, no, to comprehensible aliens our planet would not appear to be dead. The signs of life are obvious from space, even though that life may not be compatible with a particular alien species. Our moon on the other hand is quite clearly not home to any comprehensible alien life. Any of the FO races would agree that it is dead, even if the environment was congenial for them.

geoff wrote:
eleazar wrote:Most of the planets visual appearances don't provide any clues as to where they belong on the "wheel.
I don't see this as a big problem. Being able to tell where a planet is on the wheel immediately from its appearance would be good, but how important is it really? If we throw in a diagram of the ring showing all the planet types and what environment rating each race / empire has for them, I suspect that after a few games, players will learn the wheel structure.
The images are how players will identify planets 90% of the time. We've even decided to hide the planet-type label under a tool-tip. If the image doesn't say it, the message will likely not get through.
Let's say you are a inferno dwelling race. You are scanning near-by systems for large planets within 1 EP step of your own. You need to scan for yellowish-green (but not tan), orange/red, and purple spotted planets. They would have pink, orange, or green atmospheres. How much simpler would it be to scan for planets with similar colors, and the same (if any) atmosphere color?

There's a lot of information in a game like FO, anything that can convey information more intuitively, benefits the whole game.

Before this objection comes up, let me say i'm confident that each of my proposed planet types can be made visually distinct, while preserving obvious similarities. I'd like to think that i've contributed enough that visually works as advertised, that my certainty translates into a reasonable amount of certainty for the rest of the FO team. Using color and form to create the desired balance between uniqueness and similarity is what i do every day.
geoff wrote:...it's still essentially an appeal to realism without a good design / fun justification. Additionally, the border cases near methane and chlorine are quite indistinct compared to tundra and desert. The middle three classes of barren seem redundant, unless better names could be found for each.
This is far from an appeal to realism. It's an attempt at structure and order. Comprehendible structure and order are beneficial to fun and good design. The alternative is lack of understanding or frequent trips to the manual to pour over the spreadsheets.

Other Benefits to structure:
Planet distribution becomes structured. Since i've structured the wheel so that temperature is included, it becomes much easier to predict if a star has the sort of planets you need. Chlorine breathers will find more hospitable planets around hot stars. Oxy-breathers find more planets around moderate stars, and Methane-breathers around cold stars.

The same pattern would be played out in planetary slots 1-10. The current planetary distribution is more haphazard, and less even balanced. There's a definite game-play improvement if you can generally expect your type of planets around certain types of stars, and in certain positions within a system.

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#5 Post by SowerCleaver »

I like eleazar's proposal because its symmetric and structured, and therefore aesthetically pleasing. On the other hand, I agree with one of Geoff's concern that for funness/memorability purposes not all of eleazar's proposed planet types converge with our scifi archetypes of planets.

Since eleazar assured that each planet type can be made to look distinct, I guess graphical confusion is less of a problem. The remaining hurdles are (1) whether we can convey distinctiveness of the envinronments inbetween Inferno-Chlorine-Swamp pair or the Primodial-Methane-Iceball pair and (2) whether we can provide comparably distinct races for each of the planet types. For example, I can easily imagine Ocean world in eleazar (Terran in EP wheel) is inhabited by a humanoid, Desert an insectoid and the Tundra a fish race. However, can we provide distinct races that have Inferno, Chlorine and Swamp homeworlds respectively? If yes, I second eleazar's proposal.

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#6 Post by tzlaine »

I keep having to bring this up it seems, but in other than dire circumstances, we will not change existing design. The EP Wheel has been decided already.

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utilae
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#7 Post by utilae »

tzlaine wrote:I keep having to bring this up it seems, but in other than dire circumstances, we will not change existing design. The EP Wheel has been decided already.
Have we decided on the actual *exact* details of the EP Wheel. Because it seems to me that eleazars suggestion is an EP Wheel, just a detailed one. And if we haven't decided on the details, eg eleazars suggestion may come under balance (which we have not decided), then I see no problem with improving on our decision.

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