Assets Table

I wrote a few weeks ago about the difficulty in providing a meaningful visualisation of Neocolonialism. My game is notable (though this is probably true for others as well) that it could be played with a series of complex Excel spreadsheets. Having done it this way as the initial prototype, I can confirm that the process is more tedious and painful than it sounds. (My friend and I agreed, though, that it was the most ‘corporate’ way possible to play the game.)

That said, spreadsheets are necessary for the games, or at least one spreadsheet. There is just too many numbers floating around, I think, that having a table to hold them all is a strategic asset. I personally hate looking at that many numbers in a game, but this IS a game about finance capitalism, so it’s more a matter of choosing the least of evils.

From time immemorial (i.e. since I started working on this in late September-early October), the game has had an Assets window. It’s generally been very ugly. This is how it looked until yesterday:

Oh man, this looks so bad...

Yuck.  Having a table of all this information probably is very useful–this could be a way to see at a glance who is making more money and why–but THAT table is totally unreadable. Worse yet, I never tried updating it because I had written the code in October, without documenting it much. And now it’s February, and I can’t make sense of what the hell I was thinking.

So, this weekend, I rewrote the assets window. Now, it looks like this:

Much, much more readable. The highlighting of cells and coloring of cells makes much more sense. Plus, although it’s not obvious from this post, this table is much easier to modify than the previous version, and formats text smarter. Phew. What a relief.

I’m still not totally satisfied with it though.

The chosen aesthetic is meant to look like Excel. Like I said above, when the game was in its Excel-spreadsheet-embryonic state, it actually had a distinct corporate feel to it, and I’m trying to replicate that here.

There are two foreseeable problems with this plan. First, the new assets window clashes with the general game aesthetic:

And the second, related problem is that I don’t know how many people will think “Oh, it looks like Excel!” and how many people will think, “Oh, it’s a rough, crappy-looking piece of the game whose aesthetic was never ironed out!”

So, as an experiment, I inverted the colors:

Now, while this has the game’s coloring scheme, I personally think it is harder to read, so I might just stay with the black text-on-white background look. I also think that this one is clearly an in-game tool. No one would ever make a table with that scheme unless it was for a game. The black-background assets window might in fact make your gameplay experience less immersive, and might on top of that be less useful than the white-background assets window.

The next step might be to fiddle with minor visual details in the white-background color scheme, in order to make it look more like Excel. The gray cells, for example, may need a slight gradient effect. Maybe there needs to be menu buttons that are basically non-functional but look pretty. The problem will be that I’m starting to discover an uncanny valley effect exists in graphic design. The current design is extremely straightforward, and if it actually looked like Excel, that would be awesome too, but if it only looks somewhat like Excel, it’ll just look very wrong. And I’m no graphic designer, though I can get by, evidently.

So the actual next step would be for other people to comment on the current look, and then take it from there.

Other news: The game is almost in a playable state, with a few lingering but important bugs (like that it doesn’t check to see if two players have the same name… but it really, really should). I’ve also been editing the manual extensively, and I will probably post it here soon as a pdf.

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