Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Freeciv 2.1beta6 Grips

Since I'm a bit tight on time today I'm just going to post a few gripes I have with Freeciv 2.1beta6. Don't get me wrong, I think this is shaping up to be a really, really nice game, but the SDL interface has some very annoying usability issues to address.

  • If you run it in windowed mode, you can't resize the game by resizing the window. The game display logic should be independent of the resolution, an absraction that many games fail to make.

  • Auto-scrolling is annoying. It is especially annoying when playing in windowed mode when you are often moving the mouse cursor in and out of the game window. It would be better to scroll when pressing the right-mouse-button since the RMB is already used for manual movement.

  • There is no UI to save/load games in the SDL client. A work around is to open a chat dialog and use the /save and /load commands.

  • Freeciv dialogs have a red X with the tooltip "Cancel" to close them. Not only is 'cancel' a horrible word - implies losing any changes but it simply leaves the dialog - it is also innaccurate. "Close Dialog" is better. A better icon may be the circular arrow commonly used to represent returning to a previous screen.

  • There's no option to undo changes in a city dialog. Combine this with the "Cancel" situation and you have a very confusing UI.

  • If you click on a group of units, a unit selection dialog pops up. If you the do an action with already-selected unit and the dialog does not close itself.

  • I could see no obvious way to end the turn with the mouse - annoying for a mouse-driven game. After being told there is, I looked a bit harder. It's an icon on the minimap panel, alongside various information icons. Hardly obvious - in a heavilty iconified UI like Freeciv SDL is aspiring to be, placing is important. They need to think a bit harder about this one. I would have placed it somewhere at the top near where the year is displayed since the turn and the game year are strongly associated and importantly you won't be clicking on it by accident if it is up there (something easy to do currently as a small icon placed amongst a bunch of other small icons).

There are many positives to this Freeciv update, too many to mention. Lovely graphics, much more stable, classic-yet-balanced Civ gameplay. Freeciv 2.1 is going to be a showcase Free Software game.

I also downloaded the 0.7.0 release of Pingus. It's shaping up nicely although some of the sounds fail to capture the cuteness of Lemmings. It was solid though.


  1. ZeBerty2:45 pm

    I have experimented the same problems as you with the SDL GUI. I try this one because of unexpeted failured ( segmentation fault ) with gtk ou xaw3d ones.
    I am using a x86_64 debian lenny.

  2. EL MARIACHI3:18 pm

    Could you post a screenshot of this beta release? I can't install anything right now (I'm at a friend's house -windows xp :( )

  3. Anonymous6:20 pm

    charlie: the window is fixed at some resolution by design. This is because SDL supports 2D hardware acceleration and it's not feasible to ask the graphics card to reallocate its resources every time you resize the window.

  4. Anonymous6:47 pm

    Isn't there a deb anywhere? for both games. I can't compile either.. FreeCiv just outputs some GTK+ error after autogen

  5. @Anonymous(anon number 2): Maybe debian sid might have one, but, its unlikely, distros don't tend to package beta releases. (also, blast it, I hope the open arena maintainer updates oa to 0.7.1 soon...)

  6. well, turns out the debian maintainer (for open arena) /has/ updated OA, to 0.7.1, I jsut hadn't notice the update occuring.