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Topic: Honest review and tips fro development of Widelands from an outside person

ZADNE
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Joined: 2020-10-07, 19:10
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Posted at: 2020-10-13, 19:17

Hi,
I'm a fan of The Settlers II (S2). I have played a few hundread hours of it and always enjoyed it a lot.
I used to be sad that they don't make games like that anymore but then I found about Widelands! Now I have played roughly 30 hours of Widelands in real time (~60h gametime).
I enjoyed Widelands too and probably will yet play it but there is a lot to improve.
So I would like to give you an honest critique/review on this. Please don't get mad if I criticize something too much (mainly in the second half). Take these as advices what and how could be improved.


I will start with things that I was pleasantly surprised or things I even thought 'How was that not in S2 too?' about:

  • Building dismantling - This is a very nice addition. I like the option of either destroying the building quickly but getting no resources back or dismantling it which takes time but you get some resources back. This can pull you out of some deadlocks! Very nice!
  • Ware statistics - I think this should be called Production statistics (it even has 'P' as shortcut?). S2 had a statistics menu too but it was far simplier and didn't show increments/descrements. This menu helps a lot if a have a huge economy as it can show oncoming shortage of a ware before it actually happens, for example. Also very nice!
  • Ships - The direct control of ship during expedition makes it a real expedition. S2's 'click a direction and ship will land exactly by the port spot' was meh compared to this. Also the ships look much more active when ferrying. I remember S2's ships were chilling in a port doing nothing even though some resources were clearly needed on the other port, nothing would happen. I think the pathfinding didn't really include ships or it was incredibly buggy. This used to be very frustrating, fortunately here it's not the case! Also ships are probably the most visually appealing object in the game.
  • Building upgrades - This is something I liked a lot about S6 (2nd best Settlers game in the series in my opinion) and wished it to be in S2. My dreams became real with Widelands. However upgrades are ditributed very unevenly among the tribes. While Atlanteans can upgrade only a single building, Barbarians get 12 upgrades. It think this should be more even, other than that I like this a lot.
  • Configure economy - This is another great feature that can help maintaining a huge economy. I don't think S2 had anything like this. Although I don't understand why this menu is accessed from a flag? This should be in the bottom menu next to Ware statistics etc.
  • Ware priorities - Also helps if you have limited income of a ware and need it to be distributed in an uneven ratio. However I think that there should be a fourth priority - absolutely top priority. I've gotten several times to a deadlock where I ran out of granite but to build a granite mine I need granite. So I dismantled some buildings but even though I had highest priority at the granite mine-building site not all granite went there so I had to dismantle more buildings. I think it would be convinient to have a fourth priority that blocks all other consumers of the ware.


Now I'll talk about features that are great but still have some flaws.
  • Tribes with different economies - Now this one is probably the biggest change from S2. Being able to choose from different playstyles is the main feature that kept me hooked. However I think the tribes are poorly balanced, especially the Frisians have much more complex economy tree to achieve similarly trained soldier like others have. This is fine if you play against AI or same tribe but if you play as Frisians against Empire, for example, you are in a huge disadvantage. On the other side, I know how hard it is to balance asymetric playstyles and I understand that Widelands isn't a competitive game.
  • Worker XP - This is another nice concept but just like the building upgrades I feel like it wasn't fully embraced. I think every worker should have XP points and for buildings that don't have upgrades it could be as simple as chief worker needs just 90 % of time that apprentice needs (master 80 % of the time). Or something like that - basically experienced worker can work faster or for example can have a chance not to consume a resource. Just some thoughts.
  • Endlessly repeating map - I still can't get used to this, especially if I zoom out and see my city 4 times next to each other... I would like to play some maps with normal borders too but I couldn't find any.
  • Loading screen tips - They are very helpful but mostly I can't read them because the game loads so quickly. Press-a-key-to-continue would solve this.


0K. So now I am getting to the worse part. Things that are very bad. Don't get mad please :D

This game is extremely hard to pick up even for S2 fans. It is very hard to get to know all the supply chains and mechanics and the game doesn't help the player at all.
Unfriendliness to new players is the biggest problem of Widelands.
You don't realise this because you know the chains well and most people who try this game and get lost, don't bother writing you any feedback and just abandon this game. Some thoughts how to fix this:
  • The ingame wiki - It's just horrible. It's very hard to find there something. It needs much better linking. For example if I open Spider Farm page I should be able to open Spider Silk page just by clicking it in the list of produced items. I should not have to click tab 'Wares' and then scroll through all the wares to find the Spider Silk. Or it could be even better if I there were only building pages for simplicity while ware would always be listed as consumed/produced since Spider Silk page doesn't really show anything new. The fact that it's produced in Spider Farms and consumed in Weaving Mill is already provided in the pages of respective building. So that makes all ware pages redundant. 'Immovables' tab should be removed either way, that is completely useless. Also I couldn't find any search box, that would help too (and if it found Spider Farm and Weaving Mill for 'Spider Silk' entry it would be just perfect).
  • Tutorials - I know that there are the tutorials and that it needed a lot of work to make them but nearly everyone skips tutorials right away. Let's be honest, at least 95 % of players of Widelands have played S2. So the only tutorial I see is one that quickly shows the differences between Widelands and S2. The economy tutorial show a lot of differences/improvements from S2 so I would start from that one. Combine it with a bit of seafaring since that has also been changed, name it 'Quick toturial for The Settlers 2 players' and you're done.
  • But the best way to cope with this whole problem has already been provided in S2. Pop-up messages
    When I hover over over a building in the build menu I should already see what it consumes, where the input is produced, what it outputs and where the output is consumed. So basically I should see the previous step and the next step of the chain. So instead of seeing this, the player should see something like this. This would make the game soooo much easier to pick up for new players.
  • Another nice source of information for new players are Loading screen tips (I've written about them already) but I see these as a source of rather advanced tactics/mechanics.
  • Also would like to address here that the pictures of whole supply chain that are on the online wiki here are very useful but new player shouldn't have to keep switching to browser while playing a game. If the player could see the whole chain while inside the game (in a more visually appealing way), it could be a way too.


Second problem I see is that Widelands doesn't support some features that (S2 didn't dupport but) have become standard these days. Specifically: key binding and menu scaling (I know this is under development).
Third main problem are graphics. And I don't mean just 'the looks', I mean that most buildings of each tribe look very similar. You should be able to tell which building is which at glance, same goes for wares. However I list this as last main issue because I know it's hard to improve this for you since Widelands is a volunteer project and most of you, developers, are programmers (at least it looks like that to me).
Lastly I found two small issues: 1) Fields of a destroyed farm block spots nearly forever. 2) Sometimes when fighting an enemy you get to a point where you don't have vision of any of his military buildings even though you got there by capturing his building so you have to build a military building next to the border. This breaks blitzkrieg tactics. I don't remeber this happening in S2.

To summarize this whole review and point out the most important:
  • Focus on new players - Try to do same playtesting - Something as simple as watching a friend playing Widelands for the first time will do just fine. Or at least try to think more in the perspective of a new player.
  • Finish, polish, balance - Instead of spawning another tribe, work on those that you already have. Some of the current tribes barely have a campaign or all their buildings look very similar. The building upgrades, worker XP...


This has been the longest review and forum post I have ever written. I am looking forward to discussion with you :-D
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Nordfriese
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Posted at: 2020-10-13, 19:39

Moin ZADNE and welcome to the forums face-smile.png

Thank you for your detailed critique! May I ask which version you are using – I assume build21 or a recent development build?

Hyperlinks in the encyclopedia and customisable hotkeys have been on our wishlist for quite some time but nobody has gotten around to it yet. The main menu is currently being redesigned from scratch.

The loading screen gametips are definitely an improvement candidate. We need to keep in mind that the loadscreen is visible for several minutes when loading Europa in a debug build but only for a few seconds when loading Crater in release. So we can't write a huge prosa introduction here, but if better texts are proposed let's have them. (The duration how long each one is shown is specified for each text individually.)

Third main problem are graphics. And I don't mean just 'the looks', I mean that most buildings of each tribe look very similar. You should be able to tell which building is which at glance, same goes for wares. However I list this as last main issue because I know it's hard to improve this for you since Widelands is a volunteer project and most of you, developers, are programmers (at least it looks like that to me).

I remember how hard I found it initially to get used to Atlanteans because this is exactly what I always thought about them. Now I am the graphics modeller of two tribes (Frisians and under-development-Amazons) and I guess this applies to them as well – but especially for Barbarians, Empire and Atlanteans we have no graphic developers at all currently so any graphic changes are always… well, not likely to be implemented soon.

Regarding balancing – many people put a huge amount of effort into balancing the tribes, and a pretty good balance has been achieved. Upgrades and experience are concepts that I would love to see improved, but this would disadvantage tribes which must not be disadvantaged further. The amount of upgrading also ties to each tribe's character, e.g. Atlanteans are so sophisticated that everyone can do everything without needing to learn stuff first.

Endlessly repeating map - I still can't get used to this, especially if I zoom out and see my city 4 times next to each other... I would like to play some maps with normal borders too but I couldn't find any.

A lot of our code assumes that maps repeat like this, so the possibility to have non-repeating maps is not likely to get implemented.

Tutorials: I don't believe it's true that most people played Settlers before (I didn't), so I don't think we would need such a S2-Widelands comparison tutorial. It is true that the learning curve is very steep. The tutorials explain all the basics, and then the campaigns allow the player to discover the actual gameplay with more guidance.

Configure economy - This is another great feature that can help maintaining a huge economy. I don't think S2 had anything like this. Although I don't understand why this menu is accessed from a flag? This should be in the bottom menu next to Ware statistics etc.

This question comes a lot. When you have multiple road networks that are not connected by any roads or ships, they are separate economies that function completely independent from each other. So they all have their own sets of target quantities.

But the best way to cope with this whole problem has already been provided in S2. Pop-up messages

+1


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WorldSavior
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Joined: 2016-10-15, 04:10
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Posted at: 2020-10-13, 20:40

Nordfriese wrote:

The loading screen gametips are definitely an improvement candidate. We need to keep in mind that the loadscreen is visible for several minutes when loading Europa in a debug build but only for a few seconds when loading Crater in release. So we can't write a huge prosa introduction here, but if better texts are proposed let's have them. (The duration how long each one is shown is specified for each text individually.)

At the other hand, the tips are also available via the game manual. Which should be also available in the widelands main menu, not only in the games.

Endlessly repeating map - I still can't get used to this, especially if I zoom out and see my city 4 times next to each other... I would like to play some maps with normal borders too but I couldn't find any.

A lot of our code assumes that maps repeat like this, so the possibility to have non-repeating maps is not likely to get implemented.

If a map contains boarders of lava at all edges, it can be interepreted as non-repeating map. So this is kind of already implemented

Tutorials: I don't believe it's true that most people played Settlers before (I didn't), so I don't think we would need such a S2-Widelands comparison tutorial.

I agree

ZADNE wrote:

However upgrades are ditributed very unevenly among the tribes. While Atlanteans can upgrade only a single building, Barbarians get 12 upgrades. It think this should be more even, other than that I like this a lot.

I disagree

[*] [b]Worker XP[/b] - This is another nice concept but just like the building upgrades I feel like it wasn't fully embraced. I think every worker should have XP points and for buildings that don't have upgrades it could be as simple as chief worker needs just 90 % of time that apprentice needs (master 80 % of the time). Or something like that - basically experienced worker can work faster or for example can have a chance not to consume a resource. Just some thoughts.

I disagree. I think that worker XP has more disadvantages than advantages. All the time you have to make sure that enough tools are in warehouses, search in buildings for experienced workers, kick them out, and then this kicking doesn't even work always... A mess.

So it's good that at least Atlanteans don't need it, that increases variety.

2) Sometimes when fighting an enemy you get to a point where you don't have vision of any of his military buildings even though you got there by capturing his building so you have to build a military building next to the border. This breaks blitzkrieg tactics. I don't remeber this happening in S2.

"Blitzkrieg tactics" don't work anyway, because the defender can dismantle military buildings right in time. And this is good, because this saves strong soldiers which need complex economies, and it gives the defender also more time which is also good for the economical aspect.


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hessenfarmer
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Posted at: 2020-10-13, 21:11

Hi from me as well,

Thanks for the huge post and some very nice ideas.
Especially I like the idea of having some information of the encyclopedia in the build menu So +1 from me as well.

On the other hand I can't understand why people always put "the game is hard to learn" and "I skipped the tutorials" in the same sentence face-wink.png . And the tutorials are aimed at a very beginner not a former S2 player. I believe S2 was so far in the past we can't expect evrybody to know it Especially not People that were born after s2 was first launched. One thing that keeps widelands interesting is the bigger complexity over S2 (as you need to learn 5 tribes instead of one) I believe together with the lots of user maps available.

Regarding tribes balance. It is not our goal to make every tribe equal on any map. Because we would probably end with the S2 solution where the differnce was only graphics. Instead we aim at having each tribe an advantage on certain conditions / maps. E.g. Frisians need a lot of time to get all the experience to build a full economy, however at the moment the training is running they need less iron then the other currently available other three tribes (of course the amazons need zero which will make for alternative gameplay again. If coal is rare on a map (which is admittedly very seldom) or if it is far away from the starting position they have an advantage using charcoal. They do not need granite mines as well which makes them good on old S2 maps where the mountains dont have granite (Eg empire and especially atlanteans are not playable without mining stones) Barbarians need experience but have very cheap surface mines. So in the end every tribe should have its advantage and special things to master for keeping up the fun in playing. Choosing the tribe for a map would then be the first strategical decision.
Anyhow I am not writing this to invalidate your well elaborated critics but more to explain some basic concepts to help avoid misunderstandings.

However we already had some tournaments recently where we discovered that we might need some balancing tweaks to the tribes to make this concept work (currently Atlanteans are slightly overpowered although it needs skills to use this bit). You are invited to take part in the discussions when I finally get around to implement the changes needed.

Most of the rest of your critics and suggestions are already on our wishlist, which just reminds us on what we still haven't achieved. Thanks for the reminder in this case maybe it just gives someone of us the last kick to start implementing.

So thanks again for the feedback and Please be assured that I believe your critique was to hard or anything like that. It was polite and very well argumented.


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king_of_nowhere
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Posted at: 2020-10-13, 21:41

ZADNE wrote:

[b]Third main problem are graphics.[/b] And I don't mean just 'the looks', I mean that most buildings of each tribe look very similar. [b]You should be able to tell which building is which at glance[/b], same goes for wares.

i'm not qualified to comment on the others, i can reply to this to say that i did raise the same point regarding frisians and the under-development tribe of amazons. the other three tribes should be fine.

Lastly I found two small issues: 1) Fields of a destroyed farm block spots nearly forever.

either it was changed, or we have different definitions of forever. i think it stays around 10 minutes? by the way, in S2 they did, indeed, stay forever.

2) Sometimes when fighting an enemy you get to a point where you don't have vision of any of his military buildings even though you got there by capturing his building so you have to build a military building next to the border. This breaks blitzkrieg tactics. I don't remeber this happening in S2.

that's not a bug but a feature. we found that competitive gaming was very conductive towards early game rushes, and we wanted to discourage that. this game is supposed to be about building up an economy, not giving a handful of promotions to your starting soldiers and using those to attack the enemy straight away. slowing down an attacker to give time for the economy is good.

Tribes with different economies - Now this one is probably the biggest change from S2. Being able to choose from different playstyles is the main feature that kept me hooked. However I think the tribes are poorly balanced, especially the Frisians have much more > complex economy tree to achieve similarly trained soldier like others have. This is fine if you play against AI or same tribe but if you play as Frisians against Empire, for example, you are in a huge disadvantage. On the other side, I know how hard it is to balance > asymetric playstyles and I understand that Widelands isn't a competitive game.

i feel your pain here. the main problem for balancing is agreeing on what balancing change is needed. you can count the number of player playing with that level of competition (and so being skilled enough that they can judge balance accurately) on the fingers of one hand. to make things worse, our very best player never shares his trade secrets, which may indeed be good for refining balance.

I can at least say, though, that balance used to be even worse. when I started playing this game, atlanteans used to be able to train a hero soldier without making a single mine; while the other tribe's soldiers were weaker and even more expensive.


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the-x
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Posted at: 2020-10-13, 22:14

ZADNE wrote:

Instead of spawning another tribe, work on those that you already have. Some of the current tribes barely have a campaign or all their buildings look very similar. The building upgrades, worker XP...

Balancing is indeed the hardest, but in my opinion most important thing, when it comes to multiplayer. Imagine playing a game you know from the start that a tribe is disadvantage whilst the other is advantaged. Because in multi unlikely in single we dont play games that last 8-12 hours the tribes should be on small to medium maps nearly equal. I am happy that we can finally talk about balance.

Focus on new players - Try to do same playtesting - Something as simple as watching a friend playing Widelands for the first time will do just fine. Or at least try to think more in the perspective of a new player.

The thing many new players i talked to were very surprised to see a supersoldier winning all the fights, retreating and healing and then winning all easily

This has been the longest review and forum post I have ever written. I am looking forward to discussion with you face-grin.png

Your welcome, we like to improve macro things


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mxb2001
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Posted at: 2020-10-14, 01:09

Configure economy - This is another great feature that can help maintaining a huge economy. I don't think S2 had anything like this. Although I don't understand why this menu is accessed from a flag? This should be in the bottom menu next to Ware statistics etc.

This question comes a lot. When you have multiple road networks that are not connected by any roads or ships, they are separate economies that function completely independent from each other. So they all have their own sets of target quantities.

WTF! I've played WL for a year now (off and on) and never heard of this. I too always thought it awful that this important function was hidden away like this. So it's actually regional if you have separated them. I've never yet done that of course, I always assumed that if anything was not connected to the HQ it would DIE A HORRIBLE ISOLATED DEATH. <rolls eyes> So lemme think, you could build a new warehouse (I know they act like alt HQ's) and then everything needed from scratch as if you were starting a new game and cut all road links (plus dismantle ports) and it would form a whole independent unit. Or I guess you could ship all the "starting" wares to the new warhouse and then cut it off and let it build up. This would really help with some maps where stuff might get shipped hundred of miles like I recall on Nile (I recall posting about it).

This is SO unexpected. As a wargamer for 5 decades there is nothing more unthinkable than letting something get cut off but here it might actually be of great benefit. <head explodes>


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mxb2001
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Posted at: 2020-10-14, 01:29

[*] [b]The ingame wiki[/b] - It's just horrible. It's very hard to find there something. It needs much better linking. For example if I open Spider Farm page I should be able to open Spider Silk page just by clicking it in the list of produced items. I should not have to click tab 'Wares' and then scroll through all the wares to find the Spider Silk. Or it could be even better if I there were only building pages for simplicity while ware would always be listed as consumed/produced since Spider Silk page doesn't really show anything new. The fact that it's produced in Spider Farms and consumed in Weaving Mill is already provided in the pages of respective building. So that makes all ware pages redundant. 'Immovables' tab should be removed either way, that is completely useless. Also I couldn't find any search box, that would help too (and if it found Spider Farm and Weaving Mill for 'Spider Silk' entry it would be just perfect).

I agree 100%. I'm still learning what I need to build and it is simply a pain to have to look up the building needed and then look up the ware to find the exact ingredients for a ware. I mean for example a sawmill page shows that it takes in logs from a woodcutter and sends to construction sites, etc. Good, very useful but why can't it say it takes in 2 logs and makes 1 plank? I have to goto the plank page to learn that. : ( I mean the process is happening in the building why does the building page not describe it properly? I think wares pages have some use still but mostly for when you hover over a mine and it says it needs wine. So you might look up wine to find out where it is made (winery) but then you want to switch to the building to find out all the details of the how it needs a vineyard and it takes x grapes to make y wine. Ideally it should list how many buildings are needed to support each other. (although insanely I think I learned that it needs 4 vineyards for 3 wineries... OMG why? I mean 1 is normally enough but the winery always runs at 75% which is just plain ugly)


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kaputtnik
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Posted at: 2020-10-14, 08:34

To split of economies with ports, you have to dismantle the connecting port(s). To have two distinct economies with shipping, you have to build a port, then build a warehouse, and then dismantle the port again.

I don't know when or why the option of distinct economies were implemented. In a normal game everything is connected to the headquarters. It would be useful if a player could mark an area of a map/economy as a standalone economy. So one can settle an island and if the basic economy (woodcutters, quarries, some metal) where established he could mark this as an own economy to be independent from the headquarters. This way wares will not be transported from far away spots to this new settlement.

I agree to have the encyclopedia more useful. E.g. Hyperlinks


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GunChleoc
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Posted at: 2020-10-14, 11:04

Welcome and thank you for your thoughts.

Worker XP

https://github.com/widelands/widelands/issues/3843

Endlessly repeating map - I still can't get used to this, especially if I zoom out and see my city 4 times next to each other... I would like to play some maps with normal borders too but I couldn't find any.

How about limiting the maximum zoom out according to map + screen size?

Tutorials - I know that there are the tutorials and that it needed a lot of work to make them but nearly everyone skips tutorials right away. Let's be honest, at least 95 % of players of Widelands have played S2.

Like Nordfriese, I have never played Settlers 2 in my life.

But the best way to cope with this whole problem has already been provided in S2. Pop-up messages When I hover over over a building in the build menu I should already see what it consumes, where the input is produced, what it outputs and where the output is consumed.

Good idea. I have also been thinking it would be nice to have an additional tab in the building window with the most important help bits in it.

Also would like to address here that the pictures of whole supply chain that are on the online wiki here are very useful but new player shouldn't have to keep switching to browser while playing a game. If the player could see the whole chain while inside the game (in a more visually appealing way), it could be a way too.

Patches very welcome indeed face-wink.png


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