'Pit People' Really Needs to Rethink its User Interface

What is even happening here?

While at PAX West last week with Inverse’s gaming editor Rollin Bishop, I had a chance to check out Pit People, The Behemoth’s new grid-based strategy game. Our opinions were a bit split. If you don’t know much about Pit People, it works in a similar fashion to The Banner Saga only with The Behemoth’s trademark internet cartoon-esque sense of humor and, it turns out, quite a messy user interface in co-op. The former’s fine, but the developers really need to do something about the latter.

Like most strategic games, Pit People is simple enough in concept. Controlling a team of fighters and warriors, you move around hexagonal maps using tactics to defeat the opposition in alternating turns. It may feel a bit weird at first, trading blows with enemies one by one, but it’s easy to acclimate to the genre. Unlike most games within said genre, Pit People has you plan out your entire turn controlling all your characters in one fell swoop rather than shuffled in with the enemy.

Normally, that wouldn’t be a big deal, but Pit People loads the screen with needlessly busy UI. When you move a character, a fat line stretches across the board to show what path which fighter will take, should you select it. Depending on how many party members your team has, that line may stay on the board; it may not. In any case, whichever hexagon you choose to move, the character is then highlighted with an icon displaying the action for that turn. The character then turns translucent.

There’s also a target box cursor floating over the board, displaying whether you’re the first or second player, each stacked on top of the remaining UI elements splayed across the map. Aside from simulating a mouse on a console game, there’s no real reason to not just highlight grids on the map itself and eliminate the noise.

Of course, in co-op you also have each active player’s character — the one that’s selected — highlighted in flashing yellow, despite the clear color differentiation the lines use to designate movements. Sometimes after you’ve set a character’s movement and action for that turn, their hex is still flashing. Additionally, everything has its own animation and effects, which often obscure parts of the screen.

What this results in — particularly from the look of bigger battles — is a massive, tangled overload of visual information that is difficult to clearly read and chaotic enough that I had to study it in-depth on three separate occasions. And while some of these problems might be mitigated in single-player — at least if you’re not switching sides or teaming up with former rivals, as was the case in the PAX demo — this seems like a case of UI being used to further express the personality of the game proper.

That’s a noble cause, but one that can completely destroy any semblance of logic (bolstered by the fact that there’s no easy way to quickly explain how the interface works). And with a genre that’s at its best when delineating strategic opportunities for would-be generals, that’s a huge issue. Let’s hope they’re listening.

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