As we have been easing DUST into the EVE Universe, one problem that arose clearly was how we could convey to DUST players the feeling that they are actually part of a large universe. Even though battles take place at various places in EVE, there isn‘t enough contextual information to give a true feeling for the location they are in and how it connects to other locations. Now for anyone that has experienced being lost in a big unknown city, the first idea that comes to mind is to get hold of a map. But maps come into various forms and flavors. You can have very realistic maps based on aerial photographs or you can have highly stylized maps that focus more on the functional purpose of the map.
For EVE, the task is further complicated by the topological complexity of the jump gate network, which essentially forms a three dimensional multi-connected graph folded into itself so that the notion of up and down, left and right become meaningless.
For the purpose of DUST we opted for a functional info-graphic map. This was partly based on our experience from EVE Online, where even though the EVE client has a very nice 3D map that you can navigate, few players actually use it for strategic purposes as it is confusing and difficult to read at a local level. We finally came down to a few design criteria that we wanted to follow for our implementation.
From 3D to 2D
Instead of following a realistic approach to the design, we decided to focus on the infographic approach. This means that rather than to strictly follow the reality of the underlying terrain we instead emphasize its functional qualities. For the EVE universe the most important functional aspect is the connectivity of systems as it dictates normal travel. The first step to extricate the functional view was to map the three-dimensional data down to a coherent two-dimensional view.
The standard way of doing that is to project the positional data down onto the x-z plane (traditionally, the positive y-axis is up). The resulting network is still very unreadable because systems might fall on top of each other and links between systems crisscross each other all over the place. The resulting network is basically what you would get if you would dump a full pot of spaghetti on a table. Another thing we needed to take into consideration was the form factor and definition of the PS3 that forces us to both cater for a HD format as well as the much more restrictive SD format. We also anticipated that we might need to accommodate other form factor such as the PS Vita.
To alleviate these issues, we chose to use a hierarchical representation of the universe, using the existing region/constellation/systems hierarchy, as it allowed us to work with manageable data sets both for clarity and display purposes. Even though it means you lose some of the higher level context we still felt this was the best compromise that would work on the PS3.
But this still didn’t resolve the artifacts resulting from the projection to a plane. The only way to tackle that properly was to manually adjust and nudge each entity at each hierarchy level such as to emphasize certain qualities. Here are some of the guiding principles used in that process, roughly in priority order:
- Emphasize connectivity features such as circles and short-cuts
- Avoid crisscrossing of links
- Distribute nodes to give them air and space for labels
- Distribute angles between incoming links in a node, to ease navigation
- Try maintaining compass directions for links outside of current node (links to other regions, constellations, etc.)
- Try maintaining relative placement of nodes
In most cases it isn’t possible to fulfill all of these criteria simultaneously so then it becomes a subjective choice of what ‘feels good’. Considering the sheer number of systems in EVE, you shouldn’t be surprised if you find some oddness here and there, but we will actively be looking for those and adjusting as we see fit.
The graphical design we chose attempts to further strengthen the clarity, with a sober and clean functional look, that still allows us to attach various information to the displayed entities without affecting readability.
Regions, Constellations, Systems and Views
At each hierarchy levels, entities are represented by nodes and links. The node shape for regions and constellations is a hexagon, while it’s a circle for solarsystems. The links represent the fact that jumps exist between systems within the two separate hierarchies (or directly between systems when viewing systems in a constellation). At any level, you always have a currently selected node that is the focus for any action. You can move your selection by using the left control stick and pointing it in the general direction of the node that you want to select (you don’t have to follow links). Pushing the ‘X’ button on a selected node will transfer you down to the next hierarchy level of the selected node (e.g. from a region to a constellation), while pushing the ‘O’ button will bring you up one hierarchy level (inverse if you use the inverse button mapping). The only exception are for ‘edge’ nodes, represented by a red stroke and black fill. Selecting those will transfer you to the adjacent hierarchy, e.g. neighboring constellations, given that there exists a stargate jump between systems in those respective hierarchies. Using this combination of actions you can navigate to any part of the EVE universe at any hierarchy level.
Nodes are used to convey various information about entities depending on the context in which you view the map. This is done by mapping various graphical attributes to information. The following graphical attribute of nodes can be used to convey information:
- Node shape: hexagons for aggregated entities such as regions and constellations and circle for solar systems
- Node name. Always corresponds to the EVE name of the entity.
- Colored segments within nodes. Six segments used to shown proportional aggregated data sets similar to pie charts
- Various icons around the nodes. Used to convey different special binary state for nodes depending on context.
- Node stroke color. Used to separate nodes into different classes, e.g. inactive nodes or inter-jump nodes
- Node glow color. Used to convey scalar data associated with node.
- Node dimmed. Used to deemphasize nodes in special contexts.
At the top of the map there are tabs that can be changed using the L1 and R1 buttons. These tabs switch between different views of the map. You can think of a view as a way of looking at the universe with different glasses, such that each view emphasizes different data sets associated with the nodes. We currently define 3 different views: The default Atlas View, the Factional Warfare View and the Corporation View. Here follows a detailed description of each of those.
The Atlas View is there to give you a general view of the political landscape of the universe and allow you to clearly browse all the universe. In the Atlas View, the color segments on nodes represents up to the top 6 aggregated sovereignty owners. This ownership will typically not change for empire space (hisec and losec), but will be changing daily in nullsec depending on ebb and tides of nullsec warfare in EVE. The name of the owners corresponding to the colored segments are shown on the left for the currently selected node.
Additionally, the average aggregated security status is shown as a glow behind the node, more as a subtle visual aide than a direct quantitative info.
Factional Warfare View
In the Factional Warfare (FW) view, only regions where FW is ongoing are emphasized, all others are dimmed. Furthermore, the node segments now represent the aggregated ownership of districts between the warring factions. This can guide FW players on where their effort would matter the most. We here also see the introduction of the star icon to show where there are current battles that you can join immediately. In general and in all views, a star icon above a node tells you that there is at least one battle you can join somewhere. By drilling down and ‚following the star‘ you will eventually end up on a specific district where a battle is raging.
When viewing solar systems in a constellation, you have the additional information about whether systems are contested and their vulnerability percentage. Contested systems are shown with a crossed sword icon.
The Corporation View focuses on information relevant to your corporation as compared to other player corporations. In a similar manner as in Factional Warfare view, nodes show the aggregated up to top 6 corporation owners of districts. A new flag icon is used to flag places where your corporation owns districts. As before, star icons are used to denote battles you can join immediately, but a little clock icon is used to denote upcoming scheduled conflicts. By following these icons you will eventually drill down to a solar system level, where each planet is represented as a circle. You can select different planets by moving the selection using the control stick left or right. Only temperate planets can currently be selected and depending on the view they will either be shown as solid blue or as owner segments, representing the fractional ownership of districts on that planet.
Further drilling down to a planet, leads to the planet view. Here each district is represented by a small square segment, encircling the planet. The color of the square segment corresponds to the owner, and if there is one, the icon in the square segment represents the surface infrastructure currently deployed on that district. The small square points above the district square represent the number of clones present on that district and the total clone capacity available (each little square represents 20 clones). By moving the control stick left and right, you can change the currently selected district, which will give you more information in the text box on the left, as well as showing you the rough location of the district on the planet. As before, the presence of a star icon indicates that there is an ongoing conflict happening on that district that you can join.
For players with corporation director roles, they can further select the district to enter district management mode, but that part of the functionality is described in details in the Planetary Conquest blog.
In this first version of the map, we have strived at bringing a consistent navigation model as well as a readable 2D mapping of the highly complex three dimensional EVE universe that would work on a console. On top of that we have defined a way to map different data sets to different graphical attributes and provide a mechanism to group different such datasets in different selectable views. The entire map is server driven, which means that it is always up to date and information is updated in real time (though subject to data caching). The two user driven views provided currently are centered on the two different ways DUST players can influence the EVE universe. As we get a better sense on how you use the map to help you in your strategy and also when we get feedback on how we could visually improve the mapping of information as well as what additional data sets might be helpful for you, we fully intend to evolve the map to fulfill those needs. The long term goal and vision for the map is that it becomes your highly dynamic crystal ball into the EVE universe reflecting back to you all the thriving activities that happens there, both in EVE and DUST, as well as helping you to put your mark on the destiny of thousands.
Team True Grit