When discussing strategy games, there is a small list of topics that are often mentioned. This seems to remain true regardless of whether they’re tactical and turn-based or if they’re real-time. Unit and factional differences are one major topic, particularly because if the opposing factions are too similar, then the game gets dull. The AI is also a major topic, since there isn’t much need for strategizing when the game is too stupid to present a challenge. Multiplayer and competition is also a hot point. However, one detail that nobody really pays that much attention to during discussions would be the interface.
It doesn’t seem that way, but there are few game genres that rely so heavily on their user interface more than strategy titles. This is because of the sheer amount of information that it must convey to the player without being cumbersome. In some ways, it isn’t all that different from designing a website that has a lot of content. Game designers don’t need to hire Orlando web design firms to build their GUI for them, though. For the most part, designers have gotten the hang of designing a GUI that supplements the game structure without being too cumbersome.
One of the most crucial components would be the ease by which a player can find the information they need. This is particularly true for the “immediately” needed information, such as specific resources. Depending on the game, this can be anything from just a single resource (The C&C series’ Tiberium) to anywhere up to three or four (Warcraft II: Tides of Darkness had players manage lumber, gold, supply caps, and oil). The amount that each player has available should be easy to find, but not presented in a way that blocks their view of the game itself.
Of course, it isn’t just information that needs to be presented. Perhaps second only to RPGs, strategy games are the titles that offer players the widest range of options to pick from within the game itself. These games also promote micromanagement – every building has its own construction or upgrade options and every unit can be specifically made to target something, rather than having them gang up on something. The interface must not only present these options, it must also do so in a way that makes it easy for players to pick through them quickly in the middle of a pitched battle. A bad interface can cost even the best players those precious few seconds that define victory or defeat.