The last couple of weeks have been a stressful time for the team and me. Everybody was working towards the launch of the first international server and basically put aside most other tasks that need to be taken care of. Now that it has been 3 days since the extremely smooth start of Nicosia we finally find the time to take a look at other things again. The first thing that came to my mind on monday was usability. A friend of mine who had never played AirlineSim before took a brief look at the game and his first impression was that it was extremely difficult for a new player to find his way into the game. It's simple things that make it difficult: realizing that you need to have an airline to open a branch office, knowing that your airline request has to be screened by a member of our support team, entering the correct airport codes when requesting it and getting the correct error message if you don't. Most of these issues are mentioned somewhere in the tutorial or in the game itself, some aren't. Either way, all these tiny issues make it difficult to get started quickly and easily and might scare off any new player who's not a die-hard aviation geek.
When looking at the game from a newbie's perspective you notice the same pattern everywhere around the game: Many features are tailored to the needs of enthusiastic AirlineSim fans who accept the game the way it is while other parts of the interface were put in by us developers once and then left in a "it does what it's supposed to" state irrespective of any usability flaws. I noticed these shortcomings myself when I finally got around launching a new airline on Nicosia again...a first in a long time for me.
That's why I proclaimed the coming days to be usability week! There's need for quite a bit of fixing and the first area to get a major brush-up is the flight number and route management. I've noticed that, when scheduling new flights and working on flight plans, it's sometimes very cumbersome to switch between the relevant pages and to get to the information you need quickly. Therefore I've redone the flight number and routes page respectively. Both got a common header featuring an easy-to-use route selector and all basic information and links regarding the route in question. Below that are the tools and tables that have been there eversince. I cleaned up the arrangement to make it more compact, added a few additional informationrequested by users on the forums and I streamlined some of the operations. For example, you can now change a flight's or route's prices and service profiles in one go and you get a well visible status information that the operation was successful, some detail AirlineSim is lacking in far too many parts of the game. Overall it's now far easier to switch between flights, routes and assigned aircraft. Find some screens of the new interface below and let me know what you think.
Next on my list are some more links to important related pages during the flight planning process and an easier entry into the game featuring better feedback to the player and a clearer interface which is easy to understand even without having read the manual (although you always should, of course ;)). As all these changes are not "critical" I might ignore our usual patchday cycle and update the servers whenever I feel I'm done.
Maybe it's worth mentioning one of the reasons for the fact that such important things are often neglected during development: It's tough to imagine for an outsider what amount of work needs to be put into details like this. Overhauling the flight number and route pages took me almost a full day of work time and there are probably still many glitches that need to be found and fixed. This is partly due to the circumstance that the framework currently used for AirlineSim is somewhat out of date which makes it more and more diffcult to deliver the kind of user experience one is used to from modern web pages. The technological base of our next major version, i.e. AirlineSim 1.4, will make this part of development far easier and faster.