Me, Myself And UI: Limit Theory

I love it when developers talk about their user interfaces. Not their personal buttons, which I’d rather not push, but the systems that they build as a means of communication between players and games. A good UI, like strong visual design, creates a sort of language all of its own, and Limit Theory’s node-based interface has an elegant grammar. In the latest dev diary, Josh Parnell covers the spiffy customisable HUD and the most attractive scanner since Michael Ironside.

I haven’t built up too much excitement about Limit Theory because Craig has been hogging all of the fervent anticipation. There’s only so much to go around.

It’s a fascinating project though. With as many interesting ideas as Star Citizen and Elite have between them, and graphics as handsome and clean as a leading man in the forties. I am officially borrowing some of Craig’s excitement and keeping it for myself.


  1. mf says:

    Best project I backed on KS. By far. This guy deserves a medal of some sort.

  2. BTAxis says:

    I’ll almost be sad once Josh actually releases his game. I’m going to miss his daily dev log and the monthly updates.

    • mf says:

      He already confirmed additional content post launch. So… I think he is going to stick around for a while.

  3. MiniMatt says:

    Oh I love a good UI me. Can’t remember who it was who wrote about the Democracy 3 UI on RPS’ hallowed parchment but it elegantly summed up the joy of a good interface.

    *Scurries off to find the link*

    Edit: ’twas your fellow Smith, Graham, at link to

  4. Hunchback says:

    Can’t help it but admire this dude. He’s kinda single-handedly making what the X team failed to make with so much more resources…

    And he’s also so cool in his videos. Really hope this thing works out and he manages to release one day!

    TL Dev dude, if you are reading this: Keep it up, your project kicks ass!

    • WrenBoy says:

      He’s kinda single-handedly making what the X team failed to make with so much more resources

      Thats what was going through my head too. He seems obscenely full of creative yet very sensible ideas. The scanner is a great example, “its gameplay rather than a minigame”.

      • DatonKallandor says:

        It’s gameplay rather than a minigame is the perfect description for all the little different gameplay things you do in the new X game (cruising the lanes, scanning for hidden crates, exploring the exterior of stations). And while Limit Theory looks nice and all – “doing what X failed to do” is ridiculous. We haven’t seen what Limit Theory really looks like as a whole. It’s looks just as slick as X:Rebirth did before it came out.

        • soldant says:

          Those are my thoughts too. It’s incredible that this one guy has done so much but as a backer, lately all I hear is “Tech, tech, tech… and a bit of gameplay” which worries me that it’ll succumb to feature creep or it being about the game’s technology. We’re yet to see what the actual game as a whole is like. Granted it’s early days, but I’m not calling it Freelancer Done Right just yet.

          • WrenBoy says:

            You are definitely correct to say that its too early to say that it will be a good game, let alone a classic.

            That being said I think its fair to comment on the quality of his ideas even if we dont know how well they will be implemented. Even if the game is a mess the node based UI is still a very interesting idea, especially the way he is consistently using it throughout the interface. Even if the implementation of the scanner ends up being a bit crumby its still a solid idea which deserves to be reused.

            Thats why I think you can make the comparison with X Rebirth even though we dont know what Limit Theory will be like on release. In X Rebirth there are no interesting ideas and all that can be learned is what not to do (probably why he stressed its gameplay rather than a minigame to be fair).

        • WrenBoy says:

          It’s gameplay rather than a minigame is the perfect description for all the little different gameplay things you do in the new X game

          Bullshit. Limit Theory could turn out to be a horrible game but that is bullshit. All those things are minigames. Even egosoft describe them as minigames.

          Going on his dev videos Id say Limit Theory will turn out ok but even if it doesnt it wont turn out anywhere near as bad as X Rebirth. A worthless game with no redeeming features and zero potential.

  5. daphne says:

    Remains the only KS project I’m a blatant fan/girl/boy/whatever of.

  6. TehK says:

    I don’t even know if I’ll like the finished game (just because I’m not that much into space things), but that guy is a genius. As a programmer myself I’m immensely impressed by those dev diaries. It’s unbelievable that this is a project of a single guy.

  7. crinkles esq. says:

    I’ve begun to worry that Josh has fallen down the rabbit hole and has become obsessed with trying to re-invent UI. It’s been the bulk of the last three updates. It’s not that I have any problem with experimentation, but in terms of a successful project you should not be doing fine-grained UI work before you actually have gameplay implemented. It was a red flag when Josh said in the video, “I don’t know quite what this (the ship hologram overlay) will be used for, but it looks really cool.” Sir, with all due respect, no. You are wasting time because you will throw out that UI when you figure out your gameplay. Gameplay dictates the UI, not the other way around. I guess my next question would be, why at this point in development is the gameplay not nailed down?

    And while I’m impressed with Josh’s UI experiments, I’m still not convinced that any of them are pragmatic. 3D UI has been tried in the past, but it’s inefficient. A job board made of a grid of squares doesn’t let a player quickly find things. A slowly rotating scanner with radial spokes looks very pretty, but does not quickly give players information about the environment they can use. For instance, what if there is an asteroid plus an enemy ship in the same area? How would that be quickly communicated? Moreover, why is Josh making the player hunt for useful asteroids like a game of Marco Polo set in space? Automate that stuff and let the player focus on fun things.

    • daphne says:

      You do have a point. But from what I understand of his dev updates, his work on these interfaces grants him the ability to iterate on UI, the HUD, data representation methods etc. much faster than he otherwise could. So if/when the time comes for him to scrap/rework elements of the UI it’ll take him three hours rather than three days (figuratively speaking).

      • crinkles esq. says:

        Okay, let me put it to you this way. Would you rather have a game with really expansive gameplay and sophisticated AI with a serviceable UI, or would you rather have a game with mindblowing UI and gameplay that doesn’t live up to the Freelancer comparisons? Because Josh has a limited amount of development time, and the more time he spends iterating on UI concepts and shiny graphical effects, the less time he has to build and refine the actual game.

        Josh is obviously an extremely talented programmer and very creative, and I’ve said as much in the past. But he’s also young and inexperienced, and doesn’t have a producer there to keep him on-task.

        • AshRolls says:

          You throw up some valid concerns here but Josh has addressed these in his more detailed daily dev logs.

          For instance, the current UI options that he has shown in the video have just been thrown together in the last few days to show the power of the underlying UI rendering systems. Now that he has a powerful core system in place, he can quickly prototype and add new UI elements as the gameplay develops.

          Additionally with the scanner, there will be an automatic passive ship scanner, and you only need to choose to use the active one if you want to.

          But yes, there does need to be a focus on gameplay now and I think Josh is underestimating the amount of work required to finish a fun and compelling game.

    • Shadowcat says:

      I know what you’re saying, but I’m pretty happy with most of the things he’s doing. It’s true that iterating on that UI has taken a lot of time, but the result is that it looks and acts like nothing else out there — and this in a genre where things have a remarkable tendency to look pretty similar to one another. Heck, just think about the earlier menus and UI.

      I believe him when he talks about deriving gameplay opportunities from his UI work, and being able to quickly implement the necessary UIs for all manner of future gameplay elements.

      It’s true that there’s very little ‘game’ on show yet, and like any game it could ultimately wind up being a disappointment; but I like that he’s doing something a bit different with this. I don’t know if it’ll be a great game, but I’m happy I backed it.

    • jack4cc says:

      I’m also worried about the same thing – sure, the UI looks great, but it wouldn’t be the first game that lacks the actual game part.

  8. Dux Ducis Hodiernus says:

    What the hell is up with that knocking sound in the background of the video, making me go insane.

    • SillyWizard says:

      Now I’m worried we’re going to discover that this guy is a serial killer and what you’re hearing is his latest captive knocking on the wall of his/her cell in the next room.

      (I’ve just recently gotten around to watching Dexter.)

  9. Chris says:

    The scanner seems pretty useless to me.

    With sensors you generally want concise information. So when you scan an asteroid you want information concerning its composition, for spaceships you want type, faction, speed, vector, and damage sustained.

    • Damn You Socrates says:

      I think what the dev logs have suggested is that different objects will give different signals that are represented on the scanner. So an iron asteroid will look different to a gold asteroid will look different to a battleship etc.

  10. Dozer says:

    I’m kind of scratching my head here. The UI he’s implementing is kind of 1942-era cathode-ray-tube valve-driven display styles. That scanner looks to me like a very primitive oscilloscope. It’s a graph of boresight signal strength against time drawn as a radial plot in the center of the screen for no damn reason. You’d expect it to indicate which direction has stronger scanner returns, so if it’s spiky to the left then you might find something if you turn more to the left, but no… the position of the spikes only indicates how long ago you were aiming at something interesting. The visual position of UI elements looks mostly meaningless. Edward Tufte would be spinning in his… in his office chair. He’s not dead.

    The more I watch videos like this, the more I miss playing Silent Hunter 3 ten-ish years ago, using the awesome hydrophones and a lot of graphing and calculus to figure out where the ships were and what they were doing. Is it too late to turn Limit Theory into a fantasy-world naval ship-commander game with roughly WW2-level technology? I want icebergs, not asteroids!

  11. Beernut says:

    The new dev-update-video is out, with further improvements to the scanning-feature. :)