Fallout Shelter / by Josh Neiman

In case you're not familiar with the game, it's a mobile app and soon to be PC companion game to Fallout 4, released by Bethesda Softworks in 2015; here's the announcement trailer:

It's a fun little game that combines the maintenance and construction elements of games like Farmville with light combat and RPG elements taken from Fallout and significantly simplified. I've enjoyed it a lot since I started playing, but there are some UI/UX quibbles I've run into during that time. I'll be reviewing the UI/UX for version 1.5, so some of these thoughts may not apply to future releases.

Dweller Management

The game itself is deceptively simple, particularly in the beginning, but with the dweller cap coming in at 200 things can easily get complicated fast. Luckily, the designers put in a nice way to sort through your dwellers:

That's a lot of people to manage...

Tapping on the label for any column will sort using that info, and the arrow on the upper left allows the list to be inverted; they even allowed you to narrow things down by specific S.P.E.C.I.A.L. attribute (Strength, Perception, Endurance, Charisma, Intelligence, Agility, and Luck) by tapping the label to rotate through them. The only things you can't sort by are equipped Outfits, Weapons, or Pets, but there isn't exactly room for that on this list; having another way to do that would be nice, though, since with 200 dwellers it's hard to know who is still using early game gear (or none at all) so you can start getting them upgrades.

One option for making equipment changes easier would be to allow players to tap on the item in the main inventory screen to see a list of the dwellers that is organized with the lowest damage or quality item first; tapping on the dweller would equip them with the new item. The menu wireframe for the Weapon Upgrade menu would look something like this:

A rough wireframe of the potential Weapon Upgrade menu.

Similar menus could be made for Outfits and Pets, although their organization method would, of course, need to be different; for Outfits it would most likely need to be organized by the dominant S.P.E.C.I.A.L. attribute, while Pets would probably just show the dwellers without one first. The background color of the area displaying the item would be tinted to show the items rarity and the arrow should be colored to indicate whether or not this would be considered an upgrade.

Inventory management

Speaking of inventory management, that can be a bit of a pain. The inventory menus are laid out simply enough and each individual item card looks great and communicates the info quickly and easily, but they're not very well organized; it just displays the most recent items added first on the list, but this is less useful than a list organized by item benefit. For example, Weapons are organized as shown below:

It sure looks nice, but let's try to keep things organized a bit more.

While there are only three types of Weapons here, making it easy to see which ones are better, when there are more than about 5 Weapons the rest are displayed to the right or left of what you're currently viewing, making it difficult to know what you should get rid of and what you should keep. The easiest way to organize Weapons is to look at Average Damage (AD); in this case, the Enhanced Assault Rifle has an AD of 9, the Flamer 15.5, and the Hardened Flamer 16.5. If you had a lot of Weapons in your inventory but you knew the lowest AD Weapons were always first, you could start to sell or scrap them to free up space knowing they were worse than the Weapons later in the inventory.

Outfits are a bit more complicated, but I would organize them by the total number of S.P.E.C.I.A.L. bonus points, so an Outfit with +2 Strength and +1 Perception (3 total S.P.E.C.I.A.L.) would be considered worse than an Outfit with +3 Perception and +2 Agility (5 total S.P.E.C.I.A.L.). While not a perfect system for earlier in the game, this is definitely preferable in the later game; I'm at a point where I don't really need an Outfit in my inventory unless it's above 5 total S.P.E.C.I.A.L. or is a flat +5 to a specific attribute, so a system like this would streamline inventory management.

The next inventory issue is Junk; this was added recently when Crafting rooms became a thing and I think it adds a great layer to the game. The issue is trying to keep Junk from filling up your inventory since it can come in at a ridiculous pace. As you can see from the image below, you can build up a collection quickly:

That's a lot of junk...

The issue is that there is no limit to the number of each Junk item you can collect and you only have two options when you go to sell them off: one at a time or all of it at once:

What if I only want to sell enough to get down to 25 in my inventory? That's a lot of unnecessary tapping.

There either needs to be a way to set a cap for maximum number of each Junk type you can have, based on quality (for example, in the Settings be able to limit all of the Common/Green Junk items to 50 and the Rare/blue Junk Items to 100 and they game will automatically sell any of an item acquired past that point), or a way to sell a specific number of the items (for example, allow the player to choose how many of the item to sell using arrows).

Exploring the Wasteland

The best way to get new items and increase the strength of your Vault and Dwellers is to have them Explore the Wasteland. As far as I know, the only way to do this is to drag a Dweller from inside your Vault to the Wasteland outside; this works just fine in the early game, but later on it's a long way to have to drag a Dweller if they're at the very bottom of your Vault, so it would be nice to have a button on the individual Dweller status screen to send them exploring.

Another issue with Exploring the Wasteland is when you go to check up on the status of your Dwellers; much like your inventory, when you tap on the Wasteland to see their status it just displays the most recent person you sent out first:

The display when first tapping on the Wasteland.

While this screen is laid out nicely and gives you great info for that particular Dweller's status, the problem with this is it's rare that you need to interact with the most recent Dweller sent out; most of your interaction with Dwellers in the Wasteland is with the ones who have been out there for awhile and have run out of Stimpaks. The game will not automatically recall a Dweller who runs out of Stimpaks and will instead just let them die; when you tap the Wasteland, almost every time you want to see who is low or out, but instead of listing them in order of least Stimpaks first, you have to tap through a number of other Dwellers first to find who you're looking for:

At the time of taking screenshots, the Dweller above was my explorer with the lowest Stimpak count; if you look towards the upper left of the image, you can see he's explorer 12 of 25, so I had to tap through 11 other explorers just to get to him, and then tap through more to find out I didn't have to worry yet because he was the one with the fewest Stimpaks. The menu is already organized so it displays the exploring Dwellers first and the recalled ones last, so it really shouldn't be difficult to add this additional layer of organization.

Vault Combat

Random events, such as fires, Radroach invasions, and attacks from Raiders and even Deathclaws come up on a semi-regular basis; these are mostly fun and a nice way to mix up the potential monotony of managing your vault, but there are a few issues with the way it works.

To keep you actively involved in the event, you need to either give hurt Dwellers a Stimpak to heal them during the battle or drag them out of the room and replace them with a healthy Dweller to continue the fight. There are 3 issues with this method:

  1. When one of these events happens in a room, all Dwellers in that room are supposed to have a health bar pop-up over their head so you can easily see their status; sometimes these bars don't pop-up at all and if the Dweller moves during the Event the bar goes away (you can see that illustrated in the image above, with the Dweller on the left having no health bar because he's in the middle of moving.
  2. Sometimes Dwellers stand in nearly the same position, making difficult to tap on them or see both health bars since one usually is almost directly on top of the other.
  3. If your device starts experiencing any kind of performance lag, whether it's due to the in-game event itself or some background function on the device interfering, the game will slow down and usually prevent you from interacting, followed by the game quickly catching up to itself; this can often result in quick downward spikes in a Dwellers health, sometimes leading to death.

Some of these problems are unrelated to the game itself and probably tied into the device being used, but that's something that needs to be considered when designing a game. One way to address the first two issues is to have a list of the Dwellers involved in the event, much like the current room Dweller list, sit on the left side of the screen and tapping on the Dweller will give them a Stimpak. The third issue comes up on my device regularly and has made it so I won't play the Survival Mode of the game (Dweller deaths are permanent in Survival Mode), but there isn't a way to use UI/UX to change that without modifying the game design itself.

Gotta Collect 'em All

The final bit about the UI/UX I want to discuss ties into my near-OCD need to collect everything in games. Fallout Shelter helps with this by having the Survival Guide, which will show all of the Weapons, Outfits, Pets, and Legendary Dwellers you've collected; the only issue is that when you get a new item, it's virtual pin sits wherever it usually goes on the menu, which can take awhile to scroll through since these lists are well over 100 items; new pins should always be shown first in the menu to speed up the process.

This is how the Survival Guide looks when you first open it; see how both the Weapons and the Outfits sub-tabs show that there are new pins in there, but to see the new items you have to swipe to the right, which takes quite awhile given you can only see 8 items at a time and there are 175 total for the Weapons alone.

Additionally, in the new crafting rooms for Weapons and Outfits there is no indicator if you've previously made or collected an item; if it's an item that can only be crafted and you just got the plans for it that's easy enough to figure out, but you can collect plans for items that can also be obtained through Exploring, so it's possible you'll have a plan for a lootable item that you haven't gotten yet, and there's no easy way to figure that out. A simple fix is to have a small Survival Guide icon show up somewhere on the crafting menu for the items you've already collected; if you're setting up a game with collectibles it's only courteous to have these kinds of things to help with the process.

One idea of many for how to display when an item has previously been collected.

Wrap-up

That's about it for Fallout Shelter; there are a few minor issues I didn't cover, such as menu buttons that are too small (I have a Nexus 6, so not exactly a tiny screen, and I still have issues tapping some buttons), but overall the UI/UX design was pretty well done. No game is perfect, but the things I've listed above all fall into the minor category of issues; if you haven't given Fallout Shelter a try yet and you're looking for something to do on those random down moments, I can't recommend it enough.