The UX of Eon Altar Featured

18 Jan 2017 Written by 
Published in UX/UI Design
Eon Altar started life as a tabletop RPG that was first imagined and designed by Joey Wiggs (Lead Programmer at Flying Helmet) along with Luke Reynolds (Studio Manager.) They introduced the other founders of the company to this concept, and over many years they worked together to build the world and story telling, through play and design, of Tarnum. After many years working on the tabletop format, and a lot of shared experience working in the game industry, the decision was made to bring the world from imagination to a more realized form, as a video game. They set out to recreate the experience of a tabletop RPG, with specific attention to the social and co-operative elements, in a format that could be more accessible to those overwhelmed or unfamiliar with traditional role-playing games.
Before I joined the project, Eon Altar's first digital incarnation was as an experience shared around a large touch based PC or iPad. Players would manage their characters on their mobile device (their character sheet) while issuing commands directly on the central shared touch device, in turn based format. Unfortunately, the team discovered that the turn based nature lead to a very slow experience and players were easily distracted by messages and other alerts on their phones. The end result was an experience that was typically anti-social and was quite the opposite of the goals that the team had set out to achieve.

A Different Approach

I was brought on to help shape a new version of the game that better captured the vision of a unique shared social game, and to provide an experience that would really engage players. To do this, I made a few suggestions:
  1. The usage of mobile phones needed to be more prevalent in the control, management, and interaction of characters. This would help the phone be an integral part of the experience, and not a distraction.
  2. The combat and exploration needed a more real time element to it.
  3. Active controls using the mobile phone had to take advantage of the medium's touch capabilities, it wasn't good enough to simply create a virtual game-pad (which always feels poor on touch devices, due to the lack of tactile feedback and precise control.) It was vital that this was intuitive enough that a player's attention could remain on the central device during active segments.
In addition, at this time a decision was made to move away from the central touch PC or iPad to a more standard couch based experience in front of a television.

Mobile Devices Are Central To The Experience

In order to make the phone a central piece, it was first important that we move away from simply seeing it as a character sheet. The phone would be the place where all interactions with your character would take place. This included:
  • Direct control in exploration and combat
    • More on this later
  • Inventory management
    • Including options to trade gear and items with other players
  • Hero progression
    • Skill trees that provided players with multiple upgrade paths that they could follow
  • Dialogue/conversations
    • Dialogue cues are presented on each device, with players encouraged to speak the lines out loud (when speaking to a group.) Players can give their characters whatever style of voice or inflection that they wish, and it helps add a fun element to the experience that gives player's more agency over their character.
    • This also added the option for players to be able to have secret conversations with NPCs and other players. Leaving it up to the player to decide whether to share this information with the group or keep it a secret.
      • This created more freedom for players to role play characters however they wanted.
  • Lore encyclopedia
    • Unlocked as players discovered things in the environment

Real Time Action

The first iteration of Eon Altar featured a turn based system in which every player took a turn separately, during both exploration and combat. In combat, enemies would also take turns in queue. This lead to a very slow experience. However, the team didn't want to loose the turn based element, as the strategic portion was very important to the design. So I suggested that we use a hybrid system, with real time control being used for exploration and a phase based system for combat. For exploration in real time, a camera system that could keep track of, and scale with 4 different players was created.  For combat, when players encounter enemies, the screen state changes and there are a number of visual queues that indicate this new situation. During the player phase, players are able to issue commands to their characters simultaneously. Once all players have chosen their actions, the game switches to the enemy phase, and the enemies make their moves. Once this is completed, the phase switches to the players again and the cycle repeats until all enemies or players are dead.

Control Through Mobile

An early concept placed the center point for control in the middle of the screen, with player direction dictated by either swiping from the center, or holding a point around the center of the screen to indicate a movement direction. We found that using the exact center of the screen made it awkward to hold most phones and use the thumb to issue directions, so we shifted the position down to the bottom two thirds of the screen instead. This layout also allowed us to support right handed and left handed people without issue. Aside from this shift in position, this early concept proved effective and became the default control scheme for the finished product, which was rather surprising for me as I had anticipated that more iteration would be required. Not that I was complaining, mind you.



A player ring, unique in design for each character, appears on both the touch device and below the character model on the TV. When a player drags the ring around on their phone, the corresponding ring for their character moves in tandem on the TV. It is used to target items and NPCs in exploration, and highlight enemy or ally targets in combat. Players can also set a movement direction by tapping and holding their finger in a position around the center, and the player character will then begin running in that direction on the TV. In combat, once players have selected a target, a context wheel appears around the central control point. This ring will populate with all the actions a player can use on that target. Targets can be enemies, allies and environmental elements. The context wheel will only populate with actions appropriate for the target. Common actions like use or interact are always found in the same place. With a little practice, players don't need to look at their phones to issue actions. A simpler form of this context wheel is found in exploration, when players wish to interact with an item or talk to an NPC.



Getting this right required a great deal of tweaking, testing, gathering feedback and iteration. Early on I experienced a fair bit or resistance to the idea of the basic control scheme (center point with swiping), with some members of the team insisting that we revert to the virtual game-pad instead. However once we were able to properly test the concept, the idea of a virtual game-pad was forgotten. It taught me the value of sticking to one's convictions, and how important this is when in unexplored territory. Everyone on the team worked exceptionally hard, and it would appear that hard work paid off.


As of this writing, the game maintains a very positive rating on Steam. The companion controller app, has a rating of 4.6 on Google Play and a 4 star rating on iOS. Most players mention that they enjoy the unique control scheme, and the social experience the game encourages. For all the challenges we had to overcome, and how unique this approach was, I must say I'm pleasantly surprised by the reception. As a designer, nothing is ever truly complete or perfect, but I'm happy that players overwhelmingly feel that what we've created provides them with a uniquely enjoyable experience they cannot get anywhere else.


For more details please visit the official website or the steam store. Or checkout this quick look made by a fan:

Stephen Cleland

I always appreciate good feedback and constructive criticism. If you have some you'd like to provide, I'd love to hear it!

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