Thousand Threads

When making something from scratch, every piece is a problem to be solved. With Thousand Threads, there were a game-full of design decisions to make. And as the sole creator, the pressure was all on me.

My role: design, art, animation, code, audio, writing

Thousand Threads

is a beautiful open world game where you deliver mail, find artifacts, help people out, and fend off folks you’ve wronged.

The Compass

Where do I go?

Early in user testing, many people were getting lost in the world, unsure of what direction to head next. To solve this problem, I designed a compass with markers that would help point users toward their goals.

Thousand Threads - Compass

A cute but flawed early version

mimicked a traditional circle compass, but included a marker to point you toward your current goal. As the you got closer to your goal, the marker would grow until it encircled the compass to show you'd reached the destination. While this worked well initially, as more goal types were added, the additional markers overwhelmed the design.

Thousand Threads - Compass Scene

The solution

was to build on a well-established design found in many large, successful open world games—the compass bar. The markers, now colored symbols, point to the precise direction of the goal. And from the circle compass, I adapted the expanding rings into filling bars. The result is something more immediately understandable for many users. And with the intuitive innovation found in the filling bars, there’s a substantial improvement to navigation.

My favorite part of the [UI] was the compass that told you how close you were to the different NPCs or markers. Though small and subtle, it played a huge part in me navigating the terrain.

— Shawn, IndieCade Juror

Overhead Markers

Is that who I’m looking for?

At any moment in Thousand Threads, you might have a handful of letters to deliver, a dozen jobs to complete, and an active robbery happening to your right. With all that going on, you need to know who each character is, what they’re up to, and why they might be currently relevant to you.

Thousand Threads - Goal and Status Markers

A tried-and-true method

for communicating a character’s relation to a goal and state is to place symbols above their head. I designed a library of icons for the various needs, along with the logic for which to display in any given situation.

Giving context

for the goal markers provides a small but significant improvement to the experience. “You helped Elmer.” “Retrieve items from Bill.” “Deliver mail to Hannah.” By integrating the explanation of the goal with the character’s name, the user is quickly reminded of what the marker means and clued in on the type of action to take.

The Equip Menu

How do I switch items?

In Thousand Threads, you have access to a handful of items you can use over the course of your adventure, such as a such as a stick, a slingshot, and a pickaxe. Only one can be held at a time, so you need a quick and easy way to swap between them.

Thousand Threads - Radial Menu Sketches

Limitations of the most common technique

for item selection, the radial menu, forced me to explore other options. With a radial menu, you use a joystick or mouse to gesture from the center toward the item in the ring you want to select. While this worked well initially, the addition of multiple ammo types for the slingshot and rifle complicated and overwhelmed the design.

A more accommodating and intuitive interface

was built in this linear selection system. On the horizontal axis, you select the item, while on the vertical you choose the ammo, when it’s available. The result is something immediately understandable to new players. And with its contextually revealed components, ammo crafting was easily integrated late in development.

The Main Menu

Should I be writing this down?

In Thousand Threads, you deliver mail across six distinct regions, take on jobs to help dozens of characters, and gather hundreds of resources for crafting and artifacts to sell. How do you track and organize all of that?

Thousand Threads - Menu Map

It’s like your in-game brain.

The main menu needs to hold everything you’ve discovered. It should organize that information into a few intuitive sections. And when data relates to something found in a separate section, there should be a link that jumps you directly to that thing.

It’s the hub for your discoveries.

In the main menu, the map shows the areas and landmarks you’ve uncovered, along with markers for your various goals. The jobs section keeps record of your progress for each job so you always know what to do next. Every person you’ve seen or heard of is found in the people section, including any details you learned about them. The inventory stores all of the items you’ve collected along the way. And the mailbag holds all the letters you’ve got to deliver. The result is an organized and efficient interface for recalling the information you’ve collected.

Outcome

How did it turn out?

Thousand Threads was a significant solo journey of learning new skills (3D art, animation, programming…), designing and redesigning, scrapping features, having a kiddo and finding time to work during her naps, writing, composing music, making sound effects, and of course, marketing. It took longer than I hoped, but the result is something substantial and, I think, beautiful.

Thousand Threads - Steam Reviews

👍 People really like it!

In fact, it has an over 90% Very Positive rating on Steam.

For me, it is rare to play something that has such a well developed sense of tone.

— Austin Walker, Vice