This site is meant to be a guide on gameplay mechanics and strategies, but I’ll be frivolous and talk about something else for once. Red Dragon gives you some freedom to customize how the interface looks, especially the unit labels, and in this post I’ll put down my thoughts about each option. When changing these, I strongly recommend starting a skirmish game with no opponent and checking the effect of every change as you make it – a lot of these are about picking an element size that is small but still easy to read for YOU.
The image above is a screenshot of my current settings. These won’t be ideal for everyone, in fact I think they’re bad for the majority of players. But the thing is handy as a list to go through. Starting from the bottom:
-Display unit view panel by default: The unit view panel is the thing above the plane panel. If you have it open it will display a model of whatever unit your mouse is hovering on. It takes a lot of screen space, but it allows you to parse unidentified enemy units without needing to zoom in (as long as you can recognize units by their silhouette). It doesn’t really matter which option you choose here as you can freely open/close the panel at the start of the game.
-Close production menu: With “always keep open”, you have to manually close the menu after buying units (if you want it out of the way). With the other two options, the menu closes after each purchase, which can be very annoying if you need to buy different units at once. I can only recommend “always keep open” here.
-Minimap size, HUD size: Start a skirmish and change these to see the difference for yourself. In my opinion you don’t gain enough screen space for smaller elements to be worth it, and the text and pictures become too small. The code for scaling to smaller HUDs also seems wonky – note the big distance between unit picture and availability in the image above.
-Labels size/number of lines in multiple selection: This refers to the unit labels shown on the bottom of the screen when you select stuff. I don’t see a benefit to decreasing the number of lines, if you change it and there isn’t enough space you get an ugly and unwieldy scroll bar. As for the sizes, there is a lot of choice and they can be made very big indeed, very small or small seem good to me.
-Units per company: When you group multiple units under a label, the number can be shown as a picture of 1-4 rectangles (“block”), or as a simple number. I used numbers for a long time, but they’re a bit hard to read with the game’s color scheme. The default option of “block” is better.
Merging makes it possible to select any individual unit in the formation without having to select the entire formation first.
–Labels merging: When multiple units are in the same place, their labels can merge in a big line. You can make this merging very aggressive, so it happens as soon as the labels overlap at all, or you can make it soft, only when there is lots of overlap, or you can disable it altogether. The big disadvantage of merging is that when a unit is moving past another, sometimes their labels will “shift”, merging or unmerging just as you’re trying to click them. The advantage of merging is that when you unload an infantry squad, its label will merge with its transport’s label and be easy to click, instead of getting perfectly covered. Most good players play with merging disabled, but I like having it on.
–Labels size, vertical margin and icons: There are units everywhere during games, and their labels take up a lot of space, so keeping them as small as possible is good. It is doubly important if you allow merging, because bigger labels will cause merges more often. If you’re still learning the game, select a label size above minimal so you can enable unit icons – they do take up space, but they’re invaluable if you can’t instantly tell unit types from name alone.
-Icon type: Most players swear by NATO, but I disagree. Both RTS and NATO have weaknesses. Both sets contain some icons that are similar to each other – think a less extreme case of “l” vs “I” (lowercase “L” vs uppercase “i”). The similar icons are still very readable, but add to the risk of misreading or missing stuff if you only get a short glance, especially when reading big formations.
Even with 1000 hours using NATO icons, I find that the autocannon IFV stands out in this picture, but blends in when it comes to the NATO screenshot above.
With RTS, the icons for MANPAD and ATGM squads resemble each other. For NATO, IFVs and APCs use the same icon except for a small line on the side, and are also pretty similar to recon vehicles and infantry squads. This latter set of similarities is a bigger flaw – formations of APCs and IFVs are very common and the presence or absence of IFVs makes a significant difference to threat level, and it is useful to have marders use a maximally different icon from browning boxes. There’s still reason to pick NATO if you want authenticity, but gameplay-wise my advice is to use RTS icons.