The little things
This has been discussed by other much more blogalicious bloggers over the last few weeks, but it bears rehashing — if only because if it somehow makes it into the collective unconscious, game design teams might finally start to consider that *how* players access the game might also be important. Assuming developers aren’t tapped in to some formic hive-mind that we can’t reach.
I’m talking about the User Interface, which includes the time spent wading through splash screens and other tick-me/click-me boxes, reading tips that are either self-referential in a truly Swedish-cinema way or else just bumblingly made (and The Seventh Seal this is not), wondering if one’s addons are working correctly (see pic above – where’s my portrait?), and just generally fighting with the system instead of PLAYING.
Not everyone is irritated with it — I think it depends on how irritable one is about User Interfaces in general, which in my case is very, because I’ve had a quasi-professional interest in UIs and users for some years now. To me, the term itself implies the need to actually think about how the user is going to use this interface. In all fairness, since I got my gratuitous jab at developers out of the way, I’m certain game designers do think about the UI and I’m sure they would make them really good if they had time. Here’s my point, though: if it were me, I would give the UI a little more priority than it is usually given. Even if it’s just enough priority to get modders on-board early enough that they can design a good UI for you, accessible to people at launch rather than a year down the line. If you’re an ethical designer-gestalt you’ll avoid swiping their best ideas and incorporating them into your own UI without a word of thanks or credit.
Uhh… where was I? Oh yeah. First and foremost, I would have liked a chat interface that was a little more clean-cut. Being able to scale the chat windows is, I think, a mistake. We can resize it already AND we have a dozen or so font+size combinations to choose from which, together, should have been fine. The scaling option confuses things. I was going to say it appears to cause refresh issues too — where text you just typed doesn’t appear in the chat window, or doesn’t fully appear, or somehow chops itself into several lines on-screen — but given the appearance of other refresh bugs (like party buff icons remaining on-screen after you’ve left a party) I’m wondering if the UI doesn’t have more general refresh issues that the chat thing is merely one part of.
Next, user-selected options should stay selected. Hell, they should actually be applied when you select them. I had to manually edit one of the settings files in order to get the “Text fade” option to stay turned off — nothing I did in-game ever affected it in the slightest. If they can’t be applied until you restart the client, the message to that effect should be clear and should be visible on every single option requiring a restart, instead of being a faffy little message that some options might not be applied right away. (Play around with the graphical options, you’ll see what I mean.) If some options require a UI-reload, that should be marked somewhere too, along with the means to do so.
I don’t want to be held by the hand all the time. I’m pretty clever, and I work a lot of stuff out for myself. However, as far as interacting WITH the game and not IN the game goes, I bloody well should have my hand held. The player/game interface shouldn’t be as opaque as it is in most games, and the only reason it is, is because it’s not given a high enough priority. Most people involved in making games are smart and know how to look things up… they’re self-taught gamers like many of the rest of us who don’t do it for a living. Which means they don’t tend to think outside their own box. If you want to reach millions of people, not all of whom are self-taught or indeed want to be, you need to make that reach smooooooth. And that means testing things like the UI on people who *aren’t* habitual beta testers, because we tend to gloss over rough patches like clunky UIs. Or else implement some real UI testing. Mythic actually tried, though I wish I had focused some of my comments on the UI-experience itself rather than individual elements thereof (eg the ToK).
Granted, no amount of great interface will keep players in a game they don’t enjoy. Consider, however, that a dozen daily irritations will turn a player off a great game if they’re persistent enough. I always enjoyed SWG, but I never, ever got past one of the most diabolically bad interfaces ever. I found Vanguard’s interface tolerable only after I’d acquired several mods to streamline my experience past the clunkiness.
Oh yeah, which reminds me. Wanting the UI to fit into the “feel” of the game is one thing. Making it visually huge and clunky because the only thematic tie-in people can find for fantasy is medieval book-look is unimaginative. In my world, the UI should be transparent — in the sense that I interact with it, but it doesn’t impact me much. I shouldn’t have to struggle with moving stuff around in my inventory (oh, so 1999). I shouldn’t have to click 18 times when 2 will do. Did you know you can shift-Leftclick to bring up a quantity window when buying things like consumables at vendors? Why isn’t THAT on one of the tip windows? Hell, why isn’t it mentioned on mouseover, or somewhere else in the vendor window?
Not only are the UIs being put out by games these days exceedingly slipshod, they’re also disgustingly unhelpful. For the love of MMOs, help me forget the UI and just play the game!