Wednesday, July 06, 2011

User Interface : Comment

Klepsacovic at Troll Racials Are Overpowered did a post on the User Interface. Once again, I started with a comment that turned into something more.

The default UI will get you going. It's also great for those who have trained themselves to ignore it, and just go with pure keymappings and macros.

I've got a friend who got sick of the UI tussle on patch day. It interfered prep for raiding, or for the actual raiding itself. Stuck with the default UI for all of WotLK. He might have done it parts of TBC, as well. I'm not sure how pure he was with that lack of UI mods (he probably still had Omen and some sort of threat meter), but I think for unit frames, and action bars, he just went naked (or, you know, what Blizzard gave us).

Conversely, I'm a horrible clicker. I'll use keymappings after a while, but some times my brain just can't remember things, and moving from alt to alt doesn't help. So I end up having all the abilities, consumables and quest items on the action bar, where I can see them. And then, right next to that, are my unit frames, because eye movement from my action bars (at the bottom centre), to the default location for unit frames (top left), is a strain, when it happens as much as it does.

I've seen postings who have done more study about where eye placement should be, and they all seem to say that eyes should be in the middle of the screen, and radiate out from there. That's where the action is. But the action is also in the chat window for instructions, or emotes, it's in the party or raid frames from debuffs, flailing health, and is that guy even targeting the boss, it's in the action bars for how long you've got left on that cooldown, or abilities that are triggered via other abilities and the RNG, it's in the mini map to show that re-enforcements are coming to your BG base. And that's just while in combat.

Then there's all the other stuff. Professions, training, AH, mail, guilds, latency, inventory, friend and ignore lists, reputations, quest tracking, buffs, debuffs, and more.

Blizzard has provided so much information (and sometimes not enough), and it's all over the shop. I'm very glad they've allowed customisation of the UI via addons. If it didn't, it might not have the success that it enjoys today, or at least the community that surrounds it.

Right, now that I've got all that off my chest, I'm re-reading the original post, because I'm sure I was countering something at some point. Ah yes, not liking the customizable UI as a band-aid to get the job done. Calling it a lie. Well, it's not a lie, it's a tool. That's what makes us humans. Usage of tools, and making our own tools, and opposable thumbs, and discussing stuff on the internet! Sure, usage of these tools won't make you a great tank, or a great healer or a great at dealing damage, but it will help to lower the barrier to success.

The greatest addon I've every used to help with a particular role is LifeBloomer. During my resto druid phase, this addon made managing the particulars of druid HoTs easier to manage. Keeping an eye on a colour coded sliding bar that takes latency into account was a lot easier that watching a number panel count down. And then placement of that on the screen where I needed it most (just to the middle right of center) was also awesome, as opposed to the top left corner of the screen. This method of healing also taught me the value of mouse over macros. Just hover over that unit, and hit that key mapping. Much easier that targeting a friendly (via mouse or key), and then hitting a key.

Healbot was a close second, and helped me with pally healing during TBC. Though I think I might still have been clicking targets in and via Healbot, then clicking abilities. Or maybe I was just doing combinations of left and right clicks with modifiers.

If we wanted to discuss UI being a lie, we could go back to my rant on Assassins Creed 2, and the lack of UI options it gives in certain parts of the game. You can also draw the parallels with vehicular combat in WoW, where your characters abilities are ignored, and you're forced to learn a new set of abilities. At least Blizzard gave us dailies, or 5 man dungeons with similar vehicles in which you can practice this style of play before fronting up for the raid.

When I see someone play, and I'm in a position to see what their UI is, the UI is the least interesting feature. I might be curious, but usually the playback is via YouTube, and UIs get horribly blurred to the point of scrolling text is reduce to red and green blobs, and the action buttons look the same, and if you're lucky, you can make out 10 or 25 small toons on the perimeter of a hot box of a boss with no head. Unless you're watching a nelf rogue take down a raid boss from the first tier for that expansion. That can be a good watch, and is helped greatly by putting it in fast forward mode.


  1. The tool comparison fails to take into account one other tool: the game itself. WoW (or any other game) is a tool, which in keeping with the analogy, is used to knock Fun Apples off the Fun Tree. If that tool isn't getting the job done, the problem is with the tool. The current situation is something like visiting a friend's apartment and he has all the windows open and it smells strange and he explains that the stove works just fine, but he likes having the option to customize by opening the windows, since it helps air out the gas fumes that are constantly leaking.

    Doesn't it seem a little strange to need (or at least desire) a third-party addon to be able to play effectively because of a bit of latency?

  2. Point taken. WoW is a very complex beast. Perhaps Blizzard recognised that providing a UI that will do everything for everyone was difficult to do, and perhaps not worth the investment of providing a UI that did those things out of the box. So they allowed Addon development, to allow those those things, and let someone else manage the costs of development and maintenance.

    It would be great if WoW were as simple as other games that get away with a minimal UI, like AC2. I just use that as an example, because I'm playing it at the moment, and I get to keep my eyes on the action, instead of being concerned about what abilities are available next.

    The ability and talent normalisation in Cataclysm was one of those attempts to cut down the number of spells you need to keep a track of. And you really don't need to use all of them. I guess the really interesting test is if you could play WoW with a console controller (like Xbox or PS3). I hate those things, but they're a good litmus for determining how complex a game UI really is.

    All in all, Blizzard have let us get away with addons in WoW for too long. I don't think they could get away with changing the default UI. However, if they came up with their own alternative addon pack that would provide the "ideal" UI per class or role, then that would be awesome. But I think they've done about as much as they think they need to do to get away with it.

    For me, in Australia, latency has been a bit deal in the past. I remember that 600ms used to be the norm. These days it's more like 360ms to 480ms. I did try SSH/proxy tunnelling to US based proxies for a while, and the best I got was 280ms. It made a difference at the time, because of the client/server model. But now, due to the way Blizzard changed it's network code, and potential problems with account hacking, I'm okay with the latency I get, as long as I can see it and account for it in my game play. It was a big deal for keeping rolling HoTs going, not so much for the CC/interrupt style of PvP that I did on my Prot Warrior before I finished up.