Saturday, 8 September 2007

I can still see my screen!

What with it being a new game to me, I've been fighting with the City of $dudes interface recently. Its pretty slick, and reasonably customisable, although nowhere near the extent of WoW's 'mod it until it feels right' culture. Everything has its own little 'show this' button, a docking toggle, resizing nubbin, move doohicky, and so on, which facilitates customisation, even if it does take a little extra room on the screen (and every little bit helps).

I have one bugbear with it though: The minimap.

Its huge! Its like a great big black magnet, appearing spontaneously in my gaze whenever I try to do anything! Even on the smallest it can be resized to, its bigger than the minimaps on the other games I've played, although it is vastly superior in terms of what it does: it shows everyone in your team, their facing, vendors, trainers, contacts, mission locations, everything.

Guild Wars is similarly customisable, but hidden under a couple of menu selections. Its also very slick, although the dialogues tend to annoy me for their largness. The inventory screen takes up the entire left quarter of the screen (or so), taking to a vendor takes up the entire right third of the screen (or so).

On both of these, the default is pretty good, and I've not changed them much (CoX's minimap aside)

But they both have one major issue (in my opinion): division of focus.

You have to know which of your abilities are on cooldown (as they all have one). You have to know you're targetting the right enemy. You have to keep an eye on your energy/endurance, so you don't get the dreaded 'not enough rage' sound (not an issue on my GW character as yet, due to my build). Watching my own health bar so I don't squish to easily. I'd hate to think about being a healer and having even more bars to watch.

Unfortunately, these things are more mechanics issues than UI issues, but they're still issues. I had some similar issues in WoW, but because of the mod culture, I ended up with something that solved some of them. In short, my health and mana and my enemies health and mana were displayed around my character model, and the only abilities I had displayed prominently (looking back on it, in almost exactly the same position as GW) where those with a cooldown and those with a unique range that frequently got used. And although the default UI has quite a few issues, due to the way it can be modified, they don't count quite as badly as they would otherwise.

I think part of the overall problem of UIs, is that they're slaves to the gameplay: until gameplay is streamlined (not dumbed down) enough, the UI will always be quite a mess of things all trying to grab your attention at once. And I don't want to be looking at bars and buttons, I want to look at my character beating the begubbins out of some enemy.

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