Look and Feel

I’ve recently made brief return forays into 3 games’ Free Trials: EQ1, EQ2 and WoW. WoW has certainly changed in ways I wouldn’t have expected – there is a little more substance to levelling up but the divides between expansions are jagged and harsh; at level 58 player lore is “dump every frickin’ quest you have and go to Outland (Burning Crusade), and then repeat at 68 when you can go to Northrend (Lich King)”. EverQuest 1 was unrecognizable to me while EQ2 just didn’t quite look the way I remembered it.

What surprised me was which game I chose to play, and my gut tells me it came down to one simple thing: Looks.

Warcraft has a bad rap amongst long-time MMOers as being “the cartoon game”. Yes, the olde Azeroth zones are cartoonish; but there’s a strategy there I think. The more closely you try to replicate perfection the more cues you give the human eye to detect the imperfections. WoWs art avoids straight lines and accurate depictions allowing your eye to generalize. EverQuest two uses more accurate details and as a result it can be easier to notice that curves aren’t curved but are a series of straight shapes. Where EQ2 tries to draw an arch with 16 angles that are mathematically precise, WoW clubs in 2 or 4 lines artistically and which when you don’t focus on the arch directly will perturb your perception less.

In the expansions, they’ve used more polys and past experience and while the styling is somewhat the same, the zones look better and better. In the Lich King zones the artwork is quite impressive and, I am surprised to say, out does EQ2 – instead of expending their polys on the details of individual items they have a great population which in turn softens the brains focus and gives – am I really saying this – a greater suspension of belief!

But that’s still not it.

My half hour in EQ1 left me asking one question: Has anyone from Sony tried this? The EQ1 free trial is awful. You log in to a screen full of windows. Pet windows, bard windows, caster windows, every single window that the UI has to offer is on-screen. I was left feeling lost and confused. The important stuff that would have guided me thru the tutorial was obscured by clutter; key windows were sized poorly so that details weren’t available (I could tell all kinds of things about my first quest except what it was because the quest journal window is sized so that you can see when the quest was arrived, when it was completed, what type of quest and other details, but the actual quest name itself was beyond the edge of the window).

And everything on screen looked like lazy coder art. There was no finesse to the UI. I concluded that you are expected to download a custom UI and that SOE has declared UI-artwork SEP (Someone Elses Problem).

I retreated in haste, not wanting my old memories of EQ1 tarnished.

So I played some more Warcraft. Clearly, Blizzard have learned from the addons people built and have implemented some of the more popular features themselves. I was surprised, however, to discover that Warcraft is now actually relatively “hardcore” when it comes to questing: you aren’t given a bullet-pointed list of quest steps or GPS co-ordinates for quest steps or anything. The mini-map will show you !s for quest givers and ?s for quest turn ins nearby but that’s all (why is it not ? for someone asking you to do a quest and ! for someone you have finished?)

But the default UI does at least have solid, pleasant artwork.

I seem to recall the EQ2 UI being of comparible ilk. I was quite shocked then to find it is a mundane, bland treatment. Simple yellow lines, blue backgrounds. It looks, yet again, like coder art – not quite so lazy. Unfortuantely for me, I also ran into a bug: when I logged in it presented me with several windows including one asking if I wanted to load an old characters UI settings. When I said yes, the UI refreshed but without the quest window I was being offered (a free trial quest: reach level 20 in 14 days). This quest window was now lost to me and as a result I couldn’t take any new quests until I relogged. Fortunate that I figure it might be that and relogged instead of just quitting.

EQ2 would have been easier to re-figure out if the tool-tips were more obvious or were explained to you. Piling them up several at a time would help too – especially since they did so out of order.

Is the UI treatment really important?

Think about this for a moment: The game is behind the UI. A sloppy or lackluster UI treatment sits infront of your game world and even once it retreats to your peripheral vision, it still affects how you focus on the game world beyond it. When I turned off the EQ2 UI and ran around for a while, the game world quickly started to sit better with my eye, but then I turned it back on again and it started to look more like one of those amateur, freebie MMOs that are floating around at the moment.

I was starting to figure that Sony just don’t have the ability… And then I tried Legends of Norath.

EQ2 UI (Left) vs Legends UI (middle) vs WoW’s default UI (someone elses screenshot):

eq2_000024 lon wowdefui

Clearly Sony has some kick-ass UI artists. They just aren’t interested in tasking them with making EQ1 or EQ2 playable :( Or perhaps they’re just all working on the in-game trading card game engine instead.

I haven’t spent a great deal of time back in EQ2, but I’m finding it chafing a little:

– Bland, lackluster UI makes the game feel neglected,
– The fae characters we’re playing have no footfall/movement sounds leaving it a very disembodied experience,
– Click fest – I’ve forgotten all the handy shortcuts that are tucked away someplace like fast looting,
– Frame rates are down from last time I played, despite having stepped up my vid card by 2 generations, bumped my RAM from 1Gb DDR -> 4Gb->DDR2 1200, and gone from a 1.8Ghz single core to a 2.6Ghz dual core.

The in-game voice-chat though … very nice. Clearly someone enjoyed implementing that as it’s very nicely done.

“You can talk” and “Right, and Battleground Europe is the pinnacle of UI look and feel”: Yes, valid comments. I’m not writing this oblivious to the fact that BE is not sex-on-legs in terms of its UI. If you’re smarter than the average bear you’ll understand that and understand that. It’s a rare week when I don’t complain about the fact that our loading screen can’t manage to put the progress bar in the progress bar holder, or when I don’t remind someone that for some reason our texture loading system and our texture rendering system sometimes have problems sizing correctly so that you see stray pixels – which are actually the other edge of the texture being wrapped.

14 Comments

If you’re spelunking free trials, I suggest Dungeons and Dragons Online. It’s a real fun game that got overlooked due to a buggy start and some D&D baggage.

And what I love about it from the free trial perspective is that it’s not like a regular MMO. There’s no running around looking for quests and harvesting plants. It’s 100% dungeon crawling.

I thought D&DO was great, but it came with the table-top notion of the group – the band of adventures gathered for pizza and cola. When you move that online, the band is disconnected and it falls apart. Beyond that, I just found it a little much RPG for me – too many stats confuse and scare frozen coder caveman :(

If there’s a LOTRO free trial that may be my next stop. Possibly SWG.

I’m waiting on Darkfall Online atm, Nothing free there. They chose to meter they’re release so, if you don’t get in a purchase within 5 min its sold out and have to wait for the next day.

I’m looking for something different…still haven’t found it…

I am trying pirate of the burning sea atm, its ok enough to keep interest for a month or so maybe but its not long term mmo i don’t feel

I would say LOTRO is well worth trying for its wonderful landscapes and well-done introductory/tutorial quests. In the end it felt a little too grindy for me.

Realms of Magic might also be worth a look–it’s F2P with an item shop, and is obviously inspired by WoW quite a bit. (There are some aspects I like better than WoW.)

Hey, I just came across this article while doing some research into various MMO’s. I’ve actually been doing something quite similar. The last few weeks have been spent attempting to install various FREE Trial MMO’s like EQ1,2, and a neat MMO that features itself as the first gore MMO called Requiem Bloodymare.

I wouldn’t say that it is all that though. It is a completely free MMO, which is huge for me, and it happens to be quite polished graphically. The problem stems from the poor class choices, skills, as well as not having the ability to invert your mouse. That’s what we gamers tend to expect from a free game though.

The best game that has got my interest right now would have to be Aion. It packs the best graphics in any MMO to date, as well as having every character achieve wings as a level 9 quest. I watched some videos of it on youtube and was completely impressed. Apparently the game has already been released in Korea and we can expect it 3-4th quarter. I have a lot more info on this game but I would rather just say this….

If you guys are ever playing an MMO and need another group member, I would love to join up. I am willing to be any class that will benefit the group. It’s just been awhile since a group of people that enjoy having a fun time exploring, leveling, goofing off, and of course making a unique and exciting group.

My hopes are on Infinity.

We have ‘guild’ in LOTRO with WWIIOL players. We are about Level 20ish but have a near level 40 and our own TS server for it. Well worth a look. I felt the first levels a grind and the fun happens once you get to Bree and beyond.

The kinship makes it much better imho.

beautiful game art.

The UI of WoW is certainly a lot more simplistic and it does a job.

EQ2 has had a lot bolted onto it and quite a lot of the game has got lost within the UI, which is a shame.

I’ve played EQ2 for as long as I’ve played WWIIOL and neither UI is super intuitive. The Custom UI’s of EQ2 help a lot (see ProfitUI Reborn).

I’ve recently taken a long break from WWIIOL and coming back to the game is a difficult task. The UI is not intuitive and finding the fights isn’t easy.

Brigades seem disassociated from the game since players became disassociated from the brigades themselves and jump from town to town looking for a tidbit of action that is on offer.

Organised squads have it in spades, but you shouldn’t have to be in a squad to find action and a UI redesign is certainly something that is needed.

I like those “linked” chat things, XML stuff i believe… like quests, items and people in WOW.

Come to think of it:
Why doesn’t ww2ol support it?
eg. $miss – chat-variable that now prints the current brigade/mission/missionleader..
It could be a clickable link while on the map screen that instantly in one click takes you to the Mission screen in question.

Because – and listen, this is just between the two of us, don’t tell anyone I said this, our UI truly blows.

Both Rickb and I had hardons for getting the old hard-coded UI replaced, most of the commercial UI systems we looked at got nixed on platform/opengl/compatability issues and the one outstanding offering (ScaleForm) got weighed was Flash based and we wanted something XML oriented – Rick thought it would be an easy thing to leverage Mozilla’s XUL to get us a UI working.

I imagine he was expecting more help from me – but I could never get code off of him and he was largely working on the Mac so I became a backseat driver which further helped douse his fervor. At some point he kicked into “just get it working mode” and it stopped short of a lot of the features that would really have made it a milestone – for instance, it doesn’t use style sheets. There’s no XSLT support so every component is hand-crafted with all of the attributes supplied on an instance-by-instance basis , and since there are no stylesheets, that’s a lot of properties, and it means that the xml and javascript and code are often full of specific-instance sets of sizes, colors, settings etc…

Ramp isn’t a big fan of stylesheets anyway, I still haven’t persuaded him that a large portion of his day-to-day suffering is the result of a failure to compartmentalize data, metadata and presentation.

He likes not having to refer to a second file to see why something isn’t displaying right. It’s a very bottom-up approach. Sure – at a glance you can tell exactly how a piece of the content is intended to be displayed, but also every piece of the content becomes hand-crafted with manual responsibility for maintaining any kind of color scheme.

Maybe I’m just weird but to me color schemes are important. I find it jarringly disconcerting when red in one part of a system means “death, die, avoid, seek medical assistance” and somewhere – not even on the same screen/page – it means “free sex with Jessica Alba”…

Once you start getting as many different possible uses of color as our UI has obviously it becomes difficult to maintain a consistent scheme. At that point, you need to step back and come up with a theme that can be reused across domains – for instance, a red border on a town name or a mission means “attack” but once you spawn in you have two waypoints – green = target, red = origin?

Hey Oli. Totally agree with you on the color scheme thing, as how it should be universal across all of the windows/screens/menus/etc. Not just colors but with buttons as well, like not switching OK and Cancel around in every other dialog. (some recent frustrations at work here)

These problems have to be with your computer, because I have never seen these problems when I played.

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