Tuesday, June 28, 2011

The Importance of a Good GUI

This past weekend, Steam launched their Free-To-Play service for several games. I picked up three MMOs that I hadn't played before at all. Since then, I've played Champions Online, Forsaken Worlds and Spiral Knights.

Of them all, I still prefer my UI in WoW on a patch day with all of my addons enabled. Yes, they're that bad. Well, almost that bad.

Champions Online

Champions Online's UI is strange. It is very difficult to find anything, other than your inventory and your abilities. I mean, those are the most important and they're in their standard places, but for the most part, it is difficult to tell what is going on.

I think the biggest issue comes from the art style. They try to keep the flavor of comic books alive in the game, so everything is outlined with nice, thick, bold, black lines. And they don't actually manage to separate art assets as effectively as they should. Borderlands did this right.

The other big issue is the color scheme for the Frames default UI. Its blue and yellow with white note text. It is a pain to look at and nothing particularly pops out, which makes it difficult to locate options.

Finally, the Map has buttons surrounding it, similar to that of the map in WoW. However, all of the icons look very similar and I can't find a way to change or hide them, so to solve the problem I don't look at the map. Then when I do, lots of tracking icons show up, and I don't know what they mean. Plus, since there are so many of them, I can't scroll over the one that I want to.

Spiral Knights

I don't think Spiral Knights really has much in the way of a UI. You have your health bar, an experience sphere, and party frames and control buttons in the upper left.

That's it. I mean, I don't need much else from the game because everything is controlled by clicking. I would like the control/option buttons to be clearer, as I didn't see where they were for quite some time.

Forsaken Worlds

This UI is fairly clean and 'standard' for a MMO. I found that it was interesting to have the control bar in the upper right, inventory, character page etc... but it worked. They also had smooth integration of their micro-transaction store, with a little message bar right above your player frame. Thus whenever you check your HP, you at least peripherally notice the advertisement.

The big issue is the map. It has the same issue as Champions Online, maybe worse. And that is what is keeping me from playing the game more. That and work.

Now that that business about UIs is finished, on to some quick reviews.

Champions Online is kind of fun, but once I got out of the starting area, I didn't fell very powerful (fighting two or three enemies and I had to wait to heal up) and the gameplay isn't anything very innovative. I do like the events that they have. They're real world events- not phased or instanced, and any players who show up get a percentage of rewards based on effort put forth. They're very similar to the Rifts in Rift, but they're timed and in a precise location so you don't have to worry about one messing up your quest progress.

I also really enjoy the transportation powers. They offer different advantages and they all are fun.

The best part of the game though is the Character Creator. Unlike in traditional RPGs you don't really gain gear in CO, so your looks don't change. What this means is that you get to customize everything- down to what your hands look like, what pattern there are on what pieces of clothing. It is a really robust and open system.

Verdict: Get it for the Character Creator. Play through the tutorial to unlock more items in the Creator. Make more champions.

Spiral Knights: I haven't played much, but from what I have seen, it seems to be very much a MMO Diablo Clone without having classes or talents- so everyone has shoot and slash. The purpose seems to be just dungeon crawling and getting more stuff. Your gear levels up, and not yourself, so purchasing upgrades requires forthought.

I can't tell if the game is going to change much, but from what I can tell it is essentially, "chain run random instances in pugs".

Verdict: Don't bother. Unless you really need something to tide you over to D3. Then get Torchlight instead.

Forsaken Worlds: I don't know if it is world or worlds, but does it really matter? No.

The game has five races and a few different classes for most of them. Spell effects are really pretty. I thought end game WoW was purty, but then I played Rift and I thought those spell effects were nice, but FW blows them both out of the water.

Another interesting mechanic is the walk-to-objective interface. In your quest log, or even on your quest track you click on the highlighted name or destination and your character will automatically begin walking to your destination. Not only do you not have press the W key to move, but you don't have to press A or D either.

I don't know if that is the best design choice, but it is an interesting one, and helpful when I'm lazy (read: "always helpful").

Verdict: Give it a shot. And then play with spell effects. I mean, even the special melee attack is pretty colors.

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