Instead of my customary cut & paste introduction to the concept of WYSBPR, today I thought I would throw out a thank you to Aenerb a friend of mine from my guild Eye of the Manastorm on the Shadefallen server. When he submitted my series of posts to the reddit rift feed, I doubt he realized that it would actually grow legs and run (and I honestly didn’t even know about the reddit feed in the first place). Yesterday my readership went from an average of 60-90 unique readers a day to over 700. Reminds me of the few times I got featured on wow insider, certainly skews the analytics a bit.
Episode 05: The User Interface
For some time I had been a wow tourist. As a new game came out, I would wander off and play it in alpha, beta, and very rarely release but always return home to wow. The very first make or break component of any of these games was the user interface. If the UI felt obtrusive, and difficult to manage it was not long before I quit playing. The ones I have played for any length of time (WoW, Everquest II, Warhammer Online) all had one thing in common, a UI that was easily modifiable by the player.
Above is an image of the default Rift user interface elements. I created a new character for the purpose of screenshots, so no worries folks I have not gone to the dark side and swapped factions. For the most part, the above is also the source of the majority of “it’s just like wow” complaints, because visually the UI elements do look a lot like WoW and LoTRO went out and had a lovechild. All the stock modern MMO constructs are there, the mini-map, the hotbar, the floating chat window, the bag bar, and for some reason all games seem to top-left dock the player fames.
Breaking The Mold
Personally I have never liked the stock MMO layout. The unit frames for example seem completely foreign for them to be in the upper left corner. When you are playing an MMO all of the action seems to happen at your character, so to me, having them player and target frames in the center of the screen makes more logical sense. Less time spent looking away from your character, less lag in your reactions. As a result I have very specific desires for what my UI should look like. While it seems horribly wrong I will illustrate the point with what my raid interface looked like in wow before I quit raiding and left the game.
To get things the way I wanted them in wow, was doable, but it meant I had to run over 50 different add-ons to get the various effects I wanted. Each time a major patch would come out, it meant the long and annoying process of figuring out exactly what was broken, finding updates and dealing with the fact that your UI settings seemed to get corrupted on a regular basis. On top of that there was always the fact that anytime you attempted to get support, the immediate first response was to blame any add-ons you were using.
I am very happy to say the era of the add-on is finally behind me. In Rift I was able to very quickly, a few moments after starting the game move things around and change the UI to look the way I wanted it to without any external modification. If you look at the two screenshots, the layout is pretty similar. All the key elements I wanted from WoW add-ons are here, and overall I feel like the effect is much cleaner. Granted the screenshot above is pretty busy considering we were working on an invasion boss.
Making It Happen
Above is a picture of the ‘Edit Layout” interface inside of Rift. Since I am keyboard oriented I acces it by hitting escape to bring up the options menu, and then choosing the “Edit Layout” option. This places the game into a mode where you can move components of your user interface around. The concept is pretty simple, each UI element has a bounding box drawn around it, and you can drag them around the screen to place them where you like.
This is by no means a brand new concept to the MMO world. I can remember while playing Warhammer Online thinking their UI layout editor was extremely elegant. Rift however goes one step further. One of the big problems with moving things from their default places, is that as the windows grow, they often overlap and cover up necessary parts of other windows. Rift has solved this by allowing users to dock windows together.
If you notice above some of the windows show a thick golden highlight alone one or more of the edges. This denotes that these windows have been docked together. For example if you move the window labeled “Group Portrait 1” in the above image, it will also move all the other group portraits and pet portraits keeping the group enact. This means as your windows grow, your initial UI design stays neatly together.
While you cannot see it in this image, in addition to docking windows together, you can dock elements to the edges of the screen. When you drag a window close to the edge, a green highlighted edge will appear. This means that window will be docked to that edge of the screen. Currently you can only dock a window to one edge at a time, but the nice feature of doing this means as you change resolutions, your layout will remain roughly the same.
Going Even Further
One of the biggest frustrations that comes with running with a non-stock layout in most games is figuring out a way to replicate your design to other characters. In WoW, you had to go through the process of copying LUA files from one character directory to another. In other games, I never actually found a way and just had to try my best to replicate things by hand. Trion thought ahead and included an elegant way of doing this out of the box.
Again being keyboard oriented, I usually access the options menu by hitting the escape key. From this menu choose the Import option, as shown in the above montage image, which will bring up the import settings interface. On the left side of the screen is a listing of all your characters with some pertinent information about them and on the left a series of checkboxes. This will let you import key bindings, ui layout, macros, chat settings, game settings, and misc settings from the target character to your currently logged in character. When you hit the import button you are given a prompt, also shown, that warns you any changes will be permanent.
Now if we return to my dwarven placeholder, you can see that I have applied the UI settings from my warrior Belghast, and the UI layout has changed to match my preferences. Several minutes of awkward cut and paste work done in seconds with a nice clean UI. One of the weird things to get used to with Rift is the fact that, ALL of your primary settings are stored with your account information on the server. I’ve never played a game in the past that had done this, so it was equal parts shocking and awesome when I logged in for the first time from my laptop and everything about Belghast was set up the way I wanted it. The only glitch however was that my laptop and desktop run at different resolutions. So as a result I use different UI scaling settings on each machine.
After a few minutes of digging around I found a simple and elegant solution for this. Rift has a pair of commands, /exportui <filename> and /importui <filename>, that help to bridge this gap between my systems. Doing an exportui, dumps all of your user interface settings to a file on your hard drive, and doing the importui command refreshes those settings from the file. So when I log into my desktop I type /importui desktop, and when I log into my laptop I type /importui laptop to quickly scale things to fit either machine.
One of the neat benefits of this system, might not be apparent at first. Since these commands dump and import your settings from a file on your file system, it will allow you to trade UI layouts with your friends. Currently there is not much that can be done in the UI that could not be replicated quickly by another user. However since they have already added additional features to the user interface since release, I can see at some point the level of customization will allow users to create a very unique look and feel they might want to share.
Without a doubt, this is the most robust user interface in an MMO to date. No other MMO ever comes close to letting its users have this much control over their environment without installing third party modifications. Currently Trion has hinted that add-ons might be something for the future, but with an interface this well designed I am not sure exactly what can be improved upon. If they do choose to do add-ons, it would be nice to see them plug-in cleanly into the existing interface, instead of replace it.
I can imagine a time where the user might be able to browse in game a list of available third party add-ons and snap them in without having to hit external sources. An internal “app store” would allow Trion to assure the quality of the add-ons, and keep them from doing anything terribly exploitative. This way add-ons that do more than re-organize data, can be nipped in the bud before actually having an effect on the community. As a reformed add-on junkie, it is my hope that Rift stays clean and free of “make or break” third party features.