On User Interfaces

User Interface

ffxiv 2015-04-23 20-29-38-35 Last night while running dungeons I got into a lengthy discussion with my friend Damai about the user interface layout in Final Fantasy XIV.  As such I thought it might be useful to talk about my chosen layout this morning.  One of the awesome things about this game is how adaptable the stock interface is to whatever you want from it.  One of the big features that is poorly documented is that every single element can be scaled up or down.  Some of these windows that are targetable can be scaled at any time, the rest can only be scaled in user interface edit mode.  To Scale a window target it and hit Control and Home.  This toggles through a series of available sizes from tiny to massive.  As you can see in my interface I have lots of different hotbars, some of which are scaled as small as I can get them, and others a more standard size.

My layout is pretty straight forward.  I tend to set up all user interfaces the same if given the option so that my main block of hotbars is stacked in the center of my screen, with my own health information and targets health information is directly above them so that I only have to look down a slightly from the center of my screen to see it.  This is extremely important when you are dealing with encounters that transition at a certain percentage or something similar.  I snapped this photo between pulls, but what is missing on the left side of my hotbars is the available targets window showing current emnity gems.  On the right side of my hotbars is my party list which I have placed as such to make healing easier.  I am right handed, so I tend to set my heal bars on the right side of the screen to make the movement more natural.  All the other bits are largely extraneous like the lower lefthand bar includes all of my class icons allowing me to switch between classes faster.  Pretty much every game I play has a set up similar to this, but in the FFXIV user interface I feel like this is my ultimate version of that design.

Messy Interface

Wow-64 2015-04-21 20-48-48-06 Tuesday night I snapped a picture of my raiding interface in World of Warcraft from comparrison and I have to say… it is getting to the point where I struggle to play with this mess.  At some point soon I need to trash everything and start from scratch trying to build something less intensive.  I feel like one of the triumphs of Final Fantasy XIV is that it gives me a much more slim line interface but also manages to communicate to me all of the information contained within my World of Warcraft interface… but just in a much more compact fashion.  Hell I would hazard that if I were playing World of Warcraft with the interface I have in FFXIV I would be enjoying it significantly more.  This is the point when Tamrielo would chime in with some commentary about the conversations we have had in the past on user interfaces.  I like a very specific design and when a game doesn’t support that layout I get frustrated quickly.  So many of my complaints about Elder Scrolls Online were the fact that its interface would not support the layout I was looking for.

Once upon a time I had an interface that I was extremely happy with in World of Warcraft.  On the left side of my hotbars is where I kept recount for damage and threat meters.  On the right side I kept grid, an extremely combat view of the party and raid frames.  The problem is grid died several expansions ago and no mod has come along to present the raid frames in quite so perfect a fashion for me.  Grid gave me exactly the right amount of information, and as a tank I loved it because it would put a little red dot on any frame that was currently drawing aggro.  I could at a glance tell if I had the majority of the mobs.  There are other raid frames that work somewhat similar, but all of which are geared towards healers.  Grid could be made to work for anyone who simply needed to see at a glance how the raid was doing.  I feel at this point I need to just start from scratch, and build back only the features I actually want and need.  All of the prepackaged user interfaces end up frustrating me because I don’t have full control over them.  So as such for me to be happy, I am going to have to simply delete my interface folder one weekend and start over.

Interfaces are Important

rift 2015-04-24 07-04-25-36 This might seem like an odd thing to some, but when it comes to my enjoyment of a game I would say that the user interface ranks near the top of “most important things” to me.  There are many games that I think I would enjoy, if they just had a better interface or better control scheme.  Ultimately what this means however is my ability to manipulate things in such a fashion as to bring them in line with what is familiar for me.  I’ve included three different games with three different interfaces, but as you can see there are some basic elements that I set up in each of them.  While I am not literally cloning the exact same layout in each game, I am still bringing them closer into line with what I expect to be the case.  I expect targets to appear on either side of my character and for the hot bars to be stacked in some fashion below my character.  I am extremely combat focused so I want all of the important things that I need to see to be close to the center of my screen.

The things I tend to push off to the margins of the screen are the things that I am not dealing with often like Quest trackers, and hotbars for buttons that I don’t want to have to go digging to find, but that I also don’t need often.  I am a creature of habit and I end up ultimately remapping things to work similar between games.  If I am playing a class with some sort of a builder effect, then I will always put the “dump” ability for that effect on the 7 key.  In Rift for example this is my single target finisher, on my Warrior in FFXIV this is Inner Beast.  I will always place my interrupt hotkey on the 0 key that way my brain is wired to hit that key without thinking when I see something I need to interrupt.  Similarly if I have an engagement ability that pushes me into combat, I will always place that ability on either 4 or 5 depending on the game… which can get confusing at times.  Taunt regardless of the game however is always going to be sitting on 6, and if I am playing a stealth class…  I recycle that key for my stealth ability.  Because I play so many games, I have to create some sense of standardization between them.  I guess in my mind I am just playing versions of the same game, and that ultimately is how I can switch back and forth between games without missing a beat.  This is also why the interface is so important to me.

12 thoughts on “On User Interfaces

  1. Even as a healer, I’ve been using the default WoW raid frames for years now, they are actually pretty good after the improvements they gave them. Also you can collapse your quest list right? Maybe some addon lets me do that haha.

    But yeah, I absolutely recreate the same UI frames and hotbars in every game I play as well.

  2. UI is huge! I had to mirror WoW UI into FFXIV as much as possible, because my eye kept going the wrong places. It actually looks quite a bit like yours, especially in the heal bar placement, so great minds think alike. =) The major difference is that I moved the quest tracker to the left hand side of the screen, and the enemy list to where the quest tracker was as that is where WoW puts them.

  3. Do you use the arrow keys and the numpad? Otherwise I can’t imagine using the 0…

    My layout also is pretty much standardized over all games and classes where possible.
    WASD with strafing, Q for kick, R for autorun, ~ for mounting. 1-6 for attacks 🙂

  4. The UI is how we interact with the product, so I think you’ll find that it is one of the most important parts of a game for nearly everyone.

    I think that most people probably also have similar ability load-outs based on muscle memory across various games. I do as well.

    I like FF14’s system, though wish it gave us even more control. SWTOR is a great example of UI customization done right. Though I prefer FF14’s macro system with the default party frame for healing.

  5. I fully agree that the interface can greatly affect my enjoyment of a game, and has often been a deciding factor in whether to continue playing. ESO is a perfect example for me. I think Scooter and I both would have chosen ESO over Wildstar to play this summer, if not for its control scheme and UI. Wildstar was quite simply more in line with what we are accustomed to. Since I play with a Razer Nostromo keypad, it is set up for every game to have those abilities I expect in various positions on the pad, much like the way you set up specific keys to do certain types of abilities.

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