Today’s entirely unintentional writing prompt comes from Jeromai whose comment has had the wheels in my head spinning ‘round and ‘round without coming to a stop ‘cause I’m mostly too tired from working overtime every week and watching kids to give anything more than a head-nod in response to the wonderful people who leave comments on this here blog. Anon, the comment and my rough-around-the-edges response:
I like how some people manage to play MMOs with a million add-ons and tweak their UIs to super-complexity, and then still manage to complain that GW2 has too many things going on to keep track of and is too complex for them.
(Not referring to you in specific, btw, just in general. The thought just idly occurred to me looking at your screenshot of Wildstar’s UI. In one case, people use a UI icon to identify their focus, or look at a cast bar, in another, people just learn to recognize the specific armor, or silhouette, or animation or whatever. One puts the focus on the UI, the other puts the focus on what’s happening in the world.
Aren’t both -equally- complex? It’s just about knowing where to look and what it means.)
Objectively, yes. The rules of play in both situations are of sufficient breadth that they can be accurately characterized as complex.
Subjectively – if we care about humans, that is – there are various factors we must take into account. I will list some non-exclusive, non-exhaustive examples. Psychological: what types of visual stimuli do players prefer and/or react to most effectively? Behavioral: how have players been conditioned to respond to events in games that they play? Cultural: how do a game’s style and aesthetics shape its visual markers? Structural: what is the systemic relationship between UI elements and the game world (built-in, addons, overlays)?
Jeromai isn’t picking on me, but because I can’t speak for players in general, I’ll have to talk about myself. I’ve been conditioned to respond to elements that are visually distinct (psychological) from the environment of the game world via World of Warcraft (behavioral). I experience tunnel vision in intense situations which exacerbates this need. Coming into a game like Guild Wars 2 in which the “painterly” UI elements (cultural) are built in (structural), blend in to the game’s visual presentation, and generally do not function to tell one what an enemy is doing as it is doing it, I found the initial goings to be fairly rough.
Guild Wars 2 is designed in much the same way that I prefer to write my fiction: it’s done from the perspective of the protagonist and requires the reader/player to interpret events to figure out what’s going on. In my Mesmer’s origin story, for example, I tell you that I hear wood on wood, then turn my head to see an indent in the snow from which Aunt Margaret picks up her cane. I don’t tell you directly – you, the reader, surmise from the evidence and previous knowledge of her temperament and personality that Auntie M got pissed off and threw her cane at the door. Contrast this with what you would call an omniscient third-person narrator who knows everything and tells us about it as it happens. They would have described the way in which Aunt Margaret threw her cane at the door. Compartmentalized UI elements and addons are that third-person omniscient narrator. Guild Wars 2 uses a first-person non-omniscient narrator.
So, it’s “boring” for me to write that way, but “difficult” when I’m expected to play that way? Um, WTF mate?
I enjoy reading both styles of writing and playing both styles of game (one less grudgingly than the other, though). Although I prefer to write in the first person, learning to “play in the first person” was difficult for me because I had been trained to look for things like cast bars to tell me when something was happening. Mordrem wolves, for example, do not have a cast bar for their might self-buff followed by a lunge-and-flank attack. One must observe these animations as they are happening and then remember the sequence of attack events. Reading the wolf’s tooltip tells one that flanking attacks do massive damage, so one must also position oneself so as not to have one’s ass chewed to pieces.
Having been trained as such, coupled with my propensity for tunnel vision in dynamic situations, having something like cast bars and telegraphs in a chaotic situation with three wolves and a thrasher and two leechers in a virgin encounter would have made things easier for me. I personally complained that it was difficult because I hadn’t yet learned to visually “parse” animations in the midst of an unfamiliar, chaotic situation in which I was already having a heck of a time trying to keep track of my own abilities and movement. Not only that, but I was not internally motivated to learn to do so because it didn’t tap into familiar fun veins. Hence, “it’s too hard to keep track of these things.”
Anyone who plans on raiding in Guild Wars 2 had better learn to love this approach. ArenaNet specifically addresses some of these things in its description of raiding expectations, a sort of anti-Healslinger manifesto, if you will (emphasis mine in both cases):
Expecting to be able to just watch the UI to beat a boss? Guess again! Raiding in Guild Wars 2 is an action-oriented, engaging experience. You’ll have to actively manage your position, dodge, coordinate on objectives, and much more. You’ll have moments of anticipation where your next action could spell victory or death. And with a diverse range of difficult challenges, being able to customize your build will really pay off. You’ll be dependent on keeping yourself alive and helping support your team while playing your profession. Everyone will be expected to pitch in and execute at a high level to ensure success.
Raids in Guild Wars 2 are not about waiting to have fun. You don’t need to wait for your healer to get online. Our build-customization and weapon-swapping systems allow anyone to change their build to meet a particular challenge. And while a warrior might support a group differently than an elementalist would in terms of playstyle, our systems allow you to adjust your team’s composition and strategy to overcome any challenge.
That third sentence in the second paragraph got me wondering: perhaps having build templates would run counter to the game’s philosophy of having to knowledgeably and skillfully reassign your gear, weapons, traits, and abilities? ‘Twould be interesting…