MMORPG user interface standards

Last weekend I was running some tabletop gaming using Fantasy Grounds 2, and I was reminded just how quirky the user interface is. This virtual tabletop software re-invents a lot of controls and concepts that are already well established for Windows software and is less intuitive to use as a result. Standards in MMORPGs are pretty varied but I do have a few examples of things I consider to be fair expectations for the UI in a modern/current game, and games in mind that try to do things differently for no good reason:

1. Moveable windows

Fixed windows, especially in position or size (width x height) are a pretty unforgivable sin in my opinion. Still in 2018 certain windows in World of Warcraft cannot be freely dragged around the screen when open – especially annoying if you want to follow chat and have your character sheet. Sure you can load some ultra custom UI to work around such limitations but in such a long-established and feature-rich game why hasn’t the UI been properly modernised? SWTOR did a pretty impressive remake of the awful, inflexible original UI by contrast.

WoW: default UI windows are fixed and block other elements

2. UI scaling

Not everyone has perfect vision, not everyone plays at 1024×768. If the UI isn’t easily scalable then that’s going to cause some players a problem. If the fonts and font colours can’t be adjusted then that’s equally bad. When playing Dungeons & Dragons Online we were trying to fix this as the text and party nameplates are so small on a modern high-res monitor, but the forum threads we found answered it wasn’t possible.

DDO: lots of tiny text

3. Screenshots made easy

If devs make it easy to take screenshots in their game, then bloggers and social media fans will literally promote the game for free! If screenshots bug-out, lack a hide-UI option or are highly restricted (no screenshots in cut-scenes), then you’re making it harder for us to share our gaming adventures. Sure there are third-party solutions like video capture programs or graphics card company overlays, but why should I be going to external software for such a basic function? As an aside make it easy to find the screenshots afterwards, don’t bury them in a folder in the install directory, by default they should go to a user profile specific folder – not everyone has a computer to themselves…

Neverwinter: won’t take a screenshot if certain UI windows are open…

4. Windowed mode

If like me you play with two monitors, forced full-screen games can be a serious annoyance. I want to be able to jump my mouse over to easily my secondary screen to control streaming content or to look at wikis (mandatory with some MMOs!). The game shouldn’t lock the mouse to the game screen, auto-minimise or suffer a major stress if I do this. Having the game sound continue when in the background is also a related option that I appreciate so that your character doesn’t get ambushed while you’re looking things up! Although Shadowrun Chronicles is the first game that springs to mind for this issue, I have had MMORPGs crash when minimised as well.

There are other options I could have listed, for instance proper mouse and keyboard customisation is common but not always fully supported in every game. Likewise not all games make it easy to standardise control schemes between characters, being able to save UI layouts and control settings and easily import them on new characters is a nice feature that’s rarer than it should be.

What are your UI standards for the MMORPGs you play and which games break them?

Posted in DDO, Gaming, Neverwinter, WoW | Leave a comment

Longer quests #DDO #TESOnline

Not all MMORPG quests are equal. Questing has tended, in many games, to be reduced down to simple tasks like the apocryphal “kill 10 rats” or something similar; requiring five minutes or so with maybe some travel time either side. The questing hub model as popularised by World of Warcraft many years ago intensified the rapidity of individual quests by concentrating the number of quests your character would pick up at once, and by simplifying the collection and handing-in of those quests by gathering all the quest-giving NPCs together in one location.

A flying quest hub is the latest innovation

Two games that I’ve played recently do not strictly follow this more modern take on ‘questing’, however: Dungeons & Dragons Online and Elder Scrolls Online. There are positives to a ‘quest’ actually having some length and substance – it’s less confusing to be focused on one task rather than the usual juggling of half-a-dozen more or less overlapping bite-sized ones. Also the story-telling can be a lot more rich and immersive in a quest that lasts longer.

In Dungeons & Dragons Online there is a close relationship between an instance (i.e. dungeon) and a quest. For much of the game you go to a quest-giver in the relevant hub area and then go to a nearby door or portal to enter the instance. The dungeons do vary in length and many have optional secondary goals. There are also quest chains, nowadays marked with a ‘trio of goblets’ symbol, that provide a longer series of interlinked challenges. Since quests are instanced you are forced to concentrate on one at time usually, a marked contrast from the above-mentioned ‘quest hub’ style of questing.

We’ve recently run the ‘Depths’ quartet of dungeons as an example of this content type. Four separate quests form the chain, available in the Hammersmith’s Inn in the House Deneith quarter, and you can choose to either run them as a sequence one after another or to run them out-of-order as separate adventures. Sequenced quests like this can present a problem if you’re on limited time, the Depths quests all have separate easily accessible entrance portals – not so the earlier Waterworks chain. That series of four quests is broken into two pairs of two instances: a sewer section and a jail section. If you stop without completing a pair then the later half of either is inaccessible without first repeating the sewer bit. This makes sense from a story perspective but not from a modern ‘accessible’ gaming point of view.

In Elder Scrolls Online longer quests are less about chained instances and more about multi-stage tasks in the open world that may end with an instance or special encounter. This varies less from the ‘quest hub’ model, although by default the game only tracks one quest at a given moment on-screen, so you are encouraged to focus on one thing at a time rather than multi-tasking.

Questing recently in the Deshaan region, I’ve resisted the urge to min-max my time in game by constantly juggling multiple quests at once. Instead I give in to the UI’s insistance that I follow the story of my current task. Quests can be quite far ranging, and many have multiple stages or objectives spread about a zone.

ESO quests are story-heavy and usually involve a good number of conversations like the one pictured. Paying attention to details in such chats can be important, the game has its fair share of mysteries to solve and local disputes to mediate. So being more focused makes for a more enjoyable gameplay experience – if I try and juggle several of these quests at once, I’m likely to get in a muddle fast!

There are other things to do as I wonder on a quest, of course, such as dark fissures or anchors. I’m also gathering and crafting on all my characters so stopping to pick flowers or mine ore is a regular thing too.

In both games I’m enjoying the longer, more focused style of questing. I’m finding I’m more engaged by each game in this mode. It helps that in both games I haven’t already done the content that often if at all. But it’s not just the lack of repetition, it’s also the sharper focus on a given task, rather than the more normal overlapping task list I’ve grown used to elsewhere.

Posted in DDO, ESO, Gaming | 3 Comments

Missing the sun #DDO

I logged into DDO just now to do some quick quests with my husband and was greeted by a brilliant blue sky over Stormreach. Sure made a sweet sight during these dark, cold and wet winter days…

I’d love to sail away from the cold winter…

Posted in DDO, Gaming | 1 Comment

Don’t forget the lizards! #TESOnline #Everquestii

Followers of this blog may have noticed I like to play unusual and larger-than-life characters in MMORPGs. If there’s a race or character model that’s further from a bog-standard human then I’m mostly likely to choose it. I particulary like playing lizard-people style characters for instance. My first and highest level character in Elder Scrolls Online is an Argonian.

Exhibit two is one of my favourite characters in Everquest 2, my Sarnak Shadowknight one of the two different lizard-men race options in that game.

Not all games have lizard-men mind, but then there’s usually other options. In World of Warcraft I do like playing Draenei (space goat-people).

My second Draenei character

In singing the praises of Elder Scroll Online’s developer Zenimax, Larry at Massively OP has a recent post that mentions just how nice it is to see continued support for cosmetics for the less popular races in that game. I certainly agree with this opinion: if you’re going to include such character types in a game, make sure they continue to be well supported as the game evolves. Not all studios are equal at supporting the breadth of character options, however.

Tera is pretty poor in this regard given that all of the newer classes added have been race-locked and most to the Elin race. No love at all, post launch, for my favourite races in the game – the earthy Baraka, or the furry Poporis.

How do the games that you play fare with support for less human-like characters?


Posted in EQ2, ESO, Gaming, Tera, WoW | 2 Comments

Exploring more of Tamriel in 2018? #TESOnline

Elder Scrolls Online seems to be doing rather well at the moment, it was awarded Massively OP’s MMO of 2017 recently. It’s one of the MMORPGs that I watch the news for even when I’m not playing it. I have dipped back in-game again since returning from the holidays, part of my natural inclination to rotate through games.

Dark Fissure encounter

This week apparently there’s a free trial of the ESO Plus subscription-like offering. I may take it up to have a look at the crafting inventory system – inventory management is a real bugbear in this game I find. The trial comes at a time when hints are coming for the next major DLC release – Dragon Bones are emerging. Seems it’ll be Skyrim themed (Nord /Viking themed). Unlike many, I do not find Skyrim to be the best of the Elder Scrolls game series, so without more details I can easily curb my expectations.

Can I take a horse-and-carriage instead…?

However, I am enthused to be playing the game again casually: there’s so much I haven’t seen as my highest character is level 21. The only question I have is whether to push my Dragonknight higher into the original zones, or to focus on my newer Warden’s playthrough of the Morrowind expansion content…

Happy to see Dark Anchor events are still popular

Posted in ESO, Gaming | 2 Comments

All caught up #DDO #DDOUnlimited

Our two characters are now caught up with their Cleric companion and ready to push onwards to level 10 – my husband expressed wants to see the Ravenloft content that I’ve told him about, so onwards to level 10!

I see you Shaman!

Catching up meant getting a couple more ranks (part levels) worth of experience. We chose to rerun some older quests together to avoid ‘spoiling’ later zones that we’ll be wanting to run with our trio soon enough. We still had some of the zone quests from the Waterworks left to complete (slayer and rare encounters), so that seemed like an obvious choice.

Gotta slay them all

The ‘outdoor’ explorer zones, which includes the two branches of the Waterworks tunnels, are locked at normal difficulty – which makes farming them easy enough for rares or the kill totals. As we discovered when we later popped into Cerulean Hills, another explorer area we hadn’t fully completed, this also has a disadvantage because we cannot up the difficulty to raise the effective level of the content to keep it relevant longer.

Running Cerulean Hills we noticed quickly that we had a ~65% experience penalty for being over level (level 6 now) – running one of the dungeons that you reach within Cerulean Hills we could select Elite level and have its effective level raised to 5 to avoid any penalty within it.

The system works well within this logic – you have control over the difficulty level of each dungeon within a certain range, though as we discovered previously it’s certainly possible to be over-ambitious!

Posted in DDO, Gaming | 2 Comments

Learning a lesson #DDO #DDOUnlimited

When was the last time a leveling dungeon whipped your behind with some real challenge? In a lot of MMORPGs dungeons below the level cap are pretty easy – especially if you have a half-decent tank and healer in the party. Exceptions do exist including The Secret World (not Legends so much) and some of the Elder Scrolls Online’s dungeons.

Yesterday included a bit of a DDO binge for me, we’d decided to swap two of the three characters in our leveling static group out to change around trinity-roles somewhat. I dropped my Paladin for an Artificer; my husband abandoned his Wizard/Rogue to swap in his Paladin. Our two new characters were a bit lower than the remaining Cleric. So I had to do some solo grind to catchup with the new Paladin and we both then wanted to catchup those remaining ranks to get to level 6.

Playing as a trio already represents a kind of self-inflicted “hard mode” in the game since the nominal party size is six characters. We’re very used to under-manning dungeons in MMOs, but half strength is probably pushing it a bit.

Temporary duo

Our problems began when duo’ing later content, without a dedicated healer, and assuming wrongly that we could approach content as though we were a full trinity-group. Running the two Waterworks quest chains on Hard mode turned out to be a sobering experience, it turns out even Kobolds can kill!

Cc’ing a hero is out-of-order! Ok?

The shame of dying to the yipping ones is mitigated by circumstance, if your character is swimming they cannot use most abilities, so landing in a large pool of water and being blasted with fire-bombs and spells while trying to climb a ladder out of said water presents a sticky situation.

Yeah, the fall is not the ‘deadly’ part of this dungeon

Other than carefully arranged ambush situations, the monsters were tougher than we expected and with only two characters it was taking longer to kill things than expected. Also their shamans can do really nasty damage with their spells on harder difficulty modes. We had selected Hard difficulty rather blithely simply because we’d already done the dungeons on Normal and wanted to get the faction rep bonus of redoing the dungeons on a harder difficulty (repeat runs on the same level do nothing for rep). Undermanning to this extent, with only a pair of characters, and with no healer meant some pretty strong spikes in difficulty, however.

If we setup fights and new rooms carefully, e.g. Paladin tank gathering all the melee opponents so I could mass daze them with Lighting Sphere, we could take on large numbers without too much trouble. But dungeons in DDO are often setup deliberately to challenge the players and to spoil obvious tactics – monsters do not always wait in the open in regular sized groups waiting for their impending doom. You will face ambush groups appearing out of nowhere, there may be multiple staggered waves of opponents and there could be ranged or caster opponents in high up, hard-to-reach places.

We did prepare somewhat for the worst of the encounters, using fire resistance spells or potions, using “corner pulls” when possible. The kinds of tactics that as veteran MMORPG players we have known about for years. That genre knowledge can easily make you underestimate challenges in this game, realistically we shouldn’t be running dungeons as a duo on Hard mode – we’re not that overgeared and lack the vast array of buffs that some have access to. So the lesson is learned, kobolds can be deadly if you underestimate them!

Posted in DDO, Gaming | 6 Comments