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Oct 16, 2004

Comments

1.

One of the fundamental rules of interface design is 'if it looks like a slider bar, it should work like a slider bar'. A player's past experience working with an application will inform how he uses titles in the future. This extends equally as well to working the UI and camera in a gamespace.

The net result is that MMO players log into an MMO and expect it to work like games that they've played in the past. For example, we on Shadowbane took a lot of complaints from EQ players because we didn't follow the movement paradigm that EQ players were used to. We were trying to more closely emulate Neverwinter Nights and their point-and-click model, but given that EQ was the largest game in our space, our interface choice undoubtedly impacted us.

Needless to say, you're seeing this psychology of interface impact people who haven't played MMOs before. Diablo players are used to clicking like fiends, and first person shooter players are used to strafing and dodging. The question will be how many of these people are lost in the transition from non-MMO paradigm to the current MMO standard. Given the relative non-intuitive nature of the current MMO standard, that's a very good question.

2.

I wonder why so few games offer alternative modes of control. FFXI and CoH were playable with a gamepad, but those are the only MMORPG I know that allow that. Some games don't even allow you to change WASD movement to arrow key movement, or vice versa.

Diablo-style multi-clicking or FPS strafing is a different problem. I wonder if WoW could be programmed to open a little window if you click 10 times on the same monster, or jump too much in combat, telling you to stop doing that. :)

I do believe that control modes can become "imprinted", but I don't think the imprint lasts very long. Whenever a player starts a new game, he is going to try and use the controls of the *last* game he played, not the *first* one.

3.

I convinced a friend of mine from Second Life who had never played (another) MMO before to join me in CoH. She's a longtime FPS player and as soon as we met our first mob she started jumping and strafing to try to avoid being hit. She ended up not being able to hit the mob while it was still hitting her. I had to explain to her that this kind of 'game' was more tactical than reflex-oriented. After we took out a few mobs, she says to me "is this all?" -- the implication being that without the need for physical skill, where was the challenge?

Now we know the answer to this, but it really made me not only think about how different MMO combat is from most other video games (except perhaps the tactical RPGs like FF), but how unintuitive it is.

"'if it looks like a slider bar, it should work like a slider bar'"

Since MMOs are places, three dimensional worlds meant to simulate (for the most part) the real world, wasn't she right to intuit that she could dodge the mobs attacks by moving her avatar?

I understand that not everyone has the skills or the desire to play MMOFPSs (like Planetside). I guess the question is couldn't we make MMOs more intuitive when it comes to simulating interaction between avatars and mobs. Maybe a player could choose between autopilot -- choosing ones attacks tactically via a list -- or full manual which would be akin to console Fighters with the requisite twitch and combos. (I'm sure that lag still plays a huge part in the ability to create MMOFPSs or hybrids)

4.

Whenever I've shown an MMORPG to friends who do little or no gaming, inevitably the camera control is a serious problem. Much like some of the people he observed, they had difficulty not either looking at the ground or the sky. The frustration this caused them was significant. In most cases I had to end up taking the controls in order to show them how the game played, and even then they still had camera control issues.

Lots of frequent gamers dislike the click-and-go way of moving that games like Lineage 2 use, but when I showed that to a non-gamer friend they had no troubles moving around.

It's yet another case where keeping your current fanbase happy is a difficult balancing act when trying to also make the game friendly to those new to the genre.

5.

Eddie Yasi>Lots of frequent gamers dislike the click-and-go way of moving that games like Lineage 2 use, but when I showed that to a non-gamer friend they had no troubles moving around.

Although there are technical differences between continual movement and click-and-go (particularly in their bandwidth requirements), there's not a lot of difference at the interface level because either can be implemented in terms of the other. It should therefore be possible to offer both to players, and let them choose which they prefer.

Of course, offering players a choice is itself an interface issue.

Richard

6.

I think the developers of Wish claim that continual movement is too big a strain on their "ultra-massive," single-server architecture, which is why they're sticking with click-and-go over player objections.

I'm really curious to see how SWG's space expansion will shake itself out. Arcade action in one aspect, and traditional MMORPG movement and dice-rolling combat in another, requires a certain amount of flexibility and sophistication. Your average 12-year old may be able to grok it, while us 34-year olds may just get annoyed. :)

7.

"Of course, offering players a choice is itself an interface issue."

Options are good, choices are bad.
The information needed to tailor a newly installed game to the player is usually inside their hard-drive; A quick scan on the installed games and maybe even control customizations could be enough information for the new game to set its default controls to something the player feels familiar with.

8.

If MMOs scanned your hard drive during configuration to helpfully figure out what programs you had already installed, the (quite justified) howls from privacy advocates would be heard from orbit.

9.

"Interface is never a feature. It's an obstacle." I think Randy Pitchford said that, more or less. The goal of interface design should always be that players are never thinking about HOW they interact with the game, they should instead be thinking about the game's content. MMO interface design fails spectacularly at that.

But we are slaves to what we played before. Shadowbane chose an overhead camera with point-and-click movement for many reasons, including reduced bandwidth and also because the PvP/Siege nature of the game makes having greater awareness around you that much more important. That didn't stop hundreds of player complaints that our interface was non-intuitive, simply because it wasn't EverQuest's, and EverQuest came first.

Doing even one kind of camera control really well is extremely difficult. Doing two kinds of camera control to the degree that they really need to be done is even more so. It also impacts your feature set - all of your features need to take in mind multiple camera control schemes.

10.

Related study in cognition & tools: I read in one of Jame's Wertsch's books somewhere (sorry, I'm traveling and can't go grab it off my home bookshelf) a study conducted on expert typists & non-expert-typists. If I remember correctly, they gave both groups random letter combinations (e.g. TSQ vs NGE) & had them rate which combinations they preferred. There were no stated criteria for selection; participants were just told 'which do you like?' Result: The typists preferred the letter combinations that were easiest/fastest to type using the QUERTY keyboard (e.g. NGE over TSQ since the latter one is done with the same left hand fingers in grand contortions) without recognition that these letter combinations were the QUERTY-convenient ones.

The Upshot: Prior (motor/cognitive) experience shapes not only what I am currently best at (e.g. what type of navigation works well for me at any given time in, say, an MMOG) but also (and here's where it gets kinda cool) my preferences, regardless of whether or not I am aware of it. In this study, its even more curious since the QUERTY is the historical by-product of an effort to slow typists down rather than speed them up, so the fact that they select based on efficiency using a designed-to be-inefficient tool, is ironic.

Generally, this sort of data supports the idea that mind and body are not so very separate. In the context of this discussion, however, I guess its a caveat to anyone studying 'user preference' or interface design (tho, these folks already know this issue inside and out). People experience their preferences as real affective stances toward the world; these stances, however, are based in things as mundane as automated finger-contortions on a keyboard. Who knew? :P

11.

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