UI Mods

They may look better today, but they're all still there.

The way I feel about UI mods in MMO’s has shifted around over the years.  For many years in early MMO history they did not exist at all.  When the option to alter our UI transparency came about in EQ it was one of those momentous giant leaps forward in UI design.  DAOC trumped it by allowing you to alter opacity AND move things around — the madness!  Then WoW completely changed the way players look at the interface by introducing player-made UI mod support.

I’ve used them all.  I have experience with the CTRaid from the 40-man days of WoW, dercursive automating gameplay, and modern UI mods that survive on the claim that they alter aesthetics when in reality they alter our ability to understand metrics and provide an edge by altering the way information is delivered (or given on a silver platter) to players.

Instead of just taking the stance of anti-UI mod, I’ve grown more in the direction if wanting a revolution in UI design and functionality as it pertains to the fundamentals of the game.  I would rather our understanding of how a UI factors into gameplay change.  We need something new, something fresh, and something that will allow us to move away from the, albeit functional, rudimentary hotbar.

Until there is a UI revolution, new games being developed should integrate all of the functionality players want into the stock UI and continue to develop it by working closely with players to find out what is missing.  The UI should be patched with as aggressively as any balancing changes — it’s clearly important to a great many.   Can the UI ever be perfect?  No, but if it can’t be patched to improve then it is a failure on the devs part from the get-go.

UI mods, in general, simply do too much.  They may not automate the game but providing all of this information at peoples fingertips actually ruins the spirit of the game.  Part of what makes playing a DPS class a challenge is managing aggro levels.  If a UI mod can practically tell you everything about aggro, what’s the point of being skilled or attempting to learn?  I think I can understand now why my teachers in high school did not allow us to use calculators.  If you do not understand how or why something works the way it does then you’re just going through the motions and will never improve.

There is absolutely -nothing- wrong with a ‘pure’ UI that plays the game the way it was meant to be played.  The problem?  It’s starting to be turned upside down so that the games are designed with UI mods in mind.  That’s the wrong direction that will certainly never lead to a UI revolution.

  • I like your last point re: games designed with UI mods in mind. Too many UI designers (in, say, the web application space) simply throw the UI design to the users, label it “Customizable!” and abdicate their responsibility to the customer or product.

  • Nice image. It almost looks like a Eve online screenshot, but more colorful.

    The thing about Wow (and a lot of games like it) is that it is at it’s core a numbers game that is more complicated than it needs to be (in my opinion), but ultimately very predictable. The game designers try to hide all that math and complexity in the name of immersion, and players keep trying to bring it to the surface because having the information gives them an advantage.

    You see this conflict in UI mods, FoTM builds, log analyzers and player guides. Site’s like elitist jerks practically exist to guide users from the leveling game where they can advance based on persistence, trial and error and intuition, to the end game where it’s all canned strategy and spreadsheets.

    Making a simple UI with a lot of support for add-ons in bit of a cop-out. But it’s also a good compromise between noobs/vets and immersion/optimization. I think it’s here to stay.

  • It was kind of later in its life but it was a crazy concept when you could change the textures of your UI in Everquest. People used to create works of art, true masterpieces.

  • You missed EQ2 as probably the prime example for the most customizable default UI ever.

    However, when a default UI clutters my interface with useless information and at the same time hides essential information I really want to see in my current role, then that actually annoys and hinders my game play more than any other addon I can choose to not use ever could. Rift’s party and raid UI is my current example for such a mess from a healing point of view.

  • Generally I don’t like UI mods. Learning to use the UI that comes with the game is part of the game to my way of thinking. If the default UI, even after you’ve tweaked it with the in-game options, still makes it awkward to heal, for example, then you’re playing a game where it’s more difficult to heal than it is in other games. That’s not a problem. Things differ.

    That said, I don’t take a religious position on it. I’ll use the odd variant now and again. I do think that designing your MMO with the intention that the UI be heavily modded by the users is just plain lazy, though. The goal should be to provide a default UI that’s so good that no-one would ever bother either to make or use mods for it.

  • When I played WoW I was a Raid Leader and Main Tank so had a lot of mods at times but gradually stripped back my UI to keep the screen quite clean: if I’m looking at UI elements instead allies/monsters it’s not the game for me. That’s why I stopped playing a healer during Molten Core raids as staring at Health Bars + playing Whack-a-Mole with Debuffs was not for me.

    I think some of the WoW Boss Fights started being designed with UI Mods as an assumption but at least later on Blizzard started to add in special UI pop-ups which were unique to certain fights (as well as eventually doing basic copies of some of the more popular user mods).

    I’m pleased to say that with Rift I never used any mods and never felt I needed to.
    Of course I did not bother to Raid in that game but I found the in-game signposting for hazards etc good enough!

  • Speaking of games designed with UI mods in mind… WoW’s Trial of the Grand Crusader comes to mind, especially the last battle with Anub’arak. I’m pretty sure that fight is close to impossible if all your healers are running with good old standard UIs, without Clique, debuff mods, raid frames mods etc. Ohh and without any help from raid colleagues with mods. 😀

    Thing is though, that encounter was absolutely awesome in my opinion… exactly because they broke the “don’t design a game with UI mods in mind” rule. I guess it’s the ancient does the goal excuse the means question.

    Being an addon freak myself, I don’t really have a problem with how needed and critical some addons have become… I can say without a single tiny doubt that I would have been a much much MUCH worse healer if I wouldn’t have invested huge periods of time building a functional custom UI with. It doesn’t bother me, but I certainly do understand why a lot of people are not OK with all this.

    Thing is, to really change something in my opinion, the whole hotkey combat system must be modified from its roots. More action, less numbers. Otherwise, the only real solution is to limit the API for addons, but that would just create a whole lot of problems, bias, arguments etc.

    A no addon policy is also very tricky. It can be very good, but like you said, there needs to be a heavy focus on non-stop UI development. RIFT tried this for a while and they pretty much failed, the UI being far far from ideal, with tons of stuff that needs to be fixed / added asap.

  • I agree and want to emphasize that developers should take a look at the kinds of mods players are creating to help and possibly leverage those ideas.

    Probably one of the worst offenders could be DeadlyBossMobs-type mods which tell you when something is incoming and warns you about special abilities (even giving you timers for predictable items). That said, MMO devs should look at this and consider how they could work it into their game in useful ways.

    Heads up messages (not necessarily text but sometimes it could work with descriptive flavor) for big abilities, exaggerated animations as a lead up, modifying the view of the player when they’re hit with a debuff, etc.

    Automating playing the game isn’t something I like, but giving heads up? Sure. Giving shortcuts that trivialize some aspect of the game I’m iffy about (i.e. Vuhdo, Clique, Healbot, etc.).

  • Gameplay comes down to going through an Observe-Orient-Decide-Act loop, e.g:

    Observe – look at everyone’s health bars
    Orient – process that information and recognise that Fred and Bob’s health bars are both going down fast
    Decide – who do I heal? Well, Fred’s the main tank and Bob is the Huntard who keeps standing in the fire…
    Act – throw a heal at Fred

    Mods can change any of those steps. Raid frames make the observing clearer. Threat meters and Deadly Boss Mods assist with orienting. Decursive in its original form did all the deciding for you. Clique changes how you perform the act of delivering the spell to the target.

    I’m utterly against any mod that does the Decide step, and iffy on over-simplifying the Orient step. On the other hand I’m A-OK with presenting the information as well as possible (probably bias from my day job which includes designing management information systems) and don’t really have a problem with helping the player perform the acttion itself, because for me at least the orient and decide steps are where the fun and challenge should be.

  • Lol, is that pic of that UI photoshopped or someone actually PLAYED with that mess?

    This is one reason I’m for games like TSW and SWTOR to succeed.. skill upon skill upon skill in order to do X skill is getting old. Having to download programs to manage all those skills are even more ridiculous.

    A novel thought I used to have was: “What if players actually played the games as RELEASED?”

    No macros. No mods. No UI changes. I truly wonder how “easy” a lot of these games would be that people claim they are after they aren’t allowed to use min/maxing UIs and programs.

    Here’s hoping more games use “less is more” philosphy when it comes to skill choices and ways to build characters instead of “prebuff, prebuff, prebuff, prebuff, nuke, check program to see if prebuff expired.”