WoW: Staring at UI

When you’re adventuring with a party in WoW, there’s a lot going on at once. Spell-sparks fly around so thick thick and rapid, and the state of the battle changes so swiftly, that it’s basically impossible for a newbie like me to follow the action. Like the robot fights in the Transformers movie, it’s just a big wodge of undifferentiated violence. The tendency of pick-up groups to just keep charging forward without plan or explanation just makes things worse.

So what you do is, you don’t pay attention to the battle. You pay attention to the user interface. In particular, playing the role of Healer, the graphical representation of the world is almost irrelevant: the information that needs your attention is in your teammates’ health bars, and, more significantly, not in the world at all. If you turned off the UI layer, you’d have no idea what to do.

This effect isn’t even exclusive to multi-player play. When you take on a quest that involves singling out particular types of creature, there might be other, similar creatures in the area that don’t count. How do you distinguish a Dying Kodo from a mere Aged Kodo? There are probably differences in the model or texture maps, but the game doesn’t rely on the player noticing anything so subtle. No, the ones that are relevant to the quest have their name floating above them. (Any creature gets its name above it when you target it, but quest goals have their name above them simply because you should target them.) The words are usually easier to spot than the creatures, too.

Or consider the act of gathering herbs. How do you distinguish a pickable herb from random noninteractive foliage? Often the herbs have coloration that makes them stand out, but that’s far from reliable. No, you spot them through the cursor rollover: the action cursor for herb-picking is an icon of a little cluster of flowers. Stop to think about that for a moment. In your view of the gameworld, there is graphical representation of a plant, but in order to understand it, you need to see another graphical representation of a plant, at the UI level.

The point is that you just can’t rely on the 3D world to give you the information you need, so you spend most of your time looking at UI instead. Which is a bit of a shame, because the gameworld is really beautiful.

2 Comments so far

  1. Starmaker on 21 Feb 2011

    Collectable herbs sparkle. Before sparkles, I used to find them with by sight (and the herb detection minimap mode), so the implementation of sparkles made me lament about “dumbing down” the game.

    Monsters were another matter entirely. On the server where I played, geodata left much to be desired (proper collision detection eats processing power like crazy), and monsters could walk through walls, floor and ceiling (it was a good day when they did not fall into nothingness, and it was an even better day when the *character* did not fall; fear effects that forced running away got banned at one point because kicking opposing players into textures became the ultimate PvP tactic). So not only looking at the mob health bars (press v) saved the player from being swarmed by small mobs, it also helped to notice monsters hiding in solid objects.

    Playing a healer, I didn’t care about the outside world at all during a raid (except to stare at my character when preparations were underway, because pretty princess dress-up rules). The screen’s center occupied by the raid health bars, status effects at the top, action bars at the bottom, and chat and combat windows to the left and right gave little space to see the 3D world. We even had a designated “photographer” who had to keep their screen reasonably clean (and without evidence of cheating) so that our achievements got documented properly.

  2. Carl Muckenhoupt on 21 Feb 2011

    My experience is that herbs that you need to collect for a quest sparkle (just like any other inanimate object you need to click on for a quest), but ordinary herbs that you’re collecting through the Herbalism profession don’t. But perhaps I just don’t have the sparkles enabled?

Leave a reply