Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Looking for Changes

What I'm playing with. Is it flexible enough?

There has been some discussion in the Hunter community over the last few days over the issue of playability: do we have too many buttons to press? Speaking with my (incredibly stylish) Hunter hat on, I don't think the number of buttons is the problem. After all, I have played a large number of classes over the years and most of them have a lot of stuff you might need to use at any given point for a particular fight.

I think the interface might be the real problem.

I am aware that a great number of people still play with the default layout. The problem is, the basic composition of that particular beast has changed very little since the game was first introduced. More spells have appeared, but there's been no real provision for their accommodation, hence why custom interface mods are as popular as they undoubtedly are. Ironically Blizzard have embraced changes like combat text and spell alerts with surprising ease, mostly (I suspect) because they are a benefit to everyone and don't actually change the basic 'feel' of your screen. This is where I have to remember that I'm only one in (probably over) ten million people playing this game, and for many of them changing that most basic of layouts could be akin to completely destroying their game experience.

So, what could Blizzard do to improve the quality of life for those of us struggling to find a way to have all our abilities to hand?

One way that springs to mind would be allowing more abilities to share a joint CD, which works when you're playing a BM Hunter (Intimidation/Bestial Wrath) and allows the use of Macros to combine abilities. The problem there of course comes with people who don't understand how fabulous macros can be, and the need when designing a game to default to simplicity wherever possible. Adding an extra couple of rows of interface 'buttons' sounds like a really simple idea until you consider that some people play on small screens that are already full with the default layout and that certain specs need to provision buttons for different forms (looks at Rogues and Druids) It really is a minefield for anyone considering any kind of major change, and it's also a consideration that the 'default' screen is almost iconic in itself. What are the other options?

You know, I'm not sure there should be any.

Part of any gaming 'challenge' is the player's ability to adapt themselves to what is being asked of them from the basic game mechanics. The customisation that UI addons give us allows a huge amount of individual choice, far beyond what Blizzard would ever be able to offer because, to make the game work as well as it does, there has to be a standard. The Basic UI has to exist for people to fiddle with it, the indisputable foundation on which everything else can be built and bolted onto. If people are frustrated enough with what they are given, they use their own impetus to go and change things, and I think this is something Blizzard has come to rely on. They have been smart enough over the years to 'cherry-pick' the best addons that have appeared and integrate them into their own UI to help the basic UI experience to be more rewarding and informative. I don't think we should expect Blizzard to change anything: that's our job.

There has been a consistent undertone over the years that the game is being slowly and systematically 'dumbed down' to accommodate a larger (potential) player base. Ask anyone who had to cope with the first iteration of Talent Trees and I suspect they'll tell you that sometimes choice is a dangerous thing: once someone decides that 'that build' is the best for DPS you'll have a hard time justifying playing with anything else. Again this comes down to the irrefutable fact that most computer games are about crunching numbers, and it is the big numbers that most are interested in duplicating. I am not sure I want less choice in what I can do with my Hunter: in fact, I'd like more. I'd love the opportunity to act as a functional Off-tank with my pet, for instance (as I suspect would a lot of Warlocks) I'd love to have the option to dual wield pistols for close-quarter combat and perhaps swap to a ranged weapon when the situation demanded it. I don't want anyone taking any of my abilities away from me, so I am in a position where I will adapt to what needs to be done.

If something is to difficult, you are faced with a fairly simple choice: you adapt, or you don't. I don't think that 'dumbing down' is ever the right answer in situations like this either: you will benefit in the long term from challenges far more than will ever be possible having only a few things to do that quickly become repetitive and carry the chance that you may then lose interest altogether. I think Hunters are in a good place right now, and the challenge becomes not Blizzard's, but ours. If people want to look for change, start with not what is on the screen, but what sits beyond it...

1 comment:

TheGrumpyElf said...

I use bartender myself and have changed my layout at least a dozen times since the talent changes and have yet to find a layout I am comfortable with. With the exception of stampede all my other abilities are bound and I have no issue seeing them but I am one of those weird people that like to see my bars even if I do not mouse click them. I use omnicc for cooldowns, so it is always nice too see even if I really do not need to most of the time.

More buttons just make it harder for a new player coming in. If anything blizzard should have learned, as they keep making talent trees smaller and smaller with less choice, that more is not always better.

There is no need to have 15 buttons for something you could do with 7. It is just needlessly adding filler that is only there to make it appear as if we have choice, when we don't. There will always be a right and a wrong and people that try their best will do the right to the best of their ability. Giving us more abilities does not give us more choice. It gives us less.