Friday, May 29, 2009

Newbie Control Help

Yesterday, I got a necro-comment from Magson on my very first EQ2 post, back when I was having trouble finding the "sell" function on NPC's.

At the time, I blamed the game's "hail" command (which gives you all of the separate options for an NPC, such as buying, selling, starting quests, etc), but the more likely culprit is that not all EQ2 vendor NPC's will actually buy all of your junk. Most likely, I hailed one NPC and was given separate options to buy or sell stuff, and later decided that a different NPC wasn't buying my stuff because I had hailed him to buy instead of sell.

Nowadays, I don't hail things at all. There's an option in the user interface for "double click to perform 'default action'" (with an exception for when the "default action" is to attack the target). Clicking this on most functional NPC's will bring up their vendor UI without the need to select it from a menu.

There are two minor quirks to this approach. First, doubleclicking a quest giver who also happens to sell stuff will open the vendor UI in addition to starting a conversation with them about their quest. Not a huge deal, you just have to close the vendor window to see what the NPC is saying. The other issues is that the "default action" if you double click on a piece of player-made furniture is to "examine" the furniture. The worksmanship that went into the carpet sitting behind our guild hall broker is fascinating, but what I really wanted was to talk to the broker instead of opening a description window that I have to click on to close (pushing escape also closes the broker window that I actually WANTED open).

Sounds like a bit of an annoyance, right? Well, a bit over four months into my stay in Norrath, it turns out that I still don't know the basics of the user interface. Magson pointed out that the F key can also be used for "default action". If, instead of attempting to double click the broker at the risk of missing and examining the countertop, I mouse over the broker until the icon changes and then and push F, I'm very unlikely to miss, and thus everything works perfectly. (That said, if there's an option for "double click for default action when the default action is neither attack target nor examine furniture", I'd be happy to hear about it.)

Learning the ropes
The fact is, learning the basics of an MMORPG is pretty hard. I remember having a conversation with Riannon relatively early on in my EQ2 career to the effect of "I'm moving very slowly instead of running, and it's not because I pushed either the "X" or the "C" key, what wrong key did I press?" (Sadly, I don't remember what the answer was, so, for all I know, I'm going to need to ask again sometime.)

If you're lucky, people will bail you out when you warp into an unexpectedly hostile star system or whatever, but, for the most part, we learn by doing. It's usually possible to figure out how things work to some minimal level in order to play the game, but you won't try things that don't occur to you. For example, I have no idea what would prompt someone to think "F" for "default action". Perhaps it's merely close to the traditional WASD movement keys, I don't know. For that matter, I've hit level 61 in EQ2 without ever playing in a group, which could be a problem if I ever try to attempt it.

Then again, it's not exactly as if throwing a massive manual at the player before they've even tried the game is going to help them learn. There's a reason why Free Realms' user interface accessibility gets so much praise - you actually don't need to read a book to figure out how it works. Meanwhile, a more demanding game is going to require more options and more commands, so going with extremely simple isn't always going to be an option.

In conclusion, hard user interface design is hard.


DeftyJames said...

I hear ya man. I was about level 40 before I learned that you could use the Tab key in WoW to target mobs. And then it wasn't until level 60 that I realized that Tab was a really stupid key to assign as a default to target a mob and switched it to the space bar (which defaults to jump).

Such is life.

Magson said...

Shift+r will toggle the run/walk. You HAVE to learn that once you start raiding. A lot of raid mobs cast AE fear and if you aren't crouched and set to walk, you can sometimes get waaaaaay out of range of the mob while running in fear... or run into adds, run out of range of the healer, etc etc.

As you said to my "necro-comment" on your 1st post, you may want to go look at the default keybinds. I'm fairly used to them, so I've mostly left them as they are. The only one of changed is that my Tab key is now set to "target CLOSEST npc" rather than "target NEXT npc (which is by default in F8 -- I just swapped them).

I learned the "f is default action" trick back in the early days when someone else told me about it, and I've noticed SOE uses it in Vanguard as well. I don't recall if it's default for SWG or if I mapped it for that... but it works for me in SWG also. Might just be an SOE thing.

Brian 'Psychochild' Green said...

I wrote about this a while ago on my own blog:

One of the problems is that these games are really expressive, so the user interface is going to be more complex. I draw a parallel between game controllers (starting with the Atari 2600 to the SNES) and how the games have gotten more complex as the controllers have gotten more able to present complexity.

Not to say that we need complex UIs for the sake of complexity, but there's a reason why EQ2's interface is more complex than, say, Bejeweled; it's not just because game developers are idiots. ;)