Console MMO user interfaces.

Another batch of resumes out, a bunch of business proposals out, caught up on news, I’m bored and despondent and haven’t received parts for the hardware projects. Guess you all get to be bored by a gaming post.

One of the things that has caught my eye about MMOs – particularly ‘realtime’ MMOs (RPG, FPS) – is the interface. See, when you get right down to it most of the games are the same – details being only subtly different – and it’s how the player manages to DO the things that are different.

You know, I just looked at that paragraph and there is so much wrong with it, and yet it’s so right… I’m going to make another post about “my” mmorpg in a bit. On this, though, I’m going to stand on that so I can continue.

One of the big deals about all the MMOs is how you pull off all your actions AND see what’s going on AND, well, how you interact. There’s a complaint (with some legitimacy) about so many of the games being ‘pushbutton warfare’ – get generally in place and just push your combinations without worry. On the other side (and again with legitimacy) is complaints about the ‘twitch’ necessary to stay on YOUR target. (In WoW this is largely where you get your difference between rogues and relatively stationary spellcasters – rogues pretty much HAVE to twitch as well as know their buttons, spellcasters just have to be facing the right way and occasionally retarget the opponent. Except for healers… anyway.)

There is no perfect answer, of course, but it’s made worse by the fact so many designers are bashing their heads against the console wall.

Most computer games take full advantage of the 101 key keyboard. Most console games don’t. One of the biggest places the latter fail is the inability to chord. For those who don’t know, chording is pressing two or more keys to send a cue. Thus shift-A is different from A is different from Ctrl-A is different from Shift-Ctrl-A is… yeah.

I have a couple of partial solutions – both with their own problems but a solution nonetheless.

Solution one is to use shoulder buttons as chords instead of action buttons. So LB changes both D-pad and the ABXY buttons and RB gives another set and LB+RB gives yet another set. That’s 12×4=48 possible actions that can be done while still moving around and using both left and right triggers. On the other hand it’s “only” 48 actions, some of which need to be reserved (jump, for example).

Solution two is to pick a button as interrupt and remap – call it ‘prepare to cast’. Press the button – LB, or possibly one of the stick buttons – and then you get some menu capability. Umm, let’s expand that because I think speed matters (things are going on, regardless). Press button, select one of five (or nine) menus from the d-pad (default, four cardinals, maybe four mids), then select from a ring menu using a stick (8 or 12 plus a center default), finally cast. That’s a minimum of 40, possible 60, with a doubling available if again you use the stick button to ‘flip’ to an alternate set of menus. 120 spells is a LOT of spells. For ease of use I’m partial to 4x8x2 for 96 – 4 on the D, 8 on the stick, button to double. It’d also be fairly fast – LB, pick, LT (for an example). The base default (default menu, default spell) would be off in pretty much an instant.

These work, mostly, for spellcasters. They’re a bit more awkward for using items (though they could be inserted into the menu as well) as well as causing some difficulty for a class that needs to move pretty much all the time. Even so, both have potential.

Just some thoughts for now.

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