Thursday, October 23, 2014

Listing Along

I wish I had some screenshots of various vendors from City of Heroes. Though I'd complained before about unsortable, cluttered lists in World of Warcraft and various single-player games as well, CoH was the first time I truly realized just how ridiculous it is for game designers to ignore such a basic requirement. While pumping endless work-hours into glitzing up game interfaces they ignore basic functionality. Is this an attempt to justify the graphic design work which went into those character selection screens and NPC vendor windows by making us spend as much time as possible trudging through them? Is this a brilliant new form of timesink which is supposed to mask a lack of content?

Let's take Defense Grid 2, for instance, a small tower-defense game which Valve is promoting in order to cut into Blizzard's potential derivative products. It's not a bad game overall, but it blatantly ignores a very basic design principle: no menu should ever be more than two layers deep.

That doesn't look too bad at first, but you can't actually click on any of those buttons directly. You have to go through the whole touchpad screen selection routine, flicking from one of those categories of buttons to another, bringing up one category at a time. Of course once you select something, the submenus follow the same routine. The setting menu alone has six submenus you have to click through from side to side, one at a time, without being able to see more than three. How in the world did some airhead of a graphic designer even sell this notion? How do you justify a separate window for two buttons, especially when you've got an all-purpose submenu right next to it labelled "more"? Well, of course, that's the Steam rip-off window. It's just THAT important.
Here's a thought experiment. I'm your customer, alright? Right. I paid you for a tower defense game. When I activate your product, do you think I want to play a tower defense game or your brand-new exciting, revolutionary adventure in menu-surfing?

Let us not assume by any means that such amateurish bungling afflicts only small niche-market developers. Some of the most stunning lapses in interface design come from the richest companies around. By the time it launched CoH NCsoft had already gotten obscenely wealthy off the Lineage games. Blizzard was, well, Blizzard, but WoW's market system was still almost devoid of filters. Turbine is owned by one of the fattest megacorporations in the world, and here's LotRO's NPC vendor window:
You can alphabetize things, which is cute. It might actually be useful if the most expensive or most powerful item was called the Alpha Aegis and it was followed by the Beta Bludgeon and the Gamma Gutter and Delta Dagger and so forth. You can also filter items from a certain quality downward, which is admirably nonsensical for a game in which you're always trying to find the latest trash greens you looted from among all the greens you're using.
Don't even dream of actually dragging things from your inventory (where you can maintain some organization) to the trade window (where everything is rearranged nearly randomly.) What do you think this is, ummm, every other game? If you want to sell a rusty goblin helmet in middle-earth, ya gotta work for it!

Not to be outdone in underdoing, Funcom seems to have invented its own unique brand of faceless interface. I mean, usually you can chalk this stuff up to laziness. The dev team slapped something half-functional together then cut costs by not developing it further. Work-hours cut into management's profits. Sometimes though, the omissions are so laughably basic as to imply sheer stupidity. Case-in-point, TSW's guild roster:

Exhibit A, the yellow bubble - is just a bug. Which would be excusable, if this screenshot hadn't been taken two years after the game launched.
Exhibit B, the white bubble - is stupid. Not just an oversight, not just a lapse in judgment, not just cost-cutting, but stupid. Your hundred million dollar a year company's product... can't count? Do your programmers need to be taken back to junior high and be reintroduced to the concept of significant figures?

But whose stupidity is it? Not Funcom's, or Turbine's or Blizzard's or NCsoft's or Valve's. They're raking in your cash while you're too busy kissing their asses and creaming your pants whenever a developer seems to pay the slightest attention to you. You're the idiots. You, the customers who never complain in the slightest about the blatant rip-offs you're buying. You know why the game industry is such crap, why they can afford to ignore even the most basic notions of design?
That'd be you, dear reader. You're to blame. It's your complacency that's causing this. Sorry, did you miss that because you were too busy scrolling through an endless unsorted list in some game?

It's your fault. Call them out on it.

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