Archive for the User Interface Category

Dear CCP :: Please Investigate Keybinding Lag

Posted in User Interface on February 26, 2011 by Easley Thames

CCP, the release of Incursion has brought many welcome changes. For example, I am a big fan of the group-weapons button. This feature can save time when grouping weapons, and helps avoid a major disaster if your guns burn-out and have to be quickly  un-grouped.

There is only one thing I noticed with the initial release, using F-keys for module activation has been buggy and unreliable. I encounter problems most often in those life-or-death moments where I jump into a gate camp and every second truly matters.

For example, I recently encountered a camp with 2 T3 cruisers, 3 BC and one probing cov-ops while in my shield cane. All but 1 BC were aggressed and in my system (some on-gate with me, some on another gate in system).  When I jumped-through I was met with a lone an armor brutix and saw another cane on scan.

I decloaked 18 km off the Brutix, pressed F1 (for my mwd) and hit align to a celestial in front me (away from the gate not towards the brutix). I was hoping he would gcc stupidly and I could melt him with gate guns on my side before his help arrived. If he was strongly buffered my plan was to warp  away, but experience told me I could test his tank and might get lucky here.

He not only GCC’d but caught me! I had to mash the MWD key a dozen times before it activated and by then the brutix was half way up to top-speed and landed an over-heated scram when he neared top-speed before I could hit 1/4th maximum speed with my MWD on. He was able to catch me because the mwd was not responding to the F1 key input (where it was bound) as it has so many other times.

I didn’t have any drones in this engagement because I lost them earlier and, even fighting the blaster brutix + other late-comers, I took him to low armor. He was indeed armor tanked, and if I could have started the fight by kiting while pouring some barrage into his hull before switching to close-ranged ammo when he invariably tried to break-off pursuit I would have taken it fairly easily even with his late-comer allies.

Taking him a distance off the gate before they arrived was the key, and it wasn’t possible because my module failed to activate the way it always has for the last 5 years.

This is still a rather new keyboard (about 6 months)  and I have no problems with the f-keys in other applications. I cleaned it just to be sure and if it’s an electrical problem it isn’t manifesting in any other game as far as I can tell. I’ve had this keyboard since before Incursion and it worked fine then.

My standard procedure is to use the F-keys for most of my modules. I am quicker if I use the overview for navigation with my fingers already on the MWD (or AB, cloak, ecm burst, etc.)

I wrote it off at first as my own fat-fingered ineptitude, but I’ve been testing it and the issue is happening consistently. Other pilots have told me the same thing, some after I asked and some have brought it up on their own. I don’t think this is an imagined problem.

After jumping through a gate, being able to activate key modules instantly is crucial when re-approaching or burning off. Being able to cloak on the first press of the button is also something that HAS to work right, or else you die in embarrassing ways. Mashing the cloak button isn’t an option, it will end up de-cloaking you. We MUST have accurate and responsive keyboard controls.

I’ve taken a couple incredibly silly losses due to what seems to be an entirely new delay associated with key-bound activation of modules.

The work-around for now is to use the mouse. Clicking modules seems to work as before. The problem is I am so accustomed to being able to use the mouse for navigation and targeting, having to go back to being a “clicker” is not fun for me.

The pejorative connotations of the term “clicker” are lesser in Eve than other MMOs, since reaction time is often de-emphasized in Eve, but for those of us who like to fly without a safety net, it’s very important that the game responds in a predictable way.

I hope that CCP will investigate this issue.

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Character Portrait Update :: Easley 2.0

Posted in Anime, Eve History, User Interface on January 28, 2011 by Easley Thames

I will eventually publish my thoughts on the current situation in IT Alliance, as well as some comments about the major military implications attached to the current NC/DekCo coalition operation in 6VDT.

I am holding off for the moment, for a variety of reasons.

In the interim, I thought I would blog about something else that has been on my mind: character design.

As a whole, I’m rather pleased with CCP’s upgrade to portrait-creation. I’ve seen many creative designs, from disturbing to beautiful, and those who put in the time can create some really unique appearances.

I particularly enjoy the celebrity impersonators. Someone generated a spot-on Conan O’Brien, and more are being posted on a daily basis.

I have heard that ambulation will allow even more tweaking and customization, including accessories and tattoos. While I am not keen on paying with PLEXes for anything cosmetic, I look forward to seeing what bored empire-bears come up with while hiding in station during war-decs.

Let me give a shout out to Nibble Tek to thank them for their awesome comparison tool. You can view your old “before and after” using this link (add your character name to the end) — http://forum.nibbletek.co.uk/portrait_viewer.php?character=

Here is my own personal upgrade:

The new version looks quite a bit more like what I had in mind with the original Easley Thames.

Incidentally, I’ve never blogged about the topic of designing or  naming my own character. I’m going to take the opportunity to indulge myself since the topic is at least somewhat germane to the rest of this post.

When I started Eve, Easley Thames was literally the first character I made. I wanted to get over the naming process quickly, but I also wanted to avoid choosing something comical because I knew it would get tired eventually. For this reason I went with a firstname/lastname combination.

I decided to take the first name from a villain in the Claymore universe. This character’s name is probably better written in English as “Isley” upon reflection, but I went with the translation I had seen at that time.

Claymore is a monthly seinen manga in Japan that was given a badly-planned, but still surprisingly enjoyable, single season as an anime.

Though my character doesn’t look like the “silver haired king” of Claymore, the spirit of the character is more of what I wanted to pay homage to  in a pvp-oriented pilot. Much like the way I approach 0.0 politics, Isley/Easley of Claymore believes that strength should determine who rules and who dies.

Easley (of Claymore) in Human Form

Easley/Isley of Claymore is a character I would have loved to see get more development in the Manga, but long after I named my Eve character his namesake was defeated in a way that was almost universally unpopular with fans. Since this is not an Anime blog, I will not digress any further.

The “Thames” surname simply sounded appropriate at that time, and I have always like the idea of using real-life locations. The Thames river has a very storied history of warfare going back quite a ways.

In all honesty, my character design (especially after updating) looks more like Fan Hyulick from Tytania than Easley/Isley from Claymore, and I don’t live near the River Thames.

Admiral Fan Hyulick

So then, where’s the sense in this name?

I have always felt that gaming (as an activity in general) is more about playing a role in-game that is outside your every day life. So I find it only natural that ET should be different from myself.

After all, being yourself is free (and usually much less laggy) – so why pay for that?

Apparently I Like Innovative Games

Posted in CCP, User Interface on January 9, 2011 by Easley Thames

Those who know me know I’m an MMO junkie. My love for online gaming goes back to the first 2-d online RPGs like Sierra’s “The Realm” and the far better-known Ultima Online. I had a small amount of experience in MUDs as well, but as a child of the Nintendo generation I found pure text to be boring and tedious.

The 2 MMOs I’m currently playing most actively (Eve and Vindictus) got voted #1 and #2 in the “most innovative” category of the 2010 www.mmorpg.com awards. I found this rather validating since I’ve spent quite a lot of time recruiting people into both of these worlds.

“When it came to looking at the game that made the most strides forward in 2010 in terms of pushing the envelope and doing something new, there was actually quite a bit to talk about. Surprisingly, each of these nominees included their changes via an expansion.”

The voting for Most Innovative MMO broke down as such:

EVE Online 32.7%

Vindictus 24.1%

World of Warcraft 18.8%

Global Agenda 13.2%

Pocket Legends 11.1%

What’s so innovative about each of these games?

Starting with the bottom, Pocket Legends, this is the only game on the list I have not played.

Next is Global Agenda, famous for the “No More Elves” videos (if you haven’t seen this – you really should click the link right now). They really created a workable and fun FPS / MMO hybrid. I think World of Tanks is somewhat similar in terms of being an action MMO, but it really doesn’t have the character development of Global Agenda.

Though I am not currently subscribed to WoW, I have to admit that the changes Blizzard has made to the game in the Wrath expansion were pretty immense and innovative as well.

Who could have imagined a duengon where the first boss fight involved riding motorcycles, catapults and steam-punk style bulldozer tanks. That’s quite a change from the days of Molten Core and Black Rock Depths. Ulduar was the most memorable raid in any MMO I have ever played. The duengon finder tool was also a game-changer for casual players and I have to imagine Eve’s “Fleet Finder” was directly inspired by this tool.

Vindictus uses a combat system reminiscent of God of War and combines that with a traditional MMO character development system. You gain skill points passively (Eve style) and through grinding (running missions, which are infinately repeatable and change based on certain conditions). There are also dozens of special “achievements” for each mission and ways to enhance the difficulty (hard mode and heroic mode).

Vindictus allows you to improve your character in lots of ways beyond merely leveling. For example, completing achievements gives you new titles and the titles you posses give you passive bonuses (whether or not you display them).

Vindictus is brilliant for one reason above all other. Instead of taking the standard MMORPG template and making one HUGE change to try to appear unique, there are 100+ SMALL innovations that collectively give it a feeling of being a true next-gen MMO. For example, the in-game friends monitoring system is far ahead of any other game out there.

Additionally, I have never played another game (including Eve) where a lvl 1 character can actively be useful in a battle along-side a max-lvl character like they can in Vindictus. High level characters get a “daily” bonus to 1 dungeon per “area” (there are currently 4 groups of dungeons, with each group containing around a dozen dungeons, and each group is connected to a different story-line).

Because there are 4 areas (separated by level) the highest lvl players are encouraged to join missions with low levels to help them out from time to time. In these missions the low-levels (if smart) can be used to keep the smaller monsters off the back of the high-level while they blitz through to bosses and clear the stage in record time.

Finally, Eve. There’s a sandbox you see… and uh… people form big alliances of alliances and kill each other’s spaceships and then post about it on forums.

CCP’s Latest Expansion :: An Incursion Into Good Game Design

Posted in CCP, User Interface on December 1, 2010 by Easley Thames

With the current state of the game, and given the widespread outcry from players, it seems to me that the Eve Online player-base would prefer optimizations and changes to the current game-play experience over additional features.To my great delight, Incursion seems to offer a little of both.

What is noteworthy in this expansion is that there are significant changes that are wholly unrelated to the new feature (Sansha raids). If CCP can continue to blend optimizations (and not just for server performance) alongside new features, my satisfaction rating will continue to rise.

In a previous blog post, I mentioned some UI fixes I wanted to see implemented. Incursion includes at least one of these (naming ships in hangar without boarding them) along with many other useful changes I have desired for years.

I am not particularly excited about the rocket buff, but it was certainly long over-due. The Hawk is getting some needed special attention, but I feel the ships that will skyrocket in popularity as a result will be the Vengence, Worm and CN Hookbill.

The heretic and malediction also should see a major improvement in their 1v1 capability against small ships. Rocket Maledictions have always been a fairly threatening opponent for certain combat intys, and with this change the plated varieties should be even more dangerous.

The removal of learning skills coming on the 14th is also a long-awaited and highly popular change. I am personally very happy about the early x-mas gift of several million skill points to spend as I please, and the removal of learning skills will reduce the misery of being a new pilot in this game.

In all honesty, it’s fine for the game to be as complex and harsh as it is for new players, that was part of what kept me interested, but creating pointless hurdles for new players that increase the time before they can start obtaining useful and fun new skills is just a bad game design decision. In conclusion, skill reimbursement = epic win!

Arguably the biggest change is the sweeping revision of T2 close ranged ammo types. Long considered worthless by the majority of pilots (especially the close ranged ammo for long-ranged weapons) the removal of some major penalties makes them a viable alternative to faction ammo. The movement penalties, in particular, and lack of significantly higher damage than faction variants were usually deal-breakers for savvy ammo users.

In many cases, I will now be carrying T2 CR ammo in large quantities. I’ve bought-out some large sell orders that still reflected the low (pre-buff) prices. I expect prices rise soon in remote 0.0 regions as demand rises steadily.

As for the actual incursions? Well, I don’t play Eve for PvE. I play other MMOs for that kind of experience. I think PvE in EvE is always going to be lacking a bit because there is so little actual player control over your movement, not to mention a limited extent of module management. It just doesn’t compare to the interaction required by games like Everquest, WoW or Aion.

As a short aside, is there anyone out there playing Vindictus currently? I’m greatly enjoying it in small portions, though the game certainly lacks some depth. Still, you can’t argue with a free MMO where the micro-transactions don’t dominate the game (unlike gPotato games for example where potentially amazing games like Allods are sunk due to excessive “pay to win” cash shop items).

Jump. Pray. Lag.

Posted in IT Alliance, User Interface on November 27, 2010 by Easley Thames

I did not post about it at the time, mostly because it was not fun for me personally, but the 68FT battle was one of the least playable fights since Max 2.

The scene was set for a lag-fest hours ahead when all the parties involved formed up in their staging points.

We had moved a large “Shield Fleet” via consecutive titan bridges across several regions. For those unfamiliar with our Shield Fleets, in IT we use maelstroms + apocs + drakes, instead of pure drake fleets. Our opponents in 68FT were almost entirely a pure drake fleet.

We eventually made our way to the 68FT gate where a bomber gang pushed us to jump through. We would have jumped anyway but they added some urgency. As soon as we entered… black screen… for quite a while.

When we did load, modules (even with split stacks and manual cycling on) were not responding. When they did fire you would have 10+ minutes to wait before you could shoot again. I got 3 shots off total the entire time I was alive.

Both fleets were soon bubbled and attempting to kill things. I would say 1 ship – at most – died every 5 minutes at this stage of the fight.

Eventually I was primaried, and could not warp. I wasn’t in any bubbles or pointed, I was tackled by lag.

After my drake died, somehow the lag broke and I was able to get my pod out of the fight with no issues. I logged next-door and the next day we formed up a “rescue” fleet where I got a few kills on the way home (this time in a new drake I had purchased nearby for the break-out attempt).

This was the first large-scale operation where I flew a drake. Having recently picked up decent missile skills, I finally cross-trained to pilot this (rather overpowered) battle-cruiser.

The drake is certainly an ideal battle-boat for the current state of the game, but I’ll probably stick with hurricanes for roaming, and I’ll fly a (high alpha) artillery-fit battleship in the next big OP that calls for Shield Fleet setups. Why? If I only get to shoot once or twice per fight I might as well make those shots count.

Fixing The Eve UI :: A Few Personal Wishes

Posted in CCP, User Interface on July 28, 2010 by Easley Thames

It’s no secret to anyone with experience playing other MMOs that Eve suffers from one of the most awkward interfaces of any online game.

We are all aware that part of the problem is that the game-play in Eve is fundamentally different from the action-bar-centric games where you control an avatar in worlds with gravity to keep you on the ground (or at least near to it so you have a fixed point of reference).

However, there are many changes that could be made to improve the user experience without requiring a fundamental re-design of the game.

1 – Scanning Changes: There are many ways to improve this system, which is currently a very awkward “drag the camera and click” method.

<> My personal pet-peeve is that un-piloted ships (even those behind a POS forcefield) CANNOT be filtered off the scan results. This makes hunting far more complicated than it should  in certain systems where a moon is directly in-line with belts you will be scanning from your in-gate.

<> Add a “scan angle overlay” option, possibly as part of the tactical HUD we already have in-game. It’s silly that I have to teach new players to use their own ship as an imprecise marker for the center of there scan, and we need a better graphical representation.

<> We need an active scan option that pulses regularly if we are ever going to get local removed. Even if they DO keep local as-is, this would still be useful. Something like a 10-second cycle wouldn’t be as good as a human-operator mashing “scan,” so this puts it in-line with the philosophy of autopilot. Namely, that automated piloting options are acceptable as long as they are less effective than manual operation.

<> Key-bindings for widening/narrowing the scan area. Currently, you need to shift the camera and then mouse over to the scan button (or change the angle, which also initiates a scan). I think there could be bound scan options, such as “scan 360, scan ahead 90 degrees, etc.”

<> Remove the damned scan delay!  Being able to scan more times while in warp is very useful to me and I am annoyed at the loss of functionality. Was the impact on game performance really THAT bad? How about a shorter reduction? I would settle for a .25 or .5 second delay.

2- Hangar Changes: For anyone with many of the same ship in one hangar, it can get confusing as to the fitting of any particular vessel. Short of naming each ship (which can’t be done without climbing inside) with its exact fit using some arcane code, there is no  method to do what I want to do (look at the setup without a session change). There are many other frustrations, even with the advent of the saved fittings.

<> Please let me look at the fitting of any ship in my hangar in a new window, without requiring me to pilot it. You can call this option “view fitting” when it appears on the over-used drop-down menu of doom.

<> I wouldn’t mind being able to rename ships without jumping inside, but this is a lesser issue to me.

<> Allow us to remotely strip the fittings off ships. This often causes issues when contracting items to a courier, since damaged items cannot be packaged.

3- Overview Changes: The overview is something unique to Eve (well… barring Perpetuum which is more or less a direct transplant of Eve game-play mechanics into a planetary-bound mecha game). The problems with the overview range from the size of the window and difficulty of setting it up tabs as a new-player into more complex concerns such as being unable to set a variety of pre-configured orbits and “keep-at’s” for use in tense situations.

<> Please let me save a variety of orbit ranges that I frequently use. It costs precious seconds to continually type in numbers for “orbit at” or to keep using the drop down menu in combat. This needs to be handled more seamlessly. Pre-set orbit ranges would help somewhat, possibly in button form. I think the window with buttons for “approach,” “orbit,” “keep at range” and many other maneuvers needs work and should be integrated into a re-design of how we interact with the overview.

<>Simplify the creation of overview states and tabs. It’s just too complex for a newbie and even I sometimes face frustration when, with the creation of a new patch, I have to add various ships or objects back into my saved overview configurations.

<> Bloated size and the high-cost of adding additional columns. It can really, really get out of hand when you incorporate corp + alliance tickers, velocity, angular speed (the number that matches your tracking without doing any mental math) and various other essentials. A more elegant solution must exist. One suggestion I have is to offer the option to integrate the angular speed, transverseal and standard velocity into a single column.

<> I want the option to have two or more overviews open at once, each with different information. I would also like to be able to apply different filters on each one. Having a single interface for targeting ships while another displays celestial objects of my choosing would be very useful in combat. For those with multiple-monitors, this change would be even more empowering.

4- Local Changes: I am going to set aside the issue of local functioning as an intelligence tool in this post, simply because that’s a topic that deserves many posts in-itself. However, with local functioning as-is, I think there is a need for a few optimizations that would improve the game-play experience for everyone in Eve.

<> Allow me to turn on or off a  “local standings count” of hostile, neutral and friendly pilots. It’s so stupid that in the distant future, my ship’s computer can only display the raw number of pilots in my system, but is incapable of allowing me to view a simply summary of the pilots under red, grey and blue tags. In the status quo, standings are already visible in local, but we have to manually count the numbers to determine this information. In busy systems, such as high-sec trading  hubs, it can also be infuriating trying to keep track of the number of war targets. This is not just a 0.0 issue!

<> Allow me to link a click-able list of all pilots in local to any other channel, so that scouts don’t have to drag and drop every hostile manually when sharing intel with a gang.

<> Allow me to sort the list of pilots in local with a number of filters (standings and war-target or militia status being the most important among all possibilities).

This is not a comprehensive laundry-list of problems with the game’s interface, but I think that these changes would result in a much more enjoyable and less-tedious experience for me and many other pilots.

Furthermore, I realize that some of the flawed features I pointed out, particularly those related to local chat, may have been purposefully left obtuse and hard to operate to offer protection to various play-styles in-game. However, I am strongly opposed to hamstringing the user interface and making it less user-friendly  simply to balance perceived in-game risks against a particular group of players.

My Online Gaming Past

Posted in CSM, User Interface on May 4, 2010 by Easley Thames

I have been a fan of Massively Multiplayer Online Games ever since the release of Everquest. While I also enjoy RTS and FPS games, they have little relevance to Eve, and I have found that – over the years – MMOG’s have completely eclipsed my interest in other gaming genres.

Sand Giants Always Dropped Gold!

Before playing Everquest, I had also played a number of 2-d online RPGs such as The Realm (pictured below) and a handful of MUDs that never held my interest (primarily because I was rather young at the time). Though I would probably have loved it, I missed the boat on Ultima Online completely.

A Random Screenshot I Found Online

Although badly developed, the game that I found most fascinating (before finding Eve) was Anarchy Online, a game that imported the now-standard fantasy MMORPG user interface of Everquest into a dystopian, futuristic landscape featuring  territorial PvP, mining towers and player-constructed cities.

AO's "Omni Corp" Reminds Me of the Caldari State

NPCs Guard A Frontier Outpost

If this sounds anything like Eve Online, that’s because in many ways it was similar. Certainly the gameplay itself was very different, but I have met several Eve Online players who say that “AO” was everything they wish Ambulation in Eve Online could (but won’t) be. I happen to share that view.

I must confess that I have also spent many hours of my life playing World of Warcraft, where I regularly raided and played on PvP Arena teams with my mage and priest as part of a “we have no life” style gaming  guild. I was even the “Guild Master” for a couple years, a job that drained the fun out of every day I played as it increasingly resembled a job in the Human Resources department of a small business.

The Joy of Farming for Potions

My WoW account is currently inactive and I have no desire to re-activate it, despite the fact that many of my real-life friends still play.

What initially attracted me to Eve Online was a non-fiction fan-written story detailing one of the Guiding Hand Social Club’s greatest heists. The idea that such a in-depth level of player-to-player interaction could exist in an MMO was extremely attractive to me.

I then encountered Stahlregen’s amazing videos and that was another major factor in convincing me to download the game and setup a trial account. It is pretty ironic that a Goon was heavily involved in drawing me into the game, yet I have been involved in warfare against “The Coalition” since October 2008 when my corp joined an alliance that was part of the “Greater BoB Community.”

What online games do I have an interest exploring down the road? Currently, I do not see anything on the market that appeals to me. However, I will look with great interest at the “next-gen MMO” Blizzard has planned for several years down the road. Available information suggests that this game will not be based in one of their existing worlds (so no World of Starcraft or Diablo will be coming out).

While I love the fact that Eve has evolved over time instead of merely “replacing” itself with a sequel, I do feel that there are deep problems with the game. Aside from lag, my largest complaint is that I cannot “mod” my user interface. Even aesthetic changes are prohibited, to say nothing of the hundreds of useful ways that in-game information could be better organized.

In my experience as an avid MMO gamer,  every online game that has embraced modding has benefitted enormously from it, and I have yet to find one example of a game where these mods caused major issues for the developers.

WoW Offers A Highly-Customizable UI

Because of my tremendous support for an improved user interface, I would encourage everyone to vote in the upcoming CSM election for my corporation CEO, Avicenna Sarfaraz, whose platform includes a strong focus on the game’s dated and rather clumsy user-interface.