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TMI

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superpig

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I think I may have figured out why I don't like RPGs (or at least, the ones I've played). The problem is Too Much Information.

I tried out Raduprv's MMORPG, Eternal Lands tonight. I like to try such games once in a while, just to see if perhaps my tastes are changing. What did I determine? Eh, it's ok. I'll probably try it some more tomorrow, after getting a decent amount of sleep.

I played through the first little bit with the help of a "Newbies Guide" on the site. Ignoring the more esoteric problems (it seemed to have to resync with the server fairly frequently, and the framerate was generally poor, but Raduprv's mentioned that he's looking for a strong OpenGL coder, so I guess that's going to improve), it was fairly easy to get into - left-click to walk to a spot on the ground, with the cursor changing to other modes depending on the item you hover over.

So far, almost so good.. one problem I think they may need to work on is that there's no action acknowledgement. It seems that the client must send all actions off to the server, which will then send back the command to have the model start walking or whatever. This means that there can be a delay between clicking and seeing your character do something - sometimes several seconds, I experienced. And because there's no acknowledgement of the click, you're left wondering if the game registered it and that you clicked on a walkable spot and so on... you may well try clicking again, or clicking somewhere adjacent, which just confuses things further as the character starts to move and then changes direction. An acknowledgement is necessary - some kind of sound or something, just to indicate that the command is ok (as far as the client can see) and is being executed. That said, the client has been open-sourced so maybe it'll happen in the near future.

The *other* problem - which we can probably put down to me not reading the game's featurelist beforehand - is that some of the hotspots seemed hideously small. As it turns out, you can orbit the camera around your character - I hadn't realised this, and was looking at certain hotspots side-on (or even from behind), which made things a tad difficult for me. [smile]

Anyway, onto Too Much Information. It seems fairly common in RPGs that you've got a whole load of character stats for each member of your party, and all the monsters have stats, and all the items have stats... and so many RPGs seem determined to throw as much of this information at the player as it possibly can, all at once.

Say you're controlling a party of five people. Each of these people have health, mana, hunger, and fatigue displays. They also have primary weapon, secondary weapon, the five items in their 'potion belt,' their current action, and any special modifiers such as "poisoned" or "blessed."

That's just a fraction of the UI the average RPG seems to present, and yet I ask, why? Why show me the hunger meter if it's not low and we're not in a situation where I might want to know it (i.e. one where food is nearby)? Why show me their primary weapon if we're not in or preparing for a fight? Why show the potion belt when it's empty? And so on and so forth.

What'd be *really* cool would be to have stat meters appear and disappear based on what you're doing at the time. Walk into an area where lots of things are available for harvesting? *Bing*, and your harvest stat fades into the character display. Walk into a shop? *Pouf*, and the amount of gold you're carrying appears. Otherwise, those things should be hidden for general play. Sure, bring them up when the player asks for them - have some screen on which all stats are displayed, in full - but otherwise, minimize the UI. "Auto-Hide." If you felt really enterprising, you could let the player define which statistics he wanted visible on the screen at all times, and which should be made available when important.

I think it's the seven +/- two rule, and it intrigues me that RPGs are as popular as they are when people are actively having to worry about upwards of fifteen elements at a time.
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Having all the information at hand allows you to make long term descision about how you want to develop your character. It is not all crucial information that you must know at every minute of the game. With RPGs you can take your time over the information. Look at stats. Filter out what you don't need. Plan what you want to strengthen etc.

I mean, come on, your exagerating slightly about what you, the user, is asked to cope with too. And what the hell kind of game has a "hunger" meter anyway? I've never heard of such a thing. A good RPG designer would know people aren't interested in monitoring such a thing.

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Original post by __Daedalus__
Having all the information at hand allows you to make long term descision about how you want to develop your character.
Yes, but does all that information need to be presented on the main game screen?

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It is not all crucial information that you must know at every minute of the game. With RPGs you can take your time over the information. Look at stats. Filter out what you don't need. Plan what you want to strengthen etc.
Exactly! Key bits "It is not all crucial" and "Filter out." Why should I have to filter out the info when the game could do it for me?

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I mean, come on, your exagerating slightly about what you, the user, is asked to cope with too.
Well, true. But not much. I've played a few RPGs and they all seem to do this.

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And what the hell kind of game has a "hunger" meter anyway? I've never heard of such a thing. A good RPG designer would know people aren't interested in monitoring such a thing.
Depends on how it effects things. In Eternal Lands, your hunger effects the rate at which you heal and stuff. So it seems obvious that people are going to want to be able to see it.

It was just an example, anyway; I'm sure I can provide a better one. Say that you have an RPG with a magic system, and all spells are related to battles (i.e. you wouldn't be interested in using spells outside of a battle). If that's the case, the mana meter could be hidden while you're not in a battle, and while you're not near some kind of mana-recharging entity. Because apart from those situations, you don't need to know it. Sure, you *can* know it if you click the character button or something, but it's hidden from the game's base interface.

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Yes, but does all that information need to be presented on the main game screen?

Oh, definitley not all on the one screen! I was actually thinking of the interface they had in Baldurs Gate II when I wrote this reply. That was really nice! The information was hidden but never more than two clicks away (or keybaord shortcuts). The amount of stat based information they gave was enormous but that was very well presented to you. That was actually one of the things I enjoyed about it.

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Exactly! Key bits "It is not all crucial" and "Filter out." Why should I have to filter out the info when the game could do it for me?

Most of the RPGs I have played have had a good way of presenting data to you (except Morrowind and it's horrible quest diary - ughh ). Would you say that Eternal Lands has a bad interface then (I have never played it)? It helps if the interface is very customisable too.

Quote:

It was just an example, anyway; I'm sure I can provide a better one. Say that you have an RPG with a magic system, and all spells are related to battles (i.e. you wouldn't be interested in using spells outside of a battle). If that's the case, the mana meter could be hidden while you're not in a battle, and while you're not near some kind of mana-recharging entity. Because apart from those situations, you don't need to know it. Sure, you *can* know it if you click the character button or something, but it's hidden from the game's base interface.

I am now being reminded of the quest games / RPG's I used to play from the NES / SNES. RPGs where you would collect a maximum of 25 special items (boots, orb, cap etc). Like "Battle Of Olympus" and any of the Zelda series. The only thing you had to worry about was your health [smile]. Folks should write more of those!

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No, sorry, I didn't mean to implicate Eternal Lands in that - it was just something that occurred to me while player. EL has a pretty nice interface, though it doesn't scale to different resolutions, meaning that it can take up quite a bit of the screen at low res. I play it at 1280x1024 anyway so no problem :)

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The whole 'too-much-information' thing is something I'm currently working on in my own game. It's a balance between giving the player lots of options in character development and overwhelming them under an avalanche of stat readouts, bars and numbers. There are certain things I wish to convey to the player, yet if I do so I generate a lot of 'interface noise' for the player to have to deal with. I like your idea of modifying the display on the fly based on context, and may even do some experimentation in that regard. I can see potential problems in trying to anticipate what the player is most likely to want to do in any given situation, but all in all the idea has merit.

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I can see potential problems in trying to anticipate what the player is most likely to want to do in any given situation, but all in all the idea has merit.
I think that'd be a beautiful opportunity for machine learning, actually. Pay attention to which meters the player calls up in given situations, and after a while have them come up automatically.

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