BlizzCon '08: The UI Panel from a Player's Perspective

When looking back at all of the success Blizzard has had with World of Warcraft, it is easy to understand that they value the

When looking back at all of the success Blizzard has had with  href="" target="_blank">World
of Warcraft, it is easy to understand that they value the
gameplay experience most.  The fun factor truly is their
secret sauce.  One of the areas that helps build the
foundation for  keeping the fun from being intruded upon is
the user interface.  Sitting in on the WoW User Interface
panel at target="_blank">BlizzCon ‘08 allowed us
a camel's-nose-under-the-tent look into the UI creation process
Blizzard used for some of the upcoming changes in Wrath of the Lich

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The Achievements UI system took a long, long time to generate.

Listening to the two speakers, Tom Thompson (UI Lead) and Derek
Sakamoto (Senior UI Designer) continue the Blizzard "fun first" mantra
as they walked through the iterations of the Death Knight and
Achievements UI was interesting.  I don't normally pair up fun
factor with the UI, but it makes sense. Especially when Derek discussed
the philosophy that the components of the UI should be functional but
not draw your attention all the time, rather only at "discreet moments"
to show the player data when needed. In listening to him, it reminded
me of designing a fence because you want it to be functional and
provide a necessary service, but if it does its job perfectly, not many
will notice it.

The program was broken into three parts; the first discussion was led
by Derek as he walked us through the process of the new achievements
UI.  After playing the beta, I really appreciated the amount
of effort it took to get the amount of data presented to the user in
such a concise way.  From the wire drawings to the Photoshop
mock-ups, I really got a feel for how much data there is to provide
without making the player search for what he wants.  Derek
showed us about ten different iterations of the design that certainly
had even more prior to the team being comfortable with the end result.
They had nine months to gestate, err, deliver the product and I'd say
they produced a pretty good looking baby.

One impression I always get at BlizzCon (well in both of the ones I've
attended) is that Blizzard has a quiet fury raging behind the
scenes.  When the UI team used terms like "formed a strike
team" and an "interdisciplinary group" to jump on the UI requirements
for the expansion, I get the impression of a military style crew
choppering in to solve the problem.  A methodical march toward
creativity.  The second panel illustrated this approach as Tom
led the second half of the discussion about the new Death Knight UI

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The Death Knight UI went through a major revision process before ending with this look.

The DK UI is something I really didn't think about very much because it
is such a small piece of the overall screen real estate.  The
DK can't use any of the typical character class portraits though
because the DK has a different mechanic in the runic power. 
If you want to learn more about the upcoming classes, make sure you href="" target="_blank">check
out David Piner's article on the topic. After watching the
progression the UI team went through to provide the new runic power
options, it was funny to see them become more elaborate with data
(showing more information through colored areas on the portrait) to
less data but more of an elaborate portrait (when they brought an
artist in) to coming full circle and ending up with almost the exact
components they started with on the first mock up.  As Tom
said, "Sometimes you have to go through the process to know you had it

The last segment of the panel discussed the changes to the main
bar.  Something that we as players don't spend much time
analyzing.  The team discussed how they needed to add a few
buttons to the main bar because they wanted to add an achievements
button and a PvP button.  Sounds simple right?  Well
the pixels that are already on there have been squeezed for four years
so slotting in some new ones was tough. In the end, we all get smaller
bags!  Yes you heard it here first; the bags in the Lich King
will be smaller.  Luckily that is in appearance on the main
bar only, so don't sweat it too much.

So what did I learn from the panel?  In short, not much.
Sticking with this year's theme of "BlizzzzzzzzzzzzzCon" this was
somewhat of a snooze fest.  While no new news was relayed
during the opening ceremony, the UI panel did let a small cat out of
the bag during the target="_blank">Q & A that dual specs will
be discussed later. That rocks, but has almost nothing to do with
UI.  Blizzard seems more than happy to discuss how they have
created the wonderful World of Warcraft, but are always so secret when
it comes to doling out new information (or excitement).  

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