When looking back at all of the success Blizzard has had with 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 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
The Achievements UI system took a long, long time to generate.
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 component.
The Death Knight UI went through a major revision process before ending with this look.
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 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).