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 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 King.

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 component.  

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 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 right."

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).  

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