UI design: too much information

User interfaces in MMORPGs tend to be quite extensive to put it mildly. From various exact numbers like threat, damage-per-second, health and other resources to real time boss strategies and timers, you’re likely to find an option to display it on your interface in many games.

A justified question is whether this is a good thing or not. The question  was sparked by a YouTube video by Corpsealot (whose videos I very much recommend to anybody interested in MMORPG design philosophy by the way), titled Players know too much. In the video it is argued that players have too much information, and that the right way to design a truely immersive game experience would be to not convey more information to the player than can be considered to be available to the player’s character.

I don’t necessarily agree with the view all games should be designed around this principle, but then again in the video is presented a single person’s opinion. That being said, there’s a point to the commentary there. Having more information of, for example, the health state of an opponent being conveyed by visible phenomena within the game, for example by bleeding and slowed down movement rather than by numbers on the UI, might well be more immersive than the typical RPG approach that displays a lot of things as raw numerical values.

Is a minimalistic UI a prerequisite for an immersive experience then? Of course not, we all know that. Whether it was while playing a tabletop RPG or a tab-targeting based CRPG, we’ve all (I hope) at some point felt very immersed in a game world. And honestly, most people probably aren’t even looking for complete three-dimensional world simulation. The majority of gamers are perfectly happy with character health states, feelings and other things being presented to us as numbers, icons, bars and text. But I think there’s room for discussion whether we need as much information as we are currently being handed.

Take for example exact unit health values. We already have a red or green bar roughly representing the health percentage of boss X. Do we really need to know boss X has a maximum of exactly 120,063 hitpoints, of which 99853 are left? I would argue that discovering the rough amount of health a unit has by trial and error would make for intriguing gameplay in many games of the genre.

For another example, take unit levels. How do we know this cat-like beast we’re engaging in combat is exactly at a combat level of 37? And why does a unit with the exact same model and texture have a combat level or 8 instead? Or 56? Coupled with the knowledge of the exact maximum health of the unit amongst other possible bits of information conveyed to us by the UI, we can pretty much tell without ever engaging the opponent whether we’d stand a chance or not. Why does this information have to be so exact?

I’m not saying design should go back to the EQ days when you would type /con to consider every single unit you ran into. But I feel that a game needn’t tell the player exactly whether or not an opponent is suitable for them to take on or not. Even color codes for names based on relative level would in my opinion be an improvement. Not only is it ridiculous that a knight rushes headlong into battle against a massive troll whose combat level is 5, yet hides when they meet an exactly similar looking troll who’s combat level is 50 instead, but if exact level display was disabled, in PVP it would be more difficult to decide whether or not you might want to attack that lonely rider on the road as you couldn’t tell for sure if they were just a regular traveler or a master swordsman in disguise.

The overabundance of information isn’t always nonsensical. It suits EVE Online for example because, well, spaceships – complicated machines with all kinds of sensors and buttons and whatnot. But as you’re trying to become immersed in a high fantasy world, it’s a little ridiculous you have 7 boss ability timers on your screen as with a battleaxe you smash away at the Dragon Queen who you know has exactly 74302/120000 mana left, meaning that after she’s spent 24302 more mana another mechanic, shouted at you by a big block of red text in the middle of your screen, will enter the fight.

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3 responses to “UI design: too much information

  1. Pingback: UI design: too much information | Power Word:Therapy

  2. A great take on a big conundrum of gaming.

    I always thought that a great GM in paper RPGs would only provide info your character can perceive… communication via notes etc DM and Player to prevent other players knowing what they should not…

    But the practicalities of this always slowed down the game so that a balance was needed and at some point the PLAYER must decide which information his CHARACTER would be receiving to base its ACTIONS on…(Didn’t u hate those players that knew the rules better than the actual GM and kept pointing them out?…that was truly anti-immersive play!)

    I wish we as players could filter the UI (even whole game!) more cleverly to be able to adjust the ‘immersion’ level of the game. No third person view, no stat displays, no floating mini maps with red dots for enemies, no magical arrows on screen pointing out the direction of the next port of call on a quest…unfortunately we do not have clever AI DM’s to sneakily drop clues into the action/narrative to indicate the flagging health of the creature attacked, deter you off attacking in the first place and stop you from wandering too far from where you wanna be!

    So again the UI info overload just makes the game function and us as players should ‘turn off’/’filter’ or ignore what is anti-immersive to suites our playing tastes…

    Wouldn’t it be nice to hit a little goblin with your two handed sword and see it literately split in two, hitting a similar goblin that has been training hard all its life (levelled up) to find that the goblin grabs your sword out of your hand and bends it in two, smiles, laughs and then walks away!

    Sorry for the long comment 🙂

    Like

  3. Even in the case of Eve Online, there is a case to be made that there is too much information leaked about a player’s surroundings. The constant arguments about how local chat is used as the de facto intelligence-gathering method have been simmering for years, especially coupled with web apps that will accept a paste of local chat and provide a breakdown of friendlies vs hostiles, favourite ships based on the last 6 months of killfeeds etc.

    Liked by 1 person

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