I've been playing MMOs since I picked up EverQuest in 2000, and while the EverQuest franchise has remained my favorite, I've tried quite a few others along the way. Both EQ2 and WoW are heavily based on the original EverQuest, and in fact the reason I decided to play EQ2 instead of WoW back in 2004 when they both launched is that I looked at them both and found EQ2 was more different from EverQuest than WoW was. I felt the EQ2 team was trying more new mechanics, more new ideas, more new things, which I found interesting and exciting; and I found WoW was far more similar to the original EverQuest (albeit with tons of polish), and far less innovative. Of course, not all the new things EQ2 tried worked out well, but as a long-term EverQuest player I was interested in seeing fresh ideas. However, I guess this came back to spoil my fun when I picked up the trial last year, because I suddenly felt like I was back in the "bad old days" of EverQuest. No group quest updates in the newbie zones! Farming spiders endlessly to get tradeskill components! Running around the world looking for your trainers to buy your spells when you level up, instead of getting them automatically! And, worst of all, no pass-through targeting? It felt like 1999, not 2009. It was really the lack of pass-through targeting that did me in, as I was playing a healer. Click the monster, click to attack, click the tank, click to heal, click the monster, click to attack ... gah! Never again.
But this isn't a post about why WoW sucks -- clearly it doesn't, or there wouldn't be so many people playing it. Nonetheless, I feel my horror at the UI is justified since Rob Pardo himself said he considers WoW's UI a failure. From a summary of Pardo's talk at GDC this year:
"Pardo talked a little bit about the UI system, and how they intended for it to be simple to use and intuitive. He said the UI system was something that he considered a failure -- not because it was bad necessarily. But from a development standpoint, if the majority of your player base is using addons to modify the existing UI, that's a clue that something wasn't quite right with the way the UI was originally designed. "
And that led me to think about what else I "can't live without" these days. Back in the days of EverQuest there were no alternatives, and the whole concept and world were so new and marvelous that we just learned to use what we had and didn't think about it. Nowdays though, nowdays we are spoiled. Dozens of MMOs out there have tried all sorts of innovations, some good and some less good, and we get used to our favorites. Pass-through targeting is definitely number one on my list that I never, ever want to play without. But what else?
Or to put it another way, if I were in charge of planning and designing a brand new MMO, what features would I absolutely want to include as standard baseline?
- Pass-through targeting. And if you're still wondering what this is, it means that everyone in a group can just keep their main tank targeted all the time. If they cast a beneficial spell, the game's smart enough to know it will land on the tank. If they cast a detrimental spell, it will "pass through" and land on the tank's target. No switching targets back and forth, no clicking and mis-clicking, no having to set up hotkeys for every group just to target or assist the tank, it just ... works. Yep, can't live without it any more, or more accurately, won't live without it, so new MMOs beware if you want my money.
- Maps for all zones. Remember EverQuest? Remember how everybody had big binders on their computer desks containing print-outs of player-made maps of every zone? Yeah, never again. I don't mind having to explore the map before I can see it all, but I can't live without my in-game maps.
- Friends lists, preferably account-based. Fortunately, pretty much all games have friends lists these days. Champions Online was the first I played where the friends list was based on the player's account nickname, rather than just the character name, however, and whatever CO's other failings may be this was a great step forward. Now I can choose an account nickname, such as "Domino", and then friends I allow to add me to their lists can see whenever I'm online in any form, whether it's as Domino.Tankytank, Domino.Ihealsyou, Domino.Themadnuker, or any other alt I feel like playing today. Of course, this also lets me avoid idiots by account name too, even better. Chances are that if I didn't enjoy grouping with Dumbo.Besttankever, I'm also not going to want to group with his other character Besthealerever. Why didn't more games do this earlier? Let's never make another one that doesn't, please. Oh, and do let me add little notes to anyone on my friends (or ignore) list.
- Coordinates system. Most games have this, but the ones that don't make it just impossible to talk about locations in a meaningful way. "Where's the widget for the quest?" "It's at /loc 123, 45, 678" or however you want to translate your in-game coordinates into something the players can access. There are many ways to do it, but even basic coordinates work. "Where's the widget for the quest?" "It's, uh, over by the tree to the east, not the tallest one but the third tallest, near the bigger beaver pond, just after you see the second big rock north of a flag pole" ... no. Fail.
- Quest helpers on the map. Not something that every game currently does, but more and more are incorporating it, and I think it's going to be standard very soon, if it isn't already. These are just little pointers on your in-game map that hint where you need to go to get the updates for whatever quest you have active. So handy. No doubt many will says it's "dumbing down," but I disagree; if the quest is properly written, the quest itself or the questgiver will already have given you a general idea where to go, and the quest helper is just a visualization of this information that you already have. Friendly UIs are a GOOD thing.
- Parses. You know the first thing your game's players are going to do is create programs to parse out the log files and track damage, healing, and anything else they can do. It's been standard since the days of EverQuest. So why aren't more games supporting this as part of the UI? It doesn't have to be enabled for newbies if it would be confusing, but having these tools there will help the designers as well as the players. And what a great way of providing ongoing positive feedback to people learning to play! "you did 5% more damage this time than you did last time," positive feedback enhancing learning and encouraging gameplay is win.
- Groupfinder. I gather the dungeon finder is a fairly new implementation in WoW but I hear nothing but praise for it, and it's something I've long wanted in other games. Smart player-matching to form groups as easily and painlessly as possible? Yes please. OK, I could live without this feature now since few games have it yet, but I suspect in another 5 years we won't dream of doing without.
Well, I could go on and on into more and more finnicky detail, but I'll leave it at that for now. What are YOUR absolute must-haves that you can't play a game without? Post in the comments if you have others!