Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Solving the Rubix Cube of UI

One of my biggest complaints with the game of Eve online is the user interface. It a word, it's terrible. Actually it's beyond terrible, but to accurately describe it requires more then one word. Or paragraph. Or book.

In the latest episode of Lost In Eve (season 3, episode 10), Jade and Jayne introduce two new co-hosts that I'm still adjusting to. Without spoiling it, lets just say the ego on that show has multiplied by a factor of 500. I'm still not sure if that was a good move or not. Regardless of how I feel about it, the four hosts took shots at our new elected leader of the CSM, the one, the only, the arrogant, The Mittani. I use “took shots at” reluctantly. The tone of the interview was very standoffish at the beginning, but near the end it almost sounded like they wanted to kiss him. And while The Mittani sounded like he had crash landed on Earth from the plant Arrogance, I found myself developing a healthy dose of respect for the man. For now I think he's perfect, but I reserve the right to change my mind later. The Mittani really comes off as a man who has no middle ground. Either you like him or you hate him; only time will be able to tell if this was a good move that will continue to move the CSM in a positive direction or one that will backfire and blow up in all of our collective faces.

The Mittani

If you haven't heard this interview I encourage you to check it out. Like it or not, he's the man, and we all have little choice but to tow the line. Its not like we can impeach him.

One of the things I really liked was when he was asked what he would change in the game. At first he correctly stated he couldn't but if he could it would be the UI; as the current UI in general is terrible.

It got me to thinking. What exactly does CCP have in store for us? Didn't they say they were going to fix it at fanfest? And what exactly where they going to do?

CCP did a survey of the UI a few weeks ago. The results are in and somewhat surprising. When I took this survey, I pretty much took them to task with straight 1's across the board with a few 2's tossed in to keep it real. CCP had this to say:

“On average EVE UI is rated at 3.3 on a scale of 1 to 5, which is relatively low and indicates a need for improvements; while about a half of the EVE players gives UI above the average rating, a quarter rates it below the average. New players (played EVE for less than 6 months) are likelier to rate UI higher, while Veteran players (played EVE for more than 2 years) are likelier to rate it lower: while the mean for New players is at 3.5 and for Established players at 3.4, for Veteran players it is down at 3.1.”

First of all, half of the player base give it above average? What fucking game are they playing? Dust? And the vets only give it a 3.1? Wow. I can understand why new players would rate it higher... they after all don't know any better. But they should be the ones rating it lower. I figure there was a lot of people being nice and just couldn't give CCP the 1's and 2's they deserved.

Second of all, 3.1 is “relatively low and indicates a need for improvements”? If they were being truthful, they should have said “We actually thought it was far worse then this, so if you all don't care then fuck ya.” I really think they aren't going to fix it and skate on these terrible results.

So what exactly are they doing to fix it then?

Since I'm a visual person, I needed a screenshot. Luckily, for those of us literally poor SOB's that couldn't make it to fanfest, CCP helpfully provided videos. One of the videos was the keynote, where they talked about improving the UI.  In it, CCP Soundwave had the best description of the UI I've ever heard:

"Welcome to EVE Online - Here's a rubix cube, go fuck yourself" - CCP Soundwave

After watching the changes in the video I was a bit underwhelmed. The reason being the fixes and improvements CCP wants to do are not actually going to fix the UI. They are graphical fixes and additions that do nothing to increase the usability of the UI save for one... the font.

Old on the left, new on the right

Now, they didn't really give a good example of the font changes, but it's better then nothing I suppose. I guess we'll be able to make the call when it comes out on the test server. But it's an encouraging first look into something that has bothered many for a long time.

As for the actual UI....

click for larger image

Looks cool. Looks... well, cool. Looks like the videos. Looks cool. Yeah I'm not really seeing the usability here. Granted that is hard to do from a screenshot, but CCP needs to understand something very important here. Adding cool looking things and features to a turd doesn't change the fact its a pile of shit. And the UI as it stands is pretty much a sewer.

I've said this before and I'll continue to preach it until it happens. The UI needs to be re-imagined and re-designed from the ground up. That means you don't just add things to the pile of shit, but you take the turd away entirely.

Here is a few things on my (excuse the pun) shit list:

1. Lack of Intuitive Control

Want to know how long it took me to figure out how to move my spaceship when I first started? I won't admit exactly, but let's just estimate it 3 minutes past embarrassing too long. Now I'm a video game guy. I've been playing video games for as long as I could hold a controller. For reference, I'm over 30 years old now. Yeah, its been a long time. I like to think of myself as being pretty good at games, I can pick one up and be above average pretty quickly. But for whatever reason, I kept staring at my rookie ship wondering why the WASD keys weren't doing anything. And moving my mouse around holding a button did nothing but skew my view all over the place.

Don't get me wrong. I'm not calling for manual control of spaceships (although that would be freaking sweet). But I shouldn't have to fumble around for a long time trying to figure out how to move. Want to retain users? Figure out how to make the UI interaction a natural extension of the player. We shouldn't have to learn the UI to play the game. And currently, that is exactly what we are doing.

2. Too Many Windows

The sheer number of windows to do... well, anything, is simply staggering. Window for wallet, window for market, window for fitting, window for local, window for corp chat, window for station controls, window for inventory, window for hangar.... The simple act of me trying to buy something in a station and fit it to my ship requires a stupid amount of windows that obscures the ship entirely. The fact that the only way to properly fly around in this game is the Overview Window means it's always up when you're in space. The fact that window takes up a large amount of screen real estate means you have less room for fleet window, drone control window, show info, etc etc etc. Even the map has like 6 windows open at any given time.  I can't imagine playing this game on a small resolution.

Am I playing a game about pew pew spaceships or Excel: Spreadsheets Strike Back? Players are drowning in information and can't see the light at the end of the tunnel because there is a window in the way.

3. Right Click Menu

I'm a proud PC guy. I like the fact that I can right click and do things faster then my silly Mac using brethren. However, this is one area where Mac actually has it right (something I never thought I would say EVER). In EVE we use the right click menu for about everything. But its shoddy, and until recent fixes people were doing really bad things because trash was right next to show info. It was super easy to mis-click and do something you really regretted later.

But even fixed doesn't make it better. It's awkward. It's not intuitive. And it's annoying as hell when you are trying to fucking GTFO and have to roll over multiple right click menus to get to where you know it's safe.

I almost think the answer to this is the radial menu already in EVE that no one uses. No one uses it because they either A) don't know it's there or B) have to hold the mouse over the target. Have you tried to click the object in space that's moving when you are moving? Yeah, good luck. If its a big object it is no big deal, but try doing it to another ship when you're 30 km out and both your ship and his are orbiting each other. If you miss you waste precious seconds in a PVP situation.

CCP needs to rethink that entire thing. Maybe making it so holding the left click to bring up the radial menu will bring up smart options. If you have no targets and nothing active, the menu brings up the gates and objects to warp to. With a target active, it brings up more important options, like approach, warp to (if possible, disappears if not), orbit, de-lock, etc etc. It would speed up control significantly. And doesn't take a degree in rocket science to figure out. Its almost.... intuitive?

I have other minor things but I feel if CCP can really hit those its going to fix the majority of the problems we have. For example I dislike our system of drone control. It is a window and not just a simple module like guns. Its controlled by the right click menu. It has all kinds of problems. It needs to be completely redesigned. And by fixing these as the main three, I feel it too will be addressed. Let me know what kinds of things bug you about the UI in the comments.

Until we get the turd replaced, EVE will continue to be a great game with terrible controls. And its a shame really. The game has the potential to be so great.


  1. You make some really great points there about the UI. you should work on these ideas a bit more and make some proposals in the Assembly Hall forum.

    And yeah, there is no denying The Mittani is terribly charismatic. He can win people over with his charms very well. This will be an interesting year in CSM to say the least.

  2. I really enjoyed the Mittani interview as well. It was really refreshing to hear someone who actually knows what they're talking about! There is so much parroting that goes on in the EVE community. Here is a guy who actually has his own ideas and thoughts and reasoning behind him. I have high hopes that he will be able to turn the CSM into an organization of people who act like professionals.

    You can say I'm a dreamer, but I'm not the only one.