I didn’t think I’d be excited about this game. I didn’t think I had the capacity to be excited about this game. Understand that I’d more or less written off subsequent entries in the UT series a couple of years ago, and I didn’t think I’d be coming back. Now that UT3 is near release, and now that I’ve learned that it may attempt to cater to my particular tastes, I’m finding myself drawn to learn more and see exactly what sort of game Epic has for us here. I spent most of the weekend playing, studying, swearing at, and thinking about, the demo. A whole bunch of UT3 posts this week are the natural byproduct of this behavior. Starting with this one.
I realize this breaks with my tradition of talking about old games and ignoring previews, but these are unusual circumstances and you’ll just have to indulge me. Note that all of this is based on playing the demo. I’m assuming it’s a good indicator of what the final game would be like, but the truth won’t be known until the game is out.
I’m a bad-news-first kind of person, and so I think we may as well get this out of the way: The user interface for the game sucks. I’m aware that this is the “demo” and not the final game, but unless they have a completely different interface written for the full version (which went gold weeks ago) I feel safe in assuming that what we have here is something which will bear a striking similarity to the final product.
|Let’s see… A menu across the top, a menu along the bottom, and a short list of options in the middle with lots of wasted space all around.|
There is no end to the patronizing “Are you sure?” confirmation dialogs, haranguing you like an overprotective Regis Philbin. When assuring it that “Start Game” is indeed your final answer, the visual aspect of the button is larger than the actual hit area for the button, meaning you can sometimes click the edge of “Ok” and then wonder what’s taking so long, when really you “missed”. You’ll get better at hitting the right area of the button through practice, though. Like when you re-map your keys and it pops up an “Are you sure?” for every. single. one.
It takes many tedious clicks to leave the game and return to the “main menu”, and from there to get to actual main menu, and from there to exit the game. Alt-F4 doesn’t do anything.
The central problem here is that this is a console interface. This was made to be displayed on a television (which is why the text is so big and there are so few options) and navigated using a dual shock controller. Here is a pretty good series of images from a user on the UT forums that outlines some of the worst mistakes. If this were the work of a console developer making the leap to PC I would have some degree of understanding, but this isn’t some exotic now interface paradigm they’re trying to cope with. This is a mouse and a keyboard and a CRT. Rumor has it they may have encountered these strange devices before. Perhaps even recently. Why their familiarity with such contraptions didn’t translate into a competent user interface is mysterious until you realize that they are trying to make some sort of one-size-fits-all interface to suit the needs of both PC and PS3 users. And by “one-size-fits-all” I mean, “We’ll make an interface that works for the PS3, and PC players can cope with it.”
But the interface is more than an annoyance, it is a major impediment to enjoying the game itself. In the old days of 1999, when a match ended it would give you a view of the winner. The scores would be overlayed on this view. Along the top of the display would be the in-game chat as everyone GG’ed and LOL’ed each other while waiting to the server to move to the next map. Now this is broken into three screens. You can either see the chat, the scores, or the in-game view of the #1 player. By default it takes you to the winner view, the least useful of the three. Did they really think people would want to play an entire match and then not see the final score?
|This is the scoreboard. It’s mostly empty space. And yet, it contains no information. Perhaps these two things are related?|
For years I’ve been wanting the game to fork over deeper, subtler details at the end of a match. Who killed whom and how many times and with what weapons? What was each person’s longest spree? Frags per hour? Average speed? Hit ratio? Total damage dealt vs. taken? Average kills per life? In adapting the game to consoles, they have dumbed it down to the point where you can’t tell what the score really is, which seems to defeat the entire point of the scoreboard in the first place.
The server browser is horrible. When looking for a game, most people sort the list of servers by ping, so that the fastest servers are on top. Except that some out-of-the-box thinker came up with the brilliant idea to sort this numeric list alphabetically. Thus your list of numbers will look like:
In the above case, the lowest number (the best one) ends up in the next-to-last position, right next to the worst one. This defeats the entire point of sorting the list in the first place. If you sort by player count it does the same thing. I can’t imagine they will leave it this way in the full version. I can’t believe they left it this way in the demo. In a game so vigorously focused on multiplayer, you just can’t cut corners on the server browser.
(There were a couple more paragraphs here listing all the obvious features that were omitted. I cut them. You get the idea by now, I’m sure.)
The forums have been hot with UI feedback, which is almost universally negative. Epic has not yet responded to this feedback. (Which they solicited.) The game has gone gold. It’s done. I’m sure they will have patches, but I think out-of-the-box the interface is going to look a lot like what we see in the demo. This is a point on which I am eager to be proven wrong.
This post was pretty negative, so I want to stress that I was actually really happy with the demo. The interface was a crime, but nearly everything else was surprisingly good. I’ll have more posts about that later.
One final note is that while browsing servers I noticed they have the server option of, “Allow mouse and keyboard”. I’ve been wondering about this. The PS3 has a mouse & keyboard available, but I have no idea how common they are. Still, it looks like console players will at last get the chance to make good on their claims that “aiming with the thumbstick is just as good as the mouse once you get used to it”.
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