The Balancing Act: Controls and User Interface
by Terminus Zaire, Contributor — Category: Editorials
As we anticipate the release of The Elder Scrolls Online, we expect Zenimax to make an effort on their part to ensure that the game not only meets our expectations as the greatest MMO of 2013, but is also a game befitting a place in the Elder Scrolls series. Combining the economic, cultural and mechanical game characteristics of an RPG into an MMO can be disastrous if the elements of the game aren't analyzed first. As the active community supporting TESO, it will be our job to give feedback in relation to these system mechanics to ensure that the game remains fun and popular as it lives up to its full potential.
During the Beta, Zenimax will be mining the testers for information to ensure that all ES lore is taken into account, character response and depth is realistic, bugs or other mechanical issues are nonexistant, but most importantly: if the game balances out. Balance involves more than simply the strength of the classes and special abilities available to players when they first join the game. It can include the rewards from quests, the experience rates received from every skill available in the game, the power of specific weapons in relation to their rarity; the list goes on forever.
The Balancing Act will be released prior to the Beta and once the NDA is lifted to discuss issues that will arise if The Elder Scrolls Online is designed with an imbalance in one particular aspect of the game, and how this will ultimately affect the entire game play as a whole. This series will discuss the warning signs of these imbalances, and what Zenimax can do to reverse or minimize the impact of the results of them.
This issue, The Balancing Act will analyze one aspect of The Elder Scrolls that helped to define it as a series: the user interface and controls. While the history and lore of the Elder Scrolls is one of the most important qualities of TES, Bethesda has gained respect from RPers everywhere by being able to successfully design a UI that allows for nearly total game immersion. The control system of a game is what allows players to directly interact with the world they see around them. A broken UI and control system could be comparable to a broken leg; both leave you unable to interact with the world around you in the way you best see fit. When the system is damaged and doesn't let you reach your full potential, it greatly inhibits your ability to appreciate your experience and become immersed into the game.
The controls will be relatively similar to that of previous Elder Scrolls games, although some changes have been made. Players will control their characters through the WASD keys, and your mouse controls the reticle that directs your character's view and direction. Your mouse is also your primary attack and block tool, with the E key being used for all general interaction with the world. You can still hold Shift to sprint using Stamina, but the ability to sneak has been moved to the Alt key; the Control key now allows access to the in-game menus and map, along with the customization of your hotbar. The T key allows you to quickly open your quest log, and the R key may be used for consumables during combat. Finally, a hotbar will utilize the numbers 1-6 on your keyboard for special attacks and abilities during combat. Matt Firor has claimed that, "…there are a couple of new moves, like a really fast left click then right click will stun someone, plus things like double-tapping a key to roll away” and there is speculation that other abilities will be added as well.
Moving into the available menus and UI, the in-game menu will consist of a Main Menu tab, a Quest Journal, Character Settings, the Inventory, Skill Progression, and a Misc tab for other settings. While many people believe that no pictures of the actual user interface exist online, there are two available from videos that have been publicly released by Zenimax themselves. Although the quality is low, we can still get a more specific idea of just how minimalistic they plan to make the UI:
I’d like to emphasize that the date these pictures were taken is unknown; they could have been taken the month they were published in June, or 3 years ago. We can tell that these images were taken moments apart though, based on the color of the clothes on people in the room. Based on the similarities between the design of the minimap when compared to the introduction videos, we can assume that the information we can obtain from them is relatively accurate. However, everything in the Alpha and Beta testing is subject to change, including the layout shown above.
These images support the knowledge of the fact that the player chat will be located in the bottom left, and the minimap will be in the bottom right. Between these two will be the hotbar, along with the indicators for what consumable item, shield and/or weapon you have equipped. If engaged in combat, our magicka and stamina bars will appear in the top right corner of our screen (look closely at the second image). We’ll be able to see our opponent’s health at the top center of our screen, along with their hostility towards us and their combat level (see below).
One of the most important and widely used tools that will be at our disposal is our minimap and compass. The ESO compass appears to be a cross between the styles of Morrowind and Oblivion/Skyrim in that it not only shows your location on the local map, but also identifies nearby points of interest and enemies in the area. This design is necessary due to the fact that players will need to be much more aware of their surroundings at all times, especially in PvP zones. If players aren't satisfied with the layout, rumor has it that we'll be able to move the different interface elements to anywhere on the screen. There will most likely be some who wish to use the old style compass regardless, so hopefully Zenimax has prepared a method to ease the concerns of these worried RPGers.
One element that Elder Scrolls fans will love is the fact that we’ll be seeing a very similar control system to what we used in Skyrim. Although some small changes were made to the keys controlling sneak and opening your menus, the fundamental controls will help to ensure that TESO feels just like an Elder Scrolls game. While Zenimax has utilized the system already employed by Bethesda, they’ve also added their own spin by including the hotbar to implement new and original combat strategies into the game. Hotbars have never been featured in the Elder Scrolls series, but have become commonplace in nearly every major MMO on the market today. Although the hotbar will be a vital tool in every battle that players contend in, the mouse is going to be the primary tool for inflicting or preventing damage to our characters. Hotbars allow players to plan their battles more strategically, while the use of the mouse for live action combat allows for a deeper immersion into the battle itself. If one of these elements becomes more important than the other, battles could become purely spamming your abilities on your keyboard or breaking your finger by using your basic attack as quickly as possible. To ensure that this doesn't happen, the power of each attack style will need to be designed very carefully, along with how many resources in attributes each attack takes up.
Communicating with your allies during a battle or during game play will be vital to your success as a team, so the chat bar and other communication systems need to be implemented flawlessly. Because movement and interacting with the world relies directly on your keyboard, a system must be devised to allow you to quickly switch from moving your character to communicating with nearby allies. There isn't very much information on the web in regards to the in-game chat, primarily because most of the Alpha testers have never mentioned it. Although this information is scarce, discussions in regards to communicating with your enemies during PvP in Cyrodiil have become increasingly common as the release of Beta testing draws closer. Because TESO will be incorporating pre-existing social networks such as Facebook or Google+, some speculate that we’ll be able to communicate using a built-in voice chat. Although everyone will be able to communicate with the chat box, voice chat would hopefully be reserved solely for friends and guilds if added. However, a conflict comes into place when we can’t talk to our enemies in PvP, but members of our guilds are from other Alliances. Allowing players to communicate with their enemy can have unexpected results, such as diplomacy between enemy guilds or abuse of the alliance point system.
The final topic that I’ll discuss is one that has recently exploded with debate, and will probably stay a very important topic until Zenimax releases a statement with more information: first person view. While a first person view does already exist in TESO, many Elder Scrolls veterans became angered when they realized that it isn’t a true first person in that players won’t be able to see their hands and weapons. As someone who has played the past 3 Elder Scrolls games in first person, I can easily agree with the argument that having a realistic first person view is vital to roleplaying and total immersion. The success of The Elder Scrolls has been directly related to this immersion aspect, and Zenimax should be doing everything in their power to support it. However, MMO veterans understand that nearly every battle in TESO is going to be fought in third person because we’re going to need to be more actively aware of our surroundings.
Based on the fact that Zenimax had no plans on improving the first-person view already implemented, it appears that they believed that adding a view of this nature simply wasn't viable. In Skyrim, there are hundreds of different weapon styles, varying from the material of the weapon to the weapon style itself. If you multiply this by the number of attack types you can do (normal, power attacks, running attacks, etc) it results in over 300 different attacks that your character can do. TESO will have all of these weapons and attack styles, but there will also be special abilities with the hotbar that you can use for all of those weapon types. This changes the number of attack styles from the hundreds to the thousands; and that doesn't even include Synergy moves! If Zenimax added in a realistic first person view, they would need to design both the third-person and first-person combat styles, eating up time and resources that could be used on more important aspects of the game. One option that's been mentioned that could fix this problem involves automatically zooming out to third-person view once you enter combat, but that would remove the point of a realistic first-person view altogether!
Ultimately, Zenimax will be limited in their ability to create a balance between designing The Elder Scrolls Online as both an RPG for Elder Scrolls veterans and an MMO for hardcore gamers. While making their best effort to ensure the TESO plays just like the previous ES games, the basic mechanics that most players are used to will be turned on their head when we begin to incorporate a multiplayer design. Although Zenimax will be making an effort to update any aspects of the game that the players disagree with, their primary focus will be ensuring that the game's content is strong enough to provide players with years of entertainment. Cosmetic features such as a realistic first-person view and player housing are at the bottom of the list when it comes to core content updates.
This is no reason to be discouraged! Zenimax is still working to ensure that all lore, basic combat mechanics, and everything that helps to make the Elder Scrolls a great series is still added; but only if the additions of these elements make sense. Personally I would love to see the addition of a realistic first-person view, but I'd much rather see Zenimax focus their efforts on the core game mechanics. It's important to remember that this doesn't mean that we as members of the community can’t disagree with their choices; it will be our job to provide Zenimax with constructive feedback on the creation of The Elder Scrolls Online to assist them in making it both the game we expect and deserve. It's their job to cater to us, the customers, and that may include focusing on parts of the game that the developers would have otherwise left alone.
Thanks for reading!
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A new article of The Balancing Act will be releasing every Tuesday afternoon, so stay tuned for more in the future!
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