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BlizzCon 2008 UI panel liveblog

Alex Ziebart

12:00 PM: The gang just showed up on stage. Hellos answered with... silence.
12:02 PM: Tom Thompson and Derek Sakamoto introducing themselves, lots of applause.

Check the rest behind the cut!

Gallery: BlizzCon 2008 UI panel | 49 Photos

12:02: Derek Sakamato, AKA D-Sak, makes a fart joke! Getting into design philosophy. Going over up and coming features shortly. Achievements, Death Knight, et cetera.

12;05: Design philosophy: Gameplay first, minutes to learn but a lifetime to master, lots of polish to finish things off. The base game needs to be very easy to pick up, but difficult for the hardcore players to master. Thompson is a nerd of epic magnitude and is explaining their process in code. Pictures later. Very, very awesome pictures.

12:06: Going over the achievement UI. Design took 9 months from start to finish. Paper mock ups first, then Photoshop, all done before any coding. October was the first time they officially decided to do it. Derek is showing off alternative designs they didn't use.

12:08: Showing off an early Photoshop mockup. "The Green Machine." It is, indeed, exceptionally green. Their first implementation of achievement comparisons were too cluttered. Next example: "It's embarassing to show this, it's terrible." Very bright. Another sample, Horde/Alliance using different UIs, colors, headers. All the blue was "too Disney" and "Ugly. Like your face." Says he was stuck after this.

12:10 Next they tried a parchment-esque look. "Pretty happy, but too Horde and too guild bank." Toned down the red, came up with something they liked, plugged in comparisons to see how it was. Showing a slide of the early version of the UI, which inspired the summary page so you're not ambushed with noise right away. They started streamlining from here, removing clutter. Added Stat tab.

12:12: Added the header towards the end. "Eh it was pretty cool." More polish to the UI came next. Tab art and such. Again, we'll have pictures for you guys later. They've just shown a slide of the process, beginning to end. Lots of applause. "We don't just throw these things into the game, it's a long process. If there's something weird, we did it on purpose. Or we're stupid."

12:14: Death Knight UI discussion started. Early version of DK UI was godawful and clearly not final. Showing off the 2nd version of the UI, seen at BlizzCon when DKs were announced. Looked cool, but wouldn't work out in gameplay so well.

12:15: Another UI design. Very cool looking, more blades, trying to display Runic Power on the portrait. Devs decided to remove Runic Power from the class, UI updated to compensate. Then they put it back. Lots of sighs from the UI devs. Tried to make Runic Power look cool on the UI. Meters that move up on the portrait, or a glowing blade, etc. In the end, it wasn't working out on the graphics. Would end up hiding some things, and it just didn't work.

12:17: Yet another UI design (the 7th one so far), obscenely cluttered, runes, runic power, PvP flag, pet, level, party lead, etc. Way too much. Also added some skulls as artwork, but some countries can't have those. In the end, runic power became a static bar and they removed all of the clutter, bringing it back to the basics. "A good HUD has to not be flashy." Needed a UI that you can ignore when you want to, but will grab your attention at key moments, for rune refreshes etc. They more basic UI is "what works" and that is how it needs to go.

12:20: "There is no spell checker on my mouth." Main menu bar rearrangements next. Lots of new stuff, and it all had to be crammed into the main UI. Pet bag, currency frame, achievements, et cetera. Lots to squeeze into an already full base UI. Considered sub-bags on the bottom of the UI for mounts, pets, etc.

12:22: Wanted to get pets out of the bag, too many of them. They considered using the stable master(hunter says "what"), or a pet-unique bag. Didn't like it. It's own UI was unanimously agreed on when it came up. They had to change items over from being items to learnable spells. You learn the actual spell the item used to summon it, rather than using an item which used the spell.

12:25: Currency fframe up. Started at the keyring frame, that expanded into other frames. Hated it. Went with something else. Axed the latency meter and merged it with the main menu button. "Saved a couple pixels!" But every pixel counts. They simply ran out of UI room, can't just tack things on. Forced things can work, but don't feel right.

12:26: In closing: Have core design beliefs. Formulate an ideal design process. Be flexible, adapt. Nothing is for-sure. You need to find what works, and it doesn't all come to you the same. "Don't get rid of your goals, even if the process is exploding around you."

12:27: They're directing Blizzard UI hopefuls to the PR crew to apply! Q&A session starting. Will be paraphrasing the questions to keep up.

Q: Where is the Itemrack?
A: Tabled for now. (paraphrased)

Q: Regarding nobody really aware of the mount change. "How the heck do I mount?" in the beta. Will they add more tips to the game?
A: Patch notes. In the UI, when you look at your character pane the first time the new tabs will flash at you to grab your attention. Designers may be adding new tips for all of the new features, too. There might just be a level of learning and figuring it out on your own.

Q: "Dumb question, why no skulls in China?"
A: That's just how they operate. No skulls in china, no red blood in Germany. Not entirely sure why, that's just how those places work.

Q: Any plans to implement a focus frame?
A: There is a focus frame in the beta! A lot of applause here.

Q: Potential for more confirmation boxes? Is it possible to enter talent points first, then confirm and spec? Rather than spending one by one. Like web talent calculators. Question gets a lot of applause.
A: Dual-specs incoming is the answer! They are on the way, and they'll be revisiting the talent pane. Trying to keep it simple while improving it.

Q: "You talked a lot about how you made the interfaces, but in the beginning how do you discuss these things?" UI elements didn't seem pre-planned from the earlier talk.
A: Other devs come to them, and say "Hey, we'd like these things for X and Y reason, what can you do?" Is sometimes reactionary due to needs or simply wants. Aren't added on a whim. Someone has a reason for everything that goes in. Wrath had more reactionary additions because of how many features were going in. Some older stuff needed updates.

Q: How compatible is BC to Wrath as far as UI, since Vanilla to BC broke everything?
A: A lot of addons may keep working. There isn't a huge update to how the UI works so things should be compatible.

Q: What kind of experience do you need to work on the UI team?
A: Thompson says he's always been doing this sort of thing, so when he got into video games it's just what he ended up doing. WoW is tame compared to other games he's worked on. D-Sak has a degree in architecture, which has nothing to do with this at all. He got his start designing web pages. Fairly similar, he says.

Q: Is there a possibility for multiple UI designs? Graphical alternatives.
A: It was considered, but they want to make it a clean system to use. You get new bits as you level, so if you start shifting parts early on you can end up frustrating later. "This is a good place for this element" and 10 levels later, "Oh crap, this new thing would go better there." Multiple setups is unlikely, but they thought about it. It would be a massive amount of work making sure they all work the same. Another dev, "If we have the option of making one button look three different ways or letting you guys make them however you want to look, we'll do the last one." Pimping the mod community. Kevin Kelly and Slouken were just introduced. Major props for Slouken from the audience.

Q: Raid leader asking about PallyPower. Any plans to add similar addons? "Most useful addons around."
A: "We try to avoid class-specific elements if we can." It gets into how you play, which is an area they try to leave up to addons. Not everyone would use it, or need it. Specific players need it. Addons target specific needs, while the base UI needs to hit general needs. Some things are very core things, though. IE totem timers. It's specific, but it's a very core mechanic. Needed to be part of the base UI.

Q: "I didn't think I had many mods, but my minimap is swamped with buttons." Any chance to add a built-in dock for those buttons?
A: Don't want to step on mod makers toes. The minimap is just a convenient place for those buttons. They don't want to say, "This is how you should make your mod." The base UI now has an Addon tab where mod makers can use that instead of minimap buttons, but not all (or many) mod authors use them. Minimap may always be the best place to put things. Can't make modders do what they don't want.

Q: Any chance to condense bags? Into one massive bag instead of individual bags?
A: No plans for that. That simple. A lot of people like the multi-bags. Some like single big bags. Addons are for that.

Q: Will we be getting more action bars with all of our new spells?
A: This may come in the future. They're looking at it, but "if we're adding that many action bars, something is wrong." Number of action bars feels right. If it needs to be increased, there are problems elsewhere, not the UI.

Another dev stepped up to the stage to elaborate on the PallyPower question. In some cases, like totems, they've just started consolidating certain things so you don't need big elaborate mods to play right.

Q: A question was asked if there will be a command to cast a random pet, now that they're all spells;
A: "Cool idea!" We'll likely see it soon.

Q: Any chance to show coordinates?
A: No. The design with that is somewhat obtuse on purpose.

Q: Built-in DeadlyBossMods was mentioned at the last BlizzCon. Any chance we'll see that, and other things mentioned?
A: They're working on a ton of things. Can only work on so many features at once. Those things may still be coming, but they ended up falling to the side. They want to do it, but it'll take awhile. They play with mods like that a lot and ask, "Does it feel right?" It takes awhile to find a design they like. It needs to be right.

Q: Any chance for an end sequece command for a cast sequence macro? Second question: With the training dummies added, any chance to expand on that? Testing out talent specs on them before speccing? Third: He's a hunter, wants to get rid of quiver from the bag slots.
A: First question isn't something they want to do. Desiging cast sequences was tricky since they didn't want one button to play for you. Making it easier to do would be bad. They dont want you to play with just one button, so if you can do that they'll stop it. For example, Hunters and their macro of win. Wow! Casters can wand while casting. We have autoshot now?

No plans for the latter two.

Q: Is the current implementation of the threat UI the final one? Any chance to see the raw threat numbers on a tooltip?
A: Yes, what is implemented is final. Instead of techy numbers, they wanted to give a "feel for what is happening." All of the threat numbers are available for modders, however. Omen can be much more accurate now, for example. They want the base UI to be basic visuals, not numbers and bars and nothing else.

Q: Is any credit given to the original creators of the popular mods that were added to the base UI?
A: Lots of communication with them and the community. They get mad props. That's about it. Thompson is very thankful for the modders, and extends a round of applause.

Last question upcoming I believe.

Q: Also about the threat meter. This person likes it a lot and how visual it is. The threat meter doesn't translate very well to larger groups.. Need 25 bars up to see the entire raid's threat.
A: Had an idea to have something pop up for the tanks if they're about to lose threat on a mob. Was going to do the same for people about to pull aggro. AOE situations drove them insane with that idea. A suggestion was to add the threat numbers to the minimap, but it was hard to see what was going on. They may make additions, but they need to find a good way to do it. More pimping of modders and threat mods.

Q&A is over, lots of applause. They're ushering people out, and we're done here! See you later, ladies and gentlemen. Stay tuned to WoW Insider for more BlizzCon coverage.

Gallery: BlizzCon 2008 UI panel | 49 Photos

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