The recent announcement that the team behind LUI, a popular World of Warcraft UI modification package, will be shifting focus to WildStar caused ripples within the MMORPG community.
This is one of the first signs of major community content developers embracing WildStar in the run-up to release and creates a perfect opportunity to analyse what the staff at Carbine have been doing with their budding UI and Addon community.
There is a strong philosophy at Carbine about UI modification led by Jon "Bitwise" Wiesman, Lead Client Engineer on WildStar and developer of the Apollo UI Engine, to the point where not only has the game been built up around the concept, but has led Wiesman to claim that he will never work with a game without this functionality in the future.
A bold claim, but so vehemently do they believe in the philosophy that they have included a fully-featured Addon development tool in the game files appropriately named “Houston”.
Wiesman has gone on record stating that anything the in-house UI team is capable of developing, the community will be given the tools to accomplish just as effectively by giving the community full access to the LUA and source code that Carbine use themselves.
This means that not only will users be fully equipped to make anything they can imagine, but by integrating these tools into the game engine Carbine has drastically lowered the barrier of entry for enthusiasts and hobbyists to bring their ideas to fruition simply by being able to dive into Houston and start seeing how it all functions.
In doing so, prospective Addon and UI developers will potentially be able to reverse engineer some of Carbine's existing functionality, users will be introduced to the idea of making addons in a way that has been previously limited by intimate knowledge of LUA and XML coding.
By integrating the software in this way, less third party software will be required, this means that an idea can go from concept to synthesis and working in-game within minutes.
Furthermore, all users will be using exactly the same tools, giving access to peer-level functionality and networking allowing contributors to collaborate on larger, more complex projects and pass it on to other users in the future.
It is even possible that the Apollo engine will allow players to browse, review and install Addons in-game, further reducing the need for third-party intrusion and creating an additional avenue for community interaction and development.
WildStar is already seeing its own Addon scene developing in beta, within hours of getting Beta access a now famous user by the name PacketDancer had uploaded her first addon to the beta forums, quickly followed by many more created by herself and others.
Carbine responded to this by inviting PacketDancer to their studios, this sort of community reward and recognition is going to be key to the successful community development of WildStar, building relationships with key users can only benefit the game and the community and inspire others to come up with their own ideas.
The power this will give to the community is unprecedented, features that the community request added to the game will be made by the community to a standard that normally has to be reserved for patch-cycles to be implemented successfully.
That isn't to say that the best features won't make it into the standard UI though, we have seen World of Warcraft implement addon functionality into the base UI in the past and we should expect no less from WildStar as features and ideas are developed by the community that Carbine themselves might not even have considered.
The Houston functionality then, benefits absolutely every end-user of WildStar, even those who will never install an Addon in their playing career will see the UI evolve as the community breathes life into it.
Great power, however, comes with great responsibility and the trust that Carbine are placing in their community is admirable but far from careless.
Libraries and Functions will be carefully considered and reviewed before releasing them into Houston to ensure that users have all the tools that they need whilst protecting the integrity of the game from malicious intent or misuse.
Opening the UI development to the community on such a large-scale is ground-breaking, whilst other MMOs in the past have allowed the use of addons, WildStar will be the first to fully integrate it as a design philosophy from day one.
It is inspiring to see major players in the mod scene involved with WildStar before release, even more-so to see the community breeding its own during beta (it is also refreshing to see a beta test used appropriately as opposed to a marketing tool) which serves to enrich the experience for all potential players.
I expect to see the addon scene develop explosively post-release and create a legacy for UI development in MMOs of the future, Carbine’s enthusiasm is as breathtaking as it is sincere, their commitment to making WildStar a success in every possible way is beyond remarkable.