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Writings on the business of fun: Virtual Worlds and Real Money Makes Online Gaming a Big Business. My economic view on the world of online games - without the hype.

Author: Inktomi

Taking a Look at The Secret World's Impressive User Interface.

Posted by Inktomi Wednesday July 13 2011 at 3:42AM
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Overhead map view of  the The Secret Worlds EA showcased mission: Dead in the Water.

                      The UI  or User Interface is where we connect to our machines and communicate through our technology. UI is also a big part of how players interact with video games. In all video games and most mmorpg’s UI can be a strong point if it is built and handles well, or a deal breaker if it is unwieldy or handles poorly. Many a game has fell under the reviewers axe by citing “poor clunky interface” or “the game would have been great only if the game had a better UI.”
 
This week Funcom had a chance to strut their stuff and show some cards for their new mmorpg in development, The Secret World, at the EA Studio Showcase in California. After watching this video released by Gamespot.com for Ragnar Tørnquist’s upcoming reality-horror-conspiracy theorists dream game, I noticed that the game had terrific graphics, an interesting skill system and hot sledgehammer-toting blondes with thong tan-lines.
 
Before I digress any further…
 
Nice hammer ya' got there lady.
 
Gamespot treated us with an 18 minute video showing a small group of five players going through a dungeon on Solomon Island located somewhere in the fictional location of Kingsmouth.
At first notice the UI looks sleek and minimal in design, which is favorable for the players who will be joining the The Secret World community through XBOX. Our intrepid blonde walks up to a few persons-in-black holding what looked like iPads. Treated with a well voiced cut-scene she accepts the mission, signs a release form and walks over to a car where there is an overview map of the mission. She then jumps into a way-cool helicopter and is whisked away to join her other operatives.
 
On the left, the mission, the middle is the target area and on the left is the party overview.
 
The map looked as if it had some realistic terrain detail may remind you of Google Maps alternate view of the streets. The mission o0bjectives on the map looked very modern and was easy to read. How many times have we been grateful to have a halfway decent map layout of a quest objective only to be met with terrain difficulties when we finally arrived at the location.
 
 
After killing a few trash mobs Buffy the Zombie-slayer and Co. met up with their first boss battle. A Norwegian Zombie Caster who electrified the water under our heroes feet and casted black storm cloud area-of-effect spells. Looking at the UI from the combat point of view I got a chance to see how the skills worked in succession. Looks like there was not global cool downs and every skill was able to be used on the fly and in motion, this includes casting as well.
 
The players’ health bar was shown on the bottom left and all buffs or DoTs that have been applied were shown on the right. Under that is a red status bar depicting the health of the assailant in question. If you look under the players health bar on the left you can see dim icons that looked like mail and other options. All damage applied to the monster as well as damage mitigated appeared over its had a rolling pop-up reading.
 
Drag and drop goodness!
 
After the group swiftly did away with the queen of the zombies our thong-wearing heroine decides that she wants to change up her tactic a little bit. She stops over at what looks like a burning bush called an “anima well” to open up her skill wheel or as Funcom has named it the Hive.
 
Funcom has already stated that there will be no levels or classes in the game, but will offer horizontal and vertical progression. The vertical comes from equipping more powerful weapons since there is not armor in the game and all clothes are simply for show. Thank Heavens for short midriff shirts!
 
On the right is The Hive, where players can use their skillpoints they accumulate going through the missions, killing monsters or solving puzzles. A player can apply those skillpoints in any path they choose. The outer rim looks like it broken into three categories: Magic, Melee and Ranged skills. As you progress through that area you unlock different skill deeper into The Hive. Blondie came equipped with using only 65 skillpoints that accounts for under 5% of the total number of base skills. Doing some simple high-school math that makes it 13,000 skillpoints to fill the entire Hive to 100%? If anyone has a better speculation let me know.
 
After dragging and dropping the skills from the left column into one of the 7 active slots shown on the right and changing few of the 7 passive on the left the player driving the blonde was ready to head out. Two things I noticed, one being the ease of on-the-fly adaptability that this new skill system offers players. No longer are we forced to be stuck with skills that weren’t explained correctly. You can easily read on the left in a very short synopsis what it does and can change to fit any situation. What I would have done for the ability to switch out my skill tree on the fly like that. I do realize that there will be charges and costs along the way if a player wants to reset skillpoints; well, at least I hope there will be.
 
Behold, H.P. Lovecraft’s poodle!
 
 
In past interviews, project lead and Funcom thinktank, Ragnar Tørnquist explained that these skills will have a resounding effect on party members and can be combined to create a different effect. Simple Math 2.0 Fire + Storm = Firestorm? At the moment they we know that there are five schools of magic and three were represented in the gamespot video; Bloodmagic, Elementalist and Chaos. On the left was a row of skills coinciding with the spoke of the skill wheel accessed on the left. Some were unlock and swappable while some below it were still given details and definition, but were locked. The skills listed on the left looked very simple and self explanatory: Blazing Speed, Power Surge and Anima Surge were some of the skills that were selected for the upcoming fight.
                                     

Then boss put of a fight and there was some add-killing, tanking and spanking fun for a few minutes but it ended up rolling over. Now for the Phat Lootz, the narrator claimed, approaching a glowing green box in a trailer the player was met with a password prompt. No more looting corpses it looks like. But interestingly enough, you might have to go online to find the codes to break open these bad boys, but the one in the video was posted inconspicuously on the side of the trailer.
 
I noticed that on the left side there was a progression reached to the third tier of “Dead in the Water” which was the mission that the group showcased. Below I gave another shot of the player accessed overhead map, the group ended up leaving ¾’s done. I though about how lame, not even finishing the mission and then it changed to a cutscene that ended with…
 
That’s all I wanted to talk about the UI. It seems that Funcom is going with the super-sleek high-tech modern approach to the gameworld as well as the way the player interacts with it. There was many other smaller things you can pick up if you can tear your eyes away from the environment, smooth gameplay and point-n-click combat that disappointed me. I was hoping for something more visceral, but if the game still continues with the way its shaping up to be, I’m a buyer. UI means a ton to me and can make or break a game for me. I liked Darkfall, but hated the UI, many people hated FFXI, but I loved the UI. It looks like Funcom is onto something new and refreshing that this industry and community needed, we shall see, we have until next year to wait.
Rawr!
 
If you are interested in following up on The Secret World, I posted a group of link to other interviews and news announcements around the interwebs. 
 
Until then,
Play safe
Inktomi
 
 
 
 
 
The TSW Forums, where its all speculation, all the time.

MMORPG.com writes:
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