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WildStar Column: About Those Addons

By Gareth Harmer on January 02, 2014

Over the last few weeks, we’ve talked an awful lot about WildStar. Ever since Carbine Studios allowed us inside, we’ve been exploring every inch of the upcoming MMO. The constant fun we’ve been having even managed to earn it our Most Anticipated of 2014.

Away from housing, crafting and active combat, there’s a crucial feature that’s barely been mentioned. Instead of being stuck with the default interface, or restricted to moving and scaling hotkey bars, WildStar’s user interface can be changed and modified however you like. Full addon support has been included since April last year, with eager beta testers tweaking away despite a lack of documentation.

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Even better, Carbine is providing players with the same tools it uses internally to build and test interfaces, including a full Addon Development Studio. If you’ve ever felt like getting your hands dirty building the perfect UI, WildStar could be the perfect place to start.

Launching a Rocket

All of WildStar’s UI components – including the ones Carbine developed itself – are addons built in a scripting language called Lua. It’s been around for roughly twenty years, but gained popularity as the addon language for World of Warcraft. Its straightforward syntax helped to spawn thousands of addons that introduced many new features, with some becoming so popular that they were eventually introduced to the default UI.

Creating a game that can be modded or customized can provide significant community benefits, with The Elder Scrolls: Skyrim and Minecraft being strong examples. But it also provides a way of speeding up internal development; a small team working on a particular feature can prototype their own UI, rather than waiting for the interface team to put something together. It’s even possible to test two or three different ways of implementing an interface, before picking the best one and refining it further.

All of this is made possible with Houston, WildStar’s Addon Development Studio. This handy tool serves two functions: a full-featured text editor provides access to the addon’s logic, while a graphical interface editor helps with layout, styling and so on. Any custom artwork or sounds can also be bundled into the addon using the tool. Carbine’s own addons are also listed if you’re interested in seeing how it’s done.

If Houston is an addon’s ground control then Apollo, WildStar’s in-game addon engine, takes care of launching and running it. As part of the game client, Apollo provides all the plugs and interfaces that connect the UI to the game running beneath. If you want to put a dialog box on the screen, collect incoming messages from other players or simply respond to keypresses, those addon scripts tell Apollo what to do and how to do it.

Tracking the Trajectory

The response to WildStar’s addon support has already been surprising. Within hours, players were working on new tools to improve the in-game experience. It’s likely that Apollo will continue to expand as interested coders continue to request new features.

For now, we’ve seen that the system will allow WildStar’s interface to be customized, from minor tweaks to complete overhauls. Getting projects into the MMO should be simple, with Lead Client Engineer and UI Architect Jon Wiesman giving a demonstration by building a Tetris-clone named Loftis. The beta has already seen addons for friends lists, groupings, and even roleplay support, and it’s likely that this will explode once WildStar launches.

Through addons, we’ll be able to completely customize our WildStar experience. If we want to strip away the mechanical art style of the default UI and opt for something clean and minimalist, you should be able to build it. Rare creature alerts, raidboss signals and auction house analytics should all be possible. And, if it doesn’t already exist, creating it should be much simpler with Houston and Apollo.

There’s also the potential for a feedback loop. As we’ve seen in other MMOs, if an addon becomes popular then it’s likely to be incorporated into the default interface. Executive Producer Jeremy Gaffney has also hinted that he’d like to compensate players for creating addons that are chosen for inclusion by Carbine but, last time we checked, the team was still working on the details. Either way, it could end up benefiting everyone involved.

As for future features, there have already been hints that Carbine might offer support for machinima artists. The possibilities for being able to record in-game video are huge, especially if flexible camera controls are included. If Houston expands to include a model viewer, then it becomes much easier to drop in props and assets from the game.

The only other consideration – and this is a double-edged sword – is social network integration. While some of us would love to be able to tweet our achievements and share screenshots instantly, others play MMOs to escape the trappings of real-life. Ultimately though, it’s likely to come down to demand, with the most popular or useful requests being incorporated into the evolving WildStar client.

Gareth Harmer / Gareth Harmer has been blasting and fireballing his way through MMOs for over ten years. When he's not exploring an online world, he can usually be found enthusiastically dissecting and debating them. Follow him on Twitter at @Gazimoff.

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