When I first started in WoW, I was most definitely overwhelmed with stuff to know. From movements to emotes to inventory to fighting to questing… there’s a lot you have to process. At first, I was a jittery mess and could hardly click things properly. Over time you get used to each dimension, and things become somewhat transparent – that is, you don’t think about how to chat, you just do it. You don’t say, “okay, now right-click this guy with the exclamation point,” your fingers do that automatically.
Once you become comfortable with the interface, it largely disappears from your conscious attention – unless, like me, you’re trying to break naughty, naughty “clicker” habits (using the mouse instead of the keyboard for fighting commands in particular). Or, unless you’ve been away for a while. When I came back after my extended WoW hiatus, I had trouble with some things – for example, using party chat – but not others, like certain aspects of fighting. My hands remembered those more urgent skills even though my brain forgot some of the others.
It’s a complicated interface in WoW, and moreover, you can (and should) map certain actions to keys, including to the letters, numbers, the F keys, and mouse buttons. Some keyboards even have additional keys you can use. I’ve got a few mapped, but not as many as I should, really.
(Below, someone’s WoW interface borrowed from the WoW forums)
When developing a new game, however, even in a pre-made environment / interface like Second Life’s, we have to think carefully about how much players have to process. Second Life is strange as a “game” because every island can create a slightly different set of patterns to follow. Click things and they “chat” to you, or click things and hover text appears. Find a cool object to “wear” or to put on the ground. Interact with an NPC using clicks or using chat. Figuring all those things out in a two-hour game session with only basic instructions is somewhat burdensome on players. So we’re trying to keep the quest itself from overwhelming players while they figure out not just what to do, but how to do it.
Our challenge, though, is how much to ask of players. Unlike your standard point-and-click games, this one is completed in a pretty short period of time, so you have to learn things quickly. In addition, you go through with other people who draw some of that mental processing power. Too much to process makes everything slow down and feel laborious.
We want our little game to be fun and rich, so we have lots to see and do. We want people to “get” it quickly, though, so we can’t be too complicated. Information “density” is the issue, here, and we’ve been experimenting with how much we put into the environment.
However, a funny thing happened. As we reduced the number objects to see, places to explore, and tasks to complete in our search for a shorter, more intuitive quest, things actually seemed to get more difficult for players. As it turns out, without a clear set of actual tasks to perform (as opposed to just text to read), people spend a lot of time wandering aimlessly around. We realised that adding things to do could actually make the whole process go faster. If the only thing to do in an area is to click a few things and read some text, it’s hard to know when you’ve completed your job there, hard to keep track of what that area is for, and hard to coordinate with other people.
Collecting things, using things, and having things happen in the space around you actually seem to help people move along at a less tedious pace. Counter-intuitive, but there you have it. Add actions, stuff, and events to a slow area and it goes more quickly. Who’d a thunk it?