Tobold's Blog
Thursday, January 31, 2008
 
Let loose the mods of WAR

In a recent Warhammer Online dev chat it was confirmed that "The UI will be totally customizable in terms of appearance and utility. For folks who understand what it means: It’s all Lua-based, so experienced modders will be right at home in WAR." Or to be even clearer: the WAR UI will be as easy to modify as that of WoW. Hmmmmm. Is that good news or bad news?

Nobody remembers it any more, but World of Warcraft shipped with a pretty bad UI. For example there was only one hotkey bar, and no way to add more of them. So some of the first UI mods added more hotkey bars, everybody used those mods, and Blizzard adapted the idea and patched additional hotkey bars into the standard UI. There are actually quite a lot of features of the WoW UI that started their life as player-made UI mods, until they were so popular that Blizzard adopted them. It is classic "Web 2.0" of user-created content, and World of Warcraft is a better game because of it.

There are quite a number of mods that make the game a lot easier for their users. Most raiding guilds require players to use a set of specific mods, like CTRaidAssist, Decursive, and some threat meter. I also use mods like FishingBuddy, which makes fishing a lot easier, Gatherer, which makes herbalism and mining easier, Recount, a damage meter helping me to optimize my dps, and Auctioneer, which helps me make money on the AH. Many of these mods are quite complicated, Auctioneer for example can search through all of the listed goods in the AH and propose underpriced ones for you to buy or bid on. Decursive and FishingBuddy reduce a series of several mouse clicks to a single click or double-click.

When exactly does the use of such addons cross the line to where it becomes cheating? I'm not talking about the legalistic view of "if Blizzard doesn't ban it, it's not cheating". I'm talking about the point where one player wins over another player because he uses an addon the other player didn't install. To give just one example, the effectiveness of a Warlock with his damage over time curses is much diminished if the enemy team is using Decursive. In PvE few people might mind if somebody else advances faster due to the use of addons. But in a PvP-based game like WAR one side having an advantage over the other due to the use of addons is more problematic. Yes, in principle everyone could download them and even the score. But if the UI isn't provided by the game itself, and you are forced to keep up to date with various addons from various mod sites, there are always some players losing out in that particular arms race.

And of course mods can influence the balance between classes in PvP. If a dev decides how powerful to make a damage over time ability, does he consider the use of addons to dispel them faster or does he balance their power with only the regular removal speed in mind? PvE balance is also affected; how far would all the WoW raiders be now if they didn't have raid healing or boss ability warning addons?

Mods create an additional layer of haves and have-nots. Game companies need to be very careful what exactly they allow addons to do, because otherwise the negative effect of being able to "cheat" outweigh the positive effects of improving the UI slowly for everybody.
Comments:
I was always too paranoid to use WoW Mods. Is there a site that filters out the risky ones - that can be trusted?
 
It's good news. One trouble LotRO had was that it's default UI wasn't the most polished combined with a lack of ability for motivated gamers to fix it.

WoW default UI was rather good, but modding has made a big difference and scaled the UI to player's desires. It's the way to go.

I.e. WoW intentionally kept information content down, and mods like SCT, Titan panel, various huds fixed that for people who want to see more. Some of these concepts eventually migrated into the default (SCT, equipcompare to mention just two).

Any MMO that goes for longevity absolutely has to go for Moddability I think. Modding adds sustainability to a game.
 
> I was always too paranoid to use WoW Mods. Is there a site that filters out the risky ones - that can be trusted?

Short answer - no. How can you trust any external site on the Internet?

Long answer - it doesn't matter. You don't trust the site, you trust the code. WoW mods are collections of text files: Lua code amd XML. You might also have binary image files but no binary executables. Therefore, you can go over the code yourself and verify there is no hidden virus or trojan, just as in any OSS application.
 
The older healing mods in WoW encouraged slack healers and easy gameplay. An entire generation of useless healadins and priests grew up not knowing how to conserve mana or stop overhealing. Now they actually have to learn to play a little bit, as hard as WoW isn't, at least they removed some of those mods.
 
Well there are two possibilites:
- You could deliver a game with a kick-ass UI that doesn't need any mods.

- You could do it like WoW

For me I consider the actual UI of WoW bad and the original one at release an insult. When I create a new UI no stone stays on top of the other and I like it that way.

Considering how custom UIs keep evolving I really doubt that any fix standard UI could ever be as good. If the price for that is that I constantly need to be on top of the wave because I would have an disadvantage otherwise, I pay it gladly.
 
I disagree with you here Tobold. In addition to knowing your abilities, how they work while soloing, with others & in PvP, you need to know about what loot drops where and from which mobs. Knowing how to properly use and mod your UI is another important part of WoW.

It's not an added layer of complexity, but it is an added area of complexity.
 
Going to agree with J. Random. Using mods intelligently is like picking gems and enchants well. It it is a metgame that offers an additional layer of strategic gameplay. This metagame keeps PvP from being *purely* a contest of reflexes.

Sure there will be people without "key" mods. But there are people who are gemmed wrong, or not geared properly (spell damage retadins).
 
Gotta say, I am a fan of UI mods and add ons!

According to what I've read, you can put restrictions on what's possible in an LUA modding environment and the reasons we have seen so many controversial add ons in WoW is that Blizzard has left the door wide open. I guess we'll have to wait and see what EA Mythic allows before we can make too many judgments but I do agree that add ons like Decursive are an unfair advantage in PvP situations.
 
WoW would not be what it is today without custom UIs and addons. For someone like me, who writes addons, its a huge part of the appeal and they are simply improvements to the game. Do players with mods hold an advantage over those that don't? Absolutely. HOWEVER -- every player has the same opportunity to install addons. That being said, the devs do need to put in restrictions on capabilities. Some of them for safety reasons (no direct access to the internet, file structure etc) and others for gameplay. Blizzard draws the line at the ability to cast a spell.
 
Actually I think WoW launched with a good UI that just didn't have all the features that players actually needed. No MMO that I know of has ever launched with an adequate amount of action bars (with the exception of Guild Wars, eight actions, eight slots). But WoW launched with a UI that set a good foundation for all the modders to build upon. A modded UI often didn't have to break with their look and feel and made it easier for players to adopt the new conventions that were prototyped by the community, and then brought into the official skin by Blizzard.
 
war collector edition shiny bits leaked

http://blog.wired.com/games/2008/01/warhammer-onlin.html
 
In WoW, I think everyone would agree that mods are generally considered "required" for raiding.
But when I use mods for raiding I get that "cheat code feeling".
I never have used any mods for PvP.

I guess I'm from the "old school". I 'cut my teeth' on arcade games like Space Invaders.
It was years before I heard about such a thing as "cheat codes", but these days it seems that every game has them built in. However, in my circles it was always one thing to "beat the game" vanilla, and entirely another to beat the game with the use of any cheat code. If anything, we went the other way: I not only "beat" the original Mario Bros., but I also "beat" it going the long way as only "small man".

I wonder if any 25-man TBC boss was ever downed by a guild that used no mods at all...?
 
I disagree that it creates a haves versus have nots situation. All of these mods are easily downloaded by anyone, so there is no unfair advantage if you choose not to download them. Most of the worst of the super "cheaty" kind, like the old decursive or the autobuff mods, were disabled long ago. All mods out there still require you to actually react and think.
 
I guess addons are ok, so far they just give you more or better information to react on, and don't actually autoplay the game for you...

But I understand your concern, Tobold.

As a MMORPG, WoW is very much a game of number-crunching - with a 2D-interface strapped on to represent and interact with numerical values. The 3D-component is mostly there for the immersion factor, as the important part of the gameplay is 2D-based.

Any fiddling with the interface is in a way changing the challenge of the gameplay (reminiscent of auto-aim in FPSs).
 
The lack of good mods for Lotro is one of its downfalls.

Sites like Thottbot and WoWhead via the use of data collection mods only make WoW a stronger game.

I know the data collection isn't a UI mod but it allows for data to be used to create mods such as ATLAS and Quest Helpers.

Lotro is still great in my books, but would be 100% better if they allowed such data to be collected.

Anyone know why Lotro is so against such mods?
 
This comes down to one thing, customer satisfaction. It is easier to let people have a crack at getting what they want and fixing the problems later. People may not like it but it is not worth the development time now to limit what the UI is like and compare it to what people will like. I for one am pleased cause this means more development dollars towards actual game play mechanics and not the UI.
 
I'd argue that a lua layer to UI is actually more expensive than a LotRo style UI. But I do think it's money well worth spent.

It has to be very well done to avoid the exploits that Tobold has mentioned.

Poorly designed moddable gui will be worse than a non-moddable ones because of adverse effects flooding its use.

I actually think that WoW's modability is in a rather sensible state.
 
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