14/09/2020

The Nameplate Dilemma

I think that on a basic level, a good user interface is crucial to an immersive MMO experience. I'm not talking about details like the size and exact positioning of your action bars here, but about the very way you interact with the world. It seems to me that there's always a balance to be struck between immersion and convenience: Pushing a button to instantly teleport from anywhere to anywhere else is certainly convenient, but it also means that there's no real sense of place. On the other hand, running around a beautiful landscape with no understanding of where to go or how to interact with anything will soon leave players feeling lost. The trick is in finding the sweet spot in the middle.

I've been thinking about all of this recently because of nameplates. You see, the default setting in World of Warcraft when I first started playing that was to show nameplates for friendly players and nothing else. It being my first MMORPG, I of course didn't know any different, but even once I became aware of my options, that setup still made sense to me. I get that characters having their name float above their head isn't in any way "realistic", but it enables the player to recognise familiar faces out in the wild, something that their character should reasonably be able to do in-universe as well, but that could be hard from a player point of view when all you see is a generic character model in the distance.

Eventually I learned that there could also be a benefit to turning on nameplates for friendly NPCs when doing the quest for master first aid in WoW, which is basically a slow whack-a-mole that requires you to click on a number of injured NPCs in the right order based on their names, but the actual character models all look the same. If you have to click on each one first to see what they are called, it's nigh-impossible to get right within the allocated time. If they all have their names floating above their heads at all times, it's trivial. So I got into the habit of turning that setting on for that specific quest and then immediately turning it off again.

I've been following the same model in SWTOR since the beginning, but just like Revan forced me to re-evaluate my view distance, bosses sometimes have a way of favouring one UI setting over another. We've been running veteran mode Gods from the Machine again recently, to teach some newer players the ropes, and the first phase of the Scyva fight involves dealing with a number of small adds with relatively little health, at least some of which need to die in the right place and at the right time. When I was first learning the fight myself I found that part to be a bit of a struggle, but then I noticed on someone else's kill video that they had enemy nameplates turned on, so I followed their example and voilĂ : instantly it became so much easier to keep track of all the little adds in the room and what health each one was on.

Back then I still stuck to my guns and turned enemy nameplates back off after the fight, but this time around I keep forgetting and it's been making me thoughtful. When tanking a flashpoint it's so much easier to keep track of all targets when they have their names and health floating over their heads, plus you can make much more decisive switches based on health levels.


Just cruising around the galaxy has felt very different too. Out in the wild, I can see even smaller mobs from miles away and it's much easier to circumvent them. I've long had a reputation for being oblivious to my surroundings and frequently pulling adds by accident, but now I'm wondering whether I've simply been made to feel like a buffoon because the people I've been playing with all had enemy name plates turned on at all times. It's not hard to avoid those!

As a result, I'm kind of torn. Part of me just wants to go back to the way it was already, to a landscape unmarred by floating names everywhere. It's so much more beautiful! However, the difference in convenience has also been very noticeable, and I fear that I may well end up missing it, especially in group content. Of course there's nothing stopping me from simply switching my settings around every so often, but still... it's given me food for thought.

12 comments :

  1. For me, coming from Wow, it drives me nuts when I go to click on a nameplate or floating health bar and find I *didn't* select the mob. I'm so used to being able to do that as it makes selecting things so much easier.

    I've gotten used to having nameplates up for PvP, too, so that I can see where someone's resolve bar is. Not that I don't screw up and white bar someone when I shouldn't, but at least I can easily see when it isn't worth trying to CC someone. It's also nice for some of the PvE missions. It makes the NPCs you might need stand out, though I tend to toggle that on and then back off as having the neutral nameplates on is a lot of clutter.

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    1. My years spent away from WoW meant that I have to remember that I can do this in Classic, so I've got the opposite problem. I'm so used to quickly tab cycling through things --or directly clicking on a mob-- that it's second nature to me.

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  2. Sometimes i'm relly baffled, when i read this blog.

    I know you are a very good player. You're an essential part of a successful Nightmare-Raiding-Group. And you can clear hard solo content like Master-Mode-Chapters on your own.

    But on the other side you're writing about changing the camera distance and turning enemy nameplates on...and i can only think...how the fuck can you do all the things you do without it?

    Something so basic yet so vital, informations turned off, no survey of the boss room.

    Your range goes from one of the top 10% players in game and simultaneously the biggest noob i know. How can somebody have two so conflictive natures?

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    1. Hehe well, like I said in this post: it's about finding the balance! I generally like immersing myself in the virtual world I play in, for which fewer UI elements are generally better. So as long as I've had enough information to do the content I wanted to do, there's been no reason for me to fiddle with the settings. I'm also generally not the sort of gamer who immediately customises all their UI options on starting a new game; it's just busywork to me that distracts from the actual play experience.

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  3. The first thing I do every new MMORPG - and it usually is literally the first thing after character creation, when my character logs into the world and I see the repulsive scrawl of names and numbers cluttering up the screen - is to go into options and turn off every single onscreen indicator. I don't have any nameplates, floating numbers, trails, markers, pointers, any of it.

    Then I play and if I run into problems not being able to do something I selectively switch things back on. In really well-designed games I hardly have to put anything back up. The more I have to switch on to be able to play effectively, the worse the game is. If I reach the point where I can't play with reasonable facility without actual nameplates over characters/NPCs then I usually don't play that game any more.

    The usual compromise for me is nameplates on mouseover. I just scan the mouse over anything I'm curious about. Probably the ideal compromise is having everything on a one-key toggle, so you press Space and all the nameplates light up, then you let it go and they disappear.

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    1. Consider me not surprised! It shows in your screenshots. :) Though I don't think I've ever seen a mouseover option in any of the MMOs I've played. Then again, I don't tend to dig very deep when it comes to settings like these.

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  4. Interesting, I have all nameplates turned on, all the time (except my own), in all games. I've never really thought about whether it breaks my immersion. Maybe I simply have a different understanding of immersion or I simply don't care.

    I'm drawing the same argument as I did with WoW Classic. Some things aren't harder for me, just more tedious, and nameplates are 100% in this. I don't have time for this bullshit. It has zero benefits for me to switch them off, doesn't break immersion, it's just annoying. Same with the HUD. I don't care so much how it looks, but I hate it in the upper corner like WoW's default.

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  5. I've long had a reputation for being oblivious to my surroundings and frequently pulling adds by accident

    Wait, you mean I'm not alone in the universe?

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  6. LOL
    I mean, that's likely the reason why you walk into them as much, yes! I particularly opt for hiding UI when I just want to cruise/am on easy instances that I don't need to see my bar (as a keybinder and a person who always has the same priority order, it doesn't help). Best of both! :)

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  7. It continues to puzzle me why people prefer to have THEIR OWN NAMEPLACE on. To a lesser extend I wonder why players like to have nameplates of their teammates in an Operation or Flashpoint. I refuse to believe it's for convenience. It is actually a total cluster**** in most situations and prevents the player from noticing a special effect. Watching the bufflines constantly is not the best way to interact with the game. Most effects are clearly displayed on your screen and having a pet and all nameplates turned on is not only immersion-breaking as you said, but also incredibly annoying (for me at least).

    My guild raid team to this day remembers and reminds me of my raging moment(s) on the snowballs gun when it was first introduced, heh.

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  8. Hello, Shintar.

    Three blogs, Twitter,... no posts. Everything's fine?

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    1. Heh, I was wondering whether someone would be unnerved by my lack of posting. Though you mention my other blogs and Twitter, where I have posted a couple of times!

      Not to worry, everything is fine. I've just been trying to do a tad too many things at once lately (in terms of gaming and writing about it), so I had to cut back on some of them for a little while.

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