I picked up a game called Skyrim a month ago and I haven’t been able to move onto another game so far. Breathtaking visuals, addictive gameplay and great storyline teamed up very well together to obliterate my social life. Nothing’s perfect in this world tho and this game still being of this world, I find myself finding moments or elements where it could be done better. So I thought I’d give it a try at my first game UI doodle.
First and biggest issue I have with this game (coming from years of playing Wow) is the lack of fluidity in combat. Coming from WoW where I had dozens of spells at my fingertip through a single keyboard/mouse click, I felt like I’m playing with my arms tied behind my back. It also probably didn’t help that I went from playing WoW on PC to Skyrim on PS3 where there are very limited set amount of buttons, lot less than keyboard and mouse combination.
So here’s my sample scenario of a combat. I first decide how I will fight this opponent and prepare accordingly. Often times, that means changing the equipped gear (you can equip one spell or weapon per hand except for big weapons and bow) which involves opening a favorites menu and selecting the item from a preselected list of items. Another way is to open up a full menu, choose spell or gear, choose category of spell or type of gear, then selecting the item. It’s not a quick process by any means, which is why one can be convinced to ‘favorite’ lots of spells/elements.
Normal menu process for changing gear/spell
But then that creates ANOTHER problem. Long list of “what the hell was this?” situation. As you add more and more things to favorites menu, that list becomes overwhelmingly long and since this list doesn’t show details of the item, you have to know exactly what each item is just from a name. Can’t remember if that specific fire spell was called Firebolt, or Fireball, or Flames, or Incinerate, or Fire Breath? Well, you have to either just pick one and possibly waste magic points on spell you didn’t really want, or exit favorites menu, go back to full menu, and find the one you want, which kind of defeats the purpose of having a favorites menu. Now imagine doing this before battle, couple times DURING the battle, and after the battle. And that’s for one battle.
Another problem with the shortcut menu is in its organization. There isn’t one. You can choose to shortcut pretty much everything including your armor, weapon, spell, dragon shout, potion, scroll, etc. which creates quite a chaos in your favorites list. You probably noticed if you’re an avid Skyrim player but when I listed fire spells above, one of them isn’t actually a fire spell. It’s a dragon shout which uses different resources and different button to activate. In addition, unlike spells and dragon shouts, there are a lot more variety of gears and consumables you can pick up throughout the game which players will have very hard time trying to remember their names of. So chances of them getting recognized in the favorites list is very slim unless the name is very descriptive.
So how can this situation be improved? I have to say, it was quite challenging trying to squeeze in more functions to same set of buttons. I have a new found respect for console game UI folks now that I struggled with this for few hours. I came across few novel but flawed ideas but in the end, I found one that would noticeably improve without any disadvantages.
Current control scheme
Current favorites menu
First change is very small but I believe it’ll still make a big difference overall. It is my assumption that there is usually around 3 different player mode. 1 – Range attack mode. 2 – Close combat mode. 3 – Oh crap / that-was-good-battle-now-lets-prepare-for-next mode. Skyrim being such versatile game where player can be anything they want (which I love most about this game), I bet there are lot more modes people would like to go into but overall, I assume those are the 3 core modes. Myself for example, equip Bow to initiate battle from afar, then change to fire spells when the opponent gets near, and change to healing spells when I’m in trouble or after the battle. That’s a lot of going in and out of menu during one battle. There’s a shortcut (left/right button) that allows you to switch between 2 favorites instantly but because it’s between just 2 favorites, I find myself not using it very often. Instead, I think a Set Shortcut would aid gamers much better in battles. Assigned to left/right/bottom button, it would allow players to assign a set of gear/spell/shouts to one of those buttons, letting players instantly change between 3 modes in the heat of a battle. In my case for example, I can assign left button to Bow, Aura Whisper (dragon shout to detect opponents to initiate combat with), and armors that increase bow damage. Then on bottom button, I can assign fire spells, Unrelenting Force (dragon shout to push enemies back in battle), and magic-focused armors. This allows much more fluent combat and it prevents gamers from playing with a same weapon/spell for prolonged period of time due to laziness of changing them through a long set of menus.
Even with this change, players will undoubtably come across occasions when they need to access potions or alternate spell/gear. So we do need to tackle the favorites menu regardless and here’s my solution.
New control scheme/favorites menu
Instead of one tiny list, there will be TWO tiny lists! Instead of having everything stir fried into one tiny list, it should be neatly categorized so player can easily get to what they’re looking for. For left list, there will be spells and shouts. Since there’s nothing assigned to left/right button, left button will be used to toggle between the two list on the left side (with overlapping animation). On the right side, there will be gears (armor/weapon) and potions with same global toggle using right button. Scrolling the list will be done by left/right analog controller with each controlling the appropriate side’s list. Now when player needs a potion, they don’t need to scroll through piles of spells, shouts, and gears. They just look to the right and scroll through potions!
Although they seem very minor, I think these couple changes would make the gameplay lot more fluid and intuitive, encouraging gamers to get more in-depth in battles.
I thought of this idea where left/right hand action button’s full-press (controller recognizes how hard you pushed the button) triggers an on-screen menu of quadrants on each hand where you can assign favorites so you have 8 items instantly accessible but I later found out there’s already function assigned for full press on action buttons for certain occasions. >.<
Originally amazing but eventually flawed idea