Monday, February 21, 2011

User Interface Windowing

I was playing the Rift beta when the following sequence of events happened, and got me thinking.

I usually put my crafting skills on the right-side action bar. Rift crafting skills have a "disenchant" option (which is pretty neat). For example, armorsmiths can "salvage" armor to get materials to make more armor. So I added a right action bar and put the Salvage button on it as I would in WoW. I then opened my bags to find some armor I wanted to break down. To my surprise, the bags opened in the same spot that they normally do, overlapping the right action bar and hiding the Salvage button.

This, of course, made Salvaging a rather tricky option. I figured out that you could move the bags around, but sadly, I couldn't get them to perfectly line up anymore. So now when I open my bags, they display in a rather raggedy manner, but at least they're not obsuring the action bar.

I started wondering why something like this never happens in WoW. I realized that--for all that WoW and Rift are very similar--the default WoW interface uses a completely different windowing system/metaphor than Rifts.

The default WoW interface uses tiling windows. For the most part, there is only one plane, and all interface elements exist on that plane. Nothing overlaps, and if you open a new window, the other windows either shift position or close in order to accommodate the new window.

(The preceding paragraph is not strictly true. There's really two planes for the default user interface. The lower one (which can be obscured) has the group/raid health bars, the quest tracker, and the small zone map.)

Rift, on the other hand, uses an overlapping windowing system. Interface elements can overlap and be moved around, or brought to the foreground at different times. But the price you pay here is that if you want to see two elements at once, you often have to rearrange things yourself.

Just a small technical observation. I think I like the tiling system better for a default game UI. It's probably more work, making sure that all the elements tile nicely, especially related elements. But everything that is active is immediately available to the user, without them having to move elements around to see information.


  1. Back in Beta as far back in Beta 5 i submitted a suggestion about the bag issue and maybe fixing the bag system when they open as the only real thing i has a bit of issue with on the UI.

    Actually i had similar issue as you did when had stuff on the side bad the bags would open and cover some the action bar. However as well the bags as also adjustable and movable so they can be setup to open away from the side action bar. Open bags overlapping is and can still be a issue but i know it was something suggested by other players and on the RIFT forums for the designers to eventually fix at somepoint.

  2. Yes, but--I believe there is an option to move all UI elements on your screen. That, plus shrinking the aspect ratio of the UI down a bit, helped me get a clean view plus all my handy icons.

  3. As a WoW beta player knowing what the UI used to be, to todays UI... there is a massive difference to the WoW interface and what it used to be. It was by no means as functional as it is today.

    I am sure Rift will get it fixed and be great after years of work as well.

  4. I'm not actually critizing the Rift UI exactly. I just found it interesting that they used two different philosophical approaches in how their user interface elements were laid out.

  5. Roger that. One thing that often drives me crazy when playing new games is how developers will do something and it just seems like they did it just to be different.

    Dont be afraid to take ideas... for all of our sake. Please take the good ideas and use them.

    For instance, the wow dungeon finder. What a beautiful idea for casual gamers like myself. It was a complete blessing. Warhammers public quests, beautiful. Everquest's raiding of planes and defeating gods. Bioware working on complete voice over for Knights.

    Borrow, borrow, borrow!