Thursday, December 13, 2007

Blue Dragon: UI and Feedback Annoyances

I'm still having a reasonable amount of fun playing Blue Dragon. The world is interesting and the enemies are bizarre and different enough (at least visually) to keep me plugging away. I'm not enjoying it as much as Puzzle Quest, but it has potential.

One thing that has muted (but not extinguished) my enjoyment of this game is the handful (well, maybe two hands-full) of UI and Feedback annoyances present in the game. No one issue is enough to get me to stop playing -- but they occur frequently enough to leave me feeling a little sad at regular intervals.

Some annoyances include:

  • Useless maps. The minimap is hardly useful (too zoomed in to give me an overall sense of progress). The overall map is too zoomed out to help me navigate larger areas. The former issue isn't that much of a problem yet as the dungeons are rather small and simple to explore and navigate. The latter problem might be attenuated by the fact that there are warp gates that can be used to teleport from area to area -- thus I won't really need it to wander from place to place.
  • Inadequate camera control settings. There is no way to manipulate X and Y axis orthogonally. This means that I am unhappy either way as I require "normal" X axis, but inverted Y axis. Alas, I am constantly staring at my feet when I mean to look up.
  • Combat camera is disadvantageous when the enemy combatants have multiple ranged attackers. I can't zoom the camera out far enough to see which character I have selected.
  • Hard to tell at a glance what objects are "searchable". This one might end up being more of a serious issue now that I've discovered that quest items might be hidden in containers that don't actually look like containers. It's fine to have containers appear like background (non-interactive) artwork if their contents are not necessary to plot progression. But if I need to press the A button beside every group of pixels that looks like a world object I'll quickly get bored.
  • No feedback for when I hit the "sweet spot" on my charge meter. I'm assuming at some point I'll gain skills/spells that make hitting the sweet spot easier. But, for now, the speed and sound of the charge meter make it nigh on impossible to hit the sweet spot. Moreover, I sometimes can't tell whether I've actually hit the sweet spot or not because the meter just disappears with no congratulatory sound or visual effect.
  • It's hard to tell how to use certain abilities. For instance, I have a "barrier shield" that I seem to be able to equip in my barrier combat UI (though this, itself, was only discovered by fluke as it was buried off screen) but I can't seem to actually use the power. I also have a "guard" skill, but again haven't figured out how to use it in combat.
  • It's hard to tell at a glance what status effects are affecting my party or my opponents. I also can't tell which enemies are damaged and which ones have full health.
  • It's hard to tell whether I should plunge the Skill/Shadow tech tree deeply or for breadth. I assume that both ways will be supported -- and I'll be sad if I get penalized for choosing wrong when I had no real way to know which way was right.
  • Button presses can be scary events. What I mean by this is that sometimes button presses lead to desired behaviors (e.g., execute an order), sometimes they lead to innocuous behaviors (e.g., search an object), and sometimes they lead to consequential behaviors that I don't intend (e.g., I think I'm opening a door to a new room, not a new level that requires a load and cutscene; I think I'm navigating a UI tree to figure out my available options but accidentally cast a spell/use an item without meaning to).
Edit: I still LOVE the freshness of the barrier (cf. wandering monster) combat. It's cool to try and drag antagonistic enemies into the combat ring and watch them "Monster Fight" amongst themselves. That said, it's hard to maneuver in tight places while fighting the default camera controls (see my notes above). And I still haven't figured out how to execute a barrier combat spell.

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