When you’ve seen and worked with game UIs as much as I have, you tend to be able to spot some issues in a UI without even really using it much. Other issues, however, can be a lot more subtle and won’t rear their heads until you’ve actually taken the time to use them for a while. Thus, I tend to hold off on critiquing a particular UI until I’ve gotten the chance to work with it for a while. I’ve now had that chance with Aion, so what follow are some thoughts on this particular game’s UI.
Let’s start out with something good. Aion’s ability to link map locations is an amazing idea that works exceptionally well. Open the World Map, Ctrl+Right Click on a spot, and instantly you have a link to that location that you can share with others in chat. You can also copy links to the built-in memo pad window (Ctrl+Right Clicking on a link in the pad will copy it back to chat for quick and easy linking of popular spots). It’s very handy and has caught on rapidly with players. On the other hand, certain other portions of chat linking could use some improvement. You can link spell books and stigma stones, but you can’t link already-learned abilities from the Skills window - which means that if someone is curious what an ability is, you have to type out a description by hand instead of just giving them a link. Also, while items can be previewed on your character by Ctrl+Left Clicking them, the same cannot be done for links of items.
The built-in automatic bag sort button is quite handy - though it’s not possible to customize how it sorts, it’s not hard to adapt to its sorting order either. Less appealing about the bag system is the amount of screen space wasted by section headers and not-yet-unlocked storage slots - it’d be nice if there were an option to just combine all your inventory slots into one large bag and hide the headers; I doubt most people use them (but I’m sure there are some who do, so one wouldn’t want to remove them entirely).
Shifting from windows to status displays, why is it that the block of unit frames for group members can be dragged around the screen, but the unit frames for your own character and your current target are unable to be moved? Well, not entirely - you can choose whether you want the “HUD Top” or “HUD Bottom” UI layout, which switches whether your own unit frame is at the top-left or bottom-left; but aside from that it’s fixed in place. Your target unit frame can’t be modified at all. Obviously the capability to allow moving of unit frames is present, so why is it only applied to the group frame?
Why are there no alliance (for those not Aion players, read “raid”) unit frames at all? Even the alliance window itself won’t show you the current HP of other alliance members; the best you can get is a red name if the member in question is dead. Would it really be hard to expand the group unit frame model to allow other groups to be shown? I pity alliance (“raid”) leaders. (Followup 12 Oct. 2009: It’s been brought to my attention that you can actually pull sets of bars out to the screen by dragging them there from the alliance window, so this isn’t really an actual issue, but it would have been nice for it to be more obvious.)
The location of the action bars are fixed, but at least the Aion developers showed reasonably good judgment about the placement of the bars. It’d still be nice to be able to drag them around and/or scale them, though.
My thoughts on the chat window itself remain the same as my post from months ago - why is it still impossible to keep the background from fading out? If there’s one thing that drives me nuts about Aion’s UI and makes me wish I could write mods for it, it’s this. It seriously begins to cause your eyes to water after a while. While we’re on the topic of chat, it’d also be nice if unrecognized slash commands displayed an error instead of being sent out as normal chat - can lead to embarrassment when mistyping a slash command.
Whoever though up the idea of flashing recently acquired quests in the HUD quest tracker and putting a check box there to allow you to make the tracking permanent, that was a good idea. Kudos. It’s a very natural usage pattern that works well, and I hope that other games imitate it in the future.
For the last item here, a small but almost glaring item: why is there no way to bind a hot key (let alone a default one) for opening the in-game Memo Pad? Coupled with the location linking system, the Memo Pad is a very handy tool, yet there’s no simple way to open it - instead, it’s buried in 2 layers of cascading menus. I still use the Memo Pad all the time, but it’s onerous having to mouse down to the bottom of the screen, click the arrow button for the menu, mouse over Community, and then down to Memo Pad. It’d be so much nicer to have a key to press to toggle it open and shut, or failing that, at least a dedicated button (perhaps by the minimap?).
There are other small things here and there in the UI that I like or dislike, but I’ll probably hold off on discussing those for now - perhaps in a future post.