Monday, January 12, 2015

Who Wants Loading Screens?

Sometimes, playing other games helps me realize some of the things EVE Online just does right.  Currently, I'm playing Star Wars: The Old Republic and fighting through the annoying lag that 40-45 players creates on Alderaan.  Quite frankly, if I had a death star like Darth Vader, I'd vaporize the planet also.  But I'm not here to praise EVE's time dilation (TiDi) system for handling lag.  Instead, I have a more mundane concern to discuss: loading screens.

I've played a lot of MMORPGs throughout the years and EVE is probably the most instanced of those games.  With each of the game's 7,000+ systems plus individual instances for when a player is docked, one might expect a lot of loading screens.  Well, players do see a lot of loading screens, but they are probably the least annoying I've ever come across.

Hurry up, I want to play!
Above is an example of the loading screen I see in SWTOR after I select the character I want to play.  The screen is nice, letting me know generally where in the story I am.  But I have a long time to read the synopsis, as the game initially takes a lot longer to load than EVE.  Okay, but I only have to put up with the long wait once, right?

Wrong.  If traveling off-planet, even if a player only wants to hold a conversation on the ship with one of the player's companions, results in another long loading screen.

At least I learn something ... maybe.
I think just hopping into and out of the ship is the most annoying thing about the instancing.  I don't want to leave the planet, I just want to drop something off or talk to someone!  Sometimes, a quest takes requires a visit to use the hologram receiver on the ship and a short conversation.  Yet, I have to watch my ship take off from the spaceport and endure a loading screen.  Then, once I'm done with my business, I have to watch my ship travel back to the planet, then endure another, longer loading screen.

Admittedly, except during large fleet fights, EVE doesn't have as many objects displayed on the screen as SWTOR.  That said, EVE's loading screens when traveling between instances (i.e. systems) look a lot better than SWTOR's.

Skip to 1:28 if the video starts at the beginning


In the Odyssey expansion, CCP replaced the old loading bar with a warp tunnel effect to link two systems.  While I had a period of adjustment due to the effect making my stomach queasy, the warp tunnel definitely does not break my immersion in the game.  Unlike in SWTOR, the game does not take me out of the universe with a loading screen.  That's really good, because sometimes I'll travel 25 jumps to visit a particular agent when I want to grind out Sisters of EVE loyalty points.  If I had to endure 25 loading screens like I see in SWTOR, I'd probably rage quit. 

I realize that loading screens seem like a small thing to criticize a game about.  However, the little things do matter.  Let enough annoyances build up and some people will stop having fun and unsubscribe.  That's one of the reasons I'm okay with CCP trying to fix things like the New Player Experience, PvE content, and the UI before really marketing the game to new players again.  EVE is hard enough to learn already without having annoying features.  Fixing some of the major systems that either enhance or detract from the game will help the retention rate.  And for a subscription MMO, a company needs to hang onto the players it attracts in order to pay the bills.

3 comments:

  1. MMOs are a bit of an odd case, as your'e often not just loading the new scene on the client, you're also handing off the client to another instance/server/etc, which can pretty drastically increase the apparent loading time.

    Anyway, theres been a move toward in-engine loading screens over the last few years which is nice, from stuff like the CoD games showing you a briefing cinematic of the next level while it loads in, to Mass Effect 1 and its (very long, and disliked) elevators and then the Assassins Creed series which allows you to run around in its simulation.

    It could be worse... "R Tape loading error, 0:1"

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  2. I prefer loading screens to badly designed and annoying effects, such as the warp tunnel effect (generally, I pop up a market window to block seeing it). More than a few new players have quit playing, after getting queasy from watching it, esp. when making a lot of jumps - that is nothing but bad UI design.

    However, neither is really necessary. When you dock/undock from stations, there is no loading screen, nor fancy effect (except for a fade up/down - and a cut would be actually be better). This doesn't bother anyone, nor make them feel as if they are breaking immersion (do I want to waste a couple of additional minutes watching my ship actually get towed in and my toon walk into CQ, each and every time I dock up... absolutely not).

    Unfortunately, EVE Online has been plagued with a series of bad UI and graphics design decisions in the past few years - the latest being a fade up/down effect on the background of windows, which causes eye fatigue quickly if you need to switch focus often, such as when updating market orders. Not to mention the overly bright nebulas which wash out the semi-transparent UI overlays, nor the ever-shrinking fonts.

    New player retention is absolutely dependent on having a good, clean UI, without irritating effects which only exist for "artistic" reasons. Something that looks cool the first time you see it quickly becomes pedestrian, and then annoying, after the 10th or 50th or 1000th time you see it.

    Incidentally, this applies to all software development, not just games.

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  3. Use Spacebar to skip over most of the cutscenes, especially the ship takeoff and landing. Load times for certain planets are quite long but smaller ones load faster. Alderaan in particular is slow. Outside areas on Alderaan and parts of Tython perform poorly on Nvidia graphics cards - turn down your grass and trees to ~50%. (ATI cards dont seem to be affected as much) 50 or so people shouldnt make a noticible difference to lag.

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