Psychochild's Blog

A developer's musings on game development and writing.

15 November, 2006

Custom UIs and patch day woes
Filed under: — Psychochild @ 1:49 AM

EverQuest 2 just released its latest expansion Echoes of Faydwer. Congrats to the team!

Of course, if I’m blogging about it then there’s something to complain about. Oh, yes, there will be complaining.

Online game developers got really clever and figured out that players could make better user interfaces than they could. It started with the venerable EverQuest, then spread to WoW and EQ2. In fact, the player-made interfaces are generally superior.

Until it comes to patch day….

What happens is that the custom UIs break. Sometimes in very horrible ways, to the point that you (*shiver*) have to use the default UI again. It’s ugly. You have to move and resize everything to make it fit like your custom UI does, but even then it doens’t look right. Sometimes you lose a quest reward because the “old” custom UI didn’t show you the quest reward window after you completed it. Not that I’m bitter.

C’mon, developers, you can do better than that. You freeze the client before the expansion date in order to send it off to duplication. During that time, freeze the UI elements as well. That way the custom UI developers can finish the work and players can enjoy the game properly on expansion day. Instead of having to fight with the default UI and/or lose a quest reward. (Okay, maybe I’m a little bitter.) Patch day should be happy for the players; do everything you can to make the process easy on the playerbase. They’re going to be irate enough when the inevitable problems start and interrupt gameplay anyway.

Of course, the exact same thing also happened in WoW, so don’t think I’m just upset at EQ2 here. It was equally frustrating to have to wait some time for the custom UI authors to work on the new version. If you were lucky and used a popular UI program you might get an update later that day. Using something obscure? You’ll think about changing sometime soon, especially if it takes a few days to get your UI back the way you like it. In general, I think EQ2 does handle updates more gracefully than WoW does, it’s just that the expansion brought about major changes and broke some of the old stuff.

And, while I’m complaining, what’s with the 3 hour patch for the game when I didn’t even buy the expansion for EQ2? No way to cut that down for people that haven’t bought the expansion yet? I know you’re not a bunch of n00b developers; think of something clever.

Anyway, good thing I’ll be out of town for a bit. Gives the author of my favorite UI a few days to play catchup, then I can go help the guild level by completing my heritage quests. Assuming the beefed-up monsters don’t kick my ass something fierce.


  1. Agreed, I hate Eq2′s default UI, its too bad in high resolutions. The small target mob’s bar.. If eq2 devs would let players do some addons, interface like wow , it would be just awesome.

    Comment by Sencer — 15 November, 2006 @ 7:07 AM

  2. I agree, but in all fairness they *did* try to extend beta invites to as many of the popular UI authors as possible so they could get their respective mods updated with the new XML changes. I also seem to recall a beta forum post where they asked if anybody knew any author UI authors that were *not* in the beta (not that they were technically supposed to ASK at the time since the NDA was still active, but not the point..)..

    I’m not sure what else they could do in that regard outside of perhaps setting up a mailing list for custom-UI developers (there’s already a forum) and notifying the list of changes as they occur. Things will always change and be revised, and if UI development was all in-house, obviously SOE would have more control over the quality and timely implementation of updates. Sure it would be nice to have the system “port” known functions in cases where there’s a 1:1 from the old to new schema, but getting the resources allocated to make that happen is probably easier said than done, but maybe custom-UI tools and support should be given a higher priority than currently. Since every third-party UI developer has a different situation, all you can really do at the moment anyways is make a best-effort attempt to communicate and keep folks up-to-date. Beyond that it’s in the custom-UI author’s realm.

    Comment by Nick McLaren — 15 November, 2006 @ 8:12 AM

  3. Aren’t you being a little unrealistic Brian?

    During that time, freeze the UI elements as well. That way the custom UI developers can finish the work and players can enjoy the game properly on expansion day.

    Are you seriously suggesting that any game developer who is going to issue a patch should stop the process until all the second party modders can ‘catch up’ and fix their mods? The people who write UI mods tend to be professional amateurs, and endorsing their work by giving them time to make the tweaks gives them an air of legitimacy (and need for support when they don’t work).

    Usually UI mods are ToS violations….

    That way the custom UI developers can finish the work and players can enjoy the game properly on expansion day.

    I’d think that playing the game as the developers designed it would be “Enjoying the game properly.” and using UI mods would be unintended and improper play.

    Mind you, I’m not a hater of UI mods and know that, for many, they greatly enhance the game experience, but I sense a serious disconnect from development reality with your suggestion that the game can’t be patched unless the UI community has signed off on their external and non-mandatory tools… so I’m guessing yer just feeling grumpy?

    Further, if we assume that this is the proper thing to do (some companies in other sectors profit because they work with after-market producers) could you imagine the Hell it would be for Blizzard to release a patch? How many UI mods are there for a game of that scale? How many of these modders could reliably deliver an update to their mods on Blizzard’s timetable???

    Comment by Grimwell — 15 November, 2006 @ 10:16 AM

  4. As I said in the post, the client code has to be essentially frozen by the time the CDs are sent off for duplication.

    I just received an email from one of the EQ2 developers saying that this is actually not the case. A bit surprising, since back when I worked on M59 at 3DO we had to freeze the client. I had assumed this would be standard operating procedure, but I assumed incorrectly.

    My point remains, even if it isn’t as easy to do as I first thought.

    Comment by Psychochild — 15 November, 2006 @ 11:26 AM

  5. I had first post! Your spam filter caught me up didn’t it? :)

    I do play modern games… or at least EQ2. WoW just fails to grab me. I don’t use UI mods though, I’m too lazy to find the good ones, don’t want to deal with patch day woes, and honestly have never had a problem with native UI’s in any game. Yes, some are clunky and strange, but I’ve always wanted to see the game as the developers saw them, and developed for.

    I did use some UI mods in AC when the PVP server got to the point that no mods = instant death — but quit shortly thereafter because of that very issue.

    Would that make me a holistic player? More interested in the entire game as designed than individual parts? Yes, I’m grumpy damnit! That’s my perogative at this age. Respect your elders (Gads, I turn 35 next week!).

    Comment by Grimwell — 15 November, 2006 @ 11:34 AM

  6. Oh, man, oh man. It takes like, what, 6 hours, max before the patch UI comes out. I remember Cosmos would be patched before I got home from work and logged onto WoW.

    Sorry Brian, I gotta serve you some cheese for your whine on this one buddy.

    Comment by Rusty — 18 November, 2006 @ 12:14 AM

  7. I feel qualified to reply to this, as I’ve written GUI software for a living for the last few years, and I wrote a package
    of AddOns for WoW and maintained them for most of a year.

    It’s a very difficult problem. Extensibility in general is a two-edged sword; the extender is going to
    explicitly or implicitly depend on details of the thing being extended, making it very difficult to change
    that thing without breaking the extensions.

    Its basically the fragile base class problem — the only way to NOT break custom UIs is to:
    (1) provide complete APIs for everything the custom UIs can do, and completely *prevent* them from doing those things in any
    other fashion than through the API (in other words, no copying code from Blizzard’s standard frames; no hooking of the
    functions of standard frames; etc), and then NEVER change the API.
    (2) NEVER change the UI at all (which is unacceptable to most developers).

    Maybe you could do better if you divide functionality into large chunks (combat HUD, inventory, char sheet, mail, auction, etc)
    and force players to re-implement a chunk completely if they don’t like it. No wrapping-and-extending of 1st-party chunks
    (which causes the fragile base class problem). Of course that rules out minor tweaks, which rules out the majority of AddOns
    that have been written for WoW’s interface. Hmm…

    *Actually there are some limited ways in which you can change the API without breaking anybody. But you have
    to plan for that from the beginning, and its still very limiting. So it may not be worth the effort?
    People have thought long and hard about what the exact limits are in various languages. See for example,

    Comment by moo — 5 December, 2006 @ 5:07 PM

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