Carbon is a relatively new, yet constantly evolving, framework developed by CCP. I’m not sure all that it currently encompasses, but it does comprise at least the 3D in-station stuff, our avatars in captain’s quarters, the avatar creation/modification system. Their clustering technology is part of Carbon. There is also CarbonIO, which is an extension of their previous StacklessIO. There’s some database stuff too. As well, as other behind-the-scenes mechanics, stuff on the server that makes it all work, work smoothly, seamlessly, and quickly.
Most of that is either under-the-hood, or functionality we don’t use often. The one piece of Carbon that we use every time we play the game, the one piece of Carbon that has the largest tangible impact on our game play is CarbonUI.
CarbonUI was released around the time of Incarna. I believe shortly thereafter. I’d just joined the game a few months prior, and I recall some CCP hoopla surrounding its release (along with a lot of player fear, “Make sure you set an extraordinarily long skill.”) It wasn’t until Crucible that we started to see small changes to the UI being made, and not until Inferno that we started to see wholesale changes to the UI rolled out.
Some of the new UI elements we have today, I don’t think would have been possible under the old UI framework. Well, certainly not without some serious gymnastics of coding.
I’m a big fan of the user interface, and every time I see the user interface being given love in an expansion, I get excited. I look forward to expansions more for new UI elements than nearly any other announced functionality. It’s the interface that we interact with the most, it’s our toolset into the game. A well-designed interface makes the game more enjoyable to play.
I once complained about CarbonUI. Not that it was buggy or anything of that sort. I complained because CCP released it, and then they didn’t do anything with it for over six months. It was supposed to make improving the user experience far easier for the CCP devs, yet it took until Inferno before they really started fulfilling the promises of CarbonUI.
I’ve no complaints now, of course. Unified inventory. The new info panels. Drag-and-drop fleet window. All the new tooltips. So many other little things, far too many to mention. We’re finally seeing CarbonUI paying huge dividends that CCP had originally promised. The UI devs have been rockstars since Inferno. I expect them to continue their stardom for many many expansions to come.
The user interface is still not perfect, of course. Right-click contextual menus. These are still the bane of gameplay. The only time I don’t find them a bother (and are actually somewhat useful and intuitive) is when a fleet commander calls out “top belt” or “top station”. The right-click context menus for fleet management? Cripes, what a terrible painful mess of four- and five-deep menus that was. CCP has already solved most of that fleet headache by implementing drag-and-drop functionality. Which makes me very hopeful going forward, that most of the headaches in the UI will eventually get ironed out.
One area that I’ve blogged about before (hell, this is probably my third or fourth time mentioning it) concerns hotkeys. Now, I’m going to simplify the explanation even further this time. I’ve mentioned it to devs before, and they’re either confused about what I’m asking for, or they just flat-out say “Not possible.” I’m not even going to buy the “not possible” excuse, unless they truly have crappy event handling and propagation. I have to believe, though, if you’re redesigning a UI, you’re going to tackle event handling along with that. I have to assume the event handling they have in Carbon is better than whatever it is they had before. So, yeah, maybe not as straightforward as it might be in a .NET application, but certainly the “not possible” argument is overstated.
What am I talking about with respect to hotkeys. First of all, I’m only going to focus on the default function of the S key. When the overview window has focus and an item in the overview list is selected, pressing the S key will initiate a warp to that selected item (if it can be warped too, otherwise you’re usually presented with an error.) In general, though, the S key will warp you to whatever is selected in the overview, as long as the overview window as focus.
I’d still like to see hotkey functionality become available to some other windows. If the watchlist window has focus, and I press the S key, it should warp me to the person I have selected. If the bookmark window has focused, pressing the S key should warp me to that bookmark. If the fleet window has focus, I should warp to the selected person when I press the S key.
We have a hotkey that will warp us to some object. The S key is set to that functionality by default. That hotkey should function in more than just a single window. That goes or the A (align) key. The D (dock/jump) key. The W (orbit) key. This is one sure way to reduce our reliance on right-click context menus.
One day, CCP is going to do this. And I am going to jizz my pants when they make the announcement.
You can read more of Poetic Stanziel’s opinions at his Poetic Discourse blog.