Changes to the API, Zenimax’s way to keeping to their promise

Garbrac March 21, 2014 107 Comments » Share

the-elder-scrolls-online-achievemenets-listA change has happened, one that has part of the community in a fit of rage, claiming the change will be the down fall to ESO. It has sparked the “when will ESO go F2P” debate once again. The change I am talking about is the changes Zenimax has put on the API for mod developers.

For those unfamiliar with what the API does, basically it is what mod developers use to grab specific information directly from the game. Zenimax has now removed a lot of the features that mod developers were using, which has made several mods completely incompatible with ESO. Are these new restrictions really so bad that Zenimax deserves to have such rage directed at them? Not in any way possible.  The changes are nothing but Zenimax providing the community the game they’ve been promising.  An Elder Scrolls Game.

Now, some people are going to say, “But Zenimax has always said ESO is a game where you can play the way you want to play.” This is true, they did say that. But they were referring to the semi-classless design, the ability to explore, having a major role in the community as a crafter and being a PvP/PvE player. Nowhere did they say you’d have full access to game generated information or formulas without limitations or restrictions.

Of course there are those that claim being able to see numbers make for a more complex end game experience. Being able to see numbers doesn’t add anything to the complexity of end game. If anything, the lack of numbers makes it a more complex experience. Forcing the player to figure out why he is dying without having a mod tell him.  This forces the player to discuss with other players about how to do certain fights, build ideas, and even stat priority.

If you look at everything Zenimax has done with the game, it has all been to keep your attention on the screen, playing the game, not the UI. These changes are a direct reflection of that. They do not want their players having to worry about a mod. As I state in this article, everything that has been removed is still available within the game using Zenimax’s UI.

Numbers do not increase the quality of a game, nor the experience for the player. Dark Age of Camelot, a game a lot of people use as a reference point for ESO’s PvP system, had no damage meters. No access to a LUA scripting language. We were able to change the layout and visuals of the UI but that is about it. Yet, no one complained that they could not see their DPS. If you were alive at the end of the fight and the other person wasn’t, that’s all you needed.

DAoC did have a combat log, but that in no way provided a player with any information such as total DPS. Look at the very successful games that existed before the LUA Addon craze that came with World of Warcraft.

shockedThe MMO community is constantly requesting game developers to be more innovative with their features, get away from the “WoW Clone”. As soon as a company does something different, they are presented with nothing but rage. Zenimax makes a change to their API, removing access to certain features that have become common within the MMO genre. However, those same games that offer these common features have also be contested as “WoW Clones”.

Now let’s take a look at what exactly has been changed with the API and what all the rage is about. Keep in mind that these changes only effect the way Addons work with the game. Preventing authors from creating a mod that goes against what ESO has been designed around.

Locked down access to combat events so that only your own outgoing spells can be monitored with any level of detail. Incoming damage and healing from spells have been restricted to only showing the value and not the name of the spell, type of damage or healing, or who is casting it.

So we’re able to see how much we’re getting hit/healed for, but not who or what type of damage it is. Okay, so again Zenimax wants us to pay attention to the game not the UI. With this change we now have to watch the game to see what we’re being hit by. For example if you get hit by a giant fireball that is going to be FIRE damage, not frost or shock. You also have to watch your screen so you can see WHO is hitting you, and where it came from. Same with heals. If you’re in a dungeon party it would be pretty obvious that the healer in the group is the one healing you, all you need to know is for how much.

So is this a bad change? Sure for anyone who wants to stare at a mod, I completely agree it is a bad change. Does it affect the way the game plays, or how you will play? Not at all. We can still have a mod that displays your DPS both taken and given, as well as seeing heals you’ve received.

Screenshot_20140320_193644

Short term buff visual. Some visuals appear directly on/around the character

Restricted information that GetUnitBuffInfo has access to. It can now only be used to discover long term buffs about the local player. As such, the final return value “isLongTermBuff” has been removed since the API only returns long-term buffs.

This one is a big one, one that has a lot of people in a rage. Not being able to see your bonuses from your active abilities is a bit of a pain. Too bad ESO doesn’t have some form of visual effect on your character that displays when you get a short term buff. Wait a second, they do have that. When you receive a short term buff a visual cue is provided within the UI. Either your character has a visual effect or your status bars will appear differently. So the information is provided to you, just not in the visual way World of Warcraft does it, with pretty little boxes that take up valuable space on your screen.

Long Term effects can still be seen by quickly glancing at your character information window.

So is this a bad change? No. It doesn’t change the way we play the game. All the information that the mods would have provided by reading the API are already available within the game. You can either see the long term bonuses by opening your stats panel, or short term abilities by looking at your resource bar or your character itself. They will have different effects on them based on your bonus. The challenge is remembering which effect looks like what.

Locked down access to Unit information and ability cast functionality.  Removed API command GetUnitCastingInfo

So they removed the ability for authors to create a mod that tells you when someone is casting a spell. If you’re actively watching the screen you can clearly see the person performing an action. Along with this change it also removes the ability for an author to create a mod that will display in giant letters across your screen that says interrupt now, and in turn preventing people from creating an automated interrupt mod. This removal is just another way of Zenimax trying to keep its player base focused on the game, not having to rely on a mod to play the game.

Once again, I ask, is this a bad change? As with the previous ones, no. Everything that has been removed is easily visible within the game itself. Of course it takes a bit more of your attention to ensure you interrupt everything correctly.

They also removed the ability to see you target’s information. So if you’re fighting a player from another faction, you’ll now longer be able to see what buffs they have on, how much stamina, or magicka they have.

As before, this change isn’t anything major. In order to keep the game competitive you should not be able to view the other player’s resources. Having access to that information including their buffs will completely change the way you play the game and can provide an advantage over the other player if they do not have that optional addon. For example, if I had the addon and the other person didn’t, I would be able to anticipate that player’s next move based on his remaining resources.

Mods should not offer any form of additional advantage over someone who does not have them. That goes against everything Zenimax has worked so hard on.

ESO is an Elder Scrolls game, and as such, no Elder Scrolls game I’ve seen has floating numbers, detailed combat logs, and statistics. These changes are Zenimax standing by their promise to the community to provide a game that is more about the player skill than that of an automated mod.

107 Comments

  1. Toddrick April 4, 2014 at 4:49 pm

    But doesn't everyone enjoy playing their games like this:

    [​IMG]

    Seriously, though I enjoy playing this game and actually viewing the environment instead of viewing raid frames and action bars.

  2. Kiwi Karl April 1, 2014 at 1:38 pm
    Dyzer X
    Garbrac

    Paul Sage wrote a follow up regarding these changes

    As many of you know, there has been a lot of discussion over recent changes to the API. As you are probably aware, we recently publicly clarified our overall UI modding strategy, and our reasons for making changes to the API. To reiterate, our goal was: to keep the playing field level for our competitive environments.

    The initial release of our API was intentionally wide open in order to test the boundaries of what could be done – which is exactly what happened. We saw things which necessitated that we change the API. When we made the changes to restrict our API, our goal was to make sure you couldn't see more information about your enemies than we intended. But we also found that certain events could be used to allow add-ons and macro programs, used in conjunction, to do many things which otherwise should require player skill. For example, it was trivial to create an add-on "listen" for a debuff, and be able to remove this debuff automatically – or to create an add-on that allowed group members' adds-ons to report their status through chat allowing party members with the same add-on to automatically cast heals.

    In order to keep the playing field as level as we could for competitive PvE and competitive PvP at ship, we removed the ability of the API to access this functionality. We left as much of the API open as we felt we could. If later we feel changes or additional functionality is a good thing without damaging the overall game, some features may be re-enabled. We do not want players writing scripts that play their character for them, and that was the direction ESO UI modding was headed.

    Our changes to the API were exclusively about keeping the playing field as level as we could in a competitive environment, not about keeping the game immersive or trying to make sure people could not see numbers. However, it is certainly true we don’t natively add icons to show buffs and display timers. You might ask why?

    First, we feel a clean and unobtrusive UI is a key part of The Elder Scrolls Online. We have worked to keep many things off the screen that were not absolutely necessary. As an example, we have broken down buffs and debuffs into a few key effects. If you puncture armor, you can see that overlayed on the health bar of your opponent as a “cracked” graphic. If you or your opponent is powered up, you will see a bright aura around the health bar. If you are suffering from a DOT, you will see arrows representing a decrease overlayed on your health bar. Further, we have animation, sounds, and particle effects in world to give you further clues as to what is happening. We believe these actually represent your state and that of your opponents much more clearly than icons. But why not have icons?

    To put it simply, icons are for another game with different controls and a different purpose. The controls of our game naturally tie mouse movement and looking around the world together in a mechanism reminiscent of previous Elder Scrolls games. We don’t have a free mouse where you can get information about what the icons represent by hovering over them in the heat of battle. Also, showing timers through icons isn’t what we wanted. Part of the skill in ESO is situational awareness and seeing when events are happening in the world and in some cases on the UI. Another reason we don’t show buff/debuff icons is that icons appearing and disappearing on the screen looked bad, especially considering ESO has shorter duration debuffs and buffs that would be constantly appearing and disappearing.

    Finally, our UI and game isn’t built just for experts, min-maxers, and number crunchers. Our UI is built to have broad appeal while still providing necessary information to be successful. Could more be done to improve the information? I think so. But every improvement has to be weighed carefully against other upcoming features, improvements, or new content added to the game. We are constantly working to improve ESO – which will continue as long as people are playing the game – and we will continue to iterate on the UI and information presented to you.

    Lately we’ve been quieter on the boards and in public as we head towards launch – but know that we are always listening and reading. We very much appreciate constructive feedback. We are looking very forward to seeing you in Tamriel on Sunday.

    Finally a chance to see what people are truly made of, not what their mods can make them do.

    Good call, I'm really glad about the API Lock down I was for a period of time concerned that I'd end up playing a spreadsheet with some stuff moving in the background and fighting against players with supernatural abilities to detect my presence and chain cast all of their spells. These are the main reasons I came to hate playing WoW if I didn't play a specific build with the spreadsheet screen, then I couldn't be considered for any serious endgame. I couldn't play what I found fun and if I didn't use specific macros then I'd get aggro for shitty dps.

    bring the fun back to games.

  3. D3n.Mathews March 28, 2014 at 11:18 am

    @Garbrac, thanks for that update from Sage. I totally agree that API changes are for the better. UI is a huge part of my attraction to ESO. Anyone still remember this meme?

    [​IMG]

  4. JD Dart March 28, 2014 at 3:49 am

    Seems a lot of people feel the same way as me where I'm personally not to bothered as I never really use addons but I can see why some people would be upset, however I would hate to see it end up like WoW where certain addons become mandatory. I think stuff like Deadly Boss Mods has a lot to do with why WoW became such a head roll of a game, it took paying attention to what was going on in boss fights out of the equation, it dumbed the game down a lot. The game stopped being fun and became more of a chore than anything when it got to the point where even players who knew what they were doing and how to do the fights would not be taken on Raids unless they had half a dozen addons to tell them exactly what to do and when because everyone running the raid wants to get in and out as quickly as possible.

    I also objected to how DPS meters ended up being used, as much as I like knowing how I am performing compared to the other guy it ended up being used to exclude people, raids would set a minimum dps needed and kick/refuse anyone who didn't hit that mark or over, it ended up being almost impossible for first timers who weren't in already in a geared raiding guild to get into anything. This aslo led to mandatory skill builds which in games like Rift became very disappointing, having said that how ever there is a lot to answer for on the developers end, Rift for example has a whole bunch of different souls (specs) that you can chose from but in the case of say a rouge where Saboteur was amazingly fun it only did 4k dps compared to the 10k dps on Marksman.

    Basically I just don't want to see addons perverted into a way of excluding people or used to take focus away from the game, it shouldn't be a necessity just a tool to give a bit of extra information to people who want it.

  5. Dyzer X March 28, 2014 at 3:31 am
    Garbrac

    Paul Sage wrote a follow up regarding these changes

    As many of you know, there has been a lot of discussion over recent changes to the API. As you are probably aware, we recently publicly clarified our overall UI modding strategy, and our reasons for making changes to the API. To reiterate, our goal was: to keep the playing field level for our competitive environments.

    The initial release of our API was intentionally wide open in order to test the boundaries of what could be done – which is exactly what happened. We saw things which necessitated that we change the API. When we made the changes to restrict our API, our goal was to make sure you couldn't see more information about your enemies than we intended. But we also found that certain events could be used to allow add-ons and macro programs, used in conjunction, to do many things which otherwise should require player skill. For example, it was trivial to create an add-on "listen" for a debuff, and be able to remove this debuff automatically – or to create an add-on that allowed group members' adds-ons to report their status through chat allowing party members with the same add-on to automatically cast heals.

    In order to keep the playing field as level as we could for competitive PvE and competitive PvP at ship, we removed the ability of the API to access this functionality. We left as much of the API open as we felt we could. If later we feel changes or additional functionality is a good thing without damaging the overall game, some features may be re-enabled. We do not want players writing scripts that play their character for them, and that was the direction ESO UI modding was headed.

    Our changes to the API were exclusively about keeping the playing field as level as we could in a competitive environment, not about keeping the game immersive or trying to make sure people could not see numbers. However, it is certainly true we don’t natively add icons to show buffs and display timers. You might ask why?

    First, we feel a clean and unobtrusive UI is a key part of The Elder Scrolls Online. We have worked to keep many things off the screen that were not absolutely necessary. As an example, we have broken down buffs and debuffs into a few key effects. If you puncture armor, you can see that overlayed on the health bar of your opponent as a “cracked” graphic. If you or your opponent is powered up, you will see a bright aura around the health bar. If you are suffering from a DOT, you will see arrows representing a decrease overlayed on your health bar. Further, we have animation, sounds, and particle effects in world to give you further clues as to what is happening. We believe these actually represent your state and that of your opponents much more clearly than icons. But why not have icons?

    To put it simply, icons are for another game with different controls and a different purpose. The controls of our game naturally tie mouse movement and looking around the world together in a mechanism reminiscent of previous Elder Scrolls games. We don’t have a free mouse where you can get information about what the icons represent by hovering over them in the heat of battle. Also, showing timers through icons isn’t what we wanted. Part of the skill in ESO is situational awareness and seeing when events are happening in the world and in some cases on the UI. Another reason we don’t show buff/debuff icons is that icons appearing and disappearing on the screen looked bad, especially considering ESO has shorter duration debuffs and buffs that would be constantly appearing and disappearing.

    Finally, our UI and game isn’t built just for experts, min-maxers, and number crunchers. Our UI is built to have broad appeal while still providing necessary information to be successful. Could more be done to improve the information? I think so. But every improvement has to be weighed carefully against other upcoming features, improvements, or new content added to the game. We are constantly working to improve ESO – which will continue as long as people are playing the game – and we will continue to iterate on the UI and information presented to you.

    Lately we’ve been quieter on the boards and in public as we head towards launch – but know that we are always listening and reading. We very much appreciate constructive feedback. We are looking very forward to seeing you in Tamriel on Sunday.

    Finally a chance to see what people are truly made of, not what their mods can make them do.

  6. KrystynSunbright March 26, 2014 at 9:56 pm

    I've played every Elder Scrolls game, and am very much looking forward to TESO. I looked at some mods in the past week or two (while waiting for Early Access launch) and found no attraction to the "floating numbers" look at all. I also immediately thought – "but if everyone else in PvP has those, it might be very difficult to compete without them." So I personally am glad to see these changes. If you want to play a game in the ES tradition, it doesn't include floating numbers, seeing what buffs your opponent has, what spells or attacks do how much damage. Yes, it's a game, but I've always appreciated the more realistic approach that ES games have rather than one where you just watch the numbers scroll by.

    Seriously, if all you're interested in is numbers – you should just play dice.

  7. Garbrac March 26, 2014 at 6:20 pm

    Paul Sage wrote a follow up regarding these changes

    As many of you know, there has been a lot of discussion over recent changes to the API. As you are probably aware, we recently publicly clarified our overall UI modding strategy, and our reasons for making changes to the API. To reiterate, our goal was: to keep the playing field level for our competitive environments.

    The initial release of our API was intentionally wide open in order to test the boundaries of what could be done – which is exactly what happened. We saw things which necessitated that we change the API. When we made the changes to restrict our API, our goal was to make sure you couldn't see more information about your enemies than we intended. But we also found that certain events could be used to allow add-ons and macro programs, used in conjunction, to do many things which otherwise should require player skill. For example, it was trivial to create an add-on "listen" for a debuff, and be able to remove this debuff automatically – or to create an add-on that allowed group members' adds-ons to report their status through chat allowing party members with the same add-on to automatically cast heals.

    In order to keep the playing field as level as we could for competitive PvE and competitive PvP at ship, we removed the ability of the API to access this functionality. We left as much of the API open as we felt we could. If later we feel changes or additional functionality is a good thing without damaging the overall game, some features may be re-enabled. We do not want players writing scripts that play their character for them, and that was the direction ESO UI modding was headed.

    Our changes to the API were exclusively about keeping the playing field as level as we could in a competitive environment, not about keeping the game immersive or trying to make sure people could not see numbers. However, it is certainly true we don’t natively add icons to show buffs and display timers. You might ask why?

    First, we feel a clean and unobtrusive UI is a key part of The Elder Scrolls Online. We have worked to keep many things off the screen that were not absolutely necessary. As an example, we have broken down buffs and debuffs into a few key effects. If you puncture armor, you can see that overlayed on the health bar of your opponent as a “cracked” graphic. If you or your opponent is powered up, you will see a bright aura around the health bar. If you are suffering from a DOT, you will see arrows representing a decrease overlayed on your health bar. Further, we have animation, sounds, and particle effects in world to give you further clues as to what is happening. We believe these actually represent your state and that of your opponents much more clearly than icons. But why not have icons?

    To put it simply, icons are for another game with different controls and a different purpose. The controls of our game naturally tie mouse movement and looking around the world together in a mechanism reminiscent of previous Elder Scrolls games. We don’t have a free mouse where you can get information about what the icons represent by hovering over them in the heat of battle. Also, showing timers through icons isn’t what we wanted. Part of the skill in ESO is situational awareness and seeing when events are happening in the world and in some cases on the UI. Another reason we don’t show buff/debuff icons is that icons appearing and disappearing on the screen looked bad, especially considering ESO has shorter duration debuffs and buffs that would be constantly appearing and disappearing.

    Finally, our UI and game isn’t built just for experts, min-maxers, and number crunchers. Our UI is built to have broad appeal while still providing necessary information to be successful. Could more be done to improve the information? I think so. But every improvement has to be weighed carefully against other upcoming features, improvements, or new content added to the game. We are constantly working to improve ESO – which will continue as long as people are playing the game – and we will continue to iterate on the UI and information presented to you.

    Lately we’ve been quieter on the boards and in public as we head towards launch – but know that we are always listening and reading. We very much appreciate constructive feedback. We are looking very forward to seeing you in Tamriel on Sunday.

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