19 Mar 2010

The Annoyance of Addons

Once you play Warcraft for any length of time, you end up using addons. These small pieces of software are designed to make them game better, either by presenting new information or showing existing stuff in a clearer way. But just as using some of them can enhance your performance, using them badly can be a millstone around your neck.

For me this all kicked off yesterday when I decided to try out ForteXorcist based on Derevka’s recommendation for priests. I thought the same tool could be used to keep track of Mage cooldowns such as Arcane Power and Mirror Image. This was a big mistake because of two things:

  • I didn’t practice with the addon first to get used to the information it was telling me, how it would help and how I would integrate it into my UI
  • I decided it would be a great idea to go raid ICC with my guild instead and tweak it during the raid

Seasoned veterans will probably be laughing at this right now, and yes it was a schoolboy error. More than that though it’s also got me thinking of how my overall UI layout affects my performance, both as ranged DPS and when I’m playing my healer.

Currently my UI looks something like the chart below, and by all terms it’s crap. It’s evolved over a number of years, where I’ve “just grabbed an addon” to do a particular task and just plonked it in a blank spot on the screen. Some of it’s a hangover from when I was running as a raidleader or officer, while others seemed useful at the time but are now pretty pointless.

The biggest issue with this interface is the sheer amount of wasted space. In my primary role as DPS on my mage, I don’t need to know the health and mana of everyone else in the raid. An overall snapshot might be useful, but this level of detail is too much. When I’m on my priest the unitframes show too much information – I end up having to enable Grid just to get the information at a reasonable level.

The next problem is eye focus. I should be looking at the centre of the screen, making sure that I’m on the right target and that I’m not standing in the bad. Visual prompts near the centre should be helping me in hitting my rotation and maximising DPS – anything else is clutter. I shouldn’t need to look at my button bars unless something outside of normal combat occurs – everything else should be driven from muscle memory. Having things scattered around the screen like some kind of neon buffet doesn’t help either – it means my eyes bounce around and get distracted by all the shiny.

Having to do a lot of eye movement is a bad thing – I’ve felt knackered at the end of farm runs and it’s not because I’ve been focusing. The eye strain from having a badly laid out UI is tiring, making me a slave to the goddess of coffee for the following four or five hours.

The third problem is performance – by running a shedload of addons I’m degrading my computer performance. I’m spending CPU cycles on calculating stuff that I pay no attention to anyway, when I could be spending it on making the game run smoother or look better. By cutting out what I don’t need, the technical experience of the game should improve.

What would an ideal interface look like? I’ve had a rough stab of it, so although it’s going in the right direction it’s nowhere near a perfect ideal. It basically takes the idea of getting rid of the crap I no longer care about, grouping similar stuff together and making everything else optional depending on the role I’m playing.

As a result of all this, I now have a quest. Over the coming weeks I’m going to be working to streamline my UI in order to reach that nirvana of elegance and efficiency. When I find something cool (like ForteXorcist), I’ll share how I’m using it and how it’s configured. Over time this should build up into a collection of posts on how to get the most out of your interface as well as having something that’s fit for those action shots or fraps videos.

At the end of the day, a UI has to bridge that gap between what you want to do and what the game is telling you. If you’re getting overload with information, it’s failing in that basic mission. By being ruthless about what you choose to see, the theory is that you’ll only focus on what’s important. This should lead to better performance, which is what we all want to reach.

The UI Quest Series (in progress):

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15 Responses to The Annoyance of Addons

  1. Ercles says:

    I’d love to see some screenies as you go! I’ve always loved fiddling with UI’s and try my best to keep the top 3/4 of my screen as clear as I can (with boss mods and combat text being the exceptions).

    Here’s the first draft of my UI I started working on some weeks ago. It still needs tweaking and polishing, but perhaps you can get some inspiration?

    http://i80.photobucket.com/albums/j167/Zeeon/Raid_UI-1.jpg

  2. Kulk says:

    I second the call for screenshots.

    My mage UI, is also a work in progress. The chat window gets larger during periods of activity, or on mouseover. Skada shows threat during a fight, damage meters out of combat.

    http://i737.photobucket.com/albums/xx19/equinox_9/WoWScrnShot_030610_224720.jpg

  3. Gazimoff says:

    Some nice UIs there!

    I’ll be sure to add screenshots as I go. I’m going to be taking this a step at a time, so you’ll see this thing gradually build up to form a complete UI. Well, that’s the plan at least.

  4. Meeboosa says:

    Oops, I’ve been reading these posts backwards :) this is a great series so far. I would be interested in seeing you ui evolve too. A trick that I found is to install AchievmentSnap. You get great action shots of your ui as it evolves.

  5. Gazimoff says:

    Yeah, I should have really made the series link a bit clearer – I’ll edit the posts to correct that :) I’ll be sure to post further updates as it evolves.

    Also, thanks for the suggestion on AchievementSnap. I’ll check it out!

  6. Teckdragon says:

    http://www.wow-lui.com/

    There, I just solved your UI problem. Thank me later.

    • Gazimoff says:

      I’m not a big fan of total UI takeovers – I tried Spartan several times and found it to be very resource hungry, slow to update and frequently buggy. As a result, I’m trying to build my own UI from components that I can update through the Curse Downloader. This way, I can swap out addons if they’re no longer updated or a better one comes out to replace them.

      I’m not after the ultimate in minimalist asthetics, I’m just digging deeper into what I already have, configuring it properly and gettimg more out of it.

      • Teckdragon says:

        Just try it, and you’ll see the difference. Everything comes pre-configured and uses less than 20mb of memory. If you don’t like a particular aspect of it, it’s simply to replace any part of it with minimal effort. The player who designed this plays a mage for his main, and this is easily the best UI for a caster DPS. But mostly it has all the features you want in your picture entirely pre-assembled.

  7. Alsoome says:

    If you’re trying to clean up your interface, try http://www.wowinterface.com/downloads/cat130.html . it’s a Ui replacement and it’s awesome. If you can get full version just by signing up for the newsletter. it’s just to tell you about updates.

  8. Gendou says:

    Wow. Your ‘old crappy’ UI pretty much looks exactly like mine does right now, right down to the way the chat and combat logs are setup.
    The only difference is that I have my buffs set over next to the minimap.

  9. rakah says:

    I find one of the most powerful information addons to be power auras. In skilled hands you can display a vast amount on information in a very visual way in a rather small space.

    • Gazimoff says:

      You’re right about Power Auras. I’ve been using it recently to help with a Fire mage spec, and it’s really helpful. Expect to see an article on it soon!

  10. Karilyn says:

    Don’t forget you can put your minimap at the bottom of the screen too. It doesn’t have to be in the top right corner.

    Also another useful addon I might recommend is Dash. It allows you to put addons (or any part of the UI) on a second invisible layer that only shows up when you move your mouse to a corner of the screen. Perfect for things like Recount, that you only need to look at once in a blue moon. I also stick a Fubar Bar on that invisible layer, which contains stuff I don’t really need to know most of the time but still want easy access too. Another example would be that I moved all the buffs that aren’t crucial to the Dash layer, leaving me with only the 10 or so buffs that I actually care about on the main screen.

    Here’s my UI. I deliberately keep the bottom edge of my screen openish so I can see stuff behind me easily too, just in case.
    Without a target: http://img293.imageshack.us/img293/6946/notargetui.jpg
    With a target: http://img718.imageshack.us/img718/6739/currentraidui.jpg

    Or to do it in your style… http://i46.tinypic.com/1zfkf4o.jpg <3

    I generally make a point of trying to use as little real-estate as possible with each addon.

  11. Tyltwo says:

    Looking at your second picture, here’s a couple more recomendations.

    1) Recount. Do you need to see this during a fight? I understand the need for it to analyze later (or epeen), but you can hide it during encounters.

    Do you pull threat? if not, same goes for omen, especially if you can pay attention to blizz warnings.

    Bartender tips: Do you use a bag addon. If yes, no bag menu. Do you know the menu by heart? If yes, get rid of that too (you probably have all of the menu’s key bindings memorized). Are there spammable spells not on your primary actionbar that you have keybound? if so, put them on an seperate actionbar, and then permahide them. I often do this for things like mounts, spammable but rarely used spells (like cleansing totem), self/raid buffs, etc. etc. etc. Easily hides 10-15 spells on an 80 character w/o hiding CDs.

    Since you also use a seperate CD timer, make your bars a little smaller.
    If you don’t use a chat addon, try chatter. You can put the textbox above the chatbox, hide all the buttons, and slink it further in the corner to minimize space.

  12. Grimme says:

    Your “ideal” ui chart looks an awful lot like NUI. There are some differences yes but I think you could get what you need from that.

    Check it out http://www.wowinterface.com/downloads/cat125.html