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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