27 Mar 2010

UI Quest: Staying on Target

Continuing in my series of UI customisation, I wanted to spend some time focusing on what most people call unit frames. These small boxes display how much health and power (mana, rage, energy or runic power) you have, along with a bar to show you how much is remaining. They also do the same for your party members, raid members, your target and so on. As a result, they’re a popular target for customisation.

There are several popular unit frame addons available, including X-Perl, Pitbull, ag_unitframes and Shadowed. I’ve used X-Perl in the past, but I’ve never been a fan of the blocky way that frames are presented by default. I’ve also tried ag_Unitframes in the dim past, but wanted to try something that would fit more with the streamlined look I was going for while still being easy to configure. In the end I’ve gone for Shadowed Unit Frames as they’re cleanly presented and easy to configure.

Once installed, a dialog box appears asking if you want to disable anchoring. You should do this, as otherwise all your unit frames will appear glued together and you won’t be able to pull them apart. When you’ve removed anchoring, use the command /suf to bring up the configuration window.

As you can see, I can immediately start moving the frames around, then just tick the Lock Frames box when I’m done to fix everything in place. The first thing I’ll want to do is put the frames where I want them, so I start by dragging them into place above my button bar. If you remember the original plan I drew up, the idea was to keep the top three quarters of the screen as clear as possible.

After a bit of tweaking, each frame is tucked up above the button bar. From left to right I’ve got a focus frame, my character’s frame, my target’s frame (with the portrait on the opposite side), my target’s target and my target’s target’s target (phew!) You can pick which unitframes you have enabled from the Enabled Units menu. I’ve decided not to have Party or Raid Frames shown by Shadowed, as I want to use something else for these. I’ll be covering party and raid interfaces later on in this series.

You might not need all of these frames visible – a lot of them can be hidden and it depends on your playstyle if you’ll find them useful. The focus frame is useful to me for tracking polymorph targets, so if you’re in the habit of using crowd control it’s very useful to keep an eye on. Knowing who my target is targeting is also useful to me, because if I’m solo farming I want to make sure the mob I’m looking at hasn’t been tagged by someone else. It also means in a dungeon or raid that I can see if the tank has aggro or I do.

The target’s target’s target sounds like a bit of a mouthful, but is only really useful in raiding when a tank is tracking multiple targets at once. If I’m targeting a mob, I want to know if that mob is targeting the tank (target’s target). I also want to know if the tank is focusing on building aggro on the mob, or if he has a different target that he’s attacking. Because I can now see which mob the tank is building aggro on, I know if I can nuke the target safely, if I need to drop my DPS slightly or if I need to swap to whatever the tank actually has targeted.

Once I’ve got the unitframes I’m interested in displayed and the rest hidden away, I can then work on the detail for each one. Options like portraits and bar colours are first on the list, but there’s also some tweaks I want to make.

Each unit frame can be individually customised to suit my needs. The first check is to make sure Combat text is enabled – this means that I get a visual flash on my unitframes during combat. if you’ve ever used Scrolling Combat Text, you’ll know that it can get spammed up with stuff really quickly. By having something unique that’s only affecting what I’m interested in, I won’t miss something in the spam.

I’ve also made a couple of changes under the Aura settings. By default all the buff icons would be below the unit frame, ending up right over my action bars. Under the Auras tab I can change these so that they appear above both my unit frame and my target’s. I’m not really interested in the auras of other unitframes, so I’ll leave those disabled. By enabling buffs then setting the position to the top of the unitframe, they’ll grow upwards. I can also tag debuffs to anchor to buffs, so they’ll follow suit. I’ve even ticked the Enlarge Your Auras option under debuffs so that the Arcane Blast debuff appears larger than the others and is easier to track.

The final part of any unit frame is deciding on the text that should be shown. Again, this is one of those things that you’ll need to decide as part of your playstyle – do you want to know the absolute health of a mob or just the percentage? The former’s useful in raids where you have a boss that switches phases at a certain percentage of remaining health, while solo players just want a feel for if they can take on a mob or not. The best thing here is to experiment with options until you find something you’re comfortable with.

Wrapping up, the Hide Blizzard option means that I can hide parts of the default UI if they make up part of my unit frames. In this example, I’ve decided to hide the default Focus frame and Buff Frames, as I have them covered elsewhere.

There’s a lot more that Shadowed can do and I’ve only covered the basics here, but hopefully this will have helped to point you in the right direction. As always, feel free to leave questions, suggestions and observations in the comments.

The UI Quest Series (in progress):

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