Wednesday, November 10, 2010

My UI, Where Minimalist Means Minimal Change

Disable all your add-ons, take a screen shot. That's about what I am aiming for. No really, one of the goals of my UI is to not do anything which would cause a learning curve should I be without some or even all of my add-ons. In fact this just recently happened to me on my laptop which I updated to 4.x on the road and just wanted to play my warlock a little without messing with add-ons. I also had an ulterior motive to see how the default UI looked, I've not used it in an age.

So my first test was to see just how awesome the new quest tracking system was. I've been using Carbonite since pretty much forever and much to my surprise the default UI is actually quite good. Carbonite has only two perks: more flexible placement of the quest tracking map and more automated quest tracking by proximity. I can almost function with the small map up there in the upper left where blizzard stick all thier informational frames, but I really like the translucent map Carbonite provides shoved off in a more discrete corner. The other thing is that Cabonite automagically tracks quests based on your proximity to them, with the default UI you have the option to track every quest you pick up, or do it all manually. The tracking selection isn't a big deal; if the small map frame was more flexible in placement that would be enough to get me to drop Carbonite.

Once I got into questing after a brief self tutorial I noticed the one place the default UI really fails, inventory management. I think this has more to do with the play style I've become accustomed to than blizzard's shortcomings. I use ArkInventory to show my entire inventory in one frame sorted by item type. I know exactly where my quest items are going to be, I know exactly where my BoE greens and enchanting mats are when it comes to send they to my enchanter, etc. Locating quest items used to be a big to do before the items were available right on the quest tracker, but occasionally they are missing and you have to quick open your bag and use them, often in a bit of a hurry since if you are like me you didn't look for the item before you had to use it right before a mob dies. I don't want to organize my bag and I certainly don't want to hunt through it. The only time I look in my bag for the most part is to empty it or sometimes equip a new item. Even then I have an add on to throw away the cheapest junk item I am carrying to make room without ever opening my bag. Pretty sure inventory management add-ons are here to stay, there is no way blizzard will add the level of tracking most people come to expect, including item counts on alts and guild banks, searches, etc. It is just too far beyond the scope of the default UI.

The next biggie for me is equipment sets, pretty much all my toons have at least a PVE and a PVP set. My hybrid toons have more. Right now my druid walks around with 4 complete sets and a few pieces of frost resist gear for special occasions. Without an equipment manager I would be totally lost putting on a specific set manually. Luckily not too long ago this feature was included in the default UI and better yet the add-on I used previously, Outfitter, makes use of the server side equipment sets so with or without the add-on I am good to go. The reason I still keep the add-on around is for partial equipment sets, enhanced tootips to let me know which sets and item is in, and the oh so convenient list of BoP items not currently in a set; that is such a great way to sell/equip stuff quickly.

So far I've not touched the default UI at all. In fact most of my addons are hidden behind the scenes unless activated. The most notable element of my UI is my DataBroker bar across the top of my screen. Here I have access to a lot of otherwise hidden add-ons as well as useful information at a glance. How much gold I have, what equipment set I am using, my equipment durability and anything else I want to know without clicking somewhere. I actually don't use most of the space so I am considering moving to a DataBroker add-on that lets me put things all over instead of on a bar.

Given my large widescreen monitor and my UI scale set as low as possible, I have a lot of room at the bottom of my screen to the left and right of my action bars/utility buttons. On the left I have my chat frame which you can't drag all the way to the bottom by default so I am thinking underneath is the perfect place to hide that DataBroker stuff I mentioned. On the right I have Omen and Recount just below my tooltip frame and additional action bars on the right side. I always have all the action bars enabled and share a common organizational system between toons.

The only other noticeable difference between my UI and the default (out of combat) then are my Pitbull unit frames. I am currently reevaluating whether or not the default unit frames are sufficient for me. With the new enhancements I think they might be. All I really use the unit/raid frames for are highlighting debuffs, aggro and the incoming heals display. I have some minor concerns about the numbers displayed, but that alone wouldn't be enough reason for me to keep an entire add-on.

In combat I have a few additional things pop up in the middle of my screen. I track combo points and rotation specific buffs and debuffs front and center with NugComboBars and Auracle. I was actually half thinking about power aura, but then blizzard added a simple version which works quite well for me. Along the same lines I replaced the default cast bars with Quartz. The main reason is basically just for the latency display which is invaluable when chain casting. I can start casting the next spell before I actually see the first go off.

I suppose WIM (WoW Instant Messenger) is also worth a mention. I don't know how often people have the need to keep multiple whisper conversations straight, but I do so with some regularity. Having a little window for each conversion is quite handy and I would be a lot less chatty without them.

So there you have a basic idea of what my UI looks like and have a point of reference should you ever find your UI or add-ons the target of my mockery. For example a bar mod screwing up a boss encounter will probably feel my ire for a good six months. Lets face it, Warcraft is buggy enough without introducing more potential points of failure, especially around major patches such as these. I like non intrusive add-ons which improve my gameplay, but don't take over. A little extra tooltip text, another button or informational display in a relevant location, those are all nice things to have. Like knowing who is responsible for a buff by mousing over it. A minor detail, but I seem to be the only one in raids that knows. :)


  1. I, also, try to "not do anything which would cause a learning curve should I be without some or even all of my add-ons." I have dozens of addons, but like yours my UI still appears mostly standard. I've seen many people claiming the base UI is ugly, unfuctional, or clumsy; I find it pleasant and useful. Nice to hear someone else tout the virtues of bare-bones UI modification.

    Aside from a DB bar similar to yours, my largest cosmetic change is probably "murloc!" It changes the griffons on the actionbar to murlocs.

  2. Somehow, either by scaling my UI way down or unchecking a box somewhere, I don't get griffons anymore. Good thing too, I actually use that space. :)

  3. Using a chat addon such as Chatter or Prat will allow you to place the chat window fully at the bottom of the screen.

  4. We'll see, I hardly find time to tweak mods no less post screen shots. My ideas of what to do often don't actually happen for weeks since it is easier to play and ignore them than to fix them. When I play, I play and when I can't play I occasionally blog. :)

    I actually have a whole spreadsheet/list of planned changes to go over which I've been putting off for a couple weeks, with any luck I will get to that tonight and take a screen shot at the same time.

    Anything in particular you hoped to learn?

  5. To me an effective UI is all about functionality and I am away curious to see how other tanks have theirs set up. Placement of target, target's target, raid frames, buffs, cast bars, etc. I am always looking to make improvements and learn from others to see if maybe they are doing it better. You obviously put some intelligent thought into your UI, hence why I wanted to see a screenshot. A picture is worth a 1000 words. ;)
    Your description of ArkInventory already has me convinced to get it. Here is a pic of my current UI:

  6. Can't see it in my SS, but my cast bars are right below my auracle timers in the middle. Combo points are right above that had I been in cat. I use the same UI for everything which come December will include every class and role.

    Holy target frame batman! I do enjoy my openness and push crap to the edges. I'm used to scanning around and picking up a little extra information along with anything else I notice in between, like a beastie running in.

    I am often surprised to see so many people fill the bottoms of their screens, that has to limit your rear view. That or force you to zoom out to compensate.

  7. What addon lets you see who cast the buff on you?

    Also, do you know of an addon that will quickly tell you if you're missing a buff that should be available based on your current raid makeup?

    BTW, I do use the bottom addon scheme. It was a bit of a pain with seeing the space behind me for bad stuff and adds. I recently added SunnArt viewport to my list, which allows me to not render the game behind my addons at the bottom. This effectly moves my character up to the center of my visible area and is a big improvement for visibility.

  8. I use CastBy for the who cast what buff which is available on curse, not updated for 4.x, but it works.

    For the buff checking I use RBS, Raid Buff Status, also available on curse. Before that I used XRS till that stopped being developed.

  9. Just recently started messing with mine. Takes some serious getting used to but I'm getting "add on addiction" to a certain degree. Have to resist plugging in more or I'll have no "clean" area to see what the heck is going on.