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The Great UI Renovation of 2012 May 10, 2012

Posted by Stormy in General Whinging, Uncategorized.

Back when my original main, my hunter, was a wee calf and had recently dinged 80, one of my former guild’s most respected–and most feared–officers and raid leaders–we’ll call him O–pulled me into Naxxramas for my first raid boss encounter. I was scared to death, partly because I didn’t want to screw anything up, and partly because O is less of a raid leader and more of a dictator*. He absolutely would not let the first pull happen until he was sure that everyone had DeadlyBossMods installed and running properly.I *thought* I had DBM installed and running, but he kept yelling at me until I finally got the package unzipped and installed correctly.

*disclaimer: O and his wife are now good friends of mine and I love him to pieces

Ladies and gentlemen, when you’re a total n0ob and have been using the stock user interface to level your first character, DeadlyBossMods is a revelation. It’s a little program you install on top of your standard WoW interface, and it actually gives you *more* information and tells you when scary stuff is going to happen. I was shocked and amazed, and over the next few weeks I found myself crawling further and further down the rabbit hole of UI customization. My mind was *completely blown* when I first installed Bartender and I could move bars and icons around on my screen. Not long after the DBM incident, I acquired a trinket with an on-use effect, and in a casual conversation with a guildie she mentioned that she used OmniCC to track trinket cooldowns. To this day, OmniCC is an integral part of my UI and I absolutely cannot function without it.

But I’m not very smart. I’m also not much of a hacker/do-it-yourselfer. I like addons that require little customization. I was really excited to discover SpartanUI, which required little more than moving each individual toon’s ability buttons into the pre-configured bars. I installed SpartanUI and I was happy as the proverbial clam…until I realized that SpartanUI’s code is rather elderly and was bogging down my system. I started hunting for alternatives, and stumbled upon ElvUI. ElvUI is AMAZING…well, was. All of the Blizzard art panels are reskinned so everything matches, everything is symmetrical, and it has tons of crazy little functions one usually gets from standalone addons. When I installed ElvUI I was able to uninstall about six or seven addons, and I was a happy little priest.

But my obsession with ElvUI, like all good things, eventually had to end. When patch 4.2 came out, Elv decided to completely rewrite the code of ElvUI from scratch, and the addon was completely unusable for months on end. Then Elv got into some kind of a snit with the folks at Curse, and ElvUI is no longer available on Curse. This was a wake-up call for me that I was completely and totally dependent on one UI package to play WoW successfully, and if ElvUI should ever disappear, I’d be completely and totally screwed.

So in the down time between Cataclysm and Mists, I’ve decided to completely rebuild my UI from the ground up. I love the look and the overall functionality of ElvUI and I wanted to replicate it as closely as I could. I started with my beloved shadow priest, and here’s what I have so far:

  1. The  bar at the top is ChocolateBar, one of the many LDB (libDataBroker) addons on the market. ChocolateBar serves as a home for lots of little plugins that provide various bits of info at a glance–item durability, gold, online guild/RealID friends, bags, etc. There are about a million things you can add to an LDB bar. In the upper left corner next to my social pane is the LDB display from QuestHubber, a quest tracker that is making Loremaster a whole lot easier by showing me !’s on my map to show me where I can pick up quests that I’ve missed. If you have any desire to pursue Loremaster at all, get QuestHubber first. You’ll thank me later.
  2. The map is Mappy. All Mappy really does is make the map square, scalable, movable, and slightly more organized.
  3. Above my unit frame in the top left is MicroMenu. I use the functions in the micromenu all the time, and wanted them easily accessible at all times.
  4. Down in the bottom right corner is my chat panel, run by Chatter. It’s set on top of a slightly more opaque panel for readability, courtesy of kgPanels. I’ve barely scratched the surface of kgPanels because, again, I’m kind of dumb and not all that interested in spending hours on this sort of things. It does what I want it to do, and that’s all I can ask for.
  5. The action bars are Dominos, which is Bartender’s sexier, easier-to-use cousin. The shape and look of the buttons are governed by Masque, the replacement for ButtonFacade. Ability cooldowns are displayed by OmniCC, which is probably my favorite addon in the history of the world.

For bags, I’m all about AdiBags. I discovered it when Mat McCurley of WoW Insider posted about it in his Reader UI of the Week column, and it’s spectacular. It shows all your stuff in one searchable panel, and sorts everything into categories to make it super easy to find stuff.

The one piece of the UI you *can’t* see in the out-of-combat screenshot at the top is oPie. This is another one I found courtesy of Mat McCurley, and I’m positively tickled by how cool it is. It gives you a series of customizable wheels on which you can drop infrequently-used buttons and abilities, and then those wheels are hidden until you hit the assigned keybind. I access this particular wheel with my P key (P for professions, because again, I’m not very smart) and it gives me access to tailoring, archaeology, cooking, and my hearthstone. This way I don’t have to either have them constantly visible and taking up screen real estate, or click the UI seventeen times to get to them in the spellbook.

The last piece of the UI I haven’t discussed yet is unit frames…and that’s because I’m not particularly thrilled with any of the unit frames I’ve tried. On my healers I’m a dedicated unit frames + Clique user, and for a long time the ElvUI unit frames served me just fine. When I started my UI remodel I went with Grid because it’s largely considered the gold standard in healing unit frames, but it’s one of those addons with so many customization options that I ended up getting lost and frustrated in a hurry. I also tried Pitbull and had the same problem. The current frame shown in the first screenshot is from Shadowed Unit Frames, and I rather like the player and target frames. My current raid frame configuration, on the other hand, is so completely broken that I’m now at a loss what to do. I’m debating going back to the stock Blizzard raid frames. They’re basic but offer all the customization options I need, and they show buffs, heals and debuffs in a way that I think is actually fairly intuitive and well-designed.

Last, but not least, a word on PowerAuras. I *hate* PowerAuras. It’s another one of those overly-convoluted addons that would take you a month and a half to set up yourself…if it weren’t for the export feature. PowerAuras is the gold standard in spell notification addons, and it’s been around for so long that there are tons of people who *have* figured it out, and the export feature lets them share their PowerAuras configurations with the world. I was able to install it and pick up a very handy shadow priest aura set that helps me track DoTs on my target and keep track of things like shadow orbs and Empowered Shadow. Hey, if I can have the spoils and let other people do the work for me, I’m all for it.

Two weeks ago my UI consisted of ElvUI, Clique, Recount, DBM and Auctionator. Today my UI contains Shadowed Unit Frames, Clique, ChocolateBar, MicroMenu, Dominos, OmniCC, Mappy, DBM, Recount, oPie, Masque, QuestHubber, Chatter, kgPanels, AdiBags, and PowerAuras. Forgive me if I’m feeling a little overwhelmed, and forgive me if this 1400-word treatise on my UI design is self-indulgent, esoteric, and long-winded, but it was fun to write!



1. Trudy Lee - May 10, 2012

Awesome blog, I too was a elv ui user. When the break happened, i was able to fix it, but i missed my vuhdo. I have went back to pretty much standard raid frames with little buffs here and there. I will be checking out some of the design you are suggesting. Thanks a bunch! resto druid, twiggy

2. Fuzzy_Magicz - May 12, 2012

As someone who spent a good time of my wow career fiddling with the UI, I’d like to give you a few tips. Of course, if you just want to make it look pretty, by all means disregard, but at the moment that screenshot is a long way from what I personally would call functional.

Basically, you’ve left all the features of the UI in the same spot Blizzard put them. The important information – unit frames, buffs, and action bars – are spread across the screen like buckshot. Your reaction time in play is going to be slowed a lot by the travel time of your eyes, which could be a long time if you have a decent size monitor. Pushing everything important into the same place (I recommend the bottom of the screen as you’ll only be covering up ground) will take some getting used to but pay dividends in the long run. If you feel like it’s getting too cluttered, a lot of addons have the option to hide out of combat and I know there’s an addon that will do it for them if they can’t.

Furthermore, if you want to get anywhere in the UI business you’ll need to overcome your phobia of exhaustive customisation. Those options are there for good reason. You might want to find a balance; I used to use xPerl after PitBull confused me but went back to PitBull when I was more comfortable and it was great.

Like I say, it’s all personal preference. Do what you want, ignore me, whatever. But from a purely technical perspective having important combat information splattered across the whole screen is inefficient, and I know I personally couldn’t play with that UI.
That was longer than I expected. UI tweaking was one of my favourite activities when I played and it’s great when you finally find that personal build that pleases you 😉

Stormy - May 12, 2012

but at the moment that screenshot is a long way from what I personally would call functional.

…which, of course, is why this is my UI and not the UI you designed for yourself.

Your reaction time in play is going to be slowed a lot

As I recall, you’re largely a PvP player (when you’re playing WoW at all–did you come back at some point?). I am not. I’m not interested in a crack-addled jackrabbit style of play. This is also why I don’t play a rogue or a feral kitty.

if you want to get anywhere in the UI business

The only place I’m interested in getting is a decent UI that suits my needs. I’ve done that. The moment that making and selling a WoW UI becomes a marketable skill, let me know.

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