Gadgeteers and purists

Last night as I launched a new sim on my Balance druid, it occurred to me that I rely a lot on third party sites and addons to play this game. I mean, really, a lot. Here is a sample, off the top of my head:

  • Over 20 addons — DBM, GTFO, ArkInventory, Weakauras, Bartender4, Healbot for my healers, Shadowed Unit Frames, Pawn, Tradeskill Master, Skada, World Quest Tracker, TomTom, Paste — to name a few.
  • Wowhead — my go-to site for guidance on where to find patterns and recipes, mats needed for crafting, various Legion guides, gear info, transmog ideas, and quest info. The latter is especially important to me. If I run into a problem with a quest, I immediately turn to Wowhead for solutions to whatever is stopping me. I am not worried about “spoilers”, I am just interested in finishing the quest and moving on, and I derive no satisfaction from figuring it out on my own after beating my head on a rock for hours or days. Thank goodness for the Wowhead users who unselfishly post their insights into quests as soon as they get them figured out.
  • Icy-Veins — I use this for class/spec info as well as for quick and dirty raid guidance. When I am coming back to an alt I have not played in a while, it is always my first stop to brush up on rotations, talent builds, and the order of stat importance. In Legion, I use this site to make my way through artifact traits and to get their list of BiS legendaries. The class/spec guides are always up to date and are written by world class players. I can’t imagine trying to figure out a rotation on my own for every alt by evaluating the various spell and talent and artifact interactions.
  • Sims. I use SimC on my own computer, and I also use web sites like Beotorch and recently Raidbots to run quick sims for importing into my Pawn addon. I know sims are only partially useful, but honestly I do not know of a better way to evaluate the complex factors in gear these days. (It would be interesting, I think, to compare the results for a player using all these complicated methods to select gear and talents versus selecting solely on the basis of ilevel increases and gut feeling for talents. I wonder if there would actually be much difference?)
  • Quest guides. I confess I use a quest guide to speed my way through leveling and also through dailies, profession quest lines, class hall quests, artifact quests, and even long achievement chains. (I am not going to say the one I use because it is a paid service and I do not want to plug a commercial product.)

There are probably a few more outside resources I use, but those are the ones that come to mind immediately. As I said, it’s a lot.

I know there are purists out there who are horrified by a list like this. I respect that point of view. Intellectually, I am even drawn to it, but realistically I am far too impatient to actually try to deal with a Blizz-only interface.

The native game UI itself, to me, is clunky, un-intuitive, and not responsive to player preferences. This opinion is reinforced every time I log in to the PTR and have to set up the Blizz-only interface. It just does not work for me, from the lack of raid frame options to the multiple-bar action bar setup and separate keybind interface, to the horrible bag space viewer, to the inability to set up reasonably-located spell cues and proc notices.

Additionally, the game flow — especially in Legion — seems confusing to me, possibly even deliberately vague. Blizz sometimes thinks they are running a puzzle game, not an adventure MMO, and they love to obfuscate in the name of “challenge”. Sometimes, for example, quests follow logically from one to the next, but equally as often you have to search for the next series without knowing whether or not it is a line you are interested in or where it might lead. And the “secret” quests — they are not my cup of tea. If I wanted to figure out puzzles, I would be playing a different game than WoW. I honestly cannot imagine a new player figuring all this out for themselves with zero outside help.

So I tend to go a bit overboard in third party assistance. I know this. I wish it were not necessary for my enjoyment of the game, but it is. In an ideal world, Blizz would provide a wide range of player options, permitting an approach like mine as well as the purist one. But even I know that is not really possible — they seem to have all they can do to keep the game from imploding without adding in a lot of complicating player-option code.

To be fair, periodically they co-opt some third party ideas and try to bring them into the native interface, but to my eye they usually do it badly. For example, there is the in-game Dungeon Journal now, a Blizz version of third party raid and instance explanations. It’s okay, but it falls short of most outside ones, in my opinion. The bag-sorting algorithm introduced in WoD is a slight improvement over what we had before, but it does not come close to the categorizing and display options in an addon like ArkInventory. I could give a lot more examples, but you get the idea.

Anyway, I do not think I would continue to play this game if I could not use third party resources to the extent I do. I like gadgets and gizmos and convenience and efficiency too much to give them up. Those of you who are purists, I salute you — try not to judge me, I am weak!

Bye-bye range finder

Leave it to me to complain about a lack of communication from Blizzard Friday, only for us to be almost buried with information coming out of Gamescom a few hours later. Specifically, Ion Hazzikostas spent literally hours in interviews, answering questions about nearly every facet of Legion. The two I actually watched were the Fatboss interview and the Slootbag one. You can check them out for yourselves, both the raw video and the text summaries, on MMO-C in the links I just provided, but if you opt to watch the videos, be prepared to spend a lot of time at it.

Obviously, today’s post is not going to comment on everything covered in the interviews, but over the next few days I do want to pick up on a couple of things that especially got my attention. Today’s topic is addons.

The big news dropped by Hazzikostas in the Slootbag session was that, beginning in Patch 7.1, the game will no longer allow addon access to unit positions in dungeons, raids, or any competitive area (presumably such as PvP arenas and BGs). (If you want to hear the actual discussion on this, fast forward to about the last 10 minutes of the video.) Hazzikostas tried to downplay the announcement a bit, claiming it does not rise to the importance of, say, flying or camera distance, but trust me, this is potentially huge. He also said that the change will not affect positioning addons out in the world, such as Gather and presumably addons that alert you to the nearby presence of a significant NPC.

I am not a LUA programmer, so it’s a little hard for me to grasp the full range of ramifications of the change, but as I understand it, any addon that gives you, for example, an arrow or a mini-picture of boss or raid member positions, will no longer be available. Off the top of my head, the things I am familiar with that do this include many DBM functions (see the initial list here) but most especially /range and some of the useful “nearby” warnings (like if a player next to you has a Bad Thing). Useful healing addons like Healbot will almost certainly lose their GPS arrows indicating the direction of an out-of-range player, and I don’t know if they will lose their entire ability to show out of range players differently than healable ones.

I don’t know what effect this change will have on raiding. I suspect it will have little or no effect on top end raid teams, where every member of the team has close to godlike raid awareness and reaction synapses, as well as access to in-house written guild-specific macros, ElvUI configs, and LUA scripts. But I think it could have potentially terrible consequences for the majority of casual and semi-casual raid teams, and indeed for many pugs.

As an example, think about Iskar and how it would change without Iskar Assist. Yes, yes, I know many raiders did not use it, but not using it almost always required a  mouseover macro that hot keyed the Extra Action button, along with fairly customized raid frames that clearly indicated when each and every player had the wind debuff. (Just to use the simplest example.) Without such “automation”, most people just took too long to toss the thing to the player needing it, leading most times to a wipe. And I know that many of my readers do not consider macros to be challenging at all, but trust me they are beyond the reach of the majority of players. Addons just make the process easier.

Just selfishly, I know I will be at a loss without the range finder function. For some reason, I absolutely stink at estimating distances in game. I am decent at it in the real world, but I have never been able to grasp the wild proportions of WoW, thus I am robbed of perspective as a range estimation tool. And the graphics, for as good as they are in most things, do not in my opinion render distant objects — even middle distance objects — reliably.

The addon functions that will be disabled in 7.1 will not kill the game, but I think their removal will make it much more frustrating for many players, especially the raiders who never go beyond Normal raids, who tend to run each week with a small core group of raiders but have to supplement each week with either some guild or outside pugs. Even with the addons you can end up with one or more of That Guy who just doesn’t grasp certain mechanics, but at least until 7.1 you could ensure they had, for example, the range finder to show them when they were too close to someone else in a given phase. Or tell them to go download GTFO so they won’t stand in fire all the time. I don’t think GTFO will be affected by the 7.1 change, but it is just an example of an addon some players would look down their noses at, but which makes raiding attainable for many teams who do not have the luxury of picking and choosing top level players.

Turning to the possible fallout for healers, in my opinion it is unreasonable to require visual recognition of individual players by name just to be able, for example, to find them and heal them. If Dumbottom the gnome hunter has gotten out of range of healing in a 15 or 20 man raid team, the healer should not be expected to scan the pixels on his screen to visually locate the player, especially if Dumbottom is someone the healer never runs with and does not automatically recognize by transmog. And no, nameplates are not the answer, they become way too cluttering in large groups to be used reliably. Finally, for players who are visually challenged, the “arrow” addons of the past few years have been what have enabled these players to perform well in raids, when they never could before because of disability.

I hope Blizz takes on a certain amount of responsibility with this move, and gives us raids with reasonable movement mechanics and visual cues, the kind that do not require average players to resort to automation just to make it through a boss on Normal. Save the full range of ridiculously-complex mechanics for Mythic raids, put a few into Heroic, and leave them out of Normal. Blizz has recently reiterated their fairy tale that Normal is for “friends and family”, Heroic is for progression teams, and Mythic is for the pros, so I am asking them to put their money where their mouth is on that.

And while they are at it, Blizz needs to take care that there are no more Normal raids where one screw-up by one person wipes the raid. Human nature is such that regular players will from time to time make mistakes. Maybe the same player will not make the mistake every time, but it is almost a certainty that with a group of average players, at least one of them will make a mistake in the course of a boss kill. If Blizz is going to remove some of the aids Normal players use to help remind them of the times to be especially cautious, then I think it is incumbent upon the game designers to either provide the addon function within the game, or to make encounters that are tolerant of normal human error.

Next up tomorrow or Wednesday: What we learned about class balance in Legion.


My favorite addons

I am a gadget person. I am fascinated by gizmos and whirligigs and electronic devices. I am mesmerized by any new technology that comes out, and even if I don’t think I would ever have any use for it, I always admire the innovation and creativity that went into the idea. So I suppose it is natural that I am a big fan of addons in WoW.

Before I go further, two disclaimers. First, I am in no way connected with any of the addons I am going to mention by name, have no creative or monetary stake in them, and receive no remuneration for them. Second, for all you purists out there, I get that no addons are “required” to play this game, just as there is no “requirement” to own an automobile or a phone IRL, but they sure do make life easier and more fun even if they do complicate things a bit.

I currently have something like 112 addons installed. Before you start with your tsk-tsking, let me point out that many of these are “descendant” type addons such as 6 modules for Deadly Boss Mods, 11 modules for Atlas, 14 modules for Trade Skill Master 2, etc. Also, I don’t use all addons for all characters, each has its own subset configured just for that class and set of specs. Still, it’s a lot.

The addons I feel like I could not function without, for all my characters, are:

ArkInventory has always been — and still is, in my opinion — head and shoulders above the standard Blizz inventory management system. (Bagnon is similar in function, but I have never tried it so can’t comment on it.) I am sort of a tidy freak when it comes to my storage space, and ArkInventory allows me to categorize everything however I want, and tuck it into its own little place, in my bank, bags, wherever. You can even organize your guild bank as you see fit, without imposing your structure on everyone else, because only you see the organizational rules you have established. The only thing I wish this addon had is the ability to do bulk categories — sometimes it gets tedious to individually categorize new items, it would be easier to multi-select similar ones and define the group.

BT4 makes the Blizz action bars usable. Granted, it does not really do anything you can’t do using just the native interface, but it makes the whole process vastly easier and more accessible. I have come to rely on it so much that I am at a huge disadvantage when it is disabled in the PTR, because I have to completely set up my native action bars from scratch, switch between them, etc.

DBM — no comment, most everyone relies on either it or BigWigs for important raid and boss warnings.

WA2 is my biggest cheater addon. I have it set up for every class and spec I play, displaying cooldown timers, spell availability, emergency health warnings, available focus/mana/embers/chi/whatever, and almost anything else you can imagine. I display most of these items in a small circle around my character to be able to see them immediately. I even have a gigantic pulsing red paw that tells me if I have Aspect of the Pack on in raids, and a similar item that warns me if I have Growl enabled in a group. I have configured some of the things myself and have shamelessly copied good ideas from others. Many people offer their WA2 configs for anyone to copy, using PasteBin. (Sorry, before you ask, I don’t, not because I am stingy but because I got tired of catering to individual “I can’t get this to work for me” or “Could you tweak this to also show X” comments and requests. Also, many of my groups contain auras I copied from others, and I do not feel at liberty to share them as if they were mine.)

I am not going to discuss my other addons other than to mention some of my “nice-to-have” ones. I could live without them, but they save me a lot of time and effort:

  • Altoholic — see at a glance what inventory, profession recipes, gear, etc. you have on all your characters without having to log in to them.
  • Master Plan — saves a ton of time on garrison missions, although it could do better on the shipyard ones.
  • AskMrRobot — instantly transfer your current gear config to the site, including what non-equipped gear you have in your bags and bank, so as to take advantage of the site’s Best in Bag, Upgrades, and other services without having to log out first.
  • GTFO — both annoying and handy to have for those times when you may not be paying attention to where you are standing. Cuts down on the ass-chewings from your Raid Leader.
  • HealBot Continued — a must for healers, and as I learned from the Grumpy Elf, for other specs as well. I have gone back and forth between HB and VuhDo on my healers. I find VuhDo to be more flexible, but it has a history of not getting updated for major patches. I think it is being kept up now, but I am sticking with HB just for its reliability.
  • Skada — a lightweight meter similar to Recount. I don’t use it that much, but it is useful once in a while when I am trying out new rotations and/or specs.
  • Titan Panel — lots of useful plugins you can park up there to keep track of info in a handy yet unobtrusive way.
  • TradeSkillMaster 2 — I think there is a version 3 in the works. Lots of handy auction house, selling, buying, profession crafting, etc. shortcuts. It takes some effort to set up, but once it is done it is very efficient. There are lots of helpful tutorials for it also.
  • Tidy Plates
  • Shadowed Unit Frames — a much better unit frame interface than the native one, in my opinion. However, if you use HealBot or another frame-based addon, SUF is redundant. Also, it is not updated that frequently and honestly I am thinking of abandoning it. I have tried Grid but just cannot make myself like it, so if I have to replace SUF it will be with something other than Grid.

That’s pretty much it. Most of my other addons duplicate specific functions of the ones I listed, but maybe in a more efficient manner. Or they are purely social/communication ones. I also like trying new addons, so I usually have a few that I am auditioning, most of which I end up deleting.

One I am currently quite taken with, though, is SpartanUI. I am giving it a try on my Brewmaster monk, since he does not yet have a lot going on that I cannot easily reconfigure. What I like about it so far is that it really cleans up your UI, plus it works well with (in fact, requires) BT4.  A few months ago I tried ElvUI, but I found it was annoying to install, set up, and update, so I went back to my hodgepodge UI. SpartanUI is still in development, but it looks to be shaping up to compete favorably with ElvUI.

I would be interested to hear what addons you can’t live without. I expect I will add some tanking ones if I decide to stick with my Brewmaster much longer, so if you have any of those to recommend, that would be welcome.