Scatterbrained

There is at once so much and so little going on with WoW these days that I am finding it challenging to come up with topics for this blog. The “so much going on” is all quite a ways out yet, and the stuff we are dealing with in Legion now is unfortunately in the “so little going on” bucket. Thus, some extremely scattered thoughts I had over the weekend.

User interfaces. I know I will get some blowback on this, but in my opinion Blizz pretty much stinks at user interfaces in the game. They seem to be easily satisfied with the kind of interface only an elderly software engineer could love — clunky and non-intuitive but adequate to get at the guts of the game. Over the years, I will admit, they have tended to improve some of the more egregious clunkers, but there are a lot left.

Take the bag structure. It used to resemble my Aunt Dorothy’s huge purse — stuffed with everything she had accumulated over years, and none of it could be found without a lot of rummaging. Then a few years ago, Blizz gave us the “organizer” option for bags. That is a laugh. Honestly, I have never been able to figure out what principle they use to determine what item is in what category, you only get the categories Blizz wants to give you, there is no reasonable solution for overflow items, and you are stuck with Blizz’s idea of what “tidy” means if you decide to tidy them up. It is so lousy that they had to amend it a while back and add a feature that made recently-added items glow. Not a bad feature, I will grant you, but it is fickle and annoying if you have looked in your bag to find the new loot you just got, then close it to offer the item up for raffle — when you open the bag again to find the item for trade, it has suddenly lost its glow and you are left to search for it for a long time while the raid leaves both you and your recipient far behind.

Part of why Blizz is so lazy with their interfaces, I think, is because they have the luxury of a large community of addon writers that willingly fix the slipshod Blizz work. For years now, I have used an addon called ArkInventory for my bags (there are several good ones out there), and it has become one of the ones I almost cannot live without, right up there alongside WeakAuras and Bartender 4. It allows me to set up my own categories along with Blizz’s, it lets me see what category Blizz thinks an item is in, and if I don’t like  it I can redesignate the item’s category to another one of theirs or to one I have made up. I can also see my bag as one gigantic storage area and designate areas for each category. (Can apply this to your bank as well, and even to a guild bank if you want because it does not affect the actual way items are stored just how they appear to you.) Each area has a title, for example, “Food”, “Cooking mats”, “Pet Shit”, “Other spec gear”, even a separate one for “Trinkets” so I can easily see the ones I have. I also keep all my legendaries in a separate bin to rapidly sift through them, along with something I call “Gear I Need” to keep the various pieces I rotate as I change out tier and legendaries.

Yeah, the OCD organizer in me loves this app. Blizz could give us the same thing — clearly the capability is there in the code — but they don’t have to make an elegant interface because someone else does it for them.

Another trauma overcome. Many years ago, when I rolled my druid, I decided she would be primarily a healer. I was drawn to the idea that druids can fulfill any role in the game, including either ranged or melee damage dealers. I was about level 60 or 62 when I attempted to heal my first pug dungeon. (Drak’Tharon Keep) I really had zero idea what I was doing, but hey I had healed myself while leveling, puttered around in a couple battlegrounds, and even thrown a few heals at some players who happened to be on the same quest I was on out in the world. How hard could it be?

HAHAHA. It was a disaster. We wiped on the first set of trash in that long hall, and I was immediately kicked, but not before everyone had thrown some well-deserved insults at me. I had failed to grasp the HoT concept for druid healing, thought when someone got low on health I could throw out a heal and be good. These days I laugh at such experiences, but back then I took them very seriously, so seriously in fact that I did not attempt druid healing again for years. When I did, I took care to always be in a raid with other healers, so that I would not have sole responsibility for the group’s survival. Even as I became proficient at druid healing, the 5-man phobia remained.

Until last night. I took a deep breath and queued as a healer for a Timewalker dungeon. My hands were clammy, my heart rate was through the roof, and I was laser focused on every tiny health point for everyone.

Pfffffft. It was a piece of cake. I got through five of them easily. I don’t know what I was worried about. In fact, TW dungeons are so easy to heal I found I had a lot of time for dealing some of my puny damage as well. Another huge dragon built up in my mind was in fact a tiny cute kitty… 😂

LFR. (A never-ending source of blog material) I ran a few LFRs over the weekend, on my void elf mage and my druid. These things really are a study in psychology. In fact, there is someone in my guild who has 12-14 alts and actually loves running LFR on them every week. She is fascinated by the various group dynamics she encounters. Yeah, I know, right, go figure… I am pretty sure I could never go to that extreme on LFR, but it is still interesting to me how vastly different the group experience can be every time. One time you can get a sober, mature group that is helpful to newbies and very patient, and the next group can be toxic and completely dysfunctional.

The LFR queue process, though, is another example of a user interface that Blizz could really stand to improve. I understand it is not simple to do, but there are some really annoying things about it. The one over the weekend that annoyed me was the idea that you can be put into a group in the middle of a raid wing, maybe even for just the last boss in that wing. I understand this has to happen because of course players will drop out at any point in the raid and they need to be backfilled. It is frustrating to have waited for 10-15 minutes to get into a raid, only to only have a shot at the last boss and then get to queue all over again for the same wing. Once recently, that happened to me, and when I requeued I got put into a raid that was on the second of the 3 bosses, so I got to requeue yet one more time! At the very least, Blizz could put you at the head of the queue if that happens to you, and maybe even do some sort of check to make sure you get in on the first boss if you have to requeue.

Last, in what may be the least exciting news lately, Blizzcon 2018 tickets are going on sale shortly. (Yawn) For WoW players, this year’s event is likely to be a real snoozer, since BfA will have already launched months before. I suppose it may come at a handy time to hype the first BfA patch — and possibly a new raid tier — but that is about it. There are a few rumors that there may be an announcement of a Warcraft III remaster, but otherwise the focus will likely be on other Blizz IPs. The virtual tickets will go on sale later this summer, but I think the only way I will be interested is if there is significant inducement in the form of a really cool mount or something (like they did for Blizzcon 2017).

That’s it for this rather boring Monday.

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!

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.

UI Woes

Been wondering lately if it is time to simplify or at least drastically alter my user interface and/or my style of mousing and keyboarding in game.

Here’s a shot of what my combat UI generally looks like, of course some procs and cd’s come and go in it. If I were in a raid, the raid frames would be in the upper left of my screen.

Combat UI 2015-02-20 14.29.08

 

 

 

 

 

I use mainly Weakauras 2 and Kharthus’s Hunter Timers to keep track of my cooldowns and procs, along with a couple of the better Blizz proc graphics. I also use Bartender 4, keeping most of my raid and combat action bars at the bottom of the screen and my “admin” bars on the right side. Overall, I don’t feel like my UI is too complicated, although I could simplify it even more by having the action bars disappear in combat, since all my important stuff is keybound. It stays on my screen mainly as a security blanket, in case I have a brain fart and suddenly can’t remember how to throw Master’s Call in an emergency. Silly, but there it is.

The source of my current angst is my mouse and keyboard interaction. I have the feeling it is not very efficient, and if I could make it better I might improve my DPS. I use a Logitech G510S keyboard and a Razer Naga Epic mouse. With my DPS alts, I use the mouse to move and the keyboard to cast. But there is a lot of crossover. For example, since I have about a bajillion buttons on my mouse, I have most of my quick-reaction spells available there — things like Disengage, Counter Shot, Explosive Shot, Glaive Toss — so I can easily throw them while moving and still have my keyboard hand poised to hammer down on the next part of the rotation. And I sometimes — OK, maybe even “often” — revert to some good old wasd movement, especially for strafing and backup. Nothing prevents me from binding strafing and backup keys to my mouse so I could use it for all movement, I just have never done it and now think it might be awkward for quite awhile.

So my keyboard-mouse habits seem disorganized and inefficient to me.

Worse for my sense of tidiness, when I play a healer, my habits become pretty much opposite of my DPS ones. Due to the limitations of Healbot, my healer mainly uses the keyboard for movement and the mouse for healing. And since I have more keybinds than mouse buttons, I generally have to use my keyboard for some spells as well as for movement. (Luckily, Blizz foresaw this problem for me and nicely made it so healers rarely cast and move at the same time any more, thanks Blizz!)

This means I have to do a brain reset when I switch between heals and DPS alts — it’s not hard, and I don’t really have to think about it, but it is a process I have to go through even if subconsciously.

I don’t have any solutions to this, but I can’t shake the nagging voice in the back of my head that says I am wasting a lot of healing and damage power with my inefficient setup. I would be interested in how you set up your casting and movement.