Welcome to Azmara of Ensidia
Earlier in the week I promised two very special guest posters this week. Azmara is Ensidia’s newest restoration shaman and is gracing us with his personal views on user interface configuration from the perspective of a full time healer. He boasts a massive amount of PvE experience at the very top of the raiding scene. You can check out his armoury profile here
Due to the huge amount of time and effort he put into this guide, I’m delivering it in segments. Part one will focus on macros, key binds and raid frames. Part two, which should be out for your reading pleasure early next week, will focus on more general UI design tips and the importance of good hardware. Azmara has his own UI compilation available for download. If you’re interested or if you have any further questions regarding his UI specifically, you should head to his thread over on the Ensidia forums.
“A screenshot of your UI”
How many people are stumped by such a simple request? Why do so many guilds insist on having a picture of what your interface looks like? Surely it cant be that important to how well you perform?
Simply put, so many ask because it is that important. I’m here to talk about a combination of queries that get thrown around quite regularly for healers. Specifically; keybindings, macros, addons and general interface design. This article is going to focus on interface design purely from a healing perspective, what addons should you have, and what’s available out there to help make your job easier.
To start off I’m going to talk briefly about how you can heal. There are three major ways to actually perform healing, the most basic of which is the simple “click player, click button” style. While this is by all means functional it is far from efficient, as it requires one more action than the other two methods. I personally would recommend using one of the following:
- 1. Mouse-over macros
- 2. Clicking
I personally prefer mouse-over macros. The reason behind this primarily is that option two requires an addon and I like to run as light as possible with addons. Your mouse-over macros should look like the following:
This will attempt to cast the max rank of Lesser Healing Wave on the target your mouse cursor is over when you press the button. This is assuming the target exists and is valid. If your mouse either isn’t over anything or it is over an invalid target (an enemy in this example) it will instead cast on your current physicaltarget. Make a macro similar to this for each of your spells (it works for everything from Earth Shield to Frost Shock) and bind them in place of your standard spells and you are good to go.
The final option is clicking stuff. In order to do this you need an addon, the major 2 being either Clique or Healbot (which I’ll talk about in a bit more detail later). These allow you to bind your spells to a specific mouse click such as left-click for Lesser Healing Wave or shift-left-click for Healing Wave and so on. I tried this for a while but I prefer mouse-over macros. It really comes down to personal preference – try both and go with whichever feels best. Just try to avoid the “target player, click heal” style.
People seem to be really interested in macros and I’ve never really understood why. While they can provide some nice functionality they aren’t going to perform miracles for you. Apart from my mouse-over macros I only actually use a few macros, two of which are simply to save keybinds.
The best and most practical macro is the simple “Swift/Tidal waves” macro:-
Since neither Nature’s Swiftness nor Tidal Force trigger the global cooldown you can place them both on the same macro, and this provides shamans’ only real emergency button.
In addition to that I have:-
This is fairly self explanatory, if control is held it will cast Cleansing Totem, if not, it will cast Tremor Totem. I have a similar macro for Fire and Earth elemental. This is purely to save keybinds.
Keybinds are incredibly important for every class in any role. It is important to have a good knowledge of where all your keybinds are located and have the ability to press them unexpectedly. Personally I have around fourty keybinds all of which can be accessed without moving my hands from the standard movement keys and mouse configuration. I won’t go into detail of exactly what I have keybound where, as keybinds are something personal – what may be comfortable and intuitive for me, you may find clunky and unwieldy.
What you aim for is to have your primary keybinds bound somewhere close and comfortable to spam when needed. Things such as Bloodlust/Heroism can normally be put a little bit further away. What I will do is suggest some keys to be using;
- Keys 1-5
- Q, E, Z, X, C, R, F, and V
Don’t forget about shift and control modifiers, they are essential if you want to keybind as much as possible. Really its just important to get keybinds that work for you, are comfortable, accessible and then to memorize them. The best way to really learn your keybinds is to get an action bar addon such as Bartender, and start hiding some of the bars. Start with your primary action bar, and then start moving on to secondary bars until eventually you don’t play with any at all.
That personally is what I do, I have no action bars at all visible on my UI. This is not to show off, I know all my keybinds, and there is no need to display redundant data. Instead this frees up some oh so precious screen space for other functions.
Getting a good set of raid frames and getting them set up correctly is vital to be a truly effective healer. You need to be able to easily monitor the entire raids health, along with your own buffs and any fight specific debuffs.
There are three major sets of stand alone raid frames out there and I’ll talk briefly about each of them in turn.
Firstly we have Grid. I’ll admit from the start that Grid is my personal favourite of the three so I may be slightly biased. Grid has a fairly basic layout with an easily configurable size. On the most basic level it shows your team mates, and their health. It is incredibly simple to add any new abilities you want to track. There are several main ways to track abilities, one option is a variety of coloured dots at the corners and the other is via an icon in the middle of each cell.
As you can see the in the screenshot above I’m tracking my Earth Shield via the center icon, Riptide via the blue dot at the top left, and Ancestral Fortitude with the orange dot in the bottom right. This can be fully customized to suit how you want it all to appear. Grid also has a number of extra “bolt-ons” that you can download to give extra functionality if you desire.
The second options is Healbot. Considering its name, you’d think it would be the no-brainer addon to have in your healing UI, but here are some reasons why I think that assumption would not be that accurate.
Firstly there is a widely embraced opinion saying that using Healbot makes you a worse healer. This is something I don’t agree with, nor do I understand where it came from. I don’t dislike Healbot because it makes you worse. I dislike it because it’s terrible.
I’ll get the petty complaint out of the way first. Healbot is fucking ugly! While by all means functionality is more important than aesthetics there’s a limit, and Healbot is that limit!
As far as more valid concerns go, my primary complaint is with the way the information is presented. I found it quite difficult to gauge at a glance the health of my party members, and when you’re raiding twenty five man heroics, a glance is sometimes all you can spare each person. Healbot’s major advantage over other addons is it’s ability to display a large numbers of buffs complete with durations. While this sounds awesome at first glance, you will soon realize that it turns your raid frames into a clusterfuck of different icons and spinning timers. Combined with the unclear health bars, this makes a bad problem worse. On the example below I found it quite difficult to gauge exactly how much health the warrior has at a glance.
It can be argued that these problems can be remedied by a proper setup. This leads nicely onto my other major complaint: the configuration GUI is the most confusing and unintuitive interface I’ve seen in an addon. For example why is the buff display found under “skins” instead of under “buffs”?! It makes no sense and only served to infuriate me as I struggled to make sense of the different options.
The one praise I will give Healbot is the “test mode” option. That is incredibly useful and something I wish more raid frames had.
My ideal raid frames are simple, attractive, not overly colourful and able to display all the information I need in a clear and concise manner. It should be able to do all of this while taking up as little space as possible. Healbot is the total opposite of what I want from my raid frames! It is overly complex and horrible to look at. The constantly changing colour bars do nothing but distract you from what is going on elsewhere (also known as healer tunnel vision). Worst of all, in order to display the information I require, Healbot would occupy almost a quarter of my screen. I wish I was over-exaggerating here but I’m not; in order for Healbot to be of any use, it needs to be huge, and I just can’t deal with that.
Vuhdo is the third contender. I had never used or ever really looked at this addon prior to writing this post, but that ensures you’re going to get an unbiased view on the addon from a new user.
Unfortunately most of the complaints and annoyances I had with Healbot return in Vuhdo, starting with another truly terrible configuration window. The author has designed a completely original configuration window with custom colours. The particular choice of colour scheme is quite painful on the eyes of the average user, as blue on white is not easy to distinguish under any circumstances.
After a brief setup, I had a quick blast through a heroic dungeon for a test drive. Again, I found more of my Healbot complaints returning. There is too much information and not enough space to accurately display it all. After only five minutes of the dungeon, the frames began to become a bit of a strain on the eyes. This is a problem I’ve yet to have with any other frames.
In my opinion, Grid is definitely the best of the big three. It has a simple configuration and adding new debuffs is simple and intuitive. It can provide the amount of detail you need in a very clear way, without obscuring anything. Also, while documenting for this post, I downloaded a fresh version of all three addons and Grid was by far the simplest to configure.
Closing Comments From Zing
There we have it ladies and gents. Part two of Azmara’s post will be with you next week. This will feature some more general design tips along with his thoughts on the importance of hardware for your raid performance. From a personal point of view, I’m fascinated by UI design and to see how other people create theirs is always inspirational. I play restoration as an offspec (and love it) but I far from consider myself a healer so I thoroughly enjoy reading design ideas from those who truly are healers.
Once again, I’d personally like to offer my thanks to him for offering his insight. Remember you can download his UI here, where he is also available to answer questions or queries regarding it. Any comments left here will be forwarded to him and perhaps he’ll be kind enough to answer them.
The amount of weight one places on the importance of a good user interface can vary hugely from person to person. There are good players out there running the default WoW UI. There are terrible players using very complex UIs. One thing is for sure, the interface you use will not miraculously make you into an amazing player. It can help though….
I spend a lot of time contemplating optimal UI design and even more attempting to put this into practice. A well designed, well thought out UI will show you exactly the information you need; no more and no less. Naturally, this varies between classes, specs and roles in a raid and of course, my articles will primarily be based at raiding elemental shamans (with maybe some looks at my lesser played spec, restoration.)
The Theory Behind a Good UI
There are so many addons for World of Warcraft that it’s easy to get caught up in “collecting” them. Ever seen an addon while stumbling over a screenshot of someone’s UI and grabbed it whether you need it or not. Sound familiar? It should, plenty of us do it. Our screens end up a jumble of various addons and then we complain when we have performance issues in game.
As previously mentioned, a good UI should help you and not hinder. This means it provides you the information you need at any given time. The information we need can vary on occasion but at the centre of it will remain a core number of requirements.
1/ Unit Frames and Raid Frames
This is an obvious. As a minimal, we need to see our own health and mana pools along with the health and mana of our target. In a group or raid situation, we need to see the health and mana of other players and perhaps furthermore, those of our focus target?
2/ Cast Bars
Another obvious, we need to see what we and our target are casting.
3/ Action Bars
This can be debated but in my experience, most players prefer to see their skills on hotbars than have them hidden. Key binding is essential for responding to situations quickly and can certainly make the difference between a good player and a poor one. Some people can’t remember ALL their key binds. Some simply don’t have enough binds for all their skills. Others like the reassurance of visually seeing their skills (should they forget their binds for a split second in combat?)
4/ Our Threat
This is another obviously essential component. Pulling agro off a tank in a raid situation can wipe the raid and in most cases, it is the DPS at fault should this occur. Seeing our threat on a given target is essential.
5/ Buffs and Debuffs
Whether they be on us, our party / raid or on our target, seeing buffs and debuffs is essential. Failing to notice a spell reflect shield on a mob can result in a dead caster. Failing to see a debuff on yourself that is to cause 30k damage to anyone around us can result in a dead raid. Ensuring we have all the correct buffs before we head into combat ensures we can perform to our best.
6/ Cooldowns and Spell Timers
I will admit that when you have been playing a specific class and spec combination for a long time, you tend to develop a “feel” for your cooldowns. Spell rotations become second nature and you have an ability to just know when a skill is coming off cooldown and can be used. For less frequently cast spells or talents, Elemental Mastery is an excellent example here, being able to see the cooldown ensures you are playing optimally. Additionally, being able to see at a glance the duration left on a DoT, such as flame shock, can not only prevent us from needlessly “clipping” the spell, but can also aid us in planning ahead.
7/ Boss Warnings
These are mostly required in raid instances where most guilds will insist on their members installing them. They tell you what a boss is about to do, before it does it and they announce when a player has a debuff.
8/ Chat Windows
Lastly, we have our chat windows. Even if your guild use voice communications during raids, there is undoubtedly times where tactics are discussed in raids, or other players say something you are required to respond to.
The Theory of UI Design
What makes a good PvE player? The ability to perform their given “role” within a raid while still responding to environmental events. These can be anything from moving out of AoE spells, switching targets, running to point x when you have debuff y and so on. All of these require a spacial awareness and one element of having such awareness is having a lot of “screen space”. By this, I refer to the free space on your screen where you can actually see what is happening around you. Should most of your screen be full of addons, the chance for you to see and respond to environmental events greatly reduces. Any UI should be designed with this key point at the forefront of our planning.
For precisely this reason, you will see trends in most UIs. Chat frames will be at the bottom of the screen, most commonly in the corners. Action bars will reside at the bottom also. Buffs often get grouped together in a top corner.
When considering where to place our key UI elements, we should consider our view of the game. Our character is always, roughly, central to the screen (if you play in first person mode, there is no helping you anyway). This area is where we will see AE’s on the floor that we need to move away from, what the boss is doing and so on. Most of our focus will be on this portion of the screen. It makes sense therefore, that key elements of our UI should be here. This means we can see vital information easily as our attention is already focussed on this part of the screen.
With this in mind, designing a UI becomes much easier. My own unit frames will sit about 1/4 of the way up the screen, just below my main field of view. Cast bars for myself, my target and my focus target are all directly about their individual frames. My own debuffs sit below my unit frame. I never cease to be surprised at how many players bunch these together in a dusty corner somewhere and then wonder why they are slower to react than other players. If I have a nasty debuff, I want to know what it is instantly. My threat meter shows directly below my target. There is no point having an addon to determine your threat and then sticking it in a corner where you rarely notice it.