This is exciting. The very first Reader UI of the Week from the Mists of Pandaria beta, and it gets to be my own. In fact, the UI that I've created in the beta is a bit of a dream team, fantasy UI that has been bouncing around in my head ever since World of Warcraft went live on the first day. You see, it's taken more than seven years for this feature to be developed and implemented in the game, and things will never be the same once the newest expansion launches.
I've been waiting for the ability to move my player and unit frames for a long, long time. The upper-left location of the screen was never my favorite area to slap a health and mana bar. I've put up with it over the years and have changed the feature wherever and whenever possible, but betas are not usually addon-enabled until the later days. Until then, I must make do.
These days, however, Mists of Pandaria looks to bring us some beautiful new changes to the user interface and my own sanity, giving me the ability to change some of the fundamental aspects of the player and target frames. With just two small movements and two quick options, the World of Warcraft default user interface moved leaps and bounds forward in the race to compete with my custom setup. And this fact makes me wonder if the UI will one day be seen as analogous to transmogrification, where Blizzard thinks that people can't handle one thing but actually crave the other.
Making a simple change
Betas force me to change my outlook on the UI every single time. There are always new or changed pieces underneath all of the addons we stack on top of the default setup. When we're forced to play "their way," we can learn a thing or two about the way we play.
The simplest change turned out to be the most profound one. The first thing I did was move both my player and target frames down to the center adjacent area, off-center from the screen but close enough to call them that. Shadowed Unit Frames has lived in this spot for the majority of my WoW career, and seeing the old art assets and frames almost threw me for a loop. It's amazing what has and hasn't changed in almost eight years; those frames still invoke a lot of memories from the way-back days.
One simple option
One crucial and critical option makes this setup work -- show debuffs on top. Right-click the target frame, and check the box that puts your targets debuffs on the top, not the bottom. Now you've got a target frame that will grow the debuff box upwards rather than down and into your action bars. By growing up instead of down, you can leave more of the center space open when targets don't have a ton of debuffs, as they would in a raiding environment.
Now, if only there were a toggle that would let me adjust the size of debuffs that I've applied to the target. Then it all would be complete ...
What's actually going on?
It began to hit me -- what was really going on here? Why was I turning the WoW interface into my old-new UI from Cataclysm, complete with addons and all? Wasn't I just mimicking my old UI but with default components? What was I really learning about the UI process?
If I had had the ability to move my player and target frames seven and a half years ago, things might have been very different. Unit frames were some of the first UI elements that I had replaced when I got into addons early on. But for the butterfly that flapped it wings on the day that Blizzard decided to not let me move those bars was the day I turned elsewhere for help and guidance. Now, Blizzard is letting me move those bars. Anything is possible in Pandaria.
Placement for these UI elements is totally personal preference. My own judgment went into placing those bars, not Blizzard's. I wanted my bars closer to my character because I don't like glancing to the upper left-hand corner of the screen. That area is verboten! Why? I don't know!
I go back and forth on this constantly because I love the addon community and would rather players take the initiative to change the UI and manipulate the advanced pieces of the whole, but at the same time, I want Blizzard to have everything that I consider basic included. I consider the unlocking, free-moving, locking, and element-specific scaling to be basic features because World of Warcraft addons made me think that way. I wish I could do these things, not because I would get rid of my addons for it or anything, but rather because I remember myself seven years ago, tirelessly training myself to be the best healer out there on the Blizzard default raid frames, some CT_mod, and Decursive. Addons have been changing WoW forever and are still going strong.
My wish is to see a very lightweight addon or addition to the WoW UI that includes the basic functionality of lock/unlock/freemove/scale for each and every UI element. Why? Because if Blizzard did that, then everyone would be forced to, and we would not have to wait months down the road from game releases to be able to do what we want with our user interfaces.
Look at how little is needed on the screen to play WoW. For many out there, that's too little. For many, too much. But I think with Mists of Pandaria I've reached nirvana, a beautiful UI paradise where the default WoW interface is pretty damn spot-on. We have to have some talks about the inventory, which is still insane, but I pick and choose my fights carefully.
If I could move the minimap to the bottom right and make quests expand upwards, not down, we might have achieved singularity.
So far, the Mists of Pandaria beta has been immensely fun, and the UI changes trickling in are fun to catch. If you find anything you'd like to share while exploring the beta, let me know! Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org with your UI discoveries in MoP!
Interested in getting the most out of your user interface? Come back once a week for more examples of reader UIs. For more details on individual addons, check out Addon Spotlight, or visit Addons 101 for help getting started.