It really tickles me that within a week of each other, two prominent names in the warlock community referred to the WoW UI with the exact same metaphor. One's a cutting edge world-class raider and the other is a former casual PvPer currently on a forced hiatus from intense gaming. Two different sides of warlock life and they both come to the same conclusion.
Maybe great minds think alike. Or maybe it's just incredibly obvious how convoluted and misleading the user interface can become for even the average player in WoW. What makes a UI good?
But an unexpected benefit of my hand injury and experimentation is that it jolted me out of the context of users who can master a UI as complicated as a fighter jet cockpit.
-- Cynwise, "A Thousand Cuts: Cognitive Fatigue in the Warcraft UI"
Think of it as like flying a jet plane or something: you have a lot of buttons, but you need to know exactly what to do better. You need to know some information as a warlock to do more DPS. ... You just need to put your UI to give you as much information as possible that you need and not too much information. ... You need to think about what is important."The only thing flying you... is you."
-- Sparkuggz, FinalBoss Episode 3 (approx. 38:00 mark)
You may think of Top Gun when you think fighter jet flying fu. You might remember how Luke Skywalker blew up the Death Star. But my favorite master of the cockpit line will be from the re-imagined Battlestar Galatica TV series.
It's only the fifth episode in when Starbuck is stuck on a barren moon, having ejected from her exploded Viper jet, and her air supply won't last forever. The enemy raider ship she shot down is on the moon too; it's her only way off if she wants to survive. The raider is nothing like anything she's ever flown before because the Cylons aren't circuit-board robots anymore -- they're alive with tendons and blood.
But Kara Thrace isn't merely the sum of a retired hunk of aviation metal and a little muscle memory. She's Galatica's best pilot; she knows what really makes a fighter jet fly. So she only has one question:
"Every flying machine has four basic controls: power, pitch, yaw, and roll. Where are yours?"
So long as you're logged in, everything of importance literally revolves around you...on your user interface, that is. WoW isn't typically played in the first person view, but your character is dead center on your screen, no matter your resolution, at all times.
One of the first rules of DPSing that you learn is don't stand in the fire. The best way to avoid this is to be able to see your character's feet, so players typically keep bare the area around their character.
In the less literal sense, the focus of being a damage dealer is all about health bars. It's about you and the other guy, and you don't want to lose. At the very core of damage dealing, the two health bars you care about are yours and your target.
You can play with the default interface's original health bar placement of you and your target side by side in a corner. But most serious DPS setups have a mirror or bookend-like set up for the health bars. Some are HUD-like, with the health bars (and sometimes cast bars) curved around the central character space.
Most unit frames come in the form of flat, horizontal health bars, one on each side of the character. Some are right up to bookend the character space, but a new trend stemming from PvP is to place the health bars slightly spread apart below the character but above action bars or other information. This way, players can stare at a central spot where important notifications are that is also just below their character's feet.
Finally, modern encounters now rarely have only one target to hit, so it's important for a DPS to be aware of other available damage targets. We do this not through a raid frames grid like healers do, but through the spread of nameplates that move as enemies move in the field.
Health bars do go up and down, especially when you play a warlock. But while you can have a unit frame addon and a nameplate addon to cover your health bars, you probably have many more dedicated to another thing that goes up and down: timers.
Timers come in all sorts of flavors. Your buffs are up. Your cooldowns are down. My debuff has this many stacks. The boss will use this ability in X seconds. My cast will take this long. I have this many embers and I need this many more. If you can count it, you can likely put it in a timer of some sort.
Some things are straight and obvious timers, like boss mods or cooldown timers. Some things you don't really need to know the length of time they're up for, but just a binary is it up or not, so you might us a graphical or textual aura to alert you. Sometimes you know exactly what is going up -- e.g., your DoTs and debuffs on your target, or a specific debuff in an encounter to watch out for -- and you can filter your addon frames to show what's important to cut out clutter.
Depending on where your health bars are located, your procs and timers may or may not be closer to your character. But you'll still want them more or less in the center area of your screen. Since monitors these days are often widescreen, you'll have more space left to right than you will up or down. Your eyes will have to travel farther to see information located on the sides of the screen than the top or bottom, which makes the top or bottom of the screen a more convenient place to put information that is still important to you but maybe it's not the most important.
The typical set up is that warnings like boss mod exclamations go above your character, while proc notifications are directly below or to the immediate sides of your character. The procs are often lower because below the character health bars we tend to have action bars and ability cooldowns, which procs are related to.
Situational awareness is the next big thing on a damage dealer's list of important things. You have to know where you are, whether that's being at the correct stack-up point in an encounter or knowing that you need to face a mob to kill it. While this is achieved visually on your user interface through just plain space to see the environment, the controls are the aspect you should worry about.
Keybinds are speedier than clicking abilities, though clicking has its time and place when it comes to abilities you don't want to oopsy fatfinger by accident. Steering with the mouse rather than with the arrow keys is also a point that gets visited. However you do it, your movement should not be hindered by trying to key in your casts and vice versa.
PvP is a great way to test how well your keybinds aid or hinder you (and also how to learn various macros!). The fast reflexes you need to react in PvP rely on knowing exactly what's available in your arsenal and being nimble enough to adapt to changes in strategy. Clunky keybinds will reveal themselves quite starkly when you test them under pressure.
On the sides of your screen, away from your eyes and focus, is where you put everything else, from chat to the meters to the raid frame to long-term buffs. If you don't need it right that second in combat, it's not worth putting somewhere central.
It's also not important which addons you do or don't have in your DPS cockpit. What works for you is what you should have at your fingertips. That said, there are some powerful addons out there, and next week, we'll look at how a few can help you do your DPS job better, particularly in the warlock context.
Blood Pact is a weekly column detailing DOTs, demons and all the dastardly deeds done by warlocks. We'll coach you in the fine art of staying alive, help pick the best target for Dark Intent, and steer you through tier 13 set bonuses.