Each week Matthew Porter contributes The Creamy GUI Center, a column aimed at helping you enhance your WoW experience by offering an in depth guide to addons, macros and other tools we use to play WoW, along with commentary on issues that affect how we all play.
Collecting and updating addons can be a time consuming hassle. Wouldn't it be great if you could install a collection of addons that's all packaged together to eliminate the hunting and updating of each addon individually? Well there is an answer to this problem, addon compilations. What are they? What are the pros and cons of using a compilation? What options do I have when looking for a compilation that's right for me? This week I'll answer all of these questions and more as we begin a multi-part series on addon compilations. Over the course of the next few weeks we'll be taking a look at CTMod, Cosmos, MazzleUI, and Mirage UI (formerly Insomniax Recompilation). Let's get started!
What is a Compilation?
A compilation addon is just a fancy way of saying a collection of addons bundled into one package; like upgrading a burger to the full meal deal. Compilations come in two flavors, a collection of addons that all fit together to make a greater addon (think Voltron), or a collection of addons all packaged together usually for convenience sake. This leads me into why you would want to use an addon compilation in the first place.
Why and Why Not?
Compilations sure make it easy when it's time to update them. No longer do you have to worry about looking for all your addons on multiple websites, or accidentally installing addons that conflict with each other. Simply visits the homes of your compilation, download, and install them in your addon directory. Done and done! The time saving benefits don't end there; many compilations allow you to save your settings as profiles for easy importing to all your other characters. The conformity of using a compilation for all your characters add convenience and efficiency to your game play. The items, spells, and abilities may be different, but everything is in the same place for all your characters eliminating "where the hell did I put that" syndrome. However, this leads to one of the downfalls of using compilations, a slight lost of customization. Many compilations allow a degree of tinkering with the interface, but many are designed around a set look and feel. What's more, compatibility issues may arise when you install addons beyond what's included in the compilation. Your mileage may vary.
The other problem is you're at the mercy of the compilation's developers, if they are slow or late to update, you'll lose your whole custom interface instead of just one aspect of it. Finally, while some compilations allow you to pick and choose which addons you want to use so you can save system resources, many compilations break or act weird when components are missing. Like everything in life, there are pluses and minuses you'll need to consider when using an addon compilation, only you know what works best for your situation.
Let's start out the review with a compilation that's been around since WoW launched, CTMod. According to WoWWiki.com, CTMod was created by the staff of the (now-defunct) website WoW.WarcraftStrategy.com . Built by a small team of people, CTMod is regularly updated and emphasizes a minimalistic approach to their addons by extending the default WoW UI instead of outright replacing it. CTMod includes addons for action bars, unit frames, buffs, map enhancements, bulk mail options, expense tracker, stopwatch timer, and viewport editor. Of course the most well known part of CTMod is CTRaidAssist and CT_RABossMods, however for the purpose of this review I will be leaving these out. I can hear you now saying "Blasphemy, how could you leave out the most used CT addons?" Well I feel the raid addons deserve their own separate article in which they are compared with other raid addon alternatives, so that'll be saved for down the road. Let's take a look at each section of CTMod individually.
The Core of CTMod
At the heart of CTMod we find its brain (yes you read that right! :P), CT_Core. Essentially this addon offers tweaks and adjustments to the default UI all wrapped up in a nice graphical interface. It's well designed with a clean look to it, using transparency effects so you can still see the game world while you tinker with your settings. It's important to note that CT_Core is not related to the CT control panel, but rather is a companion addon. However, it does add the control panel minimap button for added convenience. CTCore lets you manipulate the chat box by letting you move the text entry box to the top of the window, and by adding time stamps to events that appear in the chat window. It also adds the level of quests to their title in your quest log and lets you move around the Blizzard default quest tracker as well as the default tooltip window. Finally CTCore can bring up a small movable window showing your health and mana regen rates.
CT_BarMod and BottomBar
Like everything in CTMod, the action bar portion of the compilation is very minimalistic. BottomBar "breaks apart" the default WoW UI allowing you to move, resize, hide, and adjust the transparency of the pieces. BarMod adds another 9 floating bars with the same options, plus cool down numbers over spell icons ticking down till they're ready, as well as recoloring abilities red or fading them if you're out of their range of use. All in all CTMod handles basic action bar needs really well, with my only complaints being the lack of 'sticky" frames, not being able to configure a bar into multiple rows or columns, and no options for mouse-over or combat fading of the bars.
Unit Frames and Buffs
CTMod uses the default WoW unit frames, but adds a few extra features. First off, you can move all the unit frames to where ever your heart's content. To this day I still wonder why Blizzard doesn't allow you to move frames and windows around natively. Secondly, CTMod allows you to change the text on your unit frames plus adds another text entry to the right of the unit frame's health and mana bars. You can choose between showing percentages, current and total values, or deficit numbers. You can also choose the color of the text. As a bonus, CTMod adds a frame to your target showing its class or mob type such as beast or humanoid. For many users this provides more than enough adequate information, but for the target unit only percentages can be shown. For hard numbers you have to enlist the help of a Mobhealth addon. Something like this I feel should be included in the CTMod package.
For buffs, CTMod allows you to choose how many buffs and debuffs to show for party members and pets. Unfortunately this is about the extent of your choices; you can't place or resize the buffs to your liking. A long time ago CTMod allowed you to filter out buffs and debuffs making it only show those you can cast or cure. This feature was later integrated in to the default UI thanks impart to CTMod.
Personal buffs are displayed in a movable and resizable window that shows the icon of the buff with configurable text showing its remaining time. What's more, the background is color coded to the type of the buff and user changeable, very hand to quickly tell what it is. You can edit the size and spacing of the icon, and move it to the left or right of the buff bar display, as well as change how the remaining time is shown. I really like this style of buff display, but you can't really change it radically as it'll always show a duration bar which can take a lot of space up. This presents a take it or leave it approach. Finally you can set reminders to rebuff in the form of flashing icons or audible chimes.
All the Small Things
Wrapping up CTMod are a few addons that add handy functionality, but not all of them are going to be useful to everyone. First up is CTMapMod which shows the X/Y location of your character and of your mouse cursor when over your map. I'm really surprised a feature like this hasn't found its way into the default UI. CTMapMod also adds notes to your map that you can use to mark points of interest. This isn't as full featured as Gatherer or MetaMap, but still gets the basics covered nicely.
CTMailMod makes it easy to open up all your mail at once, as well as a bulk mail sender for attaching multiple items to be sent to one person. Both work really well, are simple to use, and integrate cleanly into the existing mail window. As an added bonus, names are auto-completed when you send to someone on your friends list or in your guild.
Finally we have CTViewPort, CTExpenseTracker, and CTTimer. Viewport let's you manipulate the world view frame, adding a black border to the sides which lets you place UI elements over them thus un-obstructing your playing field. CTViewPort's UI is easy to use allowing either text input or changing the field of view with your mouse. CTExpenseTracker keeps tabs on where your hard earned gold disappeared to. It records each transaction much like a checkbook. Useful for the penny-pinching player. (Ooo alliteration!) Last and well... maybe least, we have CTTimer which acts as a stopwatch and countdown timer. Can be useful as a kitchen timer replacement I guess, up to you to figure out how you would use it. One suggestion is timing mob respawn length. Oddly enough CTTimer isn't built into the main CT control panel and can only be accessed by the /timer command.
CTMod lacks nitty-gritty details and complete control over all aspects of the UI, but then again that's not really the point of this compilation. CTMod's aim is to compliment WoW's default interface by providing features that practically anyone could find useful in a nice clean package. It certainly meets that goal. For those wanting just a little more out of the basic WoW interface, or who are new to WoW addons I highly suggest you try it. Be warned that CTMod might be the "gateway" addon that leads you down the path of an addon-aholic. For those already on that path and want greater customization and eye candy, you're probably better off using a different compilation or mixing and matching your own addons.
Stay tuned for next week as I continue our look at compilations with Cosmos. Is it the lumbering dinosaur of the addon scene or is there still fight left in it? We'll find out! Thanks for reading and for your comments!
Matthew will continue spending more time building the ultimate UI than actually playing his Mage and assorted alts in his quest for usability nirvana.