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The Creamy GUI Center: Addon basics

Matthew Porter

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.

Howdy folks and welcome to this week's edition of The Creamy GUI Center. I know last week I mentioned I was going to write about addon compilations; however some advice from my editors and comments left by readers got my attention. So instead, this week I'm going to take a step back and cover the basics of WoW interface customization and addons. I believe I should have covered this topic sooner and I appreciate my editors and readers for pointing it out to me. Much like the eager party member who pulls that group of mobs without warning, I dived into addon reviews and interface mumbo jumbo without covering the basics. Let's remedy that with a breakdown of WoW interface terminology as well as how to safely find, download, and install addons.

What's in a word?

Just like how WoW has its own buzz words like mob, agro, and 50 dkp minus, WoW's interface customization has its share too. Here's a glossary of terms and acronyms (in no particular order) that will hopefully demystify the lingo.

Addon: A WoW addon is an enhancement to the basic WoW interface. Sometimes addons are referred to as a mod.

GUI or UI: GUI (pronounced goo-ey) stands for Graphical User Interface. This term isn't just applied to WoW but is used in many modern day applications or websites. The GUI allows people to interact with a computer and its programs by employing graphical icons, visual indicators or special graphical elements. Lately the computer community has been a buzz about Windows Vista and how its new GUI draws inspiration from Mac OS X. In WoW the GUI refers to the buttons, icons and information that's displayed on top of the player's field of view.

Viewport: The field of view of the game world. Some addons let you resize the viewport so there is a blank space to put action bars and unit frames. This lets you see the playing field area without the obstruction of UI elements.

Action Buttons and Bars: These are the buttons which a player clicks on to cast a spell, do an ability or macro, or use an item. An action bar is a collection of action buttons usually in a vertical or horizontal row. Some addons get creative and display action buttons in unique ways, such as Necrosis LdC and Cryolysis.

Unit Frame: A unit frame shows information about a player or target in the game. The default unit frame shows a portrait and a graphical representation of health and mana. Addon unit frames come in many different layouts, some with 3d animated portraits, and others taking a minimalistic approach and only show specific information that the player decides.

Click Casting: A type of addon that allows you to click on a unit frame target to do a desired action.

Mini Map Button: A small button attached to the mini map usually used to access an addon's options.

Screenshot: A picture of the game taken while playing.

HUD: Acronym for Heads Up Display. HUD addons offer a different way to show health and mana by placing it in the middle of your screen but in an unobtrusive manner. (At least in theory, your mileage may vary.)

Transparency: Also sometimes called Opaqueness, refers to when you can see through an UI element. Some addons allow you to adjust the amount or even auto-adjust it depending if you're in combat or mousing over an element with your cursor.

Padding: The amount of space between objects in the UI. Increasing the padding spreads the objects further apart while decreasing bunches them together.

Texture: Many addons allow you to change the texture of an object. For example changing the health bar from a smoothly shaded bar to have ripples or tick marks.

LUA: The programming language that is used to make addons. Blizzard sets restrictions on what's possible to create.

Resolution: Describes the amount of pixels used to make the image of the game; the more pixels the higher the detail. Playing at a high resolution takes a more powerful computer if you have all the graphical enhancements turned up.

Modifier Keys: Keys used to change the outcome of a button press; usually Shift, Control, and Alt or a combination there of. For example clicking a heal will normally heal your target, but shift + clicking could potentially heal yourself instead.

Left/Right/Middle/ Mouse Buttons: Just like modifier keys, some addons and macros use them to change the outcome of a button.

3rd Party: This means the addon or mod was created by someone outside of Blizzard.

EULA: An acronym which stands for End User License Agreement. Remember that giant wall of text that you had to accept to play the game? That's this. It outlines the rules of the game and legalities of an online world like WoW. Sometimes addons and other tools break the EULA and are considered cheating. Using these could get you banned.

Putting words in motion

Now that you know the ins and outs of addon linguistics, let's find and install some! First thing is to find a website that hosts addons for you to download. It's important to get addons from a reputable source. Who knows what you could be downloading. Here's a good listing of trusted websites.

Please note that even though these sites are trusted, nothing is a sure thing when it comes to the internet. Watch out for addons that contain .exe or .bat files. Some addons legitimately use them, but as pointed out in past articles, they could contain key loggers, spy ware, or viruses. Downloading addons is just like downloading anything else, take the same precautions like only downloading from trusted sources and using a virus scanner.

Now you know where to get addons, but how do you download and install them? Most addons come as a compressed file package, usually .zips, but sometimes a less commonly used compression type. Windows can handle .zip files by itself, but sometimes it can be picky so a helper application comes in handy. Winzip and Winrar both do the job just fine, but why pay for something when you don't have to? IZArc, 7-Zip, and AlZip are all free and work just as well. They all perform about the same so check out their screenshots and pick which ever you like. I'm not too hip on Mac unzipping programs so perhaps a reader can suggest one in the comments.

WoW's Addon Handler

Once the addon is downloaded and decompressed it's time to plop it into the addons folder. This is a special folder WoW looks at each time you play the game. The addons are automatically loaded as long as it complies with Blizzard's standards. By clicking the addons button on the character select screen you can tell WoW to load out of date addons. While it's best to keep addons up to date, just because an addon is out of date doesn't necessarily mean it won't work. You can also select which addons are loaded for each character. This is a great feature as you can conserve memory and resources by only loading the addons you want for a particular character.

Patch Day Surprises

Ahh patch day... Along with seeing what buffs or nerfs happened to your favorite class, you also get the excitement of seeing which addons stopped working. Maintaining your addon collection can be a chore, but there are a few tools to lighten the load. WoW Ace Updater is a wonderful and easy to use program to update all your Ace addons. I've yet to have any major problems or hang ups while using it. In fact this updater works so well it entices me into using a lot of Ace addons for the convenience. For other addons WoW UI Updater was featured in a past WoW Insider article. This program seems a little quirky and harder to setup than the Ace Updater, but it has a lot of potential. For best results though nothing beats the accuracy and security of updating by hand. Just the price you have to pay for addon addiction.

I hope this guide helps you on your quest to make the ultimate WoW interface experience. If you feel I left anything out or was unclear please leave a comment. I am also investigating a way to make the pictures I post clickable so you can see them more clearly. Thanks for reading!

Matthew will continue spending more time building the ultimate UI than actually playing his Mage and assorted alts in his quest for usability nirvana.

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