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Shifting Perspectives: Balance UIs and mods

Tyler Caraway

Every week, Shifting Perspectives explores issues affecting druids and those who group with them. This week, we explore the dangerous waters of modding your UI. Ready the lifeboats, people!

World of Warcraft
is not entirely unique in the amount of customization it allows players to make to just about everything under the sun, but I have to say that it is a large selling point for the game. Addons have been made for just about everything in the game at this point. You can get one for tracking, using the AH, leveling, managing non-combat pets, randomizing mounts, strange RP lines and pretty much anything else you can think of. My personal favorites are the complete re-skins that crop up from time to time. I have no idea why people want WoW to look like Hello Kitty Island Adventure, but, apparently there are people that do. Just like the iPhone, there's a mod for that. Beyond the pretty things, there are a multitude of mods that make the game that much easier to master, from things like boss ability announcements to telling you precisely which ability should come next in your rotation.

Like I think most people did, I went absolutely crazy when I first discovered the ability to customize my game; at least, I try to console my ego by thinking that. I grabbed anything and everything that I thought might be even remotely useful at the time. Heck, I didn't even really know what half of the things I downloaded really did. I just knew that I was told lots of people were using them, meaning they had to be good. Getting your screen bogged down with "useless" information and addons is a pretty easy trap to fall into. Information in this game in a good thing, but too much of it can ruin your ability to play worse than just going with the standard UI. Not that I have anything against the standard UI, but there are so many ways that it can be made better. Not to mention the clutter. Your UI is your workspace. Like any workspace, you want it to be as neat and organized as possible. I'm probably the last person who should be telling people this, since I seem to thrive in chaos and am one of the most disorganized people in the world, but that doesn't make it any less true.

What to do? How to tell the good mods from the bad? There aren't any cut-and-dry answers to these questions; everyone will be more accustomed to different tools, but there are still some guidelines and basic addons that every raider should try and get.

Basics on choosing your mod

First and foremost, it is important to make sure that every addon you use has a specific function. This may seem silly, but it's a pretty big deal and easy to forget at times. Before you download anything, make sure you know exactly what you are going to use it for. Ask yourself, do you really need an addon to do that for you? Do you already have an addon that can be tweaked to perform the same function? There are several addons out there that perform multiple tasks if you set them up properly. Having redundant addons more often than not won't do anything more than bog down your machine. Always, always, always be 110% positive that you need to have an addon before you get it.

Second, shop around. Just as with buying a car, you don't want to jump into the first shiny thing you see and drive off the lot. Instead you want to take your time, view all of the options and make sure you are choosing what fits your play style. An addon's being popular doesn't make it the best nor the right choice for you. Look at how easy to configure the addon is. There are some superb addons out there that are extremely popular but that also require a heavy investment in setting up properly. Also consider memory usage. For the most part, addons are fairly light, but there are some that can seriously slow down your computer, resulting in game play issues. Especially if you are running on an older machine, be aware of how much of a drain any addon is going to be on your system.

Last but not least is keeping an eye on clutter. I can't even remember how many times I've already mentioned this part by now, but you can bet it won't be the last time it happens. Clutter is the easiest of things to get trapped into. You start by finding one useful mod, then another, and another, and another and soon your whole screen is nothing but a first-grader's art project. Avoid this as much as possible; I cannot stress that enough. Look for any means to consolidate as many functions into a single, easy-to-manage mod as you can. Find ways to hide or disable mods that aren't important during the heat of a battle. For real, you don't need to have Recount up and running in the middle of a boss fight. There will be plenty of time to look at it once it's dead.

Basic mods useful for raiding

Some guilds will have their own required mods; some guilds won't care what you use. Some people will prefer mod A over mod B. At the end of the day, though, there are certain basic raiding functions that are made thousands of times easier by common mods. Here's a list of some to look into.

Deadly Boss Mods/BigWigs/etc. These mods will make any raider's list without question. They are the cream of the crop when it comes to getting that need to know information out quickly and in an easy-to-read format. Boss mods cover every thing from ability timers to phase changes to raid warnings for incoming nastiness to marking important players. All of this is done automatically and with minimal setup. Which mod you choose to use is entirely up to your personal preference. DBM is probably the most commonly used mod, but that isn't to say it is the best hands down. Even if you use nothing else, use one of these mods. They will make your raiding life so much easier.

X-perl/PitBull/Shadowed/etc. Unit frame mods are not a requirement by any means, but they can certainly make life a lot simpler for any WoW player out there, not just raiders. There are loads of diversity when it comes to altering your unit frames, so I would heavily suggest doing some exploring into all of the options out there before settling down.. This type of mod is great for helping to track buffs and debuffs on yourself and other players. Not only that, but the ability to re-size, move, sticky or adjust just about everything under the sun is a great utility that cannot be passed up. One really important thing to remember is that this is probably going to eat the most of your memory by far. Some of the unit frame mods out there can end up being quite large, so be careful that you don't go overboard and end up lagging yourself to uselessness.

Grid/Clique/VuhDo/etc. While these are also unit frame mods to an extent, they usually operate entirely different from the group above. Mostly these mods are the go-to additions for healers, but they are great for any raiding class or spec, to be honest. They offer great consolidation when it comes to party/raid frames and offer amazing indicators for a variety of effects such as debuffs, buffs and HoTs. One of their best aspects is the ability to configure click or mouse-over macros seamlessly for a variety of abilities or commands. This is positively fantastic for using things like Remove Curse, Abolish Poison and even Innervate, as you can quickly cast the spell on the go without the need to actually select the target. That's a huge plus for helping to increase your casting up time on a boss so you don't have to waste time fumbling around with targeting. You just click and go. While I don't want to suggest any as being better than the other nor discourage people from shopping around, I have to lend my support to VuhDo in this category. In my experience, I've found VuhDo to be the easiest to use for beginners and the easiest to customize. It offers loads of box options -- not to say the others don't too -- that can be moved, re-sized and everything else super-efficiently. The true beauty of VuhDo, though, is how simple it is to create click macros for all of your abilities. It has a simple interface for every single action, with a wide variety of modifiers ranging from shift to left and right clicks. If writing macros isn't your thing, then I would highly suggesting looking into getting VuhDo.

Omen The bread and butter of threat meters out there. There are certainly other options to take a look at, but Omen really is the current staple, and I haven't come across anything fancy with other mods to cause me to switch. Knowing your threat on a target is paramount to success as a DPS in numerous ways. Simply put, this is key information that you need to know without question. Get Omen, use Omen. Or get something else; whatever you do, get a threat meter. Not only get it, but use it, watch it and live by it. A threat meter will save your life more often than you know if you actually pay attention to it.

Squawk and Awe/Power Auras/etc. Tracker mods such as these are certainly not a requirement, but they can be essential to many players. These mods will help you keep track of your DoTs, debuffs, cooldowns and Eclipse procs, all of which can be nothing short of a god-send in so many ways. Use them or don't; they certainly aren't a requirement by any means. That being said, in a hectic fight, they can really reduce the stress you are put under by tracking these things on your own. Anything that allows you to spend more time focusing on the encounter at hand and less time on your personal quips is a plus. One thing to keep in mind is that often these types of mods can be found meshed into another that you may already have. Unless you really like the additional customization or utility that a specific tracker mod offers, you might be better off going with one that's built into something else. Your mileage may vary on this one.

Quartz A cast bar mod that's been popular since as long as I can remember. Although many other mods now contain a cast bar mod themselves, I still find Quartz to hold its own weight in many respects. Not only does it allow you to fully customize your own cast bar (and your target's as well), but it also comes with a built-in tracker mod that's simple, efficient and easy to use. The latency tracking for each cast is also worth mentioning. Before the days of spell queuing, it was pretty much impossible to play without a cast bar mod such as Quartz. Although this perk has been slightly reduced in effectiveness, it is still helpful to have around for when you need to do some precise timing on the fly.

Additional UI tips

  • Section off all of the important information. It may seem like a good idea to stick all of your various tracking bars, threat meters or what have you into one neat, consolidated space, but this can quickly lead to information overload. Instead of focusing everything into a specific spot on your screen, make the most of your screen space by placing everything into a generalized grouping. For example, keep all of your ability tracking bars grouped in one location that's separated off from your boss tracking bars, to prevent yourself from easily confusing the two in the middle of combat. Keeping everything in scattered, yet organized, clusters goes a long way in helping to cope with all of the incoming information.
  • Make sure to enable click-through on most of your tracking bars. This is especially true for things such as DBM bars, which many players have float out towards the middle of the screen. Keeping important things in a prominent location is useful, but always make sure that you won't get caught in a situation where you're stuck trying to click on a bar when you don't mean to.
  • Familiarize yourself with any new mod you get before taking it into action. Changing up your UI for the better is a great thing, but don't start doing it five minutes before your next raid. Take some time to get a feel for how all of your new toys work, and get used to playing with them being there by running a few easy group dungeons or spending some time farming.
  • Avoid clutter! Have I said it enough times yet? Clutter is beyond bad, yet many players end up falling into the clutter trap without even realizing it. Do not be one of these people. Keep your room, house, office, car or dog as messy as you want it to be, but always keep your UI organized.

Every week, Shifting Perspectives treks across Azeroth in pursuit of truth, beauty and insight concerning the druid class. Sometimes it finds the latter, or something good enough for government work. Whether you're a bear, cat, moonkin, tree or stuck in caster form, we've got the skinny on druid changes in patch 3.3, a look at the disappearance of the bear tank, and thoughts on why you should be playing the class (or why not).

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