Monday, April 28, 2008

Journey of a UI part two: getting your raid on

Here is part two of my 'journey of a UI' series. Part one showed examples of how the default UI changes over time as you level and start participating in more complex activities such as instances. In this post I'm going to look at the UI when default components are no longer being used.

I didn't really start serious raiding until after TBC came out as I've mentioned before. I was running with a regular pick up group for ZG, MC and AQ20 prior and had some interface mods in play at the time. That said I'm going to skip past that period (mainly because I don't have any screen shots >.>) to discuss my interface as it stood a few weeks ago. In essence it was pretty similar back then anyway - I just changed the mods I used in some cases due to lack of support or a new and better (imo) alternative being introduced.

Compared to the screenshots of my previous post the UI has changed a lot, and has become a lot more cluttered. I like to have a lot of information available at a glance rather than having to hit a key to display a panel with the information or even mouse over an object on screen.

When I decided to change my UI I wanted to retain the amount of information I am able to access but with a much cleaner layout. I also wanted to decrease the memory footprint of my mods if possible too.

So here are the before and after shots:


The area of the UI that has changed the most is the bottom of the screen. I wanted to streamline the look of my UI and keep all the frames and etc grouped together. This serves two purposes. My eye has less distance to travel across the screen for certain pieces of information and I've created a clear separation between the 'Heads up display' and the area of the screen where the game action is taking place.

Many people also like to move their toon frame and focus/target frame to sit at the top of the bottom panel. This means your eye needs to do even less work to keep track of important information like your health/mana and that of your target. I may well make this change in the future. As it is I have purposely only changed the location of key items bit by bit to allow myself time to get used to new locations and therefore 'eye patterns' of these elements.

The distance that your eye has to move over the screen to pick up information and the time it takes is something considered key by PVPers in particular. Anything that will give you an edge as regards reaction times in PVP shouldn't be overlooked. Megan from Out of Mana has written a great post on the role of UI layout in PVP.

This same thinking can also be applied to website design which is something I'm involved in as part of my RL job. When working on a site redesign it's important that you don't change the layout of key features so much that regular users become confused about where they are located. The site should look different but still be familiar enough to navigate easily. The other related and important consideration is that like items should be grouped together logically and in a clear hierarchy. The faster and more easily a user can locate and use elements of your site the more enjoyable their experience and the higher their satisfaction.

One of the most powerful aspects of Warcraft is the ability to customise the UI to suit your individuality - whether it be playstyle or sense of style. Interestingly although there are myriads of disaster custom UIs out there where people have gone crazy with colour, custom artwork, unit frames and informational elements resulting in a complete mess, those people seeking to achieve the most 'usable' layout often seem to arrive at similiar results.

An important consideration in UI layout is playstyle. Do you click or use hotkeys? Some users of hotkeys have them so well memorised that their UI is extremely minimal with very few items on the screen. It's also possible to set up action bar bindings to change which action bar appears depending on what action is taking place in game - such as PVP combat, PVE combat or out of combat. I haven't set this up myself. Clickers seem to tend towards having larger action bar buttons (more click space of course) and how they arrange these buttons will be influenced by the role they play. For instance a healer who is a clicker may have their action buttons arranged right next to the party or raid unit frames so that their mouse has the smallest distance to travel.

I'd love to be able to gather lots of examples of people's UIs and information about their play style and role to further explore this topic. For now I think this post has become long enough, and so in the next post I'll discuss the mods I use. Since I use so many that discussion may well get split into a couple of posts too.


Morn said...

Remind me in game and I'll take a screenshot and annotate it for you.

Andrew Breese said...

Looks much sweeter. Must be something about leveling that means you need different info. When I start a toon now it immediately gets my default layout, and then I tweak the UI for all toons based upon what I learn from the new class.

This means that I'm slowly evolving an interface that will work for all my characters. It also means its a mess, and not even close to the style you've created; but thats how I play most games - a mess that works...