Saturday, August 23, 2014

Show And Tell, User Interface Edition

While some of you longer-time readers may remember a post I wrote at the inception of this blog about minimalism in UIs, it probably hasn't been obvious that UIs are of great interest to me (in WoW and out of WoW). I spend a lot of time working on my UI and looking at the UIs of other people (and I steal ideas constantly because there are so many brilliant designers out there). In any case, my blog has rarely reflected my passion for UIs so here's a post about my UI.

Even Shadowy Arts Need To Be Clear

I'm only going to feature the UI for my main character, Shanthi, a priest who plays shadow and discipline. I make different UIs for my alts, but Shanthi's is the one I've spent the most time honing and, besides, maybe I can feature alt UIs in other posts. You may not have noticed, but I tend to run out of ideas for things to write about in this space at times.

So, first I'll show my "main" shadow UI. This is the one that shows off most of the relevant UI aspects. There's one other mechanic not shown here, because it's based on a talent that I don't usually have spec'd, and that I'll show in the next video. First the video and then some explanations and thoughts. (Remember, with all of these videos, watch in 1080p! Also maximize the video so that small details are more visible.)

The smaller frame above my player unit frame is, as you may have guessed, my focus target. At the start of the video, I mouse over it a couple of times to illustrate that the name shows up on mouse over. It may seem redundant since I also get a tooltip which has the name, but I have tooltips disabled in combat, so if I need to know what I currently have focused, it's useful. The vast majority of the time, though, I know what's focused, so text isn't necessary. As you can see, the focus frame has progress bar timers for my two main DoTs, Shadow Word: Pain and Vampiric Touch. That's valuable for when I want to keep DoTs on both my current target and my focus target (my DoT keybinds apply the DoT to my focus if I'm pressing shift).

The pulsing icon of a potion to the immediate right of my player frame simply shows that my potion cooldown is up and I'm free to quaff a potion. I didn't think to use a potion during this video...when I have potion cooldown in effect, the icon desaturates (switches to gray scale rather than possessing color), stops pulsing and has a red text cooldown timer on it. You can see the same effect on my Halo cooldown tracker.

Which brings me to the group of alerts (Weak Auras, all) that are to the left and a bit above my target frame. This group consists of zero to three white bars (tracking shadow orbs) and two or three icons tracking...important things (more on this in a second). A white line divides them, which is just for aesthetics. The key thing, you'll see, is that when I reach three shadow orbs and hit Devouring Plague, the three bars that indicated three shadow orbs are replaced by a progress bar showing the duration of the Devouring Plague on my target. This is important when I have the Solace and Insanity talent, which turns my Mind Flay into a super-powered licorice whip. Mind Flay goes from lowest priority to nearly the highest priority when under the "Insanity" effect, so it's important to know when that's the case. In addition, any Mind Flay that begins while Devouring Plague is up retains the "insanity" super-power for the entire duration of the channel, so seeing the Devouring Plague duration allows me to start a final Mind Flay just before Devouring Plague ends.

When I don't have the Solace and Insanity talent spec'd, that progress bar doesn't appear (as you'll see in the next video, when I have From Darkness, Comes Light spec'd) because without Solace and Insanity, I don't need to know about Devouring Plague's duration. It's just extra damage that doesn't have any further interaction or decision-making importance.

Below the white line there are spots for three icons. The first one is always my level 90 talent (Halo, Divine Star or Cascade). Right now, it's the aforementioned Halo tracker that I noted works like my potion tracker. When it has color, it's ready to be used, when it's desaturated and has a red countdown timer, it's on cooldown. The second icon is a Shadowfiend tracker and works the same as the Halo tracker. The third spot depends on my level 75 talent choice. If I have Power Infusion, then it's just a Power Infusion tracker and works just like the previous two. If I have Divine Insight, then it simply shows when I have a Divine Insight proc available, which can be useful to know since it makes Mind Blast instant and if I'm kiting something (like Thok), it's good to know when I should jump-spin-Mind Blast-spin back-land and keep running. Finally, if I have Twist of Fate, then it shows the Twist of Fate icon when I proc it and a timer for how long it'll last.

The other important clump, of course, is my central timer bars. The red one is for Shadow Word: Pain on my target, the purple one is for Vampiric Touch on my target, the white one is the cooldown on Mind Blast (with a flashing orange prompt for when it's off cooldown) and the blue bar that keeps appearing above those three is my cast bar. I don't display any text on my cast bar: I know what spell I'm casting and the exact time remaining before it completes has never been important in my decision-making. The numbers beside the Shadow Word: Pain and Vampiric Touch show my current effective spellpower (with things like haste and mastery translated into a spellpower value) relative to the effective spellpower when I applied those DoTs, and it displays it as a percent. 100 means my current spellpower is the same as my spellpower when I applied the DoTs, greater than 100 means my current spellpower is higher and lower than 100 means that my current spellpower is lower. When it's lower, the background goes red. When it's enough higher to be worth wasting GCDs to reapply the DoTs (which I've set to 120, or 20% higher current spellpower), the background goes green.

I also don't have DoT tick marks on my timers or channel tick marks on my cast bar, which may cause some to raise a questioning eyebrow. Regarding DoT ticks, I find that I refresh my DoTs prior to the last tick many times over the course of an encounter, for reasons that have nothing to do with ticks: either because a number of major procs means that I want to reapply the DoTs to "snapshot" those procs (DoTs hold the same spellpower, haste and mastery values that you had when you first cast them until they fall off or you reapply them) or because I want to reapply them so that they don't fall off while I'm focusing on Mind Flay: Insanity during Devouring Plague. The rest of the time, when I just want to keep them from falling off, I don't find it hard to generally time it for the last tick just by watching the progress bars. As for the cast bar, I haven't found a noticeable DPS gain or loss by simply channeling Mind Flay until a higher priority ability causes you to stop flaying, as opposed to waiting for the next Mind Flay tick before using the higher priority ability. If something (in this case, tick indicators) doesn't have value to me in decision-making, I cut it out.

Approximately halfway through the video, I switch targets to one of the "near death" target dummies. I did this to show an effect that appears in execute range.If you watch my target frame after the target switch, you'll notice that periodically, a flame effect appears on it. This indicates that Shadow Word: Death is available to be used (the first use resets the cooldown on it if that use didn't kill the target, which is why the flame effect seems to persist...I have to cast Shadow Word: Death twice in order to put it back on cooldown).

My relative lack of action bars may be surprising to some. Like most people, I have my abilities keybound and memorized. Therefore, I don't need my action bar of rotational abilities for either functional or informational use. I do have a small action bar beneath my player frame of occasional use items and abilities that have cooldowns, so I can keep an eye on when things like Vampiric Embrace or Dispersion are available.

That should pretty much explain the aspects of my UI that might not be entirely obvious to someone who isn't me. If you have any questions about it, please feel free to ask!

But What If You Get Mind Spikey?

The main UI element that that UI does not show is how I track upgraded and instant Mind Spikes when I have the From Darkness, Comes Light talent spec'd. Also, because I decided to put some lovely balearic dance pop over the video, you didn't get to hear a couple of my audio cues (one for Mind Blast and one for each charge of From Darkness, Comes Light). Therefore, here's another video. Watch my target frame for the Mind Spike indicators.

Those magenta leaves that swirl in and out track whether I have one or two charges of From Darkness, Comes Light, with vocal cues indicating that I have one or two charges. Not a lot to say here: I used that spinning animation to make it extremely obvious when I get or use charges, but not so ostentatious that it's distracting to me. Plus, I think it looks nice.

As you can see, the Devouring Plague progress bar does not appear, since I don't have Solace and Insanity spec'd. Instead, the shadow orb indicators simply disappear, since I used them up.

Healing Requires Its Own Look

My healing UI has a similar structure (my player and target frames don't change their look or position and my chat windows are in the same place) but, since I'm tracking different abilities, the dynamic parts of my UI are entirely different. As per usual, though, the stuff I want to see all the time is located toward the center of my display with some procs delegated out to my player or target frame. Check it out (since healing training dummies aren't really A Thing, I simply recorded a heroic dungeon through the first boss, which went...unusually), then I'll discuss:

You'll notice that three people insta-gibbed themselves by running through the ice wall (ice walls hurt, kids). Not my fault! (Though pulling an extra skelly guard with my Halo was my fault...I wasn't paying quite as close attention as I normally would because I was thinking about the video and this blog post). I was left to essentially DPS the boss down myself (the warlock was A. doing less than 20k DPS and B. mostly focusing on the guards even though they don't have a soft enrage and the boss does).

Anyway. First thing to note: when combat starts, my player frame has a relaxing, watery blue glow. That's my indication that my mana is above 90%. I like to know that for two reasons: one, there's no point deploying my Mindbender (if I have that talent) when my mana is that high and two, it encourages me to burn some mana so that I don't risk overcapping. That's really more for raiding, though. In heroic dungeons, mana isn't particularly relevant.

Also, note the three orbs between my character and my party/raid frames. There's a small white one, a larger brightly glowing golden one and a small purple one. More on this later.

Later, after a few (five to be precise) attack spells, my player frame takes on an exciting and dynamic golden glow. That's my indicator that I have Archangel ready to go: it's off cooldown and I have five stacks of Evangelism. In heroic dungeons, I almost never actually use Archangel, because I prefer the damage boost of the Evangelism stacks. However, for demonstration purposes, I pop wings (Archangel) when we reach the boss.

A few other things to notice early: the icon beside my player frame (to the immediate right, where the potion tracker was in shadow) is for Purify, my friendly dispel. Like the potion tracker, it's colorful when available and desaturated with a red cooldown timer when not available. Unlike the potion tracker, I actually used it so you can see it in action. On the initial trash, I dispel something (I don't know dungeon trash mechanics and don't care) from the tank and you can see my Purify go on cooldown.

My cast bar is tucked away underneath the action bar which is, itself, below the player frame. I don't consider my cast bar as important when healing, so I don't centralize it. I experimented (for a short time) with not even showing my cast bar, but it felt uncomfortable, disturbing and perverse, so I put it back, but out of the way. Below the cast bar is a timer for Evangelism, so that I can keep track of when it might fall off. If there's a Bloodlust (Heroism for you Alliance folks), a timer for it appears in that area as well.

Soon after we engage the boss, I hit Archangel and Spirit Shell. At this point, the golden glow on my player frame goes away. Also, the white orb turns gray and begins depleting with a numeric timer beside it. Also also, the golden orb loses its luster and turns yellow and it, too, begins depleting with a numeric timer within it. The white orb is an Archangel cooldown tracker. The golden glow on my character shows when both Archangel and five stacks of Evanglism are ready, but there are times when I want to know how long before I can pop wings, so that's what that orb is for. The golden orb indicated that Spirit Shell was available. Once I activate Spirit Shell, the yellow depleting orb shows me how long I can stack Spirit Shell. Once Spirit Shell is over, that center orb turns blue and begins depleting in the opposite's now tracking the cooldown on Spirit Shell.

The third orb, the purple one, is for Shadowfiend. I forgot to use it for demonstration purposes, but it works like the Archangel orb: a bright color when available, a depleting darker hue of the same color when on cooldown and a numeric timer beside it (to the right for that orb, as opposed to the left for the Archangel orb).

You can also, at times, see large icons appearing just above my left chat frame. Those are debuffs on me (with common ones like Weakened Soul and Sated filtered out) so that I can easily see when I get important debuffs. Mostly of import when raiding.

On the target frame of whatever I'm killing, you'll notice that their health text display turns red when they get low. In fact, it turns red when they're at 20% health or less. That's a holdover from before my flashier Shadow Word: Death indicator, I used that red text indicator for both Shadow Word: Death on Shanthi as well as Kill Shot on my hunter. Even though I now use this splashy indicator, I still like the look and feel of the red text, so I kept it.

Finally, there's that clump of text above and on the left side of my party/raid frames. Those are indicators for important rotational abilities that have cooldowns: "so" is Power Word: Solace (it would be "hf" for Holy Fire if I didn't have the Solace and Insanity talent), "pn" is Penance, "pm" is Prayer of Mending and "hl" is Halo (it would be "cs" for Cascade or "ds" for Divine Star if I had chosen one of those talents instead). Why am I using those text displays? I simply think they look nicer than the icons. I actually try to minimize the number of icon displays I use for ability alerts (because I think floating icons generally don't look great) plus I hate the look of the icon for Prayer of Mending...tremendously ugly. The text is just as clear to me. Why is floating text better than floating icons? I don't know. It just is.

Well, that's about all I got. Sorry for such a short post...maybe next time out, I can write a really long post.