Archive for June, 2012

Tweaking my UI is by far one of the things I enjoy most about WoW. I love that the game gives so much flexibility on how the interface can look, and it’s something I very much miss in games that don’t allow for add ons. Actually, I think part of my issue with SWTOR was the fact that I couldn’t change around my UI. I was always happy to log back into WoW and see the  prettiness that was designed only for myself.

My love affair with UI customization began when my friend told me to download Bartender, Xperl, Quartz, and healbot to help out with my play. Over time, my UI has gone from something that I look back on and cringe to see to what it is today. I’ve been using my current UI since the launch of Cata, and I’m still very happy with it.

I’m a graphic designer by trade, with a degree in print design. I’ve never been interested in web or interactive design, so originally I found creating a UI a daunting task. After a lot of tinkering and failed attempts, I finally have a UI I’m happy with, and a process for creating it that I think, if perhaps not unique, is interesting all the same.

One thing we learned in design school was that we should approach all projects as a problem solving exercise. This is something I kept in mind while creating my UI. After seeing tons of beautiful examples on blogs and on the Add On of the Week column on WoW Insider (which this whole thing was originally intended for, but I was lazy about sending it in), a few things that struck me were that many of the very clean UIs felt a bit sterile and almost looked like something from a sci-fi game. What I wanted was a UI that looked clean but still felt like it fits in a fantasy game. I was pretty confident I could do this if I chose the right colors, typefaces, and textures to support my design.

The basic layout of my UI is fairly standard. Chat box on the bottom left, action bars bottom center, raid frames centered for my healers, and lower right for my dps. Once I was happy with the placement of everything, I started tweaking it so that it fit my goal of looking like it belonged in a fantasy game.

STUF unit frames and how it influenced my UI

I downloaded STUF after having used Shadowed unit frames for awhile. I instantly liked how much I could customize the look of it, and started playing around with creative ways to approach the look of my frames while still having the information I wanted. Not everyone will agree with me here, but I like knowing exact amounts of health and mana, along with percentages. I know a lot of people aren’t big on player portraits, but I wanted to see if I could include them in my unit frames in such a way that made them fun, and I’m really happy with what I came up with. And I love that STUF will let me use textures as a background on the portraits.

Those bar textures were what inspired me to add another criteria to my design. Along with looking like my UI could work in a fantasy game, I wanted to see if I could make it look feminine as well, without it looking like Hello Kitty puked all over my screen. The texture of the bars I used (Glamour 7) has some swirly stuff going on with it, and I decided to use that on all of my bars (Vuhdo, dbm, recount, omen, raven, and quartz all have the same treatment). To keep it from looking overly girly, I made the bars grey, and they fade to dark purple as health gets lower, and I echoed this by having the color of my KGpanels be a dark purple that fades to black. I like the purple also because it contrasts well with most of the settings in the game, so that it’s neither too jarring or too faded. It’s also my favorite color, so I enjoy looking at it all the time.  I kept my panels semi transparent as well so that I don’t feel like I’m completely blocking out the game world.

My next challenge was finding a typeface that would work well for my design. I’m a type snob (even wrote a 50 page paper about it for an independent study in college) but I recognize that in a video game, there’s a little more leeway for using a fun font. Still, the thought of using something as ugly as Comic Sans makes me cringe, and most of the fonts included with addons are pretty ugly as well. I looked around until I found a type called Sansation, and decided it looked appropriate for the clean, girly fantasy look I wanted.

What I love about all of this is that just by changing the textures, colors, and font that I used, this UI can go from looking pretty feminine to something that would appeal to a much wider audience. I will occasionally switch things around for different characters, just to reflect their character better.

Flourish with purpose

I like the idea of having fun UI elements, and wanted to include some on my UI but still have them serve a purpose. For my resto druid, I used Power Auras to create a way for me to track cooldowns and add some flavor to my healing frames. The little leaves that you see around the frames help me see when my Wild Growth, Swiftmend, Innervate, and Tranquility are ready to use. I also have an aura set up to help me track Harmony so I know when I need to refresh it.

For my paladin, I use Power Auras to tell me which seal I’m using, and the ring of words near my unit frames changes color depending on which seal I have on. The sun and time that are stacked with the Holy Power sword (one of the few elements from the stock UI that I like) help me track Inquisition to make sure its on and that I’m refreshing it at the right time. I have similar auras set up for all of my toons to help keep track of important cooldowns, procs, and buffs, and I try to match the style of the toon to the art that I use for the aura.

Despite liking the way that combat text addons like Mics look, I found ultimately the numbers didn’t help me during combat, and actually served as a distraction when trying to not stand in stuff, so I deleted them. In their place, I’m using Raven to track short term buffs and debuffs, along with target debuffs as well. Long term buffs still go up in the upper right hand corner, along with the mini map. I’ve moved the mini map to the bottom of the screen before, but I’m happier with it up top.

I changed the default colors on my DMB so that the go from gray to hot pink  and also made it so that the placement of the countdown bars would be in a place that I absolutely could not miss it, so I wouldn’t have an excuse to miss an important event during a fight. For my healer, having that go right about my healing bars was imperetive.

Vuhdo is my add on of choice for healing because of both its ease of set up and versatility. I keep this running on my DPS characters as well, and use it for utility spells that can help save the day.

Check out the gallery to see the UI in action:

No idea why the slideshow is cutting off the bottom of the images. Click to see the full thing!

Add ons used:
ArkInventory Because having super organized bags makes me happy
BigBrother Helps me track raid member buffs among many other things
Chinchilla Map
DailyGrind Makes doing dailies less annoying by having auto accept and auto complete
DBM Don’t raid without it!
GTFO Has seriously helped so much. We ask all of our raiders to use this one so they know when they are, in fact, standing in fire.
GupPet I collect pets and mounts, so I love having this addon to help summon random ones.
HearKitty (on appropriate toons) Makes playing my rogue, pally, and kitty druid much easier with audio sounds to match combo points
LovelyLoot Skins the loot window. Purely visual and not needed. But it’s nice!
Masque (with Darion skin) Makes buttons pretty!
MogIt Makes it much easy to know where to look for pretty gear. I mean upgrades.
OmniCC Countdown timers on abilities. Have no idea how I ever played with this.
Opie Amazing ring ability replacement. I use this to access all of my tradeskills, auras, quest items, and more.
Outfitter I like this better than the default Blizzard gear management system.
Prat It started with the stupid chant entry box window and not being able to shove it into the corner. Couldn’t handle it, so I had to replace it.
Quartz Cast bar management and more
Rarity Mount and Pet hunting tracker!
Raven Buff management
SLDataText Super simple data broker
Stuf Unit Frames
TipTac tooltip replacement
VuhDo Healing!
WIM (with Everlook Skin) Turns tells into a tradition instant message window
WOWScribe This chat logger has been such a huge help to me. I raid a lot, but I also RP, and I love having a record of old RP sessions. As a guild officer, it’s super helpful also to have a record for when their are disputes in /g or /raid.

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Recently, I got a phone call from my dad.

“Kaiya’s not doing well,” he said. “You should probably come down and spend some time with her.”

Kaiya is my dog. For a list of reasons which I won’t get into here, she hasn’t lived with me in a few years. My dad has been an amazing caretaker to her, and loves her as much as I do. So that call…was not something I wanted to hear.

As it turns out “not doing well” translated to my dog having a quickly devastating decline, and in the space of about three weeks, she went from being able to run around just fine to barely being able to walk. Decisions were made, and it turned out my drive to spend time with her turned into a drive to say goodbye.

I loved this dog with all my heart, and seeing her so weak and knowing that I every second I was spending with her was one closer to sending her on her way was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done. And weirdly, what got me through it without completely losing my mind was this stupid MMO that so many of us love and are addicted to.

I sat on the ground next to her with my laptop in front of me and Kaiya’s head on my lap, feeling thoroughly depressed. And then without thinking much about it, I fired up WoW, deleted a mage I didn’t care about, and made  a toon of a class I’ve never quite been able to convince myself to play, a hunter.

Sure, I’ve started them now again. They usually stall out around level 20, and I go level another melee class. I’m not much for ranged DPS, and I don’t like pet classes either. Plus I’ve just met too many idiot hunters along the way that I couldn’t stand the idea of playing the class. But looking down at my sweet dog, I decided that the only way I could make it through those next few days without totally losing it was to have something to distract me. So I gave myself a goal. Start a hunter and tame a pet that looked like my Kaiya.

Throughout her life, Kaiya got a lot of attention from people wondering just what the heck kind of dog she was. Jindos aren’t well known in this country, and I spent a lot of time saying “No she’s not a wolf. Nope, not part fox either. That’s not actually biologically possible.” Still, she did actually look both somewhat like a wolf and somewhat like a fox, so I decided that in the hours I had left, I would level that hunter as much as I could, and hopefully get her the Red Worg pet.

Things don’t always go as planned, and nearing that night, I realized what I really wanted to be able to do was play for a few hours with this new pet and my Kaiya, so I could feel like there was some kind of bond there. So instead of the worg, I went and tamed a fox instead, which would look more like Kaiya anyway, if only it had white paws. Still sitting on the ground with my dog, I found a fox in Loch Modan, and as I hit tame, I held onto my dog’s paw. I promptly named the fox Kaiya and then went on my way, spending some more time leveling with WoW Kaiya as I gave real Kaiya belly rubs.

In the days following Kaiya’s passing, I didn’t really feel like doing much of anything. But turning on WoW and running around with fox Kaiya as a blood elf that looks suspiciously like me has, oddly enough, been a huge help. We’ve had fun romping through the Barrens, witnessing the events in Stonetalon, going back to the Barrens again, and now we’re in Feralas, a place I suspect real Kaiya would have loved. And sure, it’s just pixels on a screen, but my dog was there with me when I started this character and tamed the pet that looks so much like her, and it gives me a way to feel like I’m still with her.

I feel like a lot of times, people miss some of the great things this game can do while they’re busy worrying about what Blizzard is doing to their class or arguing about progression in their guild or dealing with jerks in random groups. But I’ve heard so many stories of “WoW really helped me get through this difficult time in my life,” and often times those difficult times seem much harder than my own. So I just wanted to say thanks to Blizzard for giving me this beautiful world to run around in with my dog at my side. It really has helped.

Most of the time, for me to care about a character, they must have a really good backstory. I can’t seem to level them otherwise. Fayliana’s backstory is simple. She was lonely. She found a fox locked in a cage, and it was lonely as well. A little more research told her that poor fox had been locked up for her entire five year life. Fayliana rescued the fox, and they became the best of friends.

…Maybe not the most creative of characters I’ve come up with, but it makes me smile all the same. Thanks again, Blizz.

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