Tinker Town: Vanilla Unitframes in 4.0.x

In this column, I'll discuss user interface modifications and some tips and tricks I have picked up along the way. I have developed my own addon (SavedInstances), and while I'm hardly an expert I certainly have glimpsed behind the curtain more than once.

Those who played beside me back in The Burning Crusade will remember me as something of an addon-addict. I had several hundred installed at one point. So it may shock you to learn that my resolution for Cataclysm is to level all the way to 85 without any addons installed! Why the about face? Well, I've been watching the developments in the Cataclysm Beta (and more recently on the PTR) and it seems Blizzard has definitely revamped the vanilla interface in several important ways.

Unitframes are probably the most obvious element to replace. Unitframes are how we refer to the player, party, raid, boss, arena, pet, target and focus frames collectively. Does it have a health bar? Can you click it to change your target? Then it's probably a unitframe.

Blizzard's vanilla unitframes have never been especially exciting for the following reasons:
  • locked in the top-left corner of your screen, can be far far away from the action
  • health (and power) bars are thin enough to make triage by healers somewhat difficult
  • raid frames are even less legible than party frames, mostly useless for hardcore healing
Take a look at my new party frames on the PTR, accomplished completely without addons. The differences are more than skin-deep:
  • party frames can be set to behave like raid frames
  • fully adjustable size (although the minimum is still a little large)
  • displays incoming heals 
  • raid frames (and thus, party frames) can be re-positioned
  • lots of ways to personalise and customise
  • can group players in several different ways
Unit Frames options
Raid Frames options
While the player, target and focus frames don't seem to have received the same overhaul, their size has not changed so they are still quite legible. My only complaint is that their position still seems a little unhelpful.

When raiding (on the PTR), players can now explicitly mark their role. Forming raids and remembering who can tank and who can heal is definitely going to be easier moving forward. No more asking for healers to type "1". and hopefully fewer raids that fill up without healers or tanks. :P

I obviously can't wait for Cataclysm, but it isn't just the story and the new spells, talents and loot that I crave. It will be interesting to see what other cues Blizzard have taken from the addon community. Blizzard have certainly made efforts to provide us with an interface that needs less replacing.


Killing Machine: Tipping The (Mad) Hat

As previously discussed, I took a bit of a break from WoW for a few reasons: I was moving inter-state and didn't want to make commitments I couldn't keep, and a serious of guild collapses had left me emotionally drained. Since then I'd logged in just frequently enough to disqualify myself from any re-subscription discounts.

This week, I put my tiny foot down and decided I that it was time I came back for real. I reached out to the mega-guild and found a friendly Icecrown Citadel 10-man group that would give me a chance. I had a few days to prepare, but found that nothing had changed with my class. I quickly flipped through boss strategies and the only encounter I had zero experience with didn't seem particularly noteworthy on paper. At this point I am feeling confident. Almost too confident.

Now, I would describe myself as being 95% reliable and a fairly decent player, but with a rare tendency to fail spectacularly. This is something I probably should have shared with the Mad Hatters before we started last night. 

Little did I know how true-to-form and red-faced I would be only minutes into the very first encounter. Half-way through, I am feeling relaxed enough with my rotation that I can mix it up and start weaving Unbreakable Armor in. Of course, the recommended way to do this is with Blood Tap, which I keep right next to my Death Grip button. Yes.

I am still grateful that this did not get me instantly kicked. I taunted Marrowgar, he spun around, cleaved and took out 4 of us, and this was while I was tapping my UA button not realising how out-of-sequence I was. Seconds later we were all in spectral form returning to our lifeless bodies. My spectator knew what I'd done and laughed at me from the couch. I was in total disgrace.

My form for the rest of the night was pretty decent, I thought. I played my role adequately and I don't recall any major issues. We had fun all night, and left only the Lich King alive for Saturday. I am especially impressed by the Mad Hatters break policy, which I think goes along way to keeping everyone relaxed and having fun. I even won that frustratingly rare amazing melee DPS trinket.

Reputations are funny things. In the old days I was remembered as the tank that fell screaming over the edge while facing off with Kologarn. Now I am "the Death Grip guy". /shrug

Here are some automatic screenshots from the achievements. You'll note that my button bars were temporarily re-organised for the safety of the group. :P

I'm on a Boat
The Plagueworks
The Crimson Hall
The Frostwing Halls


Beyond Azeroth: HoN vs LoL

Once the Heroes of Newerth free-to-play beta terminated (with the full release) I started playing League of Legends which is free-to-play. Having played both for at least a few weeks each, I feel I am in a position to share some observations (and judgements) on the subject.


Both HoN and LoL derive much of their mechanic from DotA, and there's no shame in that. They do differ somewhat in competitive design and learning curve.

Every death in HoN significantly alters the game in favour of your foe, via experience points and gold earned (or not earned). I'm definitely a "noob" for being in a position to notice this, but it will take several deaths in LoL to have the same detrimental effect on your team as it would in HoN.

I would like to see HoN lower the stakes just slightly and such that new players have a chance to find their groove. A skilled player can be completely undermined by another player's deaths (known as "feeding") and I think this is a little unfair at times.

While I have had fun playing LoL, I sometimes crave the often hectic experience than HoN offers. So the pressure to perform is a little higher, but it's not altogether a bad thing.

Verdict: draw.


The clear winner here is HoN, but with some caveats. HoN looks and feels terrific. The animations are smooth and the spells are shiny. WoW players will feel quite at home as the art style seems very much inspired by Warcraft 3 (which spawned DotA). All the characters have a distinct appearance without any of them being harder to click on or easier to spot.

I have heard comments that intense conflicts in HoN can become confusing with all manner of bright spells flashing back and forth. It is a valid concern, but it's one I don't particularly share.

LoL doesn't look terrible. However, if you've been playing WoW for years, and HoN for a few weeks, then there's definitely a visual adjustment when playing LoL. The characters seem cell-shaded almost, auto-attack animations are indistinct. LoL seems more zoomed-out than HoN, though, which probably helps with player awareness.

Verdict: HoN wins.


This is an area where the stand-alone nature of both HoN and LoL really allows them to differentiate themselves. DotA was simply a multiplayer map pack for Warcraft 3, so it just wasn't possible to build some of the features that HoN and LoL provide to their players.

I like LoL's the most at this level. While you are earning levels in-game for your character in order to win the match, between matches you are earning levels for your player profile. These meta-levels control your access to abilities, characters and other configurable perks such as Runes and Mastery points. There just seems like there's more to do when you aren't actually competing, creating a desire to progress.

There's even a LoL store where you can spend points that you have earned to unlock new characters and costumes. And if you don't have the time to earn the points in the ring, you can swipe your credit card or PayPal account for instant access. I no longer feel averse to micro-transaction games, provided they are at least as thoughtful as it seems to be implemented here.

HoN has a ranked ladder system that is not unlike the Arena system in The Burning Crusade. Your position on the ladder effects the other players you are grouped with by the automatic match-making system. Custom matches feature a team-balancing function that works of this personal rating as well. And that's all. Striving to be your best in HoN isn't as specific a goal as aiming for a new character in LoL, and goals definitely help incentive me to play.

Verdict: LoL wins.

Software implementation

HoN has some very strong cross-platform support. They make simultaneous releases for Windows, Mac OS X and Linux. As a player who won't be paying the Microsoft tax anytime soon (or the Apple one, thank you very much) this is extremely important to me. The HoN team would have made this decision very early in their development process, and I am grateful they didn't succumb to platform-specific ideas.

LoL just feels like it's been put together in a strange way. When hopping between the lobby and a match, the lobby "program" disappears and for a few seconds it feels like it just crashed. Then the match pops up. There's probably a good reason for this, maybe it was just easier to do, maybe not having the lobby code floating around makes the game play more efficiently, I don't know.

Disappointingly, LoL only works on Windows. I realise there's a tremendous effort required to support Mac and Linux, and it would appear they've already gone part of the way by using Adobe's AIR cross-platform framework. This is all the more frustrating because my partner prefers LoL and we are unable to enjoy the game together. I won't be rushing out to spend $300 on Windows just so I can play LoL.

Verdict: HoN wins.


These games are very similar, and they both add meaningful between-match features to the winning DotA formula. If LoL worked properly and easily under Linux and had HoN's graphic quality and style, then it would be my first choice. The problem is it doesn't, so my choice is basically made for me on the Linux issue alone.

At a time when game developers are transitioning to the console, it does seem a little rich for me to be sitting here with my alternative PC operating system crying for lack of support, but there it is. Many of the other games I enjoy can be experienced under Linux with little issue, and I hear even StarCraft 2 can be played with only a little effort under Linux.

Until the LoL developers commit either way on this subject, I'll wait with baited breathe. Blizzard and HoN can keep me warm until then.


Filthy Tricks: Return to the Shadows

Well, it happened. I stopped playing WAR for a few weeks, because I was tired of not having a real computer to play it on (a luxury my better half enjoys in lieu of myself). This last week has seen a few key hardware purchases, however, and hopefully within a fortnight we'll both have decent rigs. This will mean, of course, that we'll be playing WoW together. /yay


So I logged back in and brought Taraka up to level 50 with a few mostly-painless dungeon runs. If I have complained about this before, I apologise, but seriously: Fan of Knives at level 80? What is a low-level rogue supposed to do until then? I tend to blow my first five combo points getting one target as periodically damaged as I can manage before finding something else to stab. /yawn

Scheming and Planning

I am quite pleased with Shadowstep, as it most embodies my desired character theme: to be as much like a ninja as possible. My next talent points will go into Honor Amongst Thieves, which will be the turning point in PvE effectiveness for this toon. Even though Combat and Assassination both offer officially-supported damage output, I won't be abandoning the subtle path anytime soon.

I was most appalled to discover that my locksmithing skills are quite dated. Enemies have started yielding lockboxes far beyond my ken. The thought of grinding really doesn't appeal, but the thought of abandoning it altogether until I reach max-level seems even worse. I will probably end up murdering pirates (a ninja's arch-enemy) in Tanaris while waiting for Dungeon Finder to pop.

We're thinking of switching to Horde on these toons so we can experience a slightly different Outland (and beyond). I am a little lost when it comes to choosing Horde races. There currently are no Horde Gnomes, so my default choice doesn't apply. If only sneaky cows were possible, I would definitely pick the bovine folk. Any ideas?

Azeroth: The Sequel

I've taken a quick look at WowHead's latest Rogue Cataclysm Preview. What I am seeing is a handful of good talents are being moved from other trees to Subtlety, which will make spending at least 51 points (to get maximum Mastery) a bit more practical. In fact, the deep end is looking so tasty that I can't see myself spending less than 61 points there. Here's hoping people will stop laughing at me and my favourite talent tree. :P

I plan on having all my current toons waiting at level 80 so I can make a last-minute swap, although at this stage I think I'll be playing Vocah when the expansion hits. In between being shamed over and over again in StarCraft 2, that is.

I am looking forward to a certain Gnomish world event too. ;)


Hiatus: April Supplement

So, it would appear that my break from WoW is becoming more and more indefinite. Or should I say that my return to WoW is becoming less and less definite?

Massively Distracted

My partner and I have been playing Warhammer Online: Age of Reckoning for the last couple of weeks and we are thoroughly enjoying ourselves. I am a Chaos Zealot, a scary and hunched-over religious creep who's name means "blight". It sounds deadly, but the class is much better at healing than anything else, which suits me fine. I'm paired with a Dark Elf Black Guard, whom I hide behind (literally, because positioning somewhat matters) whilst our foes are whittled down into bloody tatters.

The game doesn't really seem to have evolved much since I last played (a few months after launch). The graphics are just stunning in some areas, but spell animations can be a little glitchy if you mash your buttons. However, the number of subscribers is nothing like it was at launch, and there are constant reminders (like the fact there are now just 6 servers).

If you are looking for a good cry read, I highly recommend this depressing tell-all by a former Warhammer Online GM. I still wish this game was doing better financially, because there are some really great differences between WoW and WAR where it leaps ahead. Public Quests and lairs are world-PvE opportunities that I wish Blizzard copied. The ability to target a friend and a foe simultaneously allows for some really interesting ability design.

I am finding the change of pace refreshing, since leaving WoW. WAR is definitely worth a look, especially since the first 10 levels are free. Note that WAR now has a Mac client, so now you can play a different game while you "think different". We're hanging out on Gorfang, so come on down and celebrate the mercy of murder.

The Glorious Strategist

I'm still occasionally plugging away at the StarCraft Brood War campaign. The end is in sight, however, as I'm halfway through the final Zerg story. This really isn't a terrific way to skill up for StarCraft 2, however, since the campaign AI is so predictable and not especially aggressive. I've given myself carpal-tunnel by crossing my fingers for a beta key for too long.

I ended up grabbing Supreme Commander 2 and while I find it okay to play on occasion, it's really inferior to the original in many ways. I don't mind the graphical simplification (so modern computers can actually play at full settings, yay!) but the gameplay has been "sexed-up" such that skirmishes are faster and research is less satisfying. The spiritual successor to Total Annihilation has been morphed into the popcorn of real-time strategy.

I was looking forward to the Chaos expansion to Dawn of War 2, but haven't been able to afford it yet. On a side note, the job-search is really depressing and I think I may soon turn to prostitution (ie: telemarketing). They stripped all the base building out of DoW2, which I sorely miss, but there are plenty of armies and new combat mechanics to distract you. Worth a look if you thought the original wasn't fast-paced enough.

Promises, Promises

Anyhow, that's all for now. I'm fairly certain I'll come check out Cataclysm, and maybe even the Ruby Sanctum. Ciao for now, WoW cows. :)


Brief WoW-Hiatus

My raiding guild stopped raiding a few weeks ago, and Obsolete was probably the most progressed guild I have been in. It might be the most progressed guild I will ever be in. So with that guild announcement, I have started looking beyond WoW for my entertainment and I definitely feel better for it.

I've played through BioShock 1 & 2, saving Little Sisters and resisting the thirst for vengeance (thus yielding the super-good endings). I thoroughly enjoyed both games, and Rapture certainly continues to be a terrific setting for storytelling. I have yet to try multi-player (available in the sequel, only) but I hear it's a successful complement to the solo game.

I am currently working my way through StarCraft (the original) without cheating. In the past I've been a little too quick to skip missions and I aim to better myself in this respect. I've almost finished the original Protoss campaign, and then I'll move on to Brood War. I was not one of the incredibly lucky recipients of StarCraft 2 beta keys, so this is how I'll get my fix. I pray to Blizzard every night before going to bed. :P

I am moving house in a few weeks, so I'm trying to stay out of WoW until I've settled into the new place. It wouldn't seem fair to apply to a new guild (or sub-guild) and then suddenly be unavailable while I wait for the new ADSL connection. Also, I hear my favourite Death Knight tree, Frost, will be getting some love in 3.3.3, so until that patch is released I would just be /sighing alot.

So I'm continuing my little break for the next few weeks. Until I return, may all your /rolls be 100.


Killing Machine: It Slices, It Dices

In a continuation of my Death Knight column (focusing on the class in general, as well as my very own Vocah) I am delighted to announce that my [Shadow's Edge] has now tasted 1000 souls harvested within Icecrown Citadel! NOMNOMNOM! I got a few hundred from a farming run (resetting the raid before reaching Lord Marrowgar) and quite alot during attempts on Valithria Dreamwalker.

The next three tasks require me to steal essence from the Unholy, Blood and Frost wings in that order. I have to hop back into the guild queue for this, so it might be some time before I see much progress in this regard. After that, we're back in a familiar situation to [Val'anyr], with bosses (25-man only) having a chance to drop 1 of the 50 [Shadowfrost Shards] required for the final phase.

In a related matter, I won a [Battered Hilt] a week or so ago, and today I took the final plunge and subdued [Quel'Delar, Cunning of the Shadows]. I currently have it paired with the [Frost Giant's Cleaver], and I'm a bite-sized, slashing, chopping little maniac with them. :) Some people recommended I just sell it, but I figured my Frost build could use an upgrade and there's an achievement that I'd otherwise never ... umm ... achieve.

The quest-chain is fairly epic, requiring you to gather reagents from the Pit of Saron, temper it in the Forge of Souls, and finally face the blade itself when merely bringing it near Frostmourne in the Halls of Reflection causes it to go on a murderous rampage. I was quite moved when asked to participate in the re-enactment of Thalorien Dawnseeker's last stand before the Sunwell.

My only gripe is Quel'Delar doesn't mount on my back. I'd really like a checkbox to force weapons to mount on my back or my waist. That would be great, Blizzard. Go to it.


Killing Machine: The Feast Begins

I finally completed The Sacred and the Corrupt last night. Great big thanks to Naboo, Gadiyus, Cloria and Prostyles, without whom I would have had an even tougher time coming up with all those darn Primordial Saronite. Of course, I wouldn't have been able to do this at all without my guild: Obsolete. Thanks to all who had a part in allowing me to build Shadow's Edge. :)

I've already begun the lengthy Feast of Souls quest, in continuation of the legendary quest line. Last night I managed to feed this hungry weapon a whopping total of 18 souls before the guild succumbed to latency issues. With the current pre-3.3.2 timing involved with Blood Queen Lana'thel's Vampiric Bite, we try not to waste attempts on particularly laggy nights, which unfortunately makes progression more difficult than it really needs to be. :S

Just a reminder to anyone else suffering on Barthilas: be sure to report latency issues as often as they occur using the in-game tool, so Blizzard knows that they really have to do something about the Oceanic realms and the Bloodlust battle group. I normally rest on anywhere between 250ms and 350ms (I refuse to engage a tunnelling service on principle), and I post reports whenever it's over 600ms.


Filthy Tricks: Enter Taraka

In an effort to become more self-sufficient in certain other endeavours, I decided to roll a Rogue. All the guides and all my friends cautioned against it, but I had long fantasised about specialising in Subtlety from the very beginning so that's the path I chose. As is my custom, I tend to focus on the single-point talents in my primary tree, then fill in the secondary talent tree, then come back and fill in my final points.

His name is Taraka, after an order of assassins in my favourite TV series ever: Buffy the Vampire Slayer. This was an opportunity to play a female Gnome, I suppose, but I just couldn't bring myself to switch the gender setting. I've never been entirely comfortable roleplaying the fairer sex, and the fact that so many boys and men are is a source of confusion to me. :)

Even at this low level I think I have a new fondness for Rogues. The play-style is pretty fun, especially since the low raid performance of Frost DKs goes unaddressed by Blizzard for the time being. I'm definitely getting my dual-wielding fix here, stabbing enemies rapidly is lots of fun.

Levelling with the Dungeon Finder: 15-30

The Dungeon Finder is a little hit-and-miss at these low levels. The main issues are that these dungeons (Deadmines and Gnomeregan in particular) are extremely trash-heavy, and they feature miles of distance to cover from start to finish. I've been in a random group for Gnomeregan twice so far that ended up disintegrating halfway through. Also, I think some DPS fail to appreciate how hard it can be to tank with such limited pools of abilities.

Dungeon Finder Bliss: 30-?

Once I dinged 30, adventures at the Scarlet Monastery were suddenly available and suddenly I found myself in groups that could actually finish a dungeon run. I can't say much for this bracket since I've just reached it, but I have a feeling this bliss is short-lived. These short dungeons can't get me all the way to 58 and I dare say there are some hardships ahead. I'll keep you guys posted should anything interesting happen in the meantime. :)

New Year's Resolution / Dungeon Tips

I suppose it's a little strange having a New Year's resolution for WoW. Regardless, my new mantra this year is:
Never lie to the Dungeon Finder.
That means if I can tank and/or heal, then I am definitely ticking those boxes. DPS is so easy sometimes, but the Dungeon Finder only works if everyone contributes. Besides, playing an in-demand role can shorten your queue times significantly, so why not?

Tips for New Tanks

If any low-level and/or new tanks are reading this, here are a few suggestions on how you might improve your experience when using the Dungeon Finder:
  • Stand still as often as possible: melee DPS classes are ideally supposed to be attacking enemies from behind, and this is impossible when the target is following a dancing tank. Your healer(s) will never lose line-of-sight or range either.
  • Keep enemies in front of you: player-controlled characters are unable to avoid (dodge or parry) or block damage from enemies that are behind them.
  • Mark a DPS order: I have the raid markers (skull, cross, etc) keybound to my F*-keys. This makes it trivial to mark up enemies, and helps your DPS find the targets they are supposed to be killing, which should make it easier for you to maintain threat on everything.
  • Master "the pull": there's quite a lot of finesse to tanking, but once you figure out how to get enemies on your good side, everything will suddenly become smooth and shiny for the whole party. :)
  • Mind your healer: if your healer is frequently running low on mana, make sure you let them drink-up between each pull. It might be a good idea to "pop your cooldowns" (meaning your damage-soaking self-buffs) at the start of a pull, or whenever your healer is having trouble.

Rules for DPS Players

Low-level DPS players are in too great a position to spoil an experience for tanks. Here would be my suggestions for the death-dealers in a party:
  1. Don't die: your ePeen is worth nothing when you are dead. Resurrections and grave-yard runs steal valuable time from the whole group.
  2. Watch your threat: this is one of those very simple tips. Reign in your compulsion to kill for just a few seconds while your tank gets a situation under control. Tab-target often so you know you are killing the enemy with the lowest health, which should hopefully be the same target the tank is concentrating on. 
  3. Obey raid markers: the convention is to concentrate on the skull-marked enemy first, followed by the cross. I am amazed at how often unmarked enemies die before marked ones.
  4. Crowd-control early, interrupt often: the moment your tank pulls, you may have a few moments to CC some of the enemies before they reach him. Depending on the strength of the group, this could save you lots of hassle and make the pull easier on everyone. Enemy casters should be interrupted and/or silenced as often as possible by anyone able to do so. Note that you should never immobilise an enemy when a nearby patrol will come and notice.
  5. Defend the healer: if there is an enemy attacking the healer, by all means stop it. You could pull threat on the enemy or CC it, or use healing or defensive spells on the healer. Remember, sometimes the best way to CC an enemy is to just tank it yourself for a few moments.
  6. Help your tank: if you have any threat-sharing abilities, you should be giving them to your tank whenever they are available. This is especially necessary if you are approaching or exceeding the tank's level of threat on your target.


Gorloc Tribe: Cracked!

I've been religiously hatching my Mysterious Egg every single week since convincing The Oracles that I could be trusted with them. My weekly ritual (the inspiration for my neglected addon: EggTimer) has involved breaking open my Cracked Egg filled with hope, falling rapidly into despair when the contents are revealed, taking the long flight over to Sholazar Basin to get a new egg, and then getting on with my life for another week. I have had over a year of disappointment with enough Aged Yolk to make a stinky omelette the size of Sholazar Basin.

Cut to this morning, when I was pleasantly surprised to find the Reins of the Green Proto-Drake emerged from my Cracked Egg. Finally, my devotion to the long-tongued has paid off and I will never hatch another egg (on my Death Knight). Off to help the mean puppy-men now, to get my Frenzyheart Brew.