I'm a sucker for doing things differently, and this week's Reader UI is no exception. Emails usually inspire me with topics to cover, and this particular email made me think long and hard about the software and hardware that I use. Combined with the fact that I'm fairly fresh off of the Razer Naga Epic review, I've got some opinions on alternative ways of controlling WoW.
World of Warcraft and Blizzard in general have been responsive to disabled gamers' concerns in many ways, from giving fights and encounters text emotes instead of just sounds to a large amount of UI customization in scale and effect. A largely customizable user interface, in fact, is something not to be taken for granted, as it can help help with a good number of motor disabilities, visual impairments, and issues dealing with the loss of a limb. In addition to the UI itself, World of Warcraft and the MMO genre have spawned a huge market for peripherals that help disabled gamers achieve a level of interaction that might never have been possible at the start of the genre.
The email that inspired this column:
Thank you very much for the email, Jon. Building a user interface for someone with disabilities is an incredibly important topic to cover. There are three main issues that we can discuss as far as the user interface is concerned and what it can help with in making a disabled gamers' experience more fulfilling. With such a customizable user interface and the added potential of addons, we can try to help some people overcome a handicap or two. The three issues are software UI, addons, and hardware.
Had an unusual situation with a guildie last night that I thought you might be able to help out with. I was trying to help a guildie with PvP and I learned that she has a physical disability (cerebral paulsey affecting her left side) that forces her into an unconventional keyset (she uses the arrow keys to move and can only hit shift and ctrl modifiers) with limited movement.
Anyway, I suggested that she grab the addon Clique to help with her situation and upgrade to at least a 5 button mouse if not a straight gaming mouse, but was otherwise totally stuck for how to help her. It got me thinking though, are there other addons or modifications that might enhance her interaction with the game world in spite of the limitations she is faced with?
Default user interface options
The standard included user interface has a few options for disabled gamers to make use of. First and foremost is the UI Scale option under the video configuration menu. UI Scale allows the player to scale up or down the entirety of the user interface with one option. You can make the user interface absolutely tiny or as big as the screen if need be. Using UI Scale to help a player with some type of visual impairment or affliction could make the game easier to see.
Spell alerts are another great option presented in the default interface options. Checking this box tells WoW to put text spell warnings in the middle of the screen when a creature or boss is going to use a big special ability of some kind. These warnings were not always announced by the game, but for accessibility purposes, Blizzard added in this option to make it easier for players to see incoming danger and damage, making raid encounters rely less on addons. To find this option, select the Interface menu option, and find the checkbox under "Combat."
Click-to-move is an excellent option for gamers with limited mobility, as the game allows for single-click character movement. Click where you want your character to go, and he'll go.
Everyone knows that green item quality is common, blue is uncommon, and purple is epic. Most people can easily see that a red mob is hostile and a green mob is friendly. What happens when you're colorblind, however? These colors might now mean anything. Blizzard has included a colorblind option in the default UI, giving players a tooltip text readout for mob status (hostile, neutral, friendly) and item quality. Now you'll be able to see item quality and mob status even without the ability to discern the colors.
These are just three of the options in the default UI that can potentially help with certain ailments or disabilities. As WoW continues, new options and accesibility features are being added. Most recently, people afflicted by epileptic seizures were having issues with the crackling lightning effects that accompany many new elemental death animations in Cataclysm, and Blizzard has already proposed a fix that will be coming in a new patch.
Addons add to accessibility
The customizable nature of the WoW interface allows addon developers and authors to add functionality to everything in WoW, including new accessibility options. Many different addons that you might not think were accessibility addons could very well become one for you.
Dominos and Bartender, the two leading action bar mods, are able to change and customize ability layouts on your screen. The default "long bar" approach might make it difficult for someone with limited hand mobility to move the mouse across the bar to reach new abilities. Instead, you could use an action bar addon to change the action bars into blocks of 4x3 abilities, lowering the distance between abilities.
Deadly Boss Mods or Bigwigs can help a disabled gamer with larger boss and ability warnings in dungeons and raids. Player and unit frame mods like Shadowed Unit Frames or Pitbull turn health bars with graphics into simple bars that might take out some of the clutter and allow for customizable colors as opposed to the default red.
For players with limited mobility or limited use of one limb, much like the reader from the original email that sparked all of this, addons designed to enhance what mouse clicks can accomplish are particularly important. My addons for clickers Addon Spotlight is a great place to start, especially with an addon called Clique, allowing a player to bind skills and abilities to mouse clicks. Combined with a mouse with a decent amount of buttons, you could get most, if not all, of the functionality needed to play on just your mouse.
There are tons of hardware manufacturers out there making great peripherals for WoW and the MMO genre in general that could greatly help with accessibility for players with disabilities. Hardware is more expensive than free addons, but the right hardware could help a disabled gamer overcome even the most dire physical limitations.
For gamers with limited mobility in one hand, I would strongly consider checking out the Razer Naga or Naga Epic, which I recently reviewed. Essentially, the Razer Naga's array of mouse buttons replace the top number row of keys or the numpad on the keyboard, making WoW controllable with just the mouse. One-handed control is a great option to have, especially when pairing the mouse with addons that also increase accessibility.
One of the more creative and absolutely brilliant ideas that I've heard people use for modifier keys and push-to-talk Mumble or Ventrilo is using a USB foot pedal. Doing a quick search on Amazon for USB foot pedal will present many options outright. I've never used one personally, but using a foot pedal as a push-to-talk button or as a modifier key could replace a lot of what a second hand would be responsible for in an MMO, transfering that functionality to the foot instead of the hand.
Adapting to individual needs
I was born with bilateral strabismus and, like many men, I am colorblind. I deal with very mild afflictions and couldn't possibly comprehend how difficult it is for someone with much more severe disabilities to play WoW, much less any MMO. Hopefully we as a community can put together our collective knowledge and imagination to help those who can use it. These suggestions are just some of the ways WoW's interface, addons, and hardware peripherals can help out a gamer with visual impairments, limited mobility or other disabilities.
I know there is no specific reader UI this week (there are plenty in the queue to write about, I assure you), so this week, go back and check out some of our past spotlights and get some ideas. We'll return next week with a more traditional column.
Gallery: Reader UI of the Week gallery
Interested in getting the most out of your user interface? Come back once a week for more examples of reader UIs. For more details on individual addons, check out Addon Spotlight, or visit Addons 101 for help getting started.