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Ask the Devs round 3 UI questions answered

Ask the Devs Round 3 questions are already answered! We've been getting some quick turnaround on the Ask the Devs questions lately, and the third batch based on user interface questions is no different. A lot of the answers are great and informative, giving us players an interesting look into the design philosophy as it pertains to addons. One question really stood out -- looks like we're going to be getting the ability to change the order of our characters on the select screen come patch 4.2!

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Q: Do the developers have any plans in regards to overhauling the Combat Log so that players can easier examine the results after a battle?

A: The Combat Log needs some love for sure. It was originally designed with the intent of providing players with immediate feedback, sort of like an extension to scrolling combat text and the buff / debuff panel. It turns out to be much more useful after the fact, to figure out what was that thing that hit you so hard, or what caused that proc to go off. We would like to redesign the feature with more of a post-hoc analysis in mind. It can also be a resource hog if you have it up during combat and the filtering isn't super intuitive. One thing we have done in the meantime is made it easy for the combat logs to be analyzed by third-party sites, which makes it easier to analyze results quickly.


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Q: Some Addons are so powerful they simplified the game content to a degree (e.g., boss fights). Do you think that when the majority are using these Addons, the original reasoning behind the game design is violated? And isn't it unfair for players who don't use Addons?

A: This really deserves a long answer. It sounds like a good topic for a future developer blog. To tide you over until then, we can say that some addons do a great job of providing information we really should be providing (and have long-term plans to provide).This includes information like threat, the distance you are from other players , when you have a killer debuff on you and things like that. On the other hand, when addons are too helpful, they are playing the game for you and you're just doing what the addon tells you to do. When the mod tells you so much information about the fight that you don't even really need to pay attention to what is happening in the world at all, then we feel that crosses the line. I don't know that we could put the djinn back in the bottle at this point though. It would feel really harsh to prevent addons from tracking some of that information, and in some cases we're not even sure how we would prevent it.

We continue to try and come up with new mechanics that ask players to pay attention to the fight itself instead of just pushing whatever button the addon tells them to push. You might be alerted to when Atramedes emits a Sonar Pulse, but you don't know where it is going to be. Sinestra's Twilight Slicer requires you to look at the battle field and not just your UI. To be fair, we are also trying to do a better job of telegraphing to players when bosses will use predictable abilities. The Conclave of Wind and Nefarian for example do their special abilities at predictable intervals along their resource or health bar.

It is a fine line to decide when an addon becomes mandatory. Ideally you could raid without any addons, and some players do. Information is often power in complex raid encounters though, and we agree that in some cases we don't provide enough information yet. Does that mean Blizzard needs to replicate some of the screenshots produced by players who install thirty mods and completely overhaul their UI? Probably not. Our raid UI is a good example of what we are going for. It provides enough information for many players (and we have plans to add more to it overtime). It's not going to incorporate the favorite feature of every raider out there, and for them, a very customizable third-party addon is a perfectly reasonable solution.


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Q: Will there be changes related to the bank and bags system? E.g. for set pieces (wardrobe), quest items, tabards... will the 16-slot-standard-bag be extended?

A: We think bags are about as big as we can make them. Imagine if you got rid of all of the folders or directories on your computer and just stuffed everything into one big directory. That feels like the direction we'll head if we keep down the path we're on. Instead, we think a better solution is to make it easier to find what you're looking for and provide alternative storage for things you don't use often. We do have plans to convert tabards into a manager similar to our Title UI on the character page. We also are exploring some ways to let players store old set pieces and the like that they don't use often. We debate the quest item issue a lot. Our concern is that if quest items are squirreled away in some special UI that they feel less like items at all. Why require you to collect bear asses instead of just incrementing the bear asses counter? That might help solve your storage problems, but it makes quests feel even less like you are doing something in the real world.


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Q: Previously, the character was not interfered by the nameplate because there was always some space between the character and nameplates. I don't exactly remember when but suddenly the nameplate covered the top section of the characters making it hard to identify the character/NPC's status. I'm just wondering it was changed to be like that.

A: [We're assuming this question is referring to the V-nameplates. If not, this answer won't make sense.] We changed the way nameplates work quite a bit in Cataclysm. One mistake we made was anchoring the nameplate to the top of the frame. This means that when you are zoomed in close to your character that the nameplate can obscure your face. In 4.1 we're changing the anchor point to the bottom of the frame so that it will grow up as you zoom in instead of growing down.


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Q: Milling and Prospecting are incredibly dull and very manual tasks at present, especially when you do them in bulk. Speaking as a scribe, the entire manufacturing process from herb to pigment to ink to glyph is both time-consuming, boring and sending me well on my way to repetitive stress wrist and index finger injuries.

A: Yes, we totally understand why this is a problem. The reason we can't make it work just like other trade skills, is that we don't know which herbs and ore you want to use. If you have some cheap ore and some very expensive ore, we don't want to accidentally use the expensive ore. There are a few ways to fix this. One is we just redesign Milling and Prospecting. If they were recipe-based, then we would know exactly which material to use. It would also add a huge list of repetitive recipes to your Professions pages. We could also make some kind of new UI (think of something simple, like the Reforging UI) to let you drag and drop the materials you want to use. The advantage of the "box" solution is we could also use it for Disenchanting.


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Q: Would you please implement a feature that allows players to change the order of their characters on the Character select screen?

A: Sure. Does 4.2 work for you? :)


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Q: Are there any plans to implement further things into the standard UI that we currently rely on addons to provide? More specifically I mean things like Recount and Omen.

A: We are experimenting with adding a threat meter to our new party and raid frames. Tracking DPS is a little trickier. We feel like it's something we should offer but we're still debating the right way to do it. It could be something that the combat log or the achievement statistics system (neither of which are anywhere as good as they could be) morphs into.


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Q: Any plans to improve the Trade channel to allow buying and trading directly from chat?


A: Ultimately, if you want a centralized location where buyers and sellers could meet, we already provide that. If you're trying to just circumvent the 10% Auction House cut, we don't really want to encourage that. If you want to use chat channels to haggle, you can do that already. The one situation where we think the current systems don't work well is for really expensive crafted armor and weapons. We understand that players may not want to waste the materials until they have a buyer. Nor do they want to pay the Auction House cut on a 20,000 gold item when the volume on these items moving through the market is always going to be low. We are exploring some ways to solve this problem.


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Q: Internal Cooldowns are pretty hard to track currently (I'm thinking of Nature's Grace, since it's an important element of my gameplay as a Resto Druid). Do you plan to add a feature in order to make it easier to track Internal Cooldowns?


A: This is a difficult problem to solve without a lot of additional UI bloat. We could put a debuff on the player, which is the solution we sometimes take with long cooldowns like the 60 sec one of Nature's Grace. We could also consider something like letting players put passive abilities on their action bar, and then provide an option to view cooldowns as numbers instead of the current 'sonar wipe'. The way some of the third-party addons handle the issue is by just throwing up more UI in between the player and the character, which is the kind of thing we are very, very cautious about adding.


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Q: Are there any plans to expand on the current mail system? It's rather cumbersome to have to withdraw, one-by-one, my mail when I have pages of it.

A: This sounds like it is really an Auction House problem. The mail system is intended to be a little throttled and slow to discourage spam and junk mail, and works just fine for "real" mail between friends, alts or guildies. The problem is the design choice we made to hitch the mail system to the Auction House. Players dealing with a high volume of commodities have no choice but to deal with tons and tons of mail (and this is particularly bad for diverse commodities with low margins, like glyphs). We are discussing different ways the Auction House can work, but we're not convinced the right answer is just to make the mail system more automated.


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Q: Before Cataclysm launch, you talked about maybe giving the chance to players of increasing their main bagpack number of slots. Are you still having that in mind or did you forget about that idea? It has been 6 long years with the same bagpack!


A: Believe it or not, it's just technically challenging. The original backpack just wasn't coded with expandability in mind, and bumping it up now carries the risk of losing players gear, which of course would be catastrophic. It's still on the list, but it's not as simple as someone changing a 16 to a 24.

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Q: Will the Defualt UI ever be moveable and re-arrangeable without the use of mods?

A: We are taking baby steps in that direction. We already allow you to move the focus target, and in the 4.1 patch we will let you move your player frame (your health and resource bar) and your target frame as well. We also allow quite a bit of customization of size and position with the party and raid frames. If you consider what the screen looks like with every possible UI element turned on at once (including things like the durability dummy and Arena team frames) there is almost no space left to actually see the world. If we allow players to start moving every element around, it would be very easy to stack elements on top of each other and obscure information. More hardcore players probably understand this risk and how to fix things if they break the UI for themselves. The challenge for us is making sure that players who really shouldn't be messing with their UI don't stumble into it. If you aren't in the game industry (or maybe even the software industry at large) you might think it's as simple as burying the check box deep in the options or adding a big, red "I screwed up! Please reset me!" button. But we can assure you that it's not.


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Q: What if there was a separated target system? For example, if I can set defensive and offensive target at same time then I don't have to switch target to use heal or other emergency skills for our friend no matter what target I'm attacking. I think this feature is especially useful for some classes, such as Retribution Paladin and Shadow Priest.


A: We understand why that might be beneficial, and some games have gone that route, but we're not huge fans of the idea for a couple of reasons. One, it just adds more complexity to the UI, which you can see from previous questions is something we're trying to remain vigilant against. More importantly, we like players having to make the choice of who their target is. We don't want to make the game so smart that harmful spells always seek out enemies and helpful spells always seek out allies. We do this in a few rare cases, like Discipline's Atonement, but in general we want players to make the second-to-second choice about whether they are playing offensively or defensively.


The big news coming from all of these answers is that we are most likely getting a way to change the order of our characters on the select screen and that Blizzard is very interested in adding more quality-of-life addon benefits into the default user interface. I cannot even begin to express how hard it must be for a game with so much code from almost 10 years of development to wade through in order to change fundamental game systems. These are definitely big changes internally.

World of Warcraft: Cataclysm has destroyed Azeroth as we know it; nothing is the same! In WoW Insider's Guide to Cataclysm, you can find out everything you need to know about WoW's third expansion, from leveling up a new goblin or worgen to breaking news and strategies on endgame play.

Filed under: Blizzard, Add-Ons, Cataclysm

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