Oct 5, 2011

Posted by in Halls Of Healing | 40 Comments

Halls Of Healing: The Healer, The User And The Interface – Part 1

Each week or thereabouts here at Ask A Jedi, we’ll meditate on the finer points of the healer’s role in Star Wars: The Old Republic. No matter where your allegiance lies, you’re sure to find guidance here in the Halls Of Healing!

The User and the Interface

Some time ago, we ran a poll on whether you think add-ons and User Interface customization should be implemented in the game. It is one of the most hotly debated topics of all time in the world of MMORPGs and there are many good arguments both for and against the idea.

For those of you who are completely new to MMORPGs and gaming in general, the interface is made up of the parts of the game that connects you (the player) with the character. In general “User Interface” is directed specifically at the layout and design of the game controls. In reality, the User Interface is everything from the way key bindings works  to how certain elements in the game give you signals in form of sounds and much more. It’s how you communicate with the game, and how the game communicates with you.

In part 1 of this series, we will take a look at how the visual elements of the user interface are designed in the game, compare it with the User Interface of the largest MMORPG, World of Warcraft – all from the perspective of a healer.

Anyone who has spent a decent amount of time healing in an MMORPG, or any game for that matter, has probably realized that healers needs to rely on the User Interface much more than any of other roles. We constantly need to keep track of current health levels of the entire group while still doing everything else that pertains to raiding. It’s also widely known that the good healers aren’t the ones who just stare at their health bars, but rather the ones that keep their eyes on what’s going on in the encounter.

This being said, the quality of the Interface is a big concern to us healers.

The Interface of The Old Republic

Earlier this year Michael Voigt, the Lead UI Artist at BioWare wrote an extended blog about the progress of the User Interface in Star Wars: The Old Republic, explaining the process from original thoughts to what we currently see.

In this blog he touches on several key elements in building a great User Interface, such as the layout, grouping of elements containing the same information, and many aesthetical aspects.

Star Wars: The Old Republic has a well thought through layout which looks to be more effective than those of other MMORPGs. In the screenshot above you can see the current layout of the UI. The portait, health/resource bars and action bars are nicely centered and there’s not much clutter. Second priority elements such as the chat, the quest log and the menu are located along the edges at the top. All in all a great layout for all players.

In the screenshot to the right you can see how the raid frames will look, and they will be movable so you can place them wherever you want. The health bars are big and solid with a very informative display of current numbers. You can also see buffs and debuffs on raid members for easy overview. It features a fadeout whenever a member is out of range, which is something most healers are used to by now, definitely a nice addition. Overall a good setup for raiding, or is it operating? I don’t know ;)

The Interface of World of Warcraft

World of Warcraft has been around for a very long time and it still has one of the worst standard User Interfaces of the many MMORPGs out there. You can see the standard User Interface in the screenshot below. The important things are scattered all over the screen and your resource and health bar is up in a corner where you can barely see it. The action bar is not centered but right in the bottom left corner. Overall, it’s very poorly designed from a usability perspective.

Usability & Customization

On the other hand, Blizzard has realized something important: a User Interface’s usability depends a lot on the user, and each user wants and needs something different. This can be a cultural difference, for example, most people from western countries read from left to right, and this transfers to User Interface design as well.  This might not be the best example, but the point is you cannot design one User Interface that works for everyone.  Blizzard solved this problem by implementing add-ons that can be created by any third-party developer. This allowed players to customize their User Interface in large variety of ways that were only limited by the imagination of the add-on developers (and obviously Blizzard’s API.)

This has allowed Blizzard to more or less not care about their standard UI at all, because people can always get whatever feature they are looking for from a third party. All this time saved can be spent improving the rest of the game instead, and also allows the players themselves be able to help the game evolve and improve it directly, giving everyone a better experience in the end. Fun fact – A majority of all the new User Interface features started out at some point as an addon.

In the screenshot below you can see my personal User Interface in World of Warcraft. It has almost no standard User Interface elements left. Almost every single thing you can see in that screenshot is customized in some way by add-ons.

Next week we will continue this User Interface madness by dissecting the current UI in detail and talk about what features we think The Old Republic needs to be able to succeed from a healing perspective, stay tuned!

Reedyn is the chief nerf-herder over at Force Heal, the healing community for Star Wars: The Old Republic. Artwork is done by strawbeki.

  1. Great post. Some people seem to have an instinctive hatred of all addons, which I have theories about but will never fully understand. This article does a nice job setting up why healers in particular are very concerned about the UI. Looking forward to the next part!

    • I’ve never had a problem with cosmetic addons, but I feel that tools such as healbot take the challenge out of healing and essentially penalize healers who choose not to use them.

      Also when in a WOW pug raid its hard not to roll your eyes when someone brags about being top of Dmg meter, but never uses their cc…

      • Personally, I didn’t see that much of a problem with addons such as healbot, for mainly one reason. Going to try to explain with an analogy.
        You can drive a car both with an automatic or a manual drive. The average user will probably drivemore efficiently with the automatic, but will never be able to reach the efficiency of someone really knowing what to do driving a manual.
        Basically, an addon that “plays for you” might be something amazing and cool, but someone having direct control of more of their character and really knowing what to do will always be better than the person heavily relying on an addon to play for them.

        • Exactly. Hardcore raiders generally use Grid or Vuhdo, which are extremely customizable and present information well. Healbot is usually a healers first step into healing addons (and I don’t think it works the way it used to anymore by suggesting what/how you should heal).

  2. Grinstone says:

    Healing was my main role for my guild in WoW. I don’t know when I’ll get around to trying it in TOR (going trooper first), but I look forward to experiencing how it is different both from a gameplay and a UI perspective.

    Perhaps I wasn’t one of the better healers. In WoW I found it difficult to learn fights because I had to be fairly dedicated to the health bars of the others in the group. There wasn’t much left over for seeing which mobs did what. Thus on those few occasions I tanked a heroic it was like being in there for the first time.

    If they’ve tuned the fights so that healers don’t have to dedicate the lion’s share of their attention to the raid frame, and can thus see more of what’s going on with the rest of the fight, so much the better.

    • From what we’ve seen in Flashpoints and Operations so far (not much), it seems quite similar to how World of Warcraft is. In raids you need to fully focus on doing healing, but still keep an eye on everything.
      In Flashpoints it looks a lot more versatile, with crowd control, damage dealing and more.
      Personally I’m very happy they kept the key mechanics of healing the same, cause I really enjoyed healing in World of Warcraft, and I’m really looking forward to doing the same in The Old Republic.

      • Agreed. I too have experience as a raiding main healer in WoW. I used to go vanilla and didn’t get into addons. The main reasons during the early years was the upgrade path to addons was brutal. You’d get used to an addon and then an upgrade would break. Sure it’d be fixed, but if you were on a raiding schedule that was a problem. Yes, it’d be fixed, but still.

        But what sealed addons for me was realizing that I was actually just a button masher. I didn’t have to think. Also, I don’t recall any complex procs or rotations in the day. It was watch bars and spam button 1, 2 or 3.

        I’m very hopeful for SWTOR. I’ve got a feeling that BW is going to surprise us. If they’ve done it right they’re going to make sure that a fully specced healer is going to stand out. In addition, a fully specced healer that knows what combos to use at what time, AND can throw in some CC and DPS at other moments is going to really stand out.

        I don’t know about you but I am a healer first and foremost. I love the idea of healing being measured in warzones. I’ll be going to the top of the healing charts as often as I can. I’ll be looking to work my way through PvE to master the skills and then get into PvP.

        What I’ve seen of the BW looks decent. The fade out for those out of range is a great idea. The bigger health bars and moveable frame is also great.

        I guess I’ll just to check it all out this weekend. I got invited to beta you see – and I plan on playing Consular Sage for the entire weekend. I don’t care if I spoil the surprise. I want to get to the point that healing makes a difference in groups and provide any feedback I can to BW on my experience.

    • A great healer needs to understand encounters in order to work less reactively.

      Of course if you ignore everything about an encounter, you’ll be healing whatever damage the group receives and have to watch health bars much more closely.

      On the other hand, if you understand an encounter, know the abilities used against your party, you’ll know how to position yourself, you’ll know damage patterns and how to best deal with them, who’s about to take damage, when to use cooldowns, etc.

  3. Blacksage says:

    I mainly played Dps classes in WOW but I eventually found a guilty pleasure in healing on a disc priest. I do like TOR’s default UI and to be honest I personally don’t see anything wrong with it. I use healbot when I heal and it has allowed me to heal and damage via atonement spec. the only thing that would make me get into healing faster is the addition of something like healbot or any healing add on for that matter that will allow me to effectively do two things at once, since I’m going to have a seer sage as my second toon when TOR drops

  4. I don’t have much of a problem with the UI. It’s nice and centered the way God intended. My biggest qualm is the lack of customization and macro creation.

    As a healer, things like character portraits are useless and just take up space. Same goes for over-sized chat boxes and minimaps. It’s not as efficient as it could be and addons aren’t the only solution; Being able to enable/disable move/scale the default features would be enough.

    Perhaps the problem is with me because I’m ridiculously anal-retentive about UIs in general. /shrug

    The saving grace for the default UI in TOR is the ability to move group health frames. Having health frames off to the side is highly inconvenient when everything else is all over the place. I like to keep everything I need low and centered.

    This is the WoW UI I’ve been running with for a while, making slight variations occasionally. I know it might look a bit “active” and Grid may be too low for some people’s tastes, but I used the h*ll out of peripheral vision to keep my eyes on what’s going on around me and player health. http://bit.ly/mRkMGJ

    Looking forward to the next article!

    P.S. Yes, Vashj is at 99 stacks, it was a wild night of old-world Transmog runs.

  5. Good analysis of the layouts. Given the fact that TOR will not have addon capability at launch, Bioware has done a decent job of making a serviceable UI. I was especially happy that it allow moving the raid frames around.

    This is a good idea for a regular article, but I’d suggest proofreading it a little better. Lots of poor grammar, which takes away from the quality of the article. Like I said, though, the content is good.

  6. I think your two WoW screenshots show it all. The second screenshot is a mess where you barely see any action on screen. I’ll take TOR’s UI thank you!

    • The screenshots were mean’t to show what can be done with some customization, not a perfect User Interface.
      What I touched on in the article was that a User Interface is something heavily personal and what works for one person doesn’t necessarily mean that it works for the next. This is why customization is the key. I will touch more on this topic in the next part of the article.

    • You’re comparing a single person standing in an open field to a full raid in the middle of the action. Obviously the second is going to have a lot more going on, which makes a clear UI even more important.

      I will say, however, that I’ve never understood why healers like to have the little green numbers all over the screen. Not once have I found those to be helpful (I know what I’m healing, and unit frames can tell me how much and where), and they really do block a lot of action.

      • This^^

        And to reply to your “question”. The reason why I chose to have the floating combat text is actually to be able to look less at the healthbars and more on the action. This is also one of the reasons why my healthbars for the raid is single colored, with a warning color for certain conditions.
        This meant I easily could see the current health of the raid without looking directly at them, having a class color on the frames would be distracting in that case.
        Here’s a better example of how it looks in action ;)

        Again, a User Interface is heavily personal, what works for me doesn’t necessarily mean it works for you =)

      • I liked having the big green healing numbers show up on the screen because they would show up above the heads of the people I was healing. This was really nice since I was a raid healer and it let me know where the people that I was healing were at so that I could position myself better.

    • Actually, his second WoW screenshot shows what most healers consider a very good raiding UI.

      All the useful information is located in the center of the screen: Cast Bar, cooldowns and key buffs, raid frames, player/target frames, visual prompts for available reactive spells.

      All the non-critical information is either hidden or shown at the edges of the screen (durability, minimap, time, buffs, etc.)

  7. royaldufus says:

    honestly im torn i dont know whether to tank or to heal beacues my guild is so low in both of them i have tanked in other games and i was good at it but healing very interests me

    • There’s nothing stopping you from doing both. A lot of guilds actually encourage this kind of game play. Even if you don’t play healer as your main you will still gain experience and insight how healing works, making you a better tank. The same goes for the healers that are tanking every now and then.

  8. The interface is clearly a key element for healer, but above the question of addon or not, huge or little customization, the main question will be the functionalities TOR interface will allow.

    To be clear, choosing the size of your frames, the color, and what kind of buff/debbuf is displayed is one important thing. But knowing if the game will allow on hover macro or healing by mouse click is in my opinion even more important. Because it will lead the way people play their character, and not only the way the game is displayed on their screen.

    There is a big challenge for Bioware about that. I personnaly hope they’re going to choose the open add-on solution (like WoW actually). Essentially because I highly doubt that their staff will be abble to offer as many possibilities and options as the fan developper community does, even with the better intentions and the more talented guys in the world ;)

  9. JackTheBlade says:

    I’m hoping from a tanking prospective that they allow extra customization. Especially for leading operations. Threat meters, metrics and raid/operations awareness operations are a huge part of how high end players shape their game, hone their skills and make their team better. Is it great to go blind and just tear through and instance with no idea what could happen? Sure.

    But to those of us who enjoy playing these games at a high level and pushing our abilities and those of our team to the very highest levels… Add one give us tools to fine tune our rotations, skills, explore mechanics and work better as a team. As a former progression raid leader and WoW MT I used those tools to quantifiable improvements in what we did so that as a team all my players got better and knew what was expected from them. Why have a game this deep and complex without the tools to understand it and excel?

    • JackTheBlade says:

      Auto-correct on iPhone is the bane of my existence

    • You have some very good points, totally agree with you. It’s not fun fighting against a poorly designed UI, the UI should complement the player and it should be the game itself that is supposed to be difficult!

      • I wish more people understood this. Being able to execute an ability should not be part of the challenge in an mmo, it should be a variety of things such as which ability to even use, energy management..etc. I shouldn’t feel like I should have to type in an 8 digit code as fast as I can to get the ability I chose to use 9 seconds earlier.

  10. I actually prefer the idea of the default user interface being sufficient enough for all of the demands that users have for the UI for raiding. I liked having all the customization offered through addons in WoW but I felt that there was just too much customization at some points. It was always such a pain and very very very time consuming trying to set up a lot of the addons in the way that I liked them because they had hundreds of different ways to change a single part of the UI. I hated it so much that I eventually gave up on setting up my own UI and just started using the UI compilations that people post and sticking with them, even if I didn’t like how they had a certain part of the UI set up. Being able to have the default user interface equipped with some customization options, such as enable, disable, scale, and move, would be awesome and save me from the horrors of spending a few hours just to set up your UI to play a game.

  11. Grinstone says:

    I agree with JediHealer, JackTheBlade, and ZXRGhost.

    Allowing fan created addons will unquestionably add to the game and lead to improvements the devs may not have thought of or seen. They can also make playing the game a better experience. On the other hand, once you start it’s hard to stop. It is a major annoyance to have to update a slew of addons after certain patches. It’s like having apps on a smartphone. Do you need all those apps? No. Are you going to get rid of them? No.

    Certainly, not all addons are a positive addition and, as with any tool, addons can be abused. I always thought that ‘gear score’ was a terrible idea. It’s made for excluding people rather than including them. Though DPS/Healing meters are also controversial, I’ve mostly tried to use them as a guideline to judge performance. If I see others posting numbers over 9000 (!!!) and I’m sitting at around 7500, I know I should start looking into how I can make up the difference.

    After all these years of seeing what’s been going on in WoW, with its basic UI versus all the addons people commonly use, it would be disappointing if TOR’s UI didn’t have an impressive set of features out of the box.

    • Well said, and I totally agree. There are areas that just should never be touched with addons, remember AVR and AVRE?

      • Grinstone says:

        Whoa.

        No, I had no idea that such addons existed. That’s such a revelation. I did not know that football coaches played WoW!

        • I bet there are more than one football coach who play WoW!
          While those addons was crossing the line, it is still to this date the coolest thing I’ve seen someone code among the addons. He wrote an entire 3d engine!

          • Grinstone says:

            Addons like that make me wonder what people expect from a game. Sure, some of the fights in WoW could get tricky and you had to learn them, but this? What’s next, commentators that provide a live blow-by-blow of the encounter?

            “Oh, Daisychain stood in the fire again. After the warning he got from his raid leader last week that’s sure to cost him some major DKP.”

            All due respect to the person for doing all that work, especially if his guild put it to good use, but dang…

  12. I am torn on this subject, see good and bad points to the discussion.

    As a former wow healer (and tank and dps) I found certain add one to be a lifesaver. An add on to change the elements of the user interface was a must. The way the default UI was set up made the game almost impossible for me to use. Bartender was a must have. It didn’t give me any additional information that wasn’t in the game and it didn’t even change the way the information was given. Just the ability to change where that information was located. I like the ability to move my raid frame around but I would love and almost need the ability to move other things around as well.

    The example in the artical and comments are a good reflection of this need. Maybe it is because I am left handed so i don’t want most of my Information on the left side of the screen and in the center (way swtor looks) but rather most things on the right side and center. Almost a mirror image of the default. Will this make me unwilling to play? No. But it will make things less fun and more stressful.

    I wish they would allow movement of the UI elements. They did this for rift and that was the one thing I loved about that game. One simple thing made add one unnessicary for me. It allowed both righties and lefties to set up how they want.

    As far as non GUI add one I really don’t want to go back to those personally. I hated having to use things like DBM, omen, and recount. As a serious raider and a raid lead they were basically required to play. Not only was patch day a nightmare but I also felt that blizzard started designing encounters around the idea that everyone had these addons. Personal pet peeve of mine that if something was required to play a game it should be included in the game.

    As far as things like healbot. I tried them out but at requests from guildies I went back to “naked healing”. They didn’t help me at all. I became one of those healers who stared at heal bars and died in fire. I don’t like them but to each his own. Maybe it is because I drive a stick shift in real life (husband hates the fact that he can’t drive my car, he never learned stick, but i can drive his automatic just fine). I am really hoping these are optional if ever implemented in the game.

    TL/DR I want to be able to rearange my GUI (bartender like add on), I don’t want things like dbm to be required (takes the fun out of the game), and I’m indifferent to healbot (don’t care for it personally, but let the automatic drivers have their cars, I will stick to a manual transmission).

    • Grinstone says:

      The though crossed my mind but I didn’t mention that certain addons started to feel as though they were required or that aspects of the game seemed to be tuned around them. The reason I chose not to mention it is that it’s very difficult to show that an addon is actually required.

      Does it help with raiding and make it easier? Sure. But easier is a far cry from required. If DBM or its like had never existed in WoW people would have made do without it.

      Fun off topic fact: in France, there are different licenses for driving automatic and manual transmission cars. That means that if you pass the driving course on an automatic you get a license that only authorizes you to drive automatics. It does not allow you to drive manual transmission vehicles. If you pass the course on a stick shift you get the “full” license.

  13. Meathooks says:

    I’ve got some varied opinions on UI and several add-ons.

    When I played WoW, I definitely hated the default interface. So things like Bartender were great, allowing me to move action bars, the mini-map, target frame, etc… I think Rift did a great job with their customizable UI, and would really like to see something similar integrated for SWTOR. Some other nice add-ons were things that allowed you to quickly and efficiently use skills that were otherwise tedious, like PallyPower for buffs (although after Cataclysm Pallies didn’t really need it).

    I’ve always hated the add-ons that would end up being used as a means of “rating” a player. Namely, GearScore and Recount. GearScore I completely disagree with, and see absolutely no use for it, other than to keep players from participating heroics/raids. Recount on the other hand, is a nice add-on for personal improvement, but when it’s used as a tool to see who messed up or wasn’t pulling their weight, it makes the game more like work and not play (it is a game afterall).

    Part of my dislike for several add-ons is because of my desire to not clutter my screen. I like to see all cool stuff going on in a VIDEOgame, I don’t want to look at ugly bars and numbers bouncing all over the place. I do understand the usefulness of such things, it just detracts from my gaming experience. If I could have an add-on that would give me the information I need, without looking like it doesn’t belong on my screen, I guess I’d be happy with that.

    So, I guess I’m for and against add-ons. I’d prefer it if the design team could implement a nice-looking customizable UI, with options to enable things similar to HealBot or threat meters that actually look like they’re part of the game. However, if that will truly detract from development of actual gameplay, I can deal with player made mods and add ons.

  14. Maybe they could give players who wished to develop addons a framework to test and submit addons via a test server. The developers could evaluate and release these best and most useful ones as patch content. This would reduce the flood of duplicates and provide only the best and most useful to the game. They could reward winning submissions with free game time or special in game items to encourage those with the skill. Creative players with an interest in developing the game would in a sense be part of the growth and be able to take some pride in game for their hard work. I can’t even tell you the name of one individual who developed any of the WoW addons I used for years. I’m guessing these guys put in some serious time and hard work and what better way to encourage and reward them for that hard work through recognition, in game rewards etc..

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