Oct 11, 2011

Posted by in Halls Of Healing | 33 Comments

Halls Of Healing: The Healer, The User And The Interface – Part 2

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!

Last week in part 1, we had a look at the User Interface in The Old Republic and the importance of it to healers. If you haven’t read part 1 yet I suggest you do so prior to reading this one! Don’t forget to check out the comment section there as well, as there was a lot of great ideas and thoughts on the matter.

This week we will take a closer look at the key features that a good MMORPG healer user interface needs. I apologize for the length of this article, there was so much I wanted to say and didn’t want to split this topic in two. I’ve done my best with the formatting to enable those who want to skim the article quickly, to do so. On with the show…

Interacting with the UI

While all roles interact regularly with their User Interface, the healer does it more so. Both the tanks and the damage dealers interact mainly with the game environment and the enemy they are currently focusing on. So the user interface for them is mainly a source of information and the only real interaction during combat is by pressing the keys bound to their various skills.

The healer on the other hand needs to interact constantly with their User Interface. selecting various targets (friend and foe) for their supportive and restorative skills. Depending on the situation (and the player in question) there is an optimal way in doing just this. For example, after a big damage spike on the group and you need to coordinate healing with a fellow healer, looking directly at your group frames is a good idea since you easily can see who has the lowest health and which group they are in (assuming you have any healing coordination set up, more on this later!) Another example would be if you saw a person running into an area where they are likely to take heavy damage. In this scenario, finding their health bar on frame would be a bad idea. Instead, the better bet is simply clicking on the player in the game world and then casting a targeted skill. The different situations are endless, and to deal with this we need a user interface that is able to cope with all these situations.


“Mouseover” targeting is something most MMORPG gamers are familiar with. It involves casting a skill on someone without having them selected as your current target. I’ve heard countless arguments of how this simplifies the game too much and makes things too easy., My reply to these people is – “Is it really the act of clicking that is what makes healing difficult? Or is it the act of reading the situation, choosing your target and then the appropriate skill?”. For me the answer is obvious. I do not want to have to fight my UI constantly. I want my UI to complement my abilities as a player, not work against them. Being able to simply hold your mouse over the target, whether it be in the game world or the target frame, is important for efficiency and takes nothing away from the difficuly of playing the role.


While I believe mouseover targeting is one of the most useful ways to cast an ability, target healing does have a place in all this as well. There are many situations in where you have to use your mouse to turn your camera around or interact with an object. In these situations it’s very useful to simply use whatever skill you need on your target while you’re using your mouse for something else, which keeps your heals coming even when you need to move. This is important!


Focus targeting can be used for similar things. Changing your Focus target is often more complex than changing your target so it’s often used for a target you will keep healing for a longer time. For example, in the following scenario you are assigned to heal tank A. You would assign him as your Focus, but you also need to heal tank B occasionally, so you select him as your target. Whenever you move you can now easily hit your Focus cast binding to heal tank A, and hit your Target cast binding to heal tank B. All of this is without interacting with your mouse, allowing you to use it for other things.


I’m sure many of you are familiar with macros. If you aren’t, they are user created scripts that can allow your to make things that would’ve been complex more efficient. In World of Warcraft, macros were used heavily by a majority of healers and made the life of binding skills very easy. (Editor’s Note: At this time, we know macros are not going to be in TOR when it ships, unless they surprise us. Part of the purpose of this article is to help highlight their usefulness.)

The absolute most basic macro might look like this. I’m going to use one of the known Jedi Consular skills in this example, the actual macro will be in bold text.

/cast Healing Trance

This would cast the skill Healing Trance on your current target. If you did not have a target it would cast the skill on yourself.

The following macro has conditions added. When one of these conditions is met, it will cast the skill differently than if the condition wasn’t met.

/cast [@mouseover, exists, help][]Healing Trance

This would cast Healing Trance on the target if mouseover exists and that person is friendly (help), if that first condition is not met it will skip to the next which is empty ([]) and works exactly like the first macro example.

These conditions could be combined almost endlessly.

As a final example I will show the actual macro I used in various situations. It’s combining all the different ways of interacting into one simple button.

/cast [@focus, mod:shift, exists, help][@mouseover, exists, help][@tar, exists, help][@tartar, exists, help][@self, nodead][]Healing Trance 

This macro first checks if I have a focus target that is friendly and if I’m holding down my shift button. If it is, it will be cast on my focus target. It next checks for the mouseover example we saw previously. If the mouseover condition wasn’t met, it would check if I had a target that was friendly. Next it checks for if I have a “target of target” that is friendly. This particular condition was very helpful in situations where you have an enemy that is constantly changing target, for example the Solarian encounter in World of Warcraft. The final part is simply a self cast.

This should give you an idea of how macros work if you did not do before, and why it is of such an importance that BioWare implement them into the game if they intend to produce a competitve end-game. A macro system like this will also make up for any flaws that we might see in the User Interface system.

Information displayed in the UI

Apart from interaction, the User Interface has another important purpose – giving you information. A good User Interface will not only give you the correct information about your character, surroundings and more, but will also deliver it in such a way that you won’t have to try to interpret the data at hand, allowing your mind to focus on more important things.

The way to display information in the User Interface depends on the type of data and the importance, but generally there are two types of data: Primary and Secondary. Which is which depends on the situation. For example a debuff would be Primary in a situation where it needs to be dealt with quickly and Secondary in a situation where you don’t. Generally most information is generally more of one than the other, and can be categorized as such.

Primary Information

Primary Information in the User Interface are things like Health Bars, your own Mana Bar, debuffs and skills. All these elements should be placed in such a way that you can easily see it while looking at the center of your screen where your character is.

Unit Frames

The “unit frames” for your group and yourself sre probably the most important part of the entire healer User Interface. It is your key source of information about whether your heals are effective or not, who needs heals, who will need heals and more. Basically everything that has to do with casting a healing skill.

These frames should be displayed in the center of your screen, by my preference below your character, above your Skill Bar. The frames should contain a health bar that is covering the entire frame to make it easier to see the health.

To the right, you can see the Operation frames in Star Wars: The Old Republic. While the energy bar, debuff/buff icons and name are quite small, the actual health bar is covering less than half the frame.

Something that is great about it is that you can see current health numbers. Personally I would prefer to see a negative number showing how much the unit is missing, but I will take what I can get. Another great thing we’ve seen is that the frames fade out when the unit is out of range, this is a great example of excellent User Interface design. It provides good feedback to the user and it’s simple just the way it should be.

Buffs/Debuffs, Casting, Skill, Health & Resource Bars

The Skill Bar is packed with well displayed information. When a skill is on cool-down, it will have a blue overlay that moves downwards as it gets ready for use again. The same graphical display is used for the duration of buffs/debuffs on yourself and your target. Personally I would like a representation with a number on the Skill Icon as well. The Skill Icons fade when they cannot be used, as seen in the screenshot below. There is also the possibility to have Skill Bars at the sides of the screen, for your Skills that are not as important during battle.

The Health & Resource Bars are quite small, compared to the other elements of the UI, but they do not matter as much as the Health Bars on the Raid Frames. Debuffs and Buffs are nicely placed in rows above the Resource & Health Bars.

Overall I’m very satisfied with this particular area of the User Interface.


Secondary Information

Secondary Information are things such as the Mini-map, Portraits, Damage/Healing Meters and more. Basically, everything that you don’t need more than a few times during a battle.

I won’t delve deep into these as generally they aren’t as important and they are done very well in the current User Interface.They are seen along the sides of the UI, the extra Skill Bars, Mini-map, Top Menu and Chat.

Click to embiggen!

Are there any features you would like or don’t like to see in the current User Interface?  Share your opinion on the comments below. We want to hear your opinion!

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

  1. As I stated in last weeks healing article (good read by the way) the main issue I have with the UI is the inability to move the individual frames around.

    For example: in Rift I never felt the need for add ons because the UI was customizable. Could move the frames and resize them to give me the information I needed. However in WoW I had to use the Bartender add on since the base UI was awful.

    The UI for SWTOR is better then the default WoW UI. I will deal with it to play this game. However I am hoping in the near future we will be able to customize the UI of SWTOR, either through the game itself of through a third party add on.

    It isn’t that there is anything glaringly missing from the default UI. But for me the set up is very far from from ideal. Maybe it is because I am left handed. So prefer almost a mirror image of the default or just because I am odd!

    Anyways will still play but know will be more of a struggle then I would like it to be. Here’s to hoping we will be ble to customize it soon!

    Fingers crossed!

    • I agree,Rift´s UI is very nice, all can be moved and palced indivdually. And what I like is the “manual” working of the game. I really have to click and focus when i heal, No addon is telling what to do, showing me the best possible spell… Well we are all difffernt, and it is hard to please all gamers. I like the standard UI of SWTOR, but I really think they should add a function like “edit frames” cause we all play in different ways, and have diff needs. And yes I am left handed too. So Biowere get in touch with the leftorium of Ned Flanders he might have some ideas.
      And said on the side, I dont need macros or mouseovers, had been main raidhealer in a 10 men raiding guild in WoW, and it was fun, without any macro or mouseover. I think the addons also destroy a bit of the flair of the game, cause peoples are mesuring their numbers. Maybe I get old, but its not the nummbers I play for, its the fun, the lore, the people I meet, and the classy endgame. I am really positive about the game, and I think Bio/Lucas are doing a great job. Please let us know about the early game accses, cause I need to let my boss know, when to take my vaccation.

  2. “EA Bioware Mythic” should have some people who can help them with the technical aspects of making a flexible UI from the third part of that official name. Mythic’s WAR had a fully customizable UI. Perhaps it’s more of a design decision then, wanting to keep a certain Star Wars look. Even if SWTOR devs decide to keep some elements of the UI somewhat static (like the hotbars, which really do look pretty good), OK, fine. But unit frames and the general layout should be customizable.

  3. Personally I don’t like mouseover healing, I really hope that it will be possible to heal like with healbot: just click (s-click, a-click, c-click etc.) on the unit frame and certain healings / cleaning would be done.

    • This type of healing is also a very neat way to heal. However, the downside is that it does not work on everything, you have to click on the specific frame for that person, whereas mouseover would work on any element belonging to a certain player.
      Again, it’s all personal, and I love to see people who disagree with me!

    • Having to click on a players name is slightly slower also. If the bosses mechanic drops the groups health to say 10% then you might lose someone before you can get their health back up.

    • How is healbot different from mouseover healing? Its the same thing.

      • The difference lies in Healbot responds to a mouseclick + a form of modifier button such as control, shift and alt. Where as mouseover reacts on simply hovering the pointer over the target and pressing your assigned keybinding.

        • Not really. It depends on how many abilities you have bound to the healbot. It will require modifier keys as well. Healbot is nothing more than mouseover macros..the addon just writes the macro for you.

          • Having the possibility to heal on other areas than just the raidframes is no disadvantage, you usually keep to the raidframes most of the time even with mouseover. But when situations rise up that requires otherwise, you have the ability to do so.

          • Actually looking at one of your macro examples, you can (and I assume do) use modifier keys in “traditional” mouse-over healing, so that is not a difference. And since most “frame-click” addons (Healbot, VuDhu, Grid-Clique, etc) keep the individual frames in a tight group, I find it much faster to use one of these addons as opposed to moving my mouse to the pixels indicating a specific player and using a “traditional” mouseover macro. At most I will have to hold down a “Shift”, “Control”, or “Alt” key as opposed to potentially 2 or 3 keys (like “Alt”-H or “Shift”+”Alt”-H. The only spell that I cannot use my Healbot for on my Resto Shaman is the “Healing Rain” spell simply because it does not target a player, but rather targets a physical area location. Of course I am also a keyboard runner/turner and left handed, so I end up using the “up,down,left, right” arrows on my keyboard between the letters and numeric keypad (no strafing possible in that case)

        • So instead of keeping your mouse in a confined space like Healbot you have to move it about screen to the players health?

          • I am not sure you guys have healed before. You use macros with raid frames…same as healbot. Healbot just has the raid frames built in to the addon. Using macros to heal is exactly the same as using raid frames and mouseover macros, there is really no difference at all.

            I would say the biggest difference that I notice is that when there are large patches you healing addons such as Healbot may need to be updated and may not actually work for several days, macros are usually unaffected.

          • This.

            And also the fact that whenever you need to heal something that is not in your group you don’t need another keybind. With macros it works for everything. Addon, only for that addon =)

          • Ralphwiggum says:

            Mouseover macros are phenomenal for a few reasons. It’s nice to be able to hover over the person you actually SEE who has a giant targeting laser pointed at them and start priming a big heal. Sometimes there are visual cues that don’t show in the raid frames and your macros work great for this.

            One of the biggest reasons though is that unlike addons, macros do not break with patches. They tend to be the more elegant solution. If I had a dollar for every time I heard a healer reload their game during a pug raid because healbot broke, I would be a very rich man.

  4. Grinstone says:

    Good read.

    I agree that being able to move elements of the UI around on the screen is a minimal level of customization that any game should have. It’d be almost shocking to discover that in an MMO today something like the Bartender addon is a must-have.

    I disagree that macros have anything at all to do with whether the end-game is competitive or not. The end-game either will or will not be fun and engaging. Yes, macros may allow you to tweak the game to better suit your healing preferences. Allow you to weak the end game to better suit your preferences? Not so much.

    If they do include macros then I expect to see extensive documentation on how to use them and, ideally, a collection of ready made macros that I can essentially plug and play. It was incredibly frustrating in WoW that, when I did want to explore macros a bit, the available help didn’t extend much beyond “Type /macro”. A classic case of engineers forgetting that the world is not populated by engineers.

    The few times I did use macros in WoW I did not find that they had a positive impact on my quality of life/play. That’s not to say that they were bad, only that for me they were not useful to the extent that I did not revert to using the basic spells. Presumably that has to do with how I approach my gameplay.

    • You have some very good ideas.
      I agree that macros won’t directly impact end-game content. However if they do not add macros and do not make any user interface changes it will be a not so functional UI as it could have, which indirectly will lead to the game overall to be slightly more difficult.
      Addons/UI changes etc. may not have a direct impact for the more advanced player, but for someone who is new or not as adaptive player will find these things helpful in most cases.
      Basically, anything that makes the game easier for the majority, will allow the devs to make the game and it’s content harder for the majority. This will I believe lead to more engaging and difficult content in the future.

      • Grinstone says:

        I do see the attraction macros can have for people. I might possibly have made more or better use of them myself, but I can be stodgy when it comes to such things. Then again, as I said, I managed well enough without macros. If I’d been more interested in hardmode/heroic/progression raiding my tune might be different.

        The flip side of the coin is the argument that if the game is well designed, you won’t need macros. You’d be able to adjust your options to switch preferences between mouseover and click healing as easily as moving elements of the UI across the screen.

        Upon further examination I can say that my main frustration with macros is that my game play experience should not be negatively impacted based on how well or poorly I can design a macro, or how well someone else can design and use a macro. At that point this also starts flowing into the addon argument: should the game be balanced around addons people use?

        If the answer at any point is yes, then these need to cease to be optional features and become integral to the game.

      • In general I’m against macros. Why? Well, without extensive documentation available to all to ensure a level playing field you’ve create a barrier. Those healers with scripting/macro/programming backgrounds will be fine. Those without will be force to google to see what others have done. And even then there will never a level playing field since the the truly elite engineers (note I didn’t say healers) will save the best for themselves.

        In principle the idea of macros is about making the UI and healing experience simpler. But the problem is that a natural barrier is created and the net effect is not something that ” makes the game easier for the majority”

        Yes, macros “will allow the devs to make the game and it’s content harder for the majority.” And would “lead to more engaging and difficult content in the future.” However, my position is that the cost is too high.

        I agree with an earlier comment. If the game and UI is well designed this isn’t an issue.

        • Macros does not necessarily need to be through scripts though, If they did it in an intelligent way it does not need to be very complex. For example dropdown menus selecting which skill to be used, different conditions etc. And perhaps some “predefined” setups to get you started.
          Something I mentioned in another comments aswell, being able to share your macros directly inside the game would be awesome too.

          I agree that they should not implement too many features that alienates parts of the community, but they need to invent something to fill this whole if they choose to not implement a macro system.

          • That approach would address my concern. And given how BW handled Workflows (or AI for companions) in DAII I have faith. As someone who works with workflow engineering as a part of the consulting I do I was REALLY impressed with that feature. Taking that idea to build macros through a GUI, making it obvious and wizard-centric would be acceptable. This could be easily documented and you wouldn’t need a background in scripting.

            Now the question is – will there be the demand for this and will BW be swayed. Interestingly, it’s not just healers that want macros. PvPers do too. If BW is serious about retention I get the feeling that there’s a strong argument for including them. My only hope is that it’s done so in an accessible manner. Come on BioWare, don’t fail me now…

  5. Meathooks says:

    It’s true that a good UI is most useful for a healer. But tanks, like myself, who prefer not to use easy-mode add-ons, need to pay quite a bit of attention to specific cues that let us know what to do. A lot of that comes from watching our UI. Whether it’s a threat percentage attached to a target frame or a party member’s health bar dropping when it shouldn’t be, some of that goes into a tank being able to respond accordingly.

    Aside from that, I think SWTOR will be the first time I try out playing a healer, partially due to Reedyn’s Halls of Healing posts (very interesting reads so far!), and also due to the fact that it can make me a better tank. I really like using macros and certain add-ons as it makes things less stressful and more enjoyable during gameplay (and games should be enjoyable). So I’m totally with the idea of a UI working for you and not against you.

    I haven’t been reading askajedi for too long, so I’m not sure if this exists, but is there a series based on tanking on the site? I’d find that extremely interesting. It’s still nice to read Halls of Healing though, as tanks and healers are tied together so closely.

  6. firstly nice read,

    this has been a debate in our guild for a while with lots of various views.

    i used addons in wow, some it hink are good, things that give you information like threat meters and recount damage meter, where they enable you to try and test different specs. others though that make the raids easier by big warning signs saying MOVE fire ball incoming (as an example) make the game easier and are not needed in TOR, the games have tell tail signels to warn you of invoming dangers which you are meant to look out for, having a horn blair out with a gian warning is just making it to easy, so i would not like these types of addons in TOR.

    mouse over healing i think is a great idea as it means the healer can look out more at the fights and what is happening instead of spending 75% of the fight watching the bars go up and down, not very epic imo.

    i like the way they have the UI currently and if i remember correctly you can move it about how you like it, cant you?

    i will be trying to heal in TOR (used to tank in most other MMO’s) fancy a change, keep up the good work

  7. Much as I value them and with respect modern MMO’s, add-ons are a bandaid fix for deficiencies in UI / UIX.

    Complex macros are impressive but only a tiny fraction of players ever use, let-alone understand them. That in itself isn’t a reason to support them – the need for players to invest in them however is a problem as is the imbalance they introduce between what I’ll over-simplify as the ‘haves and have-nots’

    Add-ons also introduce a performance tax, keep in mind one of the chief goals of an MMO is to allow a great range of computers to participate – where add-ons are available and well developed, their value makes them a requirement.

    When Omen first came out my raiding peers were still in thrall to DPS meters, I tried unsuccessfully to convince them of it’s value – threat really wasn’t a huge issue at the time.
    See what happens if a guild finds you not running it – with good reason though, it’s the only clear feedback players have of critical information. This however is an issue the game devs should address if they’re doing their jobs – clear and able feedback for critical interactions – UI development 101.

    A huge number of guilds have for years had *required* mods, not the least of which is DBM and its predecessors / variants – hugely resource heavy and for the most part beyond the control of the Devs.
    Same thing goes for Auctioneer (and the other auction add-ons) – I personally think their base functionality should be a standard feature of auction houses, again because it is so valuable and because the use of auction addons facilitates what is effectively another kind of caste of ‘haves and have-nots’.

    Mods are great, but the balance issues are far-reaching and ultimately, they shouldn’t be necessary at all if game-makers are doing their jobs properly.

    • Good comments.

      My thought on this though is that no developer, or entire staff of developers can think of every possible user interface detail and get it right, especially at the start.

      Letting the hivemind of the player base, many of whom are extremely intelligent and ingenious, not to mention potential developers or other UI professionals in other industries, they can think of things in a different way playing the game 4 hours a day (which the devs do not.)

      The beauty for healers (or anyone) of having and embracing an open API and macros like Blizzard and some others have is that the players who want to can take advantage of it, and produce tools for those that don’t or can’t.

      • This. And there actually came a fix for the “do haves and don’t haves” people from the community in the form of full custom UIs you could simply download and extract and you were done. It was very simple and in most cases gave all the key features.

        Preferably I would want them to design their API in such a way that it’s very easy to share UIs between accounts than build the features into the core UI.

  8. JediHealer says:

    Excellent article! I think you said everything that has to be said about the UI :p
    Hope Bioware will take count of our expectations… ;)

  9. Thanks for starting a great discussion. I’ll be rolling a Sawbones Scoundrel because Bandage-spec Rogue!

    I’m worried about target picking without macros or mods. Targeting is the healing killjoy. Tanks and DPS usually target once and pound attacks until that target is down. Healers need to change targets on almost every single GCD and THEN cast a heal on the target. (good question: Is there a Global Cool Down in SWTOR?)

    The out-of-box way to heal in WoW is to click a name plate and cast a heal and it is awful. No one would ever design a healing tool like that. Even novice healers start using macros right away if only to bind a macro to target a specific party member to a specific key.

    I foresee a lot of sad healers if there isn’t a way to do mouseovers, onclicks, targets. I know there is a ton of work to be done on Bioware’s part to protect the game from a macro interface, but I hope it gets sorted quickly.

    Thanks again!

    • That is exactly the reason why I’m also going Sawbones at launch, rogue + healer = win ;D
      There is indeed a global cooldown in SWTOR. You can actually see it being in effect on the second screenshot. All the skills that are “usable” and aren’t already on cooldown is sharing a cooldown, the global cooldown =)

  10. Great article, i would like to see some functionality like Bartender or Dominos offers, where you can fast bind your keys by just pressing on the buttons that you want to have, I.E 1 through 9 to make it easier for us with key pads.

    But also like the others have mentioned to fully customize the UI, minimizing buttons change their placement, I for example have my Vudho (wow healgrid ) in bottom center, to have as much screen area as possible.

  11. I have played each healing class to level 11-12 and run them through the first Flash point, and the biggest problem I have is targeting/healing a party member’s companion. As far as I can tell, they dont show on the UI anywhere. This is especially challenging when the companion is tanking! Any suggestions?

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