So okay, let’s just get this out of the way: I seem to be playing WoW again as my primary MMO. I think it’s partially a retreat into an old familiar friend during a time of much external turmoil, and partially the fact that showing up for the end of an expansion means a bounty of content for us slackers. For whatever reason, it’s happening and I don’t wanna hear no guff about it (although I probably deserve some).
Playing Liore-the-goblin again means healing again, which means addons. This weekend I spent far too much time going through a ton of mods, so I’ll share my findings here for others who might be jumping back into it.
My first idea was to just go with one of the established full UI sets so I wouldn’t have to fuss with things. I was running RealUI back when I quit at the start of Cataclysm (many years ago for non-WoW players) so I figured I would give it the first shot. RealUI is still going strong and has a remarkably better installation and set-up system now. That being said, this minimal UI has gone a little too minimalist to the point where I couldn’t tell if that little green stripe on my user frame meant I was getting rested XP or I had accidentally flagged PVP.
After that I tried the extremely popular ElvUI. This also had a slick installation process, and looked good. I liked the raid frames for ElvUI “out of the box” better than those with RealUI. However, the default font choices are pretty terrible and after some fiddling I decided that I would be more comfortable creating a UI from scratch.
My first attempt at creating unit frames was using Pitbull 4. This addon has not changed a lot since its early days during WotLK, which means the customization is powerful but really obtuse. There are almost TOO many options. Also as of this writing some users are getting serious errors with Pitbull 4 after the patch, which left me feeling less than confident.
The alternative was Shadowed Unit Frames, or SUF. SUF was exactly what I wanted — within minutes I had nice minimal user frames that showed what I wanted to know and ignored what I did not.
Raid frames are also known as “what the healer stares at”, so they’re probably the most important part of my UI. There seem to be three popular options: Grid, Grid 2, and Vuhdo. I used Grid for years back in my serious raiding days (with no complaints), so I decided to try something totally different and go for Vuhdo.
I was a little intimidated when I found this 45 minute (!) video on how to set it up, but after about 15 of those minutes I easily figured out how to make my raid frames do what I needed them to do. I am entirely pleased with Vuhdo.
No experimentation here, I’m afraid. I used to use Bartender back in the day, so I installed Bartender4 first and it still works like a champ.
You can set up how debuffs are displayed on your raid frames through Vuhdo for easier dispelling, but there are plenty of other spots on the screen with buff and debuff information. For that reason I downloaded popular mod Raven, which is supposed to handle these things. I then started it up, looked at the configuration menu, made a little face, and uninstalled it. I am sure it’s a great mod that does an array of lovely things, I just decided that for now I don’t care about advanced buff and debuff handling.
Cast Bars and Timers
I downloaded the mod Castbars only to find that it simply edits the Blizzard cast bar, which means you still can’t move it around on your screen. I went with a custom integrated cast bar with SUF.
The timer and cooldown display in RealUI was by far my favorite part of that compilation and after some research I discovered that it was done by the mod Weak Auras, which didn’t exist back in my day. This mod is so amazingly powerful and flexible that I have no idea how to use it. Fortunately I just had to import these strings by Tales of a Priest. If you’re not a priest, I got nothin’.
Mods I tried that did not make the cut: Titan Panel (info display), MikScrollingBattleText (um, battle text) — I used to love both of these mods but now I feel like they just put way to much useless info on my screen
Mods I tried that did make the cut but I’m sorry about it: Deadly Boss Mods. The timers are still super useful in dungeons and PvP, but getting updated definitions seems like a huge pain if I don’t want to install some Adobe Air nonsense
I am pretty amused by how many of my current UI addons are just updated versions of the exact same ones I used 3+ years ago. The only huge new advancement in mods seems to be Weak Auras, which is too smart for me to use myself.
In early December Steam launched their new Big Picture mode. Designed to be controller-friendly, Big Picture can ostensibly be used on any monitor but its true purpose is to bring PC gaming into the living room and onto your television. Valve has announced their intention to eventually release a “Steam Box” hardware companion to Big Picture, which could be amazing, but in the meantime the new mode’s users are probably early adopters with a closet full of old computer hardware. Clearly, I needed to get in on this.
Installation and Setup
My homemade “Steam Box” is made of hardware from three years ago, but it’s good enough to run everything except the most cutting edge titles. Starting Big Picture itself couldn’t be easier — just make sure your controller is plugged in, install and run Steam, and click the “Big Picture” icon in the top right corner.
The UI is modern and easily navigated with a controller. Big Picture includes a browser and a controller-friendly daisy wheel system of typing, but while it’s easier than hunting and pecking on a virtual keyboard you still won’t want to use it.
Even if you skip the browser completely, don’t put away that keyboard and mouse just yet. Remember our old friend repeated DirectX installations? Just like with regular Steam, whenever you launch a game for the first time you’ll have to go through the DirectX process and that means needing a mouse. (I doubt there’s a good way to fix this, but it does really mess with the otherwise smooth user experience of Big Picture.)
Time to Play
The main appeal of Big Picture for us Steam sale victims, of course, is our existing huge game library. Steam does a good job of sorting out the controller-friendly titles, and in fact seems to err on the side of conservative labelling rather than incorrectly marking a title. (The Walking Dead, for example, is listed as having “Partial Controller Support” although I never once had to pull out the keyboard, while some games like Jet Set Radio don’t list any controller support but work fine with the system.)
I find that precise shooting games suffer from a lack of accuracy with thumbsticks, and that still holds true here. Fortunately, there are a slew of other games in my collection and Big Picture seems particularly kind to platformers and adventure titles.
Making PC Gaming More Social
I initially set up Big Picture in my living room because after a long day of sitting at a desk at work, sometimes I just want to chill out on the couch. I grew up playing consoles, and yet until now I honestly didn’t notice how insulated PC gaming usually is despite the increased use of online multiplayer.
On Christmas Day a few friends were sitting around having some drinks, and I booted up The Walking Dead. (Nothing says “Happy Holidays” like brutally bleak moral choices!) I was more planning on playing it in the background as an alternative to having the TV going, but it quickly wound up being the main attraction. My guests cried out during jump scares and suggested actions when I got stuck. They debated the story choices I made well after I made them, and shouted out the quick time event buttons during the action bits. The Walking Dead is a great game, but I can report that it’s even better as part of a social experience.
Of course TWD is also a pretty cinematic game, but the same sort of thing occured a few days later when I played Hotline Miami on Big Picture. My playing companions were drawn to the television by the bright colors and weird noises, and even without directly participating or even watching it for longer than 10 minutes at a time it was still a more social experience than your average MMO LFG dungeon run.
Playing Big Picture really highlighted to me the holes in the current PC gaming marketplace. There are pitifully few “couch co-op” games, particularly in triple AAA titles. Sure you can grab two controllers and play, say Borderlands 2 with a friend in-person on your XBox, but it’s not natively possible in the PC version. Collections of group mini-games like Mario Party are also quite obviously missing. Assuming Big Picture catches on, I’m hoping some titles appear to help fill in those gaps.
Conclusion: Big Picture is Awesome
There are a number of factors that will affect the success of Big Picture, the most immediate one being the quality and presentation of the hypothetical future official Steam Box. For us folks who either already have or can easily build a living room PC, though, I found the Big Picture service to be easy to use, to have a wide array of controller-friendly games, and most of all to bring an element of social gaming back into the PC genre.
Now that I’m finally getting a handle on how to cleric and which healing specs I enjoy the most (senticars represent!) I can start fussing with the minutia of slightly-less-casual MMO gaming. On the list for this weekend is cleaning out my bank and bags and auctioning anything that I no longer want, but more immediately I indulged in that most ultimate of gamer navel-gazing and customized my UI. RIFT patched in add-ons at the end of 2011 and also added a number of native layout tools, so it was high time for me to sit and ponder what configuation of hotbars really best represented my unique specialness.
It was only after I finished my reorganization that I realized my UI was laid out almost exactly the same now as it was for years in World of Warcraft. I bridled against that at first — stop trying to make everything serious business, Liore! — but after a little pondering I decided that the reason I was attached to this layout was because it was the most comfortable and functional for my playstyle. So dang it, I’m sticking with it.
One of the challenges of being a healer is that our UIs can never be as minimalist as our DPS counterparts. I love minimalism in most everything but when the success of your team weighs heavily on your ability to monitor 5-20 little green boxes, utility trumps it most of the time. There are two UI guidelines that I find quite helpful in games:
1) Is information duplicated anywhere on the screen? There have been plenty of times in WoW when I took a step back and realized that, say, my available bag slots was listed in three different spots in my UI. Are two of your mods showing the same information at the same time? Then, objectively, you’ve probably got them set up wrong or are using the wrong mods for your needs. (The big exception to this that I find is having my player unit frame AND my character’s raid frame up at the same time, although really I should just ditch the former while in raids.)
2) At the most challenging moments of a fight, where are your eyes? Are they where they should be? For example, originally my (default) raid panels in RIFT were off on the left side of the screen. As a result I often found myself trying to navigate tricky movement phases with my eyes glued to off to the left. If the cardinal rule of raiding is indeed “don’t stand in stuff”, then it makes sense to put my critical UI elements somewhere convenient for that goal. For that reason I traditionally put my raid frames right below where my character’s feet usually are. My unit frame and that of my target also gets pulled down from the corner and closer to that critical eye level. Talents that are infrequent but usually cast in combat (a stun, for example) get the top hotbar, while things that aren’t mission critical or already keybound can get stuck at a lower, smaller level (if at all).
Okay, let’s get specific to RIFT here.
The first and best option for customizing your UI in RIFT is simply the built in “Layout” feature, available from the main menu (Esc). With this you can easily move every element on the screen, resize it, and activate/deactivate the panels themselves. In many cases this feature along with RIFT’s extensive Interface Settings will suit most folks, but you can go even further with third party add-ons. There isn’t anywhere near the selection that WoW players might expect, but both Curse and RiftUI have the popular options.
After quite a bit of trial and error, I’m using:
Imhotar’s Bags – Display all bags in one window, sorted by item type. Imhotar’s Bags is stable, feature-rich, and incredibly useful. However the RIFT API does not allow bag add-ons to completely replace the in-game bags, and the result is that this add-on (and all bag add-ons) are slightly unwieldy to use. Worth it though, in my opinion.
Click-Box Healer – If you’re familiar with WoW add-ons, this is RIFT’s version of Grid. I loved Grid. Loved, loved, loved, and while this is still slightly short of Grid’s flexibility (again I suspect due to the limited API) it fills a deep UI need in my heart. Create raid frames and customize a ton of features like colors, frame size, and line of site guide. Add indicators for a selection of buffs and debuffs, and if you like set up your click macros for healing.
BanaAH – Give your auction house a souped up interface, and track auctions on all characters. The AH interface in RIFT is honestly kind of funny lookin’ and awkward, so this is essential if you play the markets much.
RiftCount Meter – The prettiest DPS/Healing meter available. (Please remember that friends don’t let friends be jerkwaffles about meters!)
King Boss Mods – Boss timers and alerts for raids and dungeons. I installed this, feeling like a dutiful raider, but shortly thereafter I took it off again despite it working perfectly and having great reviews. We’re not racing for a progression goal, or competing for a ranking. We’re just a buncha goobers who kill raid bosses once a week, so I think for now I’ll pass and just enjoy winging it.
Below is my current UI. It’s still a little wonky, but I think with some practice and tweaking it’ll be more comfortable for me and will squeeze out a little better performance.
As I mentioned last week, May is Newbie Blogger Initiative month. If anyone is looking for some new reading material, I highly recommend going through the official check-in thread. There are a lot of great new sites! A few stood out as being particularly relevent to my interests, including Kemwer Game Blog, Fun Sponge, and Gaming For Introverts.
Last week I wrote about finding your voice and creating great content, and today I’m going to talk about something technical: creating a podcast to accompany your blog.
There are a lot of great podcasts in the MMO blogging community, from 5 minute rants to epic 2-hour investigations. You can spend a lot of money on hardware and software supplies, and to be frank if you decide that podcasting is something you really love then you probably SHOULD be spending that money. Fortunately, amateur podcasting with a WordPress blog is inexpensive and relatively easy, and a great way to try out your audio chops.
Please keep in mind that I am not writing this from the perspective of a podcasting expert, because that would be a horrible lie. Instead what I am is someone who looked all this stuff up recently, and really in this day and age isn’t asking Google almost the same things as being an expert? Hmmm? Maybe don’t answer that. Anyway, on with the guide!
There are a few resources that you absolutely must have. The first is a microphone. You probably already have this for talking to your guild in-game! The second is access to a program that will record at least you, but also possibly you plus guests. Skype is popular for this, or in my case I use our regular guild Mumble server. The third and final requirement is a storage place online where people can download your podcast once it’s finished. Podcasts aren’t necessarily very large — 25-30 MB for every half hour of recording — so you could get some cloud space or just put it on your website server.
Decide how long your podcast will be and roughly how you want to break down any segments if you have them. If you’re so inclined, write an outline and share it with your guests ahead of time. Keep in mind that you’ll probably want to record for longer than your show time! I record for an hour, and cut it down later to 30 minutes. That gives plenty of extra content if the sound goes wonky or I start to babble about my cats or whatever.
Do you want a theme or some musical interludes? The best source I found for royalty-free music is Free Music Archive. Make sure you check the licensing agreement for individual songs. Obeying the copyright wishes of independent artists is good karma!
Do a quick test to make sure everyone’s microphone is recording. (Mumble in particular allows users to mark themselves as un-recordable, so check!) Run a stopwatch while recording so you can keep track of how well you’re adhering to your segment outline. I like to write my intro and outro bits completely, because otherwise I will end up forgetting something important like who I am or the name of the podcast. Some things you might want to mention is where listeners can find the podcast on the web (ie. talk about your blog!), where they can subscribe, and when you’ll be back with another episode.
Ready? Now create some compelling audio content! *waves hands mysteriously*
Hooray, you have what is probably a big .wav file with a lot of interesting content and some mistakes! That wasn’t so bad, huh?
Now it’s time for post-production magic. Go download two amazing and totally free programs: Audacity and The Levelator. Open your raw podcast file in Audacity. If you haven’t used it before, Audacity is kind of like the Microsoft Word of audio files. You can select bits to cut and paste, insert silence, and so on.
The editing can take a long time. Really the only limitation is how picky you feel like being. I edit out obvious mistakes, gaps, and “Ummmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmm”s, and then also try to pare each segment down to 5 focused minutes. The first podcast took me roughly 10 hours to edit, while the second was done in a svelt 7 hours. Anyway, how much or how little you want to do depends on your raw content and your own preferences. There’s no wrong answer.
Once you’ve finished editing the voice file, save it as a .wav and start up The Levelator. This program runs a number of audio cleaning processes on your file, including adjusting levels and a whole bunch of stuff that I don’t really understand. The important point is that it makes things sound better, and we like that! When it’s done, open the file back up in Audacity. If you want to add music, go to “Edit” and “Add an audio track”. From there you can copy and paste in your music. Check the settings for things like fade out, if you want.
All done fiddling with the audio? Save the file as MP3, which will be a lot smaller than the .wav format.
Sharing your new podcast
Oh snaps, you have a podcast! It sounds pretty and has music and … it’s on your computer desktop. So now what?
First, upload your podcast to your online storage of choice. Decide how you want to integrate it into your blog — for example, I created a “podcast” category on Herding Cats for episodes. You might want to write a few notes to go with your podcast for information such as your theme music and any links you talked about during the episode. Set up a Feedburner feed specifically for your podcast. That will be the URL people can use to subscribe through Google Reader or most mobile podcast apps.
iTunes monitors your podcast through a special RSS feed, and unsurprisingly they can be quite picky about the details of this feed. I avoided the issue completely by installing the PowerPress Podcast Plugin. There are a lot of options with this plugin, so give yourself time to poke around and look at everything. PowerPress will add a media player automatically to your podcast posts, can track your downloads, and formats your iTunes RSS feed for you. (Note: iTunes requires a 600×600 “album cover” graphic, so be prepared for a little graphic design.)
Got PowerPress set up? Before submitting to Apple, test your podcast feed by manually importing it into the Podcast section of your iTunes application. Does the information look good? Can you hear your audio? Sweet! Go to the Podcast page in the iTunes store and select “Submit a Podcast” from the menu on the right. Apple will listen to your podcast before approving it, and it took us about 48 hours before it appeared online.
Voila, you are a blogger AND podcaster! Congratuations, you media maven. :)
The more time that elapses between me and my hardcore raiding days, the more of an MMO luddite I become. I mean, I am an internet nerd who loves working with information streams and optimizing processes, and one of the things I liked about WoW in the first place was the openness of data. How much threat do I have? How much dps was I doing in this particular five seconds of the fight? How much damage does my bubble mitigate on average?
As with a cross-server LFD system, though, while I like the idea of a detailed combat log and damage meters I rarely like the implementation. I had a somewhat heated discussion about this on another site and the argument in favor essentially came down to: “But how will I know when other people are being terrible without damage meters?”. What I didn’t see is a good reason why we all need to be policing each other for poor video game performance.
I mean yes, if you are one of the top ten World of Warcraft progression raiding guilds in the world, then statistics and numbers and performance evalutations are definitely tools of your trade. However, the reason why there are fights with such tightly tuned enrage timers, for example, is BECAUSE players have so much information and are able to min-max to such a minute degree. If a group is able to determine the exact DPS per person needed to kill a boss and enforce it by only bringing players who meet that standard, game developers feel obligated to punish groups that are 1% off that mark.
An end-game without damage meters could not have that degree of finesse, and while it’s not very hardcore of me to say it.. I would be okay with that. Maybe I’m getting old and soft, but I would be interested to see large group content where the keys to success are teamwork, practice, and people who enjoy playing their class and know what they’re doing even if they’re wearing a slightly suboptimal hat because it looks pretty. Not that there should be no place for ultimate min-max raiding, it just doesn’t have to be the overwhelming design ethos.
That all being said while I think hardcore raiding has made damage meters seem like a game requirement, I don’t think these folks and their hobby are actually the problem. The problem is that while it’s reasonable in context for a top 5 world raid leader to examine logs and assist/berate people who are 1% off their target numbers, this attitude trickles down to the pug dictator who starts spamming slurs when someone is performing below maximum expectation in a Baradin Hold random. We, the players, generally don’t seem to know when to stop using game data to beat each other over the head.
Fortunately, I think there are plenty of options for a compromise on this issue. I would like to see personal damage meters, and Bioware has expressed some interest recently in adding that exact thing to SWTOR. I like optimizing my characters and improving how I play them, and my data nerd side would enjoy having access to numbers for this purpose. I also like the idea of a scoreboard shown perhaps at the end of a flashpoint, much like that seen at the end of a warzone. Give me aggregate totals at the end of the session, and not just damage output but healing and damage taken and interrupts and dispels. (Heck, give medals when certain goals are reached, like SWTOR PvP.) Finally, I do think SWTOR needs to add some kind of “cause of death” report to indicate to a player why they died, as some of the fights can get pretty chaotic.
I’m not saying that everyone should be forced to play with Willy The Window-Licking Melee Hunter, but there are certainly ways to tell when someone is doing nothing (no movement or casting, or extremely delayed response times) or perhaps is not sure what to do (running the wrong direction, standing in the ranged pack shooting as a melee class). To go back to the original question, without damage meters will you know when someone is doing 15% less DPS than they optimally could be? Nope! Probably not even a little bit.
And I am perfectly comfortable with that in SWTOR.
Still here! Still raiding, still rocking things in the face until they die in RIFT. Plus I have a copy of Dragon Age II burning a hole in my Steam library.
If things go well we should have a Nef kill tonight or next week. We’ve got Phase One down smooth. It’s mostly about positioning, and the bulk of the work in that department is done by the Onyxia tank. We have a 40% success rate for P2 right now, I’d guess. There are two issues: interrupts, as a missed one = blast wave = more work for healers already on the brink, and jumping on that stupid pipe.
Can I just say here that I HATE JUMPING PUZZLES? Hate. I sucked at Mario back in the day, I sucked at the jumpy levels of Doom and Quake, and I suck at jumping on the freaking column in Nef. As someone who takes their own contribution to the raid quite seriously, nothing is more disheartening than bobbing up and down in the lava, slowly watching everyone die.
Our few P3 attempts have given me the impression that it’s quite reasonable, although it will take a bit of practice.
And yes, for those regular readers, after a disastrous first few attempts I do give healing assignments. (And the raid leader has a spreadsheet for pillar teams, but that is why he is the raid leader and I just talk about dessert in healy chat a lot.)
Anyway, that is not the reason I am posting! I am posting to say that I have started up a new website thingy with a focus of gaming, genre* movies, and geek-related internet oddities. It lives at prolixity.org, and y’all are welcome to go read things and click buttons and stuff. Thanks!
* “genre”, for those unsure, means horror, fantasy, sci-fi, exploitation, and those other subjects that you never see at the Oscars.