The search for the perfect interface with World of Warcraft is much like the search for pink Elekks: both are goals that really only exist in your mind. The highly customizable WoW interface leads users towards finding a balance of changes to suit their needs. With that customization, however, comes an onslaught of choices that players have to make about how their game looks. And that tyranny of choice can sometimes be overwhelming.
I’ve received a lot of requests on Twitter to share my UI and keybindings for PvP. I totally understand why people ask this; seeing how other players function inspires me in trying to optimize my interface with the game, of trying out new things, of thinking of ways to arrange functions that work better than the default, and better than what I have now. I know I can always improve my layout. Maybe looking at mine will help you with yours.
TL;DR version: this is my UI. There are many others like it, but this one is mine.
Any consideration of UI should really start with the very basic elements of the user’s interface, starting with the input devices. My UI is completely based upon the limitations of my computing setup, where I play, and how I control my characters. Your UI should take your setup into account, too.
I play on a laptop in various locations around the house — sometimes on a desk, but often in bed, at the kitchen table, or on a couch watching football. Here is my black Macbook and Logitech trackball:
I don’t know what your setup is like, but mine is space-constrained. I do not have a numberpad, or extended keyboard. I have a small screen (13″) so space is at a premium. I have a touchpad, but vastly prefer the trackball for Warcraft, mostly because the trackball allows for easy right-clicking. The touchpad requires an Option-Click and that is cumbersome, both in terms of time and muscle strain.
I know most players don’t like trackballs, and that most players prefer to not play on laptops. But that’s okay! I’ve got what I’ve got. Yes, there are a lot of sleek rigs, cool mice and great keyboards out there. If those are your thing, try them out. For me, with all the locations I play in, an external keyboard is not possible. While the trackball is not something I like lugging around the house, I found the cramping in my hands and difficulty in moving without it to outweigh the extra weight. So the trackball goes with the laptop now.
Be honest with yourself when assessing your input methods, and don’t worry so much that the devices are holding you back until proven otherwise.
Before I show a single screenshot of my UI, I need to talk about keybinding. My UI doesn’t make any sense without knowing how my keys are mapped out. The title of this article gives away that I am an avid keybinder. I bind everything that could be useful in combat to a key; there is very little clicking when I fight. Some people can click icons effectively in combat — I am not one of them. I think the improved reaction time you get from keybinding is essential to success in battlegrounds, Arena, and most PvE encounters, too.
I play with my left little finger resting on the tab key and my right hand on the trackball. (Yes, I tab target, I used to play affliction.) The tab key provides an anchor for me to put three fingers on the 1, 2, and 3 keys, and my thumb on the space bar. The following picture lays out degrees of movement required to hit certain keys.
Essentially, I consider my WoW keyboard as a one-handed input device, all radiating out from the Tab key. Here’s how I think of each zone.
- Dark red (Tab, 1-3, Q-E, Space) are no motion at all (or very little motion) and are therefore my primary action keys. On my warlock, these are things like Immolate, Incinerate, Conflagrate. I am hammering these keys EVERY combat.
- Pink keys require minor reach, and so are filled with useful spells and abilities. These will usually see some use in most combats.
- Orange keys I can stretch to reach but don’t have to leave the Tab key, so they are more infrequent items.
- Yellow keys require me to lift off of the Tab key and are infrequently-used abilities.
- Blue keys are system keys and not used in combat.
- White keys are movement keys, used as backup and for special modifiers (mounting, autorun).
This layout evolved from my original setup, which used the arrow keys to move and 1-10 to cast. The left hand became my primary casting hand, while my right hand would move with the arrow keys. (, and . were originally bound to strafing, actually.) With the introduction of the trackball I realigned the keyboard for one-handed use, and only use two hands when typing text.
Once I had the keyboard divided into zones, I quickly noticed that I did not have enough room to bind all my abilities and the default system commands. This was a big challenge for me to overcome; I couldn’t accept that it wasn’t necessary to have the PvP pane keybound, for instance. The ASDW movement keys stuck around for a long time, but eventually, the need to have keys available won out. You only really need a few system functions available. Experimentation helps determine what ones you really need.
The hardest part of keybinding is not the honest assessment of your input devices and how you interact with them, honestly. Organizing and mapping out your keys is the most daunting part of the process. Trying to organize them logically is tough. Dual specs make it tougher, since now the same character can have two different keybinds.
And alts? Trying to map out the keys on my alts made me cry.
The keys to managing all this is priority and consistency. Priority is grouping your most important spells where your fingers are, and consistency is keeping similar functions in similar locations across characters.
Prioritization is very class-specific, and I’ll go into my warlock mapping in a little bit. Consistency, however, is something that is independent of class and can be achieved by sticking similar things similar places on your keyboard. So I use a standard way of mapping the keyboard to the screen, no matter what character it is:
There are, essentially, three full action bars worth of keys here.
- Red keys are the top action bar on screen.
- Pink keys are the middle action bar on screen.
- Orange keys are the bottom action bar on screen.
- Yellow keys are “stance keys” off to the side of the screen.
- White keys are not displayed on screen.
You can use the default UI to do this mapping, but I prefer Bartender because it allows me to essentially provide a visual representation of the full keyboard on my screen, like this:
This is actual size, which means these buttons are all but unclickable. I display this so that I can remember my “yellow” key mappings, and to give me a visual representation of the global cooldown.
Could I get away with hiding this? Probably, on my warlock. I do swap out some keys (-, =, p) if I need to have a quest item, bomb, or RP-GG keybound, but in general I have this list memorized. But then I wouldn’t be consistent between characters. And I like seeing the GCD spin.
Here’s the breakdown for those who would like to know more.
- Red Keys (fingers at rest)
- 1: Attack Macro — Immolate, Chaos Bolt, Conflagrate, Incinerate x5
- 2: Incinerate
- 3: Conflagrate
- Q: Nuke Macro — Chaos Bolt, Immolate, Conflagrate, Incinerate x5, [alt] Soul Fire
- W: Pet Special Ability, [nopet or alt] Drain Mana
- E: Shadowfury
- Pink Keys (one step removed, frequent use):
- 4: Fear
- 5: Life Tap
- R: Death Coil
- T: Demonic Circle: Teleport
- A: Medic Macro — Healthstone / Health Potion / Lifeblood / Demon Armor
- S: OH SH_T Macro — Every Man For Himself, Lifeblood
- D: Buff Macro — Shadow Ward, [shift] Detect Invisibility, [alt] Unending Breath
- F: Bandage Macro — Heavy Frostweave Bandage
- `: Smart Mount/Dismount (shared with ,)
- Z (not shown): Fel Armor/Soul Link Buff Macro
- X (not shown): Demon Armor/Soul Link Buff Macro
- Orange Keys (two steps removed, stretch):
- 6: Howl of Terror
- 7: Drain Soul
- Y: Demonic Circle: Summon
- U: Rain of Fire
- G: Curse of Elements, Corruption x6, [alt] Curse of Agony
- H: Shadowflame
- Yellow Keys (must leave Tab to reach):
- 8: Drain Life
- 9: Drain Mana
- 0: Food
- -: Wand
- =: RP-GG/Seaforium/Net
- Delete: Reverse camera view
- I: Inferno
- O: Banish
- P: Hellfire
- [: Firestone Macro
- ]: Create Healthstone
- \: Toggle Vent
- J: Shadow Bolt
- K: Fishing
- ;: Fel Domination, Summon Demon
- ‘: Heal Pet/Consume Shadows [Voidwalker]
- White Keys (non-combat:)
- L: Quest Log
- C: Character Pane, [shift] Currency Tab
- V: Social Pane, Guild Tab
- B: Open Backpack, [shift] Open all bags
- N: Talent Pane
- M: Map
- ,: Smart Mount/Dismount
- .: Autorun
- /: Chat
- Arrow Keys: Movement
You may find some of my Warlock Macros post helpful in understanding what I mean when I have multiple functions assigned to each key.
THE RED ZONE
One of the trickiest things about dual-specs is keeping the keybindings consistent between your different specs. I try to keep everything consistent, except for the Red keys (1-3, Q-E), which I’ll dub the Red Zone. I’m fortunate in that I have two extremely similar specs (one is Destro PvP, the other Destro PvE), which is pretty straightforward to switch between.
There are only a few differences here:
- W: Pet Special is replaced by Curse of Doom. This is because PvE Destro relies upon the Imp, who does not need his special abilities mapped.
- E: Shadowfury is replaced by Rain of Fire. My PvE build doesn’t have Shadowfury, and I use Rain of Fire all the time in instances.
- J: Shadow Bolt is replaced by Soulshatter. Soulshatter has no use in PvP, and there’s little need for a Destro lock to ever throw a Shadow Bolt in an instance. (There is ALWAYS a better spell I could cast.)
I really try to maintain consistency between the different specs, especially in the Red Zone keys. Even though E changes to a different spell, it’s still an AoE spell. I don’t have to retrain my muscle memory to do something different, if I want to hit a lot of mobs I hit E. And W is still a special attack, just a curse I don’t use very often. (Curse of the Elements sees a lot of use in my PvE play.)
You’ll notice something else in this example: I don’t unmap U from Rain of Fire. While it would free up a key for something else, I don’t want to have to relearn keys outside my Red Zone. (The J Soulshatter/Shadow Bolt switch is my only exception here, and it’s not one I sit well with. I just couldn’t rationalize putting Soulshatter in a PvP build, and occasionally I need to fling a Shadow Bolt at a fire-immune mob while questing. But this doesn’t sit easy with me.)
Radically different dual specs present an interesting challenge. Limiting the changes to the Red Zone helps keeps them manageable, because you can focus on grouping actions together.
I don’t have a screenshot of it anymore, but Affliction looked like:
- 1: Curse of Agony, Corruption
- 2: Haunt, Unstable Affliction
- 3: Drain Soul, [alt] Drain Life
- Q: Shadow Bolt
- W: Pet Special
- E: Seed of Corruption
These keys and macros, with appropriate timers and resets, allowed me to keep a boss fully dotted up with a minimum of changes. I could spam AoE with seeds on E, and execute at 25% life with Drain Soul with 3.
The key to maintaining my sanity between the two, though, was keeping everything else exactly the same. Yes, that meant I had Drain Soul in two places. But it also meant that I could switch between the two without having to relearn the entire keyboard.
I love my Red Zone keys.
Now that I’ve gone on entirely too long about my keyboard bindings, let me talk about moving my character around. I’m a trackball user. It works like a 4 button mouse, so I can run, change camera positions, and strafe, all with different combinations of keys. I’m right handed, so it is easier for me to strafe left (using my thumb) than strafe right (using my pinky).
I still have the arrow keys bound for movement. I used to use them all the time, but I honestly don’t think I’ve touched them in months. Mounting and dismounting quickly is very important in battlegrounds, which is one reason I have it in the Red Zone (`) as well as near the arrow keys (,). I do use Autorun (.) a lot while doing dailies, especially while flying… but it’s dangerously next to my dismount button. This has led to some unfortunate hilarity.
Perhaps I should do something about this?
After all this discussion about keybinding, you’re probably expecting my UI to be a carefully planned out minimalist work of art. It’s not. Actually, it probably looks a lot like yours. Playing on a 13″ screen has drawbacks. You have only a little space to put a lot of information that is dynamically changing. Your needs for one kind of fight might be different than another; certainly I wish I had less information in PvE and more information in PvP.
As I’ve been writing this post, I realize how much a work-in-progress my UI is. Even now I see things I want to change, to reconfigure, to take out, to add…
Enough excuses. This is my screen UI, there are many like it — but this one is mine.
I have two modes, in and out of combat. Out of combat, I display extra bars with Bartender for items that I may need access to:
Oh Bal, you tease. We were just there to help!
When I enter combat, the bars to the left and right fade out completely. I do this to increase visibility and reduce distraction from the flow of numbers on the screen, like so:
(Yes, I normally play in windowed mode.)
Because they do not convey much information to me during a fight, my Bartender icons are very, very small on the screen. The pet bar is right on top of it, but I rarely click it, instead preferring to control my pet with the keyboard.
If you are interested in which addons are used for which feature you see here, I have an annotated version of the combat UI. I’m using the following addons:
In addition to the UI addons listed above, I also use:
As I look at my screen, I see several areas which need improvement.
- Cooldown management and debuff timers are spread across three different addons, each giving me a little different view on what I need to know. I should spend some time consolidating them and making it so that the information is consolidated so I do not waste so much space in displaying it.
- Combat text is in two places. I like the information associated with MikScrollingBattleText, but I also want to know the location of the damage — you can’t hide behind a wall from a Warlock who has dotted you up. I’d like to get the best of both worlds, but don’t know how yet.
- I am still uneasy with different Unit Frame addons. I should try some out, since the default ones don’t convey enough information (and take up a lot of space.)
So, that’s my Warcraft interface. While it’s not perfect — or a pink Elekk — it gets the job done.
But there’s always room for improvement.