A lot of any user interface is personal preference. However there are a number of factors that are universal and that you should consider no matter what your preferences are. I have had professional experience with the design of aircraft cockpit displays and one of these days I want to talk more in depth on the subject of ‘human factors’. But for today I will keep it confined to tanking.
Before I go into what to clutter your screen up with I should mention the importance of having an uncluttered. Think about your display as having two ‘layers’ The first layer is the world. It is everything out there that you see in game. If you turn on movie mode you will see nothing but this layer. Take a good look.
Everything you add to this view does two things. They give you more information , options or convenience and they cover up some of the ‘world layer’. This is the great UI trade off. The more you add the more you take away. That is, the more things you add to your user interface layer the less of the world you can see.
You have to ask yourself if the utility of what you are adding is worth the lost visibility. Often it is and often it is not.
In addition to covering up the world everything you add to your user interface will distract you with bits of information or fluff. Bars and indicators and scrolling text, all of that is vying for your attention. Your brain has the capability to take in an incredible amount of information. As you ad more, however, you will slowly degrade how well you can focus and comprehend. This is subtle. It creeps up on you over time. This is like a frog in a pot who does not jump out when the heat is turned up slow. One day you wake up and your brain is boiled…er I mean you realize your display is super cluttered and your performance in the game is suffering.
Some add-ons can actively get in the way. Tool tips, chat windows, automatic buttons and automation options, many things can get in the way of your mouse clicks actively and passively. So in addition to making it harder to SEE the world, they can make it harder to interact with it.
Those are three big things to keep in mind when adding things do your interface: Visibility, distraction, interference. In addition to those considerations there is also ‘confusion’ and ‘learning curve’ but I will not get into those here.
So, now that we got that out of the way… what DO you need to add to the bare world in order to tank.
Target Health bars
Press ‘v’ and get those health bars over the targets. This is handy stuff. Yeah they can clutter things up. Don’t be afraid to toggle them on and off if they are blocking something. But it is VERY handy as a tank to have instant visibility to the health levels of every target near you.
I don’t use it. Too much information that is not useful. I don’t need to know how big each of my hits are. Scrolling combat text, while nifty, is a superb way to fill your screen with distracting information that is almost zero value to a tank.
BUT! There is something in there that is useful. Open the interface menu (escape then click interface) and find the combat text menu. Now turn on the check box in the upper right. The one that says ‘target effects’ (or something like that). This gives you one very useful little notification. Every time a foe changes to a different target text pops up over their head that says ‘changed target’. This is super useful for giving you instant knowledge of when something ‘pulled off’ of you. It is also instant feed back on if your taunt worked or if that pack you just LOSed has changed to coming for the healer instead of you.
As a tank you want to see yourself and the area all around you. This means you need a good size viewing area. Scroll your view all the way back. Now go back into the interface menu and select the ‘camera’ page. Notice there is a slider bar for ‘max view distance’. Crank that sucker up to max. You might not keep your camera zoomed all the way out but it is good to have the option.
Why? Well there are a lot of things behind you that you want to see. For one that is probably where half your party including your healer are standing. Naturally if any adds show up back there you want to know about it. Of course the camera view distance does not replace getting good with camera control (see situational awareness 1 and 2) but it does help.
Indoor camera bouncing
If you are in a tight space and find your camera is jumping around in a distracting way zoom it in closer. It does that because the camera is bouncing off the ceiling as you move. If you zoom it in until the camera is not glued to the roof it will help a lot. You have to zoom a lot. If your normal setting is WAY zoomed out, and you are into a very small tunnel then it will take a lot of zooming in before your camera is not glued to the ceiling.
It helps me to think about it like this. You camera is a literal camera that is invisible and floating around following you. Anytime you go indoors with a low ceiling your camera will float closer to you until it is inside the room with you. But the room has a bumpy ceiling. Every time you move the camera follows you. As it moves long the ceiling it runs into those bumps (rocks, beams, tapestries, whatever is up there). Your view in the game jumps around as your camera bumps up and down over those bumps.
Your zoom distance is not like ‘zooming’ the lens on that camera. No, it is instead requesting a new distance for your invisible camera to float behind you. If that new distance is STILL way farther back than the ceiling then your camera view will not change. You have to keep zooming in until your requested ‘float distance’ is less than the height of the ceiling. Now your invisible camera is not glue to the ceiling and so he glides past those bumps instead of hitting them.
That is it for the default UI stuff. Rest assured that you can tank great with only that stuff. But if you want to mess with your UI more here are some pointers concerning…
There are a lot of add-ons out there. They do a lot of things. Many do basically the same things. Some people prefer one sort of thing and others some other thing. I am only going to cover the minimum. With more research you may find other things you prefer. Remember what I said above. Always ask yourself if the utility of an add-on out weights the issues of visibility, distraction, active interference caused by clutter, and if the learning curve and possible information overload is worth it.
Omen – threat meter
Omen is threat meter. It works well. It give you a running list with the threat that your target has against everyone in your party. It only does it for one target at a time so it does not help you monitor threat on things you don’t have selected.
There are a LOT of interesting things you can see with omen. For example you can watch see visibly when taunts and threat moves go off. You can get a feel for how much threat each person in your party has. You see visually if someone is about to pull off of you. You can also see, by watching the bars move, if someone has used threat reduction moves. For example if that hunter unloaded on the boss really early you can quickly see if they used MD or not.
One time I watched as a DK on Ramps used deathgrip on one of the bosses. It was in the melee so it would have been hard to see normally. It was interesting one second I was well in the lead. The next moment the DK’s theat shot to the top and then vanished as he got one shotted. Pretty darn funny. I checked the logs later to be 100% sure it was death grip he had used. Prior to that I was not 100% sure that grip did a ‘taunt’ effect or that the effect works even if the ability does not move the target. Good stuff. I love Omen.
Another good way to use it is early on in a run you can see who in the fight is pulling a lot of threat. If you know early that one person in particular is doing a ton you can take steps to deal with it.
A lot of people whine about how recount is used. Recount is just a tool. Like a gun. Guns shoot holes in things but it is up to the user to determine if that bullet is robbing a bank, shooting up a school, or if it is defending lives in the hands of a police officer, soldier or responsible person involved in self defense. The tool is the same. Any tool can be misused. Recount gets a bad rap but there are a LOT of great things you can do with it. One way is as a poor man’s threat meter. Knowing someone is pulling double your dps can warn you they are likely to pull off you.
Also you can use it in conjunction with other tools. For example if that pally is doing as much as you on Omen but is less than you on recount then there is a VERY good chance they are accidently using threat moves. I have found noobs taunting many times, as I said, using Omen. The way you can check is if they are low on the damage output but abnormally high on threat. As a tank this important stuff to know. I might be that you are bad at holding argro or it could be that some moron DPS is in frost presence, righteous fury, or defensive stance. Rather than checking their buffs manually you can just watch the meters.
You can also use it to check logs and see some of who did what. Mostly that is good for seeing how much people suck but that does not tell you anything you can use for tanking IN the fight. Also you can use it to check how much healing is going on.
I don’t use it but I hear you can set it to tell you some of the things like I talked about above. Such as checking if a DPSer is using tanking moves. I can’t say more about it because I don’t use it. Just be aware that such things exist if you desire them.
Unit frames add-ons
There are a lot of unit frames add-ons out there. They come in three flavors:
-Ones that are to replace your normal party frames over on the left.
-frames that are for raiding and put a large number of frames in a big block to help you with healing and other raid functions
-frames that replace the health bars over the Mob’s heads.
Unit frames are to swap the party picture/health bar stuff on the left. Some people love these. I can take or leave them. They do give you some additional information about the members of your party and their status so they can be useful.
Tidy plates / theat plates
These sorts of things go over the targets heads. They are GREAT for giving you an indication of which targets have threat on you and which don’t they can be set to give you warnings when things are about to ‘pull off’ and also to show you when you lose something. You can also have them show a small threat meter. They can also clutter up your screen. So use them with caution and mess with the settings until you like how they work. I personally use the ‘gray tank’ setting in tidy plates. Some settings in there have way to much glow and highlight effects. Ug, makes my eyes swim.
These can be used in various ways. Personally I used vudo. It is intended for healing mostly but I use it for some tanky functions. I have it set up to I can, on my warrior, right click a frame and automatically ‘intervene’. Also I have it set to show me who has agro so it is another way I can monitor that.
Unit frames have a lot of options and settings. Far more than I could go into here.
Power auras –cooldown and effects addons.
There are a few of these out there. The goal of these is to give you an easier way to see when you have various procs and cooldowns active. I don’t use them for tanking. You can I suppose but I don’t. If you are looking for some way to see such things more visually then check something like this out. I just look at my buttons.
Bartender –hot button addons.
The default buttons work… but there are some addons like bartender that give you a lot of extra functionality. I will only talk about tanking related features. One thing you can do is set some of your bars to vanish when you are in combat. This is something that in the avionics/aviation world is called ‘declutter’. The idea is that some things you don’t care about are removed when you don’t care about them. For example you could put all your buff food button mount buttons and other things you don’t use in combat on bars and set them to vanish in combat. This will give you more screen viewing area when you need it most.
Also button addons let you move bars around. So you can put them where they are easier to see, or easier to click on. Which is of course great when you are tanking and don’t have time to search around for something.
Also bartender makes it easier to do key bindings…
Great stuff for tanking! If you use WASD to move while mouse aiming, as I do, then you can only get to the numbers 1-5 or 6 while maneuvering. Anything else forces you to move your hand. But you can use keybindings to get some more abilities into reach of your fingers. The cool trick I discovered, which has saved my furry butt a great many times, is to bind your tanking cooldowns to the F1-F5 keys. So many times when I have gotten in a pinch I have been able to just reach up and hammer a few of those. If it is a really bad episode I will just run my finger down the keys and trigger a whole bunch of cooldowns at once.
Key bindings can be done with the default user interface but addons like Bartender make it easier.
Another thing I use key bindings for is to put the raid marks (skull, X, etc) on my number key pad. The big ‘0’ key over there is skull. That is great when you need to quickly tell your party to focus fire on one target. Or, as with many of my parties, inform them which one to save for last. I swear half the servers in my battlegroup must use the convention of ‘skull means save for later’.
Anyway, that is most of the tanking UI stuff I can think of except for…
I am not going to cover much on tanking macros. Just be assured there are some. Google up some for your specific class and then bind them to some key. I use macros on my bear and warrior a lot. The bear has maul bound to everything. The warrior has two bars. Normally I have all my stuff bound to ‘heroic strike’ but if I press a quick ‘shift+up-arrow’ then my 1-10 bar swaps for the one with cleave macroed to everything. I also have a variety of ‘charge+other things’ macros.
That basically covers it. There are other tips and tricks out there but this is the basics of the tanking user interface.