When the Goblin IT Department Gets Bored

October 27, 2009

A few weeks back when we started this communication with our customers, I approached the goblins in the basement of the factory who usually take care of our personal calculators and other computing devices. As you can imagine, I am not exactly a numbers guy, but I do sometimes have a use for the technical devices the company provides.

ancientcomputer2I assumed the guys who deal with those devices would be the best equipped in helping me get this communication thing setup. I don’t really know a ton about the Interwebz, or whatever they call it. That is what the technical goblins called it at least, though it always seemed to be followed with a snicker out of the side of their mouth.

The meeting I had scheduled to petition their help took place in the main conference room upstairs near the management offices. This conference room is mostly glass windows looking out on Booty Bay. It is frequently sunny and incredibly bright.

When the goblins finally showed up they arrived in a pack of three. One was incredibly thin and dressed in what looked like a cheap imitation of the corporate goblins. While the intended effect was a professional appearance, it came across as a combination between desperate and clueless.

The second goblin was corpulently fat. Really there is nothing else I can say.

Wait. Yes there is.

He also smelled ten times worse than the sweaty and unwashed guards in Orgrimmar.

The final participant in the meeting was a mousy little fellow with horn rimmed glasses that were taped in the middle from some altercation that no doubt simply contributed to his timid personality.

The trio nearly caused me to break out into a fit of laughter as they shuffled into the conference room.  It quickly became even more amusing however as the professional and fat ones shuddered from the window light, as if they were evil demons overcome with holy light.  They cried out in surprise and quickly raised their arms to their face to shield the light.

I am pretty sure the diminutive one would have done the same had he not been in the shadow of the fat one.

Once they shuffled over to the table, slowly lowering their arms as their eyes and pale green skin adjusted to the sunlight, we began our discussion.  I explained what I was looking for, a place to talk to our customers about the value of our products, and immediately Fatty and Mouse rolled their eyes.

They began mumbling under their breath about how they had other things to work on that were much more important.  I didn’t hear all of it, and they used a bunch of language I really didn’t understand.  Some type of goblin undercommon I think, though it was mixed with standard orc as well.

The guy in the crumpled suit finally raised his hand and they begrudgingly quieted down.  He explained to me that such a request was a pretty low priority and that they were unlikely to get to it for many months.

I reminded him that it was an initiative from upper management and they quieted their complaints, begrudingly willing to assist in what I needed.

They began outlining where I should create this site and gave me the information to go start it.  They chuckled and laughed to themselves the entire time, but I mostly ignored it.  I had assumed it was simply more awkward nervousness from the Tech Trio.

You can imagine my excitement as I began this endeavor, outlining the content I wanted to provide to our customers and getting everything setup.  As many of you know, we launched a few weeks back and everything had gone mostly well.

Yesterday Fatty came into my office and was laughing hysterically.  I could smell him before he even arrived.

Apparently, those little twits thought it would be funny to tell me all the wrong stuff about how to setup this site.  Their constant laughing and chuckling was the result of giving me bad information about how to get started.

Sooo…  I have spent the last week just trying to get things setup correctly.  As if my days weren’t busy enough trying to dodge the explosions and esoteric contraptions, I had the enjoyable experience of changing how the site was setup.

I do apologize to all of you who have already developed into loyal customers, and those of you who may in the future.  There is a slight change to the address of the site and the address of the RSS feed however.  The old addresses will work for the near future.  Eventually however there may be issues with those addresses connecting.

Our new website address is http://thegoblinworkshop.com

Our new RSS feed address is http://feeds.feedburner.com/TheGoblinWorkshop

Thank you for understanding.  And don’t worry, the Tech Trio’s story of amusement and woe isn’t over yet.  I will keep an eye out for ways to return the favor to them.


How To Install AddOns (Voodoo Included)

October 20, 2009

Something strange happened earlier today that I am hesitant to even report.  The last thing I want to do is frighten off potential customers or influence the stockholders to take action that is unnecessary.  However, I am actually somewhat fearful for my own safety at this point.

Mind you, more fearful than I normally am with volatile and dangerous goblin experiments all over the factory.  Yes.  Frightening isn’t it.

Sarah_Palin_voodoo_dollMy office in the factory was previously inhabited by the machinist shop foreman.  When I arrived they moved him out to the shop floor, much to the chagrin of the hateful little goblin.  He wasn’t real happy being displaced for the marketing and public relations guy.

This same grizzled veteran of the factory has grudges against a number of the other department heads, bitter over years of being passed up for promotion.  His wrinkly face is scrunched in a permanent frown that looks more like a crumpled rag than an aging face.

While cleaning up the office yesterday, I found a small headless doll made of burlap and stitched crudely.  Yet you could feel tiny bars of metal running through the doll like a miniature skeleton.  This thing was stuffed far back in a forgotten drawer.  In another part of the desk I found long needles that I simply turned in to supplies and requisitions.

I overheard the machinist shop foreman asking the factory manager if he could look through his office for some materials he left behind.  The last thing I need is a vindictive grizzled goblin gunning for my head.

Regardless of my safety, I have a job to do though.  It has come to my attention that it may be helpful to review some very basic information about installing addons.  I realize it is very elementary information, but for those first coming to WoW and the world of user interface, it could be helpful.

Finding the WoW Install

WoW addons are installed in the same directory structure as the WoW installation itself.  Therefore, the first step to installing a WoW addon is to find the WoW install directory.  This is typically World of Warcraft if the default install options were kept.  However, it could be located in a number of different places depending on your operating system.  First find the WoW install directory.

Recycled-Paper-File-Folder-Z-0104-Once found, there should be an Interface folder in the root of the World of Warcraft folder.  Inside this Interface folder is a folder called AddOns.  This is where we will be installing our addons.

File Structure

Most addons are distributed with a folder containing all the files necessary for that addon to function correctly.  Addon authors typically name their folders with a descriptive name that indicates what the addon is.  In order for our installed addon to work, we must place that folder into the AddOns folder we mentioned above.

It is sometimes the case that some authors will break their mods or addons up into many different folders.  For our purposes this is not important. Simply make sure that all the folders provided by the mod author are included in the AddOns folder noted above.

Install Methods

While the above instructions identify where a collection of files and folders must be placed to function in game, it makes no note of the different methods through which an addon can be installed.  There are currently two different methods I can recommend to install an addon.

The first is manually placing the necessary files in the above folders.  Most addons are distributed as compressed files in either .zip or .tar format.  We would need to decompress those files (something most operating systems now include natively) and place the decompressed files in the Addons folder.

The other method of installation involve the use of another application to handle your mod installations.  Both Curse and WoW Interface provide Addon Management Consoles that will scan your addon directory, identify the addons that you already have installed, and allow you to keep those addons up to date.  They will additionally allow you to easily download new addons from their respective sites.

I don’t want to get into the advantages and disadvantages of using an Addon Management Console right now.  We can save that for another discussion.  Just realize that these kind of tools do exist if you would rather not manually manage all the addons you use.

In Game Activation

Now that your addon files are in the appropriate folders, it is time to start up WoW and configure those addons to be active in game.  Log in to your account and to a specific server.  Once you are on the Character Select screen, you will notice in the lower left hand corner a button called ‘AddOns’.  Go ahead and click this.

zz1c44e088You should now see a screen that lists all the addons you have installed.  Often these correspond to the folder names you placed in the AddOns folder, but not always.

Note first that you can activate or deactivate addons for different characters through the character select dropdown at the top of the page.  If you want your healing addons only installed for your healer character, you can do so here.  Keep in mind you also have an option to install an addon for all characters.

Some addons may be disabled for a few different reasons.  Some may be listed as out of date, and some may be listed as having a missing dependency.  As new patches are released by Blizzard, they provide a patch number to track the progression of the game.

Addons have a corresponding value in their configuration files that indicate what patch of the game they were released for.  Often addon authors will choose or be forced to make updates to their addons after major content patches to ensure they still work.  However, some addons do not break from content patch to content patch.  In some cases, you can select the checkbox at the top of the screen that states ‘Load Out of Date Addons’.  Some of these out of date addons may no longer work.  However, you can manually review each addon and choose to remove the ones that do not work anymore.

When an addon is marked as missing a dependency, it means that there is another addon that it required to work, and that addon is no longer installed.  Typically, when this error is encountered it is pretty likely that the addon with the missing dependency isn’t going to work.  There are some rare exclusions, but they are very rare.  It is typically a good idea to disable those that have missing dependencies.

In Game Configuration

Once you have your addons activated or deactivated, you can log in to game with a specific character and begin the configuration of your addons.  Some require very little configuration at all.  Some require extensive configuration.  Further, each addon typically has a completely different configuration process and management screen.  At this point, your best bet is to review the addon’s install screen for instructions.  If no information is available here, either ask a friend who may have the addon, or just experiment.

Hopefully over time, we will provide configuration instructions on some of the more popular addons, though even those instructions are bound to change over time.  That is one tricky element of the addon environment with WoW.  It is constantly changing.

Does anyone know of any other Addon Management Console they can recommend?  Do you have any horror stories of mod installs or uninstalls that might help another?


Better Know A Mod Type: Unit Frames

October 16, 2009

Excuse me *cough* a moment…

Crizzle!! What the fel happened back there? *cough* We are all going to choke on this smoke. I am afraid *cough* to ask what blew up. *cough* Aren’t you using the Isolation Chamber *cough* when testing new prototypes as outlined in *cough* the shop manual? *cough cough* What do you mean ‘what shop manual’?

*sigh*

Sorry about that *cough* folks. Not sure what the guys are thinking sometimes. Don’t worry, the smoke shouldn’t linger on your clothes too much. If it does though I think we have some Super Cleaning Agent produced by one of our partner plants I can acquire for you.

As you can see, we are having some issues with production. So I want to kick off our first installment of the ‘Better Know a Mod Type‘ series and talk to you a bit about a group of mods typically referred to as Unit Frames.

What are Unit Frames

Self_Unit_FrameWhen reviewing your typical Blizzard interface, the unit frames represent a concise representation of information about the different units in the world. This typically means your character frame in the upper left, your target frame also in the upper portion of the screen, and the different frames for other members in your party or raid. For pet using classes this can also be the frame that represents your pet.

The default Blizzard frames include things like a portrait, a health bar, a mana/energy/rage bar, some buff or debuff icons, perhaps the current hit points and mana/energy/rage of the unit depending on the type (enemy targets don’t typically include information about enemy hit points or mana other than percent of total).

Furthermore, with the default Blizzard unit frames, they really can not be moved or resized at all. They are stuck to the upper left corner of the screen for your own unit and your target, and down the left side of the screen for your party. The default raid frames can be moved around a bit, but really are very limited in their adjustment.

Improving Your Unit Frames

A first question to ask is, ‘why isn’t this good enough?’

Maybe it is. If you don’t have a need to display additional information and don’t have a need to move or resize the unit frames to a different location on the screen, then you probably don’t need a unit frame mod. However, if you have ever wanted to adjust these frame to appear different than they currently do, perhaps you should explore a unit frame mod.

A second question to ask is ‘what additional information can I display?’

To some degree, this is highly dependent on the mod you select. Different mods can show different pieces of information in different ways. Some examples however might include things like target of target, focus target, current spell being cast, percent of health, percent of mana, and a wealth of other things.

If you are unfamiliar with these terms, don’t worry. For someone first getting into addons it can be a confusing complex world of chaos. I will try to go into more detail in the future about what some of these things are. For now, know that target of target is the target of the unit that you are currently targeting. The focus target is a secondary unit you have explicitly set as your focus, almost like a second special target.

Target_Unit_FrameNot only do these mods allow you to sometimes show new information, they also allow you to display it in different ways. Perhaps the percent of health is the most important factor to you when you have a target selected. You can adjust the size and placement of that. Perhaps the debuffs on a target are more important. You can adjust the size and placement of that.

Displaying this additional information, or packaging it in a form that is more helpful or useful is one major advantage of mods and addons for World of Warcraft. You will see this trend throughout almost every useful addon. Unit frames are no different.

The goal is to provide the flexibility to display the information most relevant to you specifically. And to display it where it will benefit you most. As I noted in a previous post on user interface placement, different people are going to want different pieces of information at the center of their screen. Unit frame mods can be used to place important unit information exactly where you want it.

For those not as concerned with the availability of information, another reason to use a unit frame mod is to put your own stamp on the display of unit information. Some mods allow you to heavily customize the appearance of unit data. It is possible to create a highly artistic or aesthetically pleasing interface by implementing some of these mods.

I Want a Unit Frame Mod

A few examples of unit frame mods include:

This is by no means an exhaustive list. However, it does cover most of the major unit frame mods. Keep in mind that many of the mods listed above, as well as other unit frame mods often do much more than just present unit information. This is where each mod offers something a bit different.

In future posts we will attempt to review some of these different mods and go into further detail regarding the features and functionality unique to each. While each of the above mods can work for any class or role, some are designed to be more useful or helpful to different roles in game.

Does anyone know of any other frequently used unit frame mods? Are there other reasons why a person might utilize a unit frame mod to make adjustments to their interface?


Mod Hands On: Multimail

October 15, 2009

The recent silence on the shop floor has been frightening. You have to understand that this place is typically so loud it is impossible to even think straight. I often am incapable of hearing my own voice.

Between the complete absence of unexpected explosions and the silence of dead machines, I really wonder if we will ever produce a tangible product.

The eerie silence is especially poignant given the nearness of All Hallows End. We will see how the next few weeks progress.

Guild Communication

In the interim, I want to tell you about a very small mod I have begun to use to more effectively communicate with my friends and guildmates.  There are a number of possible methods of communicating messages or news to those that need to hear it.

GD_250_SmMailboxThe Guild Message of the Day is certainly one opportunity.  As a communication medium, it is visible to every person who logs in and is in the guild.  However, herein lies one of its flaws.  For those individuals who frequently play alts, it can perhaps be days until they log in to their guilded character.  The MOTD is further limited by length, only long enough to communicate a short message to most.  Finally, it is restricted in its ability to communicate within the guild only.  Guild alliances or close non-guilded friends can not typically see this communication.

Guild forums are another method to communicate to guild members.  While these allow for much greater flexibility, most guild leaders will tell you it is a constant battle to get the majority of your members to read them.  Posts can be of any length and access can be granted to non-guild members.  However, if people don’t read them, they are useless as a communication medium.

In game mail is another communication medium with potential to have a greater reach.  You can reach the specific individuals you want, regardless of whether they are guilded or not.  It further has the flexibility of allowing for greater content.  Admittedly, it is limited in length.  However, with in game mail you do have the potential to send multi-mail messages, something that doesn’t work effectively with a MOTD that can not have multiple entries.

Unfortunately, sending mail to large numbers is something akin to cutting off my own pinky finger with a rusted metal camp spork.  It is time consuming and painful in its execution.

The Multimail mod may ease some of this pain and make the process a bit more satisfying.

A Mod for Mail

Multimail allows a user to create mailing lists of recipients.  Multiple lists can be kept at once, reducing the time to create a list of recipients each time.  Lists can be started from a number of different filters, including guilds, friends, and arena teams. Further, guild filters can be further separated by guild rank, class, level, etc.  These filters allow you to create large lists quickly, yet still individually remove or add names as required.

GD_253_Steamer_Trunk_MailboxAs a result of this interface, I can create a mailing list with guild officers quite easily.  However, I can then add the officer’s alts to ensure that mail is quickly received by those individuals.  I can just as easily create a mailing list for our guild alliance raiding group which includes players from many different guilds.

Once a list is created, I can write my in game mail, and then click the send button on the Multimail interface and have the mail sent to every character in my mailing list.

Mod Weaknesses

There are some concerns I have with this mod however.  Lists can not currently be named, so you have to rely upon your memory or out of game notes to remember that list 1 is your guild officers and their alts, while list 2 is your guild new recruits.

Furthermore, the interface is not the most intuitive in the world.  It is tagged on to the side of the mail interface in a relatively unaesthetic way.  However, it is functional for those willing to poke around and experiment.

Characters can also be added more than once to a list, resulting in them receiving multiple copies of the same mail.

Keep in mind as well that you will be charged 30 copper for every mail sent, so large lists can result in large postage fees.

Conclusion

Overall, this is one of those mods that has the potential to help with guild communication.  Whether it is actually worth the hassle of using it remains to be seen.  The possibility of recipients complaining about constant mail messages or message spam is a possible concern as well.  My recommendation is try it out and see if it is useful.

Does anyone else have any mod suggestions on how to more effectively communicate to guildmates and friends?  What about other mailing list mods that may be out there?


Better Know a Mod Type…

October 5, 2009

Earlier today I noticed a number of goblins huddled in a corner of the production facility. They were mumbling quietly amongst themselves, periodically waving their hands in the air and pointing their fingers at each other.

Generic_GearGlad to finally see some activity on the plant floor, I approached hurriedly, eager to hear of their most recent efforts. They reluctantly elected one of their number to speak to me. The creature was pitiful, one ear carved up like a plastic surgeon’s practice cadaver. He walked with a limp and had a voice even more high pitched than the rest of the goblins.

He muttered something near unintelligble about budgets, deadlines, and delays.

Soo…

As a result, I am going to begin a new informative series called ‘Better Know A Mod Type’. This series will overview different classes of mods in an effort to educate our customers about the different ways they can improve their interface.

Each installment of the series will attempt to provide a brief overview of a class of mods. I will try to provide the possible benefits and drawbacks of the class of mods. Finally, I will provide a few mod samples representative of that class of addons.

We will likely go into greater detail in the future on each of the different mods mentioned. It is also likely that some future post will go into further detail on the class of mods.

This series is ultimately designed for those unfamiliar with the class of mods, or unfamiliar with how that class of mods might be helpful.  Though I would definitely appreciate and enjoy the feedback of others who may be able to provide additional insight into the mod class.

Look for our first installment of Better Know A Mod Type soon…


Shooting for the Center: User Interface Design

October 1, 2009

Hello friends. Thanks again for returning to the Goblin Workshop. We will take your return visit as either proof that we have piqued your curiosity, or proof that the hospitality suite is designed with enough labyrinth corridors and esoteric doors that you couldn’t find your way out from last time. Either way, welcome back!

Unfortunately, I have some bad news. Apparently there have been some delays with the production process. As a result, our first tangible product is still a ways away.

crashtestdummyThe goblins tell me that I should just turn you away. Some have even suggested using a few of you in product testing. Given what happened to the last few test subjects though, I have explained that would be ineffective in building customer loyalty.

They seemed unconvinced.

Thankfully, they defer to me in regards to marketing and customer relations.

I would hate to waste your time here though. So, let’s instead talk a bit about design. Specifically, interface design.

We will first focus on something many likely already understand, but which may not have previously been explicitly spelled out.  There are certain key pieces of information you need while playing.  Depending on the activities you participate in, or even what role you are playing, this information can differ drastically.

Tanks in a PvE environment may need to know their current health or their relative threat level on certain mobs.  Healers in a PvE environment may need to know their own mana levels or the health of those they are responsible for healing.  Fishers or those advancing tradeskills may need to know the result of their attempt or how much time is left on their current attempt.  PvPers may need to know the relative health of their teammates as well as their targets.

ontarget_FullAt the end of the day, it doesn’t matter what is important to an individual playing a specific role.  What is important, is that the information that is most critical to their success is easily accessible.  When designing your user interface, consider grouping those critical elements together around your avatar so that you can more easily react to the information you receive and still move as you need to.

The more often you need to glance up at the corners of the screen for critical information, the longer it takes you to notice you are standing in a pretty blue patch of burning fire, or that your health is dropping precipitously from a PvP attack as you are raising your fishing skill.

This doesn’t mean clumping all your addons or user interface elements into the middle of the screen.  It means taking the most critical ones, and arranging them in such a way that you can quickly scan them to gain important pieces of information without having your attention split from what else might be going on.

It may mean putting a few important things just below your avatar.  It may involve using addons that allow you to hide certain pieces of information until they are critical.  It may mean using the transparency functions of some addons to place information so that it isn’t obvious until those times you need to react to it.

The center of the screen is typically where most of the actions occur in the game world, consider finding ways to include key pieces of information around that action.

Everyone will have different pieces of information they want more readily available.  Identify what those are, and find an addon that will allow you to place that information where it is most accessible.