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[Cataclysm Beta] The new party UI

Posted by Malevica on August - 11 - 2010

Since this was first posted, the party UI and options have been developed further. Please check out my update post for the differences.

I’ve managed to heal a fairly dismal 2 instances, and we never finished the Stonecore. Still, I’ve had a good play with the new party healing UI, so it’s time to share some thoughts.

If you’re interested in other takes, Matticus (twice!) and Derevka have also posted about this, amongst others.

Although this is currently just being used for the party interface. I’m assuming this will be extended and used as a replacement for the default raid frames as well, so some of my thoughts and comments may also have raiding in mind.

What does it look like?


Busy party UI screenshot

Or, when things are a bit calmer, this:

Quieter party UI screenshot

And in full context (1680 x 1050), it looks like this:

Party UI set within a whole screen

For the record, I wouldn't normally raid with the combatlog taking up half my screen, but it's really handy for seeing what the hell's going on in content I don't know well yet.

It looks something like a hybrid of VuhDo with Grid. It’s fairly compact and clean-looking without sacrificing too much functionality for compactness. It also fits well with the rest of the UI in general, which is a big plus.

Personally I don’t tend to get too wrapped up in aesthetics, and this is nothing really revolutionary, so I’ll skip on quickly.

Information display

How does the healing UI do straight out of the box? Actually, pretty well, with some caveats.

Class-coloured bars

The first thing I noticed when I looked at the UI in a freshly-formed group was that the bars are class-coloured Grid-style. I understand that UI design is a hugely subjective area, but I’ve never managed to see the appeal of class-coloured bars.
I don’t feel that class-coloured bars actually give me any information I need. Rarely do I think about what class someone is before healing them and the only situations I can think of where I’d need to know are when people are dead, and their bars are a uniform grey (I might choose to combat res a Druid, or not to combat res a Shaman, for example).

The argument for bars which change from green through orange/yellow to red as HP falls is that it draws your attention quickly to those in need of a heal and gives some indication of their state, in a more noticeable way than just shrinking the health bar. When you’re scanning 25 bars, a big bold colour change jumps out at you. So having class-coloured bars feels like a missed opportunity to give me information.

A more nitpicky point is that the standard DK colour could do with being made a bit bolder. It’s quite tricky to spot the health deficit on Sielydine’s bar, at least for me in my computer room in daylight.

Another screenshot, this time the dark red of the DK's health bar and the black background are tricky to distinguish

Role icons

In the upper left corner of each bar is an icon representing the role of each player as assigned by the Dungeon Finder. It’s a nice feature to have, for sure.

Ideally I’d probably prefer to be able to hide this information, since it tends to be something you look at once and never again and it’s currently taking up space, but given that the purpose of these frames is to Just Work™, hiding the icons behind a hotkey or right-click probably isn’t an option.

Target and Aggro indicators

The screenshot just above is a good example of this. The player you currently have targeted, in this case Muhmann, gets a cream-coloured border around them. Players with aggro get the expected red border, with arrow embellishments for good measure. These are standard features for raid frames these days. The target indicator seems to have higher priority than the aggro indicator, but the red arrow marks still show through since the target indicator doesn’t include them.

I’m a little confused about the other frame colours though. Let’s have another look at the first screenshot I posted (reproduced below, to save your scrollwheels):

Busy party UI screenshot

Mogy is the tank this time; he’s got the cream border because I’m targeting him, and he has aggro because you can see the red triangles. All fine and dandy.

It’s not made clear what the yellow and ochre borders around the others represent. My guess is that they’re part of the aggro indicator, corresponding to people with moderate and high threat. I’m basing this mostly on the fact that they’re a similar shape to the red aggro indicator.

Incoming Heals

Another screenshot, this time the dark red of the DK's health bar and the black background are tricky to distinguish

Another nifty feature you can see exemplified in the screenshot above is the display of incoming heals on the bar. There’s not a huge amount to say about this really, incoming heals show up as a big bright green chunk on the end of the bar, overheals spill out beyond the bar (which is good, it lets you see just how much of an overheal you’re casting) and the size of the bar appears to be more-or-less accurate, although I’ve not been able to fully test it with Mortal Strikes etc yet.

For this to be really useful in a raid situation it needs to be able to show other people’s heals as well as your own, so if Blizzard do make this the template for new raid frames I hope they’ve built that functionality in, but for a party just showing yours is plenty.

HoTs and Debuffs

For discussion purposes, here’s that screenshot, repeated once again:

Busy party UI screenshot

Working from the top, the blue circle in the top-right corner of my frame shows at a glance that I have a magical debuff. If you want to find out at a glance what debuff it is, that’s in the lower-left corner where all the debuffs are displayed together as standard icons, growing left to right. Both the small indicator and large icon will display tooltips on mouseover.

Moving down, Mogy has both PW:S and Weakened Soul, while below him Pjata only has PW:S. HoTs appear all together in the lower-right corner, growing from right to left.

Datanka is very kindly illustrating what a debuff with multiple stacks looks like. The number is nice and clear and readable, although it does obscure most of the icon. With space being at a premium though, some sacrifices are inevitable, and in this case I’d rather see stacks (which are hard to work out) than the icon (which you can figure out from context).

What you don’t get is any way to see the duration remaining as a number, only as the grey overlay. There’s just no way to fit that onto the icons sensibly, but I do prefer to see a number, since I often find the grey overlay thing a bit too tricky to discern.

I didn’t manage to catch a screenshot of this, but diseases work in the same way as magic debuffs do, with a small orange icon in the top-right and a “proper” icon in the lower-left. The last image on Matt’s first post shows this though.

I’m sort of torn on the dual debuff indicators. I imagine the top-right corner indicators are intended to highlight that someone has a debuff, to draw attention more quickly and help you select your cleanse spell of choice while you look at the icon and decide how you want to respond.
I’m all in favour of simple tricks to grab attention (see the discussion above about bar colours) but I’m not sure a relatively tiny icon is the best way to do it. I’d be happier seeing larger debuff icons (with thicker coloured borders) instead and the indicator space used for something else. I can’t help feeling like it’s awkward having related information in opposite corners.

Overall though the debuffs icons are pretty clear, stacks are obvious, the debuff type is readily apparent and they’re arranged logically in corners, so for a default, no-configuration UI this is actually really good.

The main missing feature that will be familiar to many of us is the ability to set up custom debuffs for special attention (Harvest Soul, Frost Blast, Penetrating Cold, amongst others). I’d love to see it, but I think that level of customisation is probably beyond the scope of what Blizzard is trying to achieve here, and possibly beyond what they’d be comfortable with including in the default UI.
Especially since different players care about different debuffs (for example, I don’t highlight Chilled to the Bone, while a melee DPS might want that displayed prominently).


The thing to remember about this UI is that it needs to Just Work™ without needing to be configured or customised, and it needs to work for all classes, not just healers.

As a result, there’s not much customisation. Your layout choices are limited to showing pets, main tanks and main assists and keeping groups together (as opposed to sorting by name or role). You can also opt to turn off incoming heals, aggro highlights and to filter only buffs you can dispel.


If you’re used to healing with VuhDo, Grid, Healbot, Pitbull, Xperl or another set of full-featured, customisable raidframes you’ll probably find this quite limiting. This is not going to replace those addons, but it’s a pretty good compromise solution which shouldn’t impair your performance too much if you have to resort to using it (except the whole no click-healing thing…).

As Matt commented, “It’s important to discern between must have and nice to have but can probably heal without it type changes.” The danger is that if you add too much configurability, or too much information, you destroy the simplicity which is the whole point.

With that in mind, here’s my wishlist for must have items. These are things which I found actively obstructing my ability to heal effectively.

  • Let us choose between class-coloured and HP-coloured health bars. I thought about including this on the nice-to-have section, but actually this was causing me to neglect people or incorrectly estimate people’s status
  • Instead or as well as the previous point, brighten up the bar colours a bit, since some of the darker shades (DK in particular)can be tricky to tell from the background
  • Provide numerical timers, at least for HoTs. Make the icons bigger if need be

And the nice-to-have items:

  • Resizable bars. These are a decent compromise, but I did find them a little small at times. I tend to err on the side of larger boxes because poor eyesight combined with a high resolution screen is a bad combination
  • I personally tend to find it creates information overload, but numerical health deficits for players are fairly common to see in healing interfaces, especially when overhealing matters
  • Click-healing. The ability to bind spells to mouse buttons and modifiers. Not as the only way but many people find it a very intuitive way of healing. Unconfigured, a left-click could just be bound to targeting as normal, which wouldn’t interfere with people who didn’t want to click-heal. If you wanted to use a menu on someone, you could bind “menu” to something, or target them the old-fashioned way

On the whole the new party frames are a big step forward, and actually more-or-less a complete solution. They’re not perfect for me, but ‘perfect’ is a very subjective concept and the default UI is, after all, an exercise in compromise.

Possibly Related Posts:

Categories: Cataclysm Beta, Opinion

9 Responses so far.

  1. Moonra says:

    it looks good but without a click-heal option it’s useless for healing if you ask me, healbot still wins

    • Malevica says:

      I’m not sure they’re universally “useless”; There’s a surprisingly large number of very good healers who use mouseover macros as their healing method of choice, and they won’t be bothered about no click-healing option. They’re just not what you want or need.

      But yeah, if you’re used to click-healing like I am, it gets frustrating pretty quickly. I’m still hopeful that click-healing makes it in. Blizzard do tend to look at the dominant addons and mimic them, I can’t believe they haven’t noticed how common click-healing is in the game.

    • LePeR says:

      Just because it doesn’t have click casting doesn’t mean you can’t get a simple addon of sort to add the functionality.. doesn’t require completely new raid frames i mean look at Clique you can use it with any part of the default ui even now

      • Malevica says:

        I agree, using this UI plus Clique would be pretty good.

        But it is also fair to say that a complete UI ideally shouldn’t require any addons, that’s the goal of the improvement process. So not having click bindings built in is a limiting factor.

        The other thing to remember is that in Beta there’s no addons allowed at the moment, so the current experience of the interface is having to use mouseover addons or target and heal, so the lack of click-healing is quite acute.

  2. FeralTree says:

    The UI change looks pretty interesting. I haven’t gotten a beta invite (at least, not yet *fingers crossed*) so haven’t been able to experience anything in it first hand. I will most likely end up sticking with Vuhdo for both healing and my raid frames, but it’s nice to see Blizz is updating the default UI. I can certainly see that being useful for new players and also as a better backup should there be a patch day that’s broken all your addons but you still have a raid to get to. Looks like a much more informative option too for someone using default UI+mouseover macros (as opposed to the current raidframes).

    HP-coloured bars would definitely be a good option to have default. I’m one for using HP-colours as well… I like having the name text in each of my bars reflecting the class of the player, but for the bars themselves it’s definitely helpful having the green-through-red setup.

    The actual boxes you have out – are those the raid frames you pull out of the Raid tab? Or is that the new setup for the entire party (instead of there being portraits along the upper-left hand side)? I think you say the size isn’t adjustable but I’m assuming you’re able to move those boxes around the screen?


    • Malevica says:

      There’s a tickbox in the options for “Use Compact Party Frames”, which turns these on in place of the four portraits in the top-left corner. No pulling out required. I don’t know how that will work in a raid, presumably the same way, and addons will be able to hide them, as they do now.

      You can move them (but there was no “lock” option when last I looked, although that has to be an oversight) but not resize them. Matt and I happened to put ours in pretty much the same place, but by default they appear in the upper-left.

      I’ll also be sticking with VuhDo. Like most UI elements in WoW I think people sort of ‘graduate’ out of the default UI when they hit its limitations and want more. It’d be really hard for me to lose the customisability I currently enjoy. But as you say, it’ll be a lot more useful than before on patch day, or if you need an offspec healer to jump in.

  3. Beruthiel says:

    I difinitely think that it is a huge improvement over what is available now.

    Like you, I agree that it won’t be as customizable as Grid, VuhDo or Healbot is, but I also think that you are right in that it needs to remain simple to use “out of the box”. Anyone that has ever set up Grid knows how overwhelming it can be the first time that you log in after intalling it.

    The fact that Blizzard recognizes that their currently default party/raid frames are quite antiquated and in need of an update is a very good sign, I think! Kudos to them for taking the time to fix them up a bit 🙂

  4. […] shows us detailed screenies of the new grid-like party/raid frames – which of course are super-important to healers. […]

  5. […] H for Heals has covered this with commentary quite nicely on their website and the post can be found here. I don't necessarily think that class colours give me information I don't need. I feel colour […]

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