Procrastination Amplification: Punditry on MMOs and games in general.

Button Real Estate

Today is the last day before Blizzcon so I will likely have to post about Worgens and Goblins and Naga – Oh My! But today is not that day.
I recently stumbled upon this post by Hafengrim over at NoStockUI that deals with using keybindings to save screen real estate. While not bad, I find that saving button real estate is far more important.

Button Real Estate
You have a lot of buttons on your keyboard, but with your one hand on the mouse there are only so many keys you can easily reach without moving your hand away from the movement keys. In a stardard keyboard layout you will therefore be limited to about 13 or so keys that you can reach during combat. Some of those keys have additional limitations – it can be hard, for example, to move and to use the number keys at the same time.
Below you will find tips on how to save and how to expand your button real estate so that you can reach all your imortant abilities without limiting your movement.

Movement Keys
You all know the standard movement keys, W (forward), S (backward), A & D (turn left & turn right), and Q & E (strafe left & strafe right). What you may or may not know is that these are bad. If you still have this setup you should immediately bind the strafes to A and D instead of Q and E. Nobody needs turn keys, because if you do you are a keyboard turner – which is bad.
Obviously many of you will know not to use the keyboard for turning. Rebinding the keys as proposed above frees up two keys though, and two very valuable ones at that.

So far, so usual. Most serious players will have made this change already. What I’m about to propose is a more profound change that will require some getting used to. You can free up another three buttons by shifting your movement keys one step to the right – using ESDF to move instead of WASD. Now you should have 18 buttons available for you to bind things to. What’s better, you gain buttons that are easily accessed while moving instead of the clunky number buttons up top.

State Macros
Ever played a healer and wondered how you were supposed to find room for both your heals and your damage abilities? State macros will make your life so much easier. You can configure macros in such a way that they will use a certain spell when your target is friendly and another one when your target is hostile. The basic version looks like this:

/cast [help]HelpfulSpellName;[harm]HarmfullSpellName

If you use the questionmark icon for the macro, it should automatically show which spell would be used at any given moment.
You can obviously modify this kind of macro to do other things. If you want it to cast a harmful spell when you have a hostile target, a helpful spell on a friendly target and give you a targeting cursor of the helpful spell when you have no target you could do this:

/cast [harm]HarmfulSpellName;HelpfulSpellName

If you want the helpful spell cast on the player you are mousing over and do the above when you are not miousing over anyone, try this:

/cast [target=mouseover,help]HelpfulSpellName;[harm]HarmfulSpellName;HelpfulSpellName

You can also include various other conditions, such as [target=player] if you want it to default to yourself if you have nothing targeted. You must be careful with macros like these, however, because they can have undesired effects. If you are using the mouseover macro, for example, have the boss targeted, and hit your keybinding while almost but not quite over a unit frame, it will start casting the harmful spell on the boss.
Macros like these can save a lot of button real estate, especially for healers, but be careful not to make them too intelligent.

Modifier Keys
You can use a special version of state macros to give you 300% additional button real estate – by using modifier keys. Instead of relying on a game state to choose which spell to cast you decide that yourself by pressing shift, alt, or ctrl and a keybinding. You can either set the bar mod of your choice up to switch bars if a modifier key is pressed or you can use macros very much like the ones shown above:

/cast [mod:alt]SpellNameTwo;[mod:ctrl]SpellNameThree;[mod:shift]SpellNameFour;SpellNameOne

This will cast a different spell depending on whether you have a modifier key pressed and which one. If you are really desperate you can get even more out of these keys by using combinations, i.e. [mod:shift,mod:alt].
Modifier keys don’t have the disadvantage of making choices that are too intelligent, but certain combinations can be hard to use.

OPie
OPie is an addon that allows you to open ring-shaped menus on the press of a button and selecting an action by a slight movement of your mouse in its direction. In the case of my shaman, for example, my Y key opens a radial menu with potions, Mana Tide and Heroism. Pressing Y (on my keyboard, so likely “Z” on yours) and moving my mouse to the left casts Heroism while moving it to the right pops Mana Tide. The use of the mouse obviously hinders movement but OPie can be used so quickly that it’s hardly ever a hassle.
This is obviously not something that you drop your bread and butter skills in, but it’s a great container for less frequently used skills that still need to be available in a pinch.
Since OPie opens its menus directly at your mouse pointer there is much less movement involved than trying to click a button in a bar somwehere.

Location, Location, Location
All the above methods gained you lots and lots of space to put your abilities in. None of that will help you much, however, if you don’t place them right. Every location has unique features that make it more suited for some kind of spell and less suited for another. The tips below assume an ESDF layout, modify accordingly if you can’t leave WASD behind.

  • The number buttons (2,3,4,5) are predestined for spells that aren’t used while moving, i.e. any spell with a cast time. This is because the easiest way to reach them is with your middle finger, which is normally needed for forward movement.
  • Q, W, R, T, A, F, and G are where you want your most used abilities to be, preferrably those that need to be used while moving. All of these are easily accessible without moving your middle finger and predestined for your quick access instants.
  • H is a bit of a stretch but still useable. Preferrably use it for abilities that don’t allow movement.
  • Z (or Y on some layouts) and (on some layouts) the pipe (|) key are accessed with your pinkie. They don’t come as natural as the keys above but are useable while moving. Note that you can’t use modifier keys with these comfortably. Very good for less frequently used abilities or OPie bindings.
  • X,C,V, and B are accessed with your thumb. Unlike the pinkie keys, they do allow for modifier keys to be used. Opie Bindings, less frequently used abilities and modifier macros for those are well situated here.
  • OPie Rings are best used for less frequently used abilities (potions, forms, cooldowns) and things that you want quick access to outside of combat (mounts, hearthstone, item sets.)
  • I used to use modifier macros for the things I use OPie for now but it was cumbersome. Now I only use them for actual modifications of an action. Healing Wave is cast by pressing 2, for example, and Ctrl-2 casts Nature’s Switftness and then Healing Wave. On the DPS side I have my trinkets macroed to my Flame Shock so i don’t forget to use them – but pressing control will prevent them from being used, allowing me to save them in certain situations.
  • Away With the Garbage
    All these new keys mean that you lost some of your old keybindings. Replying to tells, opening your bags or character pane etc. Well, too bad :p
    You can easily rebind those to other locations that aren’t vital to combat – ALT+Shift+0 anyone?
    Seriously, these can be moved virtually anywhere as they don’t require quick access. You can even make macros for them and put them in an OPie ring somewhere out of sight.

    • I don't agree with the repulsion against turning with the keyboard. You can very easy strafe with W and Q – which are kinda bad positioned to have common used combat keys – and keep A and D for turning. There aren't there to be used all the time, but personally I find them very usefull in a relative common combat scenario for a healer, specially a druid healer which has very good mobility.Take the exemple of fights where you need to move alot, constant, but without to many sharp-turning on a fast reflex. You can't there to move with the mouse (Which require you to keep right click pressed and move the rat on the pad) and in the same time, contantly move the mouse of your raid UI interface in order to cast a spell each second. Is kinda impossible for a common player, after all we're not liek that starcraft champion from coreea who had 80 of logical mouse movments and clicks / minute while playing. So, I tend to move my character with the help of the keys many times, and only do sharp turns with the help of the mouse when the situation needs it.

    • Well, I cannot speak for you druids and your fancy i-can-heal-while-running attitude. Personally I have never in four years encountered a situation where I could have used keys to turn.

      If you don't need quick turns, strafe should do fine. For everything else there's the mouse during the GCD.