Leaning on your ears

_We’re mostly awol this week visiting family but we’re leaving you in very capable hands with some guest posts! Today’s is from Saif of Raiding After Dark, where he covers everything from fan fiction to tanking notes to commentary on PUGing on an RP server -and more. Over to Saif – thanks for doing this Saif!_

Warcraft is a profoundly visual game. As players, we depend on various bars, meters, flashing signs and ticking numbers to give us data to react to, along with environmental effects and the memory of a particular mechanic. Sometimes, in very cluttered interfaces, that visual information can be difficult to parse. Things get lost in a flood of information and while you’re tracking one thing something important might slip by and suddenly half the raid is dead.

For example, during the Omnitron fight in Blackwing Descent, when Toxitron summons his adds – if you’re focused on some other element of the fight, it’s easy to miss and if you’re the one focused, or the one responsible for slowing the adds, it can cause a big problem. But usually, important, significant stuff like that is prominently tracked – whether through a boss add-on or when the raid-lead is calling things out over Vent to keep everyone on their toes.

It’s the small stuff that can get lost in the mix.

Many of us are constantly tracking things that can occupy a significant portion of concentration. Keeping track of resources that increases and diminishes very frequently (like combo points) or short term buffs (like Inquisition) can be difficult and purely visual information can make your eyes dart over the screen. If you’re not using something like Power Auras to track them right in the middle of the screen, it can be impossible to find something in a long list of buffs at the top of your screen.

At least it is for me – I can track the mechanics of a fight well enough, thanks to preparation and memorization, but tracking very short-term events is difficult for me. So when I found Hear Kitty – I became very excited.

This add-on does one thing, and it does it very simply and elegantly. For classes with rapidly building and expending points (Rogues, Feral Druids, Paladins) it plays a series of ascending notes as the combo points are accumulated and then plays a very short concluding chime when the points are expended. It doesn’t replace your default combo-point display or anything – that is still there. The sounds are a supplement to the visual information.

As a paladin, I have Holy Power that increments when I use certain abilities, and rather than look at the bar filling or diminishing I can look instead at the mechanics of the fight and use abilities as necessary to either build or expend points with a purely audio guide to my current status.

For example, when I’m in Retribution spec, it’s very important for me to know when I’ve got a 3 Holy Power bar so I can hit Templar’s Verdict (using TP at less than 3 HP is a significant DPS loss – this really helps me clean up my rotation), or when I’m in PvP, and about to use a Word of Glory, I want to hit it with all 3 points, so I get the most healing possible – and I don’t have to look away from the fight. I can use my mouse-over macros to cleanse, or I can cast a CC instead – far more important to do that than to track how much Holy Power I have.

The last thing I should mention, is the the conclusion – when you hit an ability that uses your combo points and there is a chance it might fail (as in Shield of the Righteous failing to land) – the notes will not play. That lack of sound is also a bit clue that I need to hit that button again right away and hopefully it’ll land this time. Otherwise, if I don’t notice the miss, I might just continue with my rotation without realizing it.

It might all sound like a very small thing, but it is an incredible amount of data that I no longer have to track visually and it opens up my interface and gives my eyes the room to focus on more important things.

Can this grow to envelop other things? I’m sure at some point overlapping audio information will get confusing just as too many bars and charts and meters will confuse any visual setup, but what if only track the short-term buffs that last for 30 seconds to a minute?

For example, I can use Power Auras to set up something for Inquisition as Retribution or Holy Shield as Protection – short term buffs that are necessary to be maintained. Anytime the buff falls off, or maybe anytime it’s within a few seconds of expiring, in addition to the usual visual information that Power Auras does so well, I can get a certain warning chime, reminding me that I need to rebuff.

Now I’m tracking two things – the notes remind me of current amount of stored Holy Power, one chime warns me of expiring buffs, the other lets me know I’ve depleted my resource.

I think two things might be okay, but more than that, and I might start running into trouble trying to recognize what sounds mean what, especially as they overlap or sound together (this might also run into audio system issues in terms of how many channels your sound card can play simultaneously, etc.)

Going too far has its own problems – I actually had a bit of trouble with this when I was running with the boss add-on Deus Vox Encounters. The add-on would play different sounds and chimes constantly as a fight was progressing and with no clue as to what those sounds meant, I had a very difficult time trying to keep tack of what was going. That one feature – an excess of sounds with no context – turned me off on an add-on that I thought I would like because of its detailed sound-support.

I’m sure Power Auras is also capable of doing this kind of thing quite well with enough work but Power Auras can be intimidating for people who aren’t used to the level of complexity that add-on can bring.

If you haven’t tried this add-on and you play a class with combo-points, I recommend running with it to see how you like it – it might eliminate one thing that you have to keep track of visually letting your eyes work a little less and give you more time to focus on other thing. Hear Kitty is the only add-on I’m aware of that supplements visual information with audial clues but if you’re aware of any others that specifically cater to this, please link them in the comments below, I would love to give them a try!

You can find Hear Kitty at Curse, updated for 4.1: http://wow.curse.com/downloads/wow-addons/details/hear-kitty.aspx