If you've played "World of Warcraft" for any lengthy amount of time, you've most likely downloaded a user interface mod to help you along the way.
While many mods aren't officially sanctioned by Blizzard, lead "World of Warcraft" designer Jeffrey Kaplan said that the developers look at mods for ideas. In fact, he and many others at Blizzard use them all the time.
"I download mods like candy," he admitted in my interview with him last week. "I go through these binges where I'll download every single mod. It drives my wife crazy. She's like, 'You're just getting viruses, what are you doing?' Then I'll have these periods where I remove all the mods and just play with the vanilla 'WoW' UI because that way I can really get a feel for what I was missing after using a mod for four months straight."
He added, "We just use [mods] as players because they're really good, and we're constantly reviewing what we need to do for our interface. We've gotten a ton of ideas from the modding community."
And what kind of interface changes will we see in the "Wrath of the Lich King" expansion as a result? Here are six key examples:
-- Pet and mount tabs. "We're doing a lot in 'Lich King' to clean up some of your bag space," Kaplan said. "Players often ask us for bigger bags. We interpret that as, 'What did we do to your bags in the first place that makes you want bigger bags?' Yeah, we can give you bigger bags but maybe we should give you less junk!"
Kaplan explained that the "culprit" for less bag space are vanity pets -- pets that players receive for quests throughout the game but have no bearing on gameplay. The answer was to make make a "pet tab" available to all players (not just the pet classes), as well as a "mount tab," which will hold a players' various pets and mounts without taking up inventory space. And if you've deleted any pets in the past to save room, you can go to a stable master, where they'll refund the pet for you. Any destroyed Tabards and keys will also be returned.
-- A "currency user interface." "The other big thing we did to help with the bag situation is we're working on something called a currency UI," Kaplan said. "It leaked on the internet as the 'token system' but we want to come up with a better name for it." He also told me the system basically takes items that are used for currency within the game (battleground marks of honor, heroic badges, etc.) and puts them in a separate "currency user interface" so that it's not stored in the inventory.
Kaplan also said that items are being cleaned up on the class side. For example, Rogues won't need flash powder, and the team is currently looking into doing something with Shaman totems. "They have to tote around these four slots that don't do anything for them," he explained. "They can't delete them even if they wanted to, so we're looking into that as well."
-- All-in-one inventory. Currently, "WoW" players have several bags to store items, but some mods allow them to combine the contents of all the bags. "We've been talking about doing something with the bags to help you organize them better," Kaplan said. "We don't have anything immediate on the horizon, but we have a lot of cool ideas. One idea is that we give you a preference system so it helps you auto-sort where your things go. We have tossed around the all-in-one inventory idea, too. We're definitely aware of the mods that are out there; we all use them and we pick and choose which ones are good, accessible and clean interfaces."
-- The threat warning system. The idea for "Wrath of the Lich King"'s threat system also came from a mod. "We're going to introduce a threat warning system in 'Lich King' which is much more simplistic than super-techy mods like Omen. It has all of the actual threat information so in some ways it's more powerful. We're going to display threat by a glowing unit frame. Like if you're glowing orange, you're really close to a 70% threat threshold, and then if you turn red it means you've pulled threat. Because that's really all people need in a raid is to be able to look and go, 'Hey the mage is orange,' and then you tell the mage, 'Dude, you need to chill out.'"
-- Coordinates. Coordinates for the in-game maps are a popular add-on feature in UI mods. I asked Kaplan if they were going to add a coordinate system for players. "Yeah, we've thought about it, but we'd like to come up with a system that's less techy than saying like, 'I'm at negative 200 point zero three,'" he said. "We have a map waypoint system that's been in design, actually for years, and we've just never implemented it. I'm hoping that that would replace the desire for coordinates. The way we've thought about it working is that when you ask me where a quest mob is, rather than me saying some numbers or whatever, I just mark it on your map. I think that would be a little bit more accessible to new players."
-- Quest improvements. "Right now we're considering some quest improvements," Kaplan revealed, without giving details. "Although those won't make 'Lich King,' they'll probably be in our first content patch because we've been looking at the UI mods like QuestHelper and Carbonite."
"WoW" players, are there any other interface changes you'd like to see in "Lich King"?