I enjoy playing Warcraft as a hobby, trying to kill big monsters both on my own and as part of a team. I also enjoy exploring the imaginary world in the game and seeing the scenery it has to offer. Last week, however, I discovered a new way to interact with it: how to import original art into the game. If you recall my Photoshop obsession from...last year, I believe...you may see where this is going.
Warcraft has what is called a "user interface" (UI), which is essentially a collection of buttons and panels on the screen that allows the player to gather information about the game world and interact with it by causing the character to perform actions. The standard UI has "action bars" (the buttons on the bottom and right sides of the screen) that make the character use spells and abilities, a "minimap" (upper right corner) that shows the character's position, "unit frames" (the picture of the character and her pet in the upper left) that give information about the health status of the characters, and a "chat log" (the text in the lower left) through which players can communicate.
This standard UI has pretty much everything a beginning player needs in order to enjoy the game. However, it also has drawbacks that become apparent when you play for a long time. For example, because the action bars are both on the bottom and side of the screen, your mouse has to move quite a long distance to go from one button to another, depending on what skills you are using. If you happen to need to click many buttons quickly, such as during a hectic boss fight, this leads to inconvenient delay. A fraction of a second can literally be the difference between life and death for the characters, particularly when it comes to, say, healing.
Also notice that your eyes have to be constantly moving all around the screen to take in all the information. You need to watch the action bars for information on using your skills (many skills have a "cooldown" period after use, so you have to know when that expires, and the buttons also tell whether you're even in range to use the skill), the chat log for crucial instructions in a group, the map for knowing where other players or enemies are located, and your unit frame to make sure your health is okay. In other words, your eyes have to be traveling to all parts of the screen, and quickly. If you're watching your cooldowns, you may miss that your health is low. If you're watching your health, you may miss that your group leader gave instructions. If you're watching the chat log, you may miss that the enemy is sneaking up behind you. ...And so on. All of these things can lead to your character's death in a crisis.
Thus many players use a "custom" UI. They download "mods" (simple programs that "modify" things in the game) to move the various UI components around. These mods can also change the size, shape, and color of the various components. There are even, as I mentioned above, mods that allow you to import your own graphic art to decorate the screen. When I learned about them, something clicked, and I decided I wanted to design my own custom UI.
Here's what I came up with for my first try: Autumn in Japan UI. Note that the action bars, minimap, unit frames, and chat log are all collected together at the bottom of the screen so that my eyes and mouse can stay focused in the same spot. The "wall scroll" art in the upper left corner isn't really necessary, but I added it because I felt it contributed to the atmosphere. (The round buttons on the wall scroll open up menus for the various mods that I use. Ordinarily they would be attached to the minimap, as in the standard UI.)
Anyway, this is what I've been obsessing over during my free time all week. I spent hours making sketches of different arrangements for all the UI parts, not to mention potential art ideas. For example, I considered making graphics of Japanese castles or shrines to frame the map or other objects on the screen. I could make different designs for each season...a "snow bunny" winter design would be adorable, not to mention cherry and plum blossoms for spring. Calligraphy-style art would be an interesting touch. I even considered making a "pirates versus ninjas" theme. So many ideas, so little time. (After all, the more time I spend designing in Photoshop, the less time I'm actually playing...)