(Possibly the best version of the song aside from – maybe – the Cheech and Chong version!)
One of the most-used addons out there is the Unit Frame mod. One of the first addons I ever installed, in fact, was a unit frame mod – CT_UnitFrames, in the early days of 2006. We’ve come a long way since then.
Unit frame mods come in several flavors and variations, but the essence of the beast is this. Look at your default layout. See that little widget that has your picture, your health, and your mana (or other similar power) in it? That’s your player unit frame. There are several others such as target, pet, party members, raid members, and so forth.
WoW comes with a full set of unit frames, but, in the past, they have been less than adequate to the users’ needs1.
As with the HUD review series, I’m going to take a look at the various unit frame addon candidates out there. While this series is primarily concerned with unit frame replacement addons, I will also be looking at alternative unit frame addons such as Grid. The main difference is that the former is designed to replace all unit frames completely, while the latter is intended to be used alongside your unit frames (or replacements).
Unit Frame addons are highly complex because what they are replacing is complex to start with. A unit frame conveys so much information, and can be tweaked in so many ways, that something like your pet’s unit frame could be a blog article all by itself. Unit frames are deceptively simple on the surface, and filled with potential when you look beyond that.
The hardest part of this review was to sift out the important features and to drill down to the truly useful stuff. I consider the ultimate test bed to be instances – party and raid. Therefore the final pass of performance reviewing required a few weeks to complete, since I’m not in raids and parties every day.
A note about bugs
One big fat caveat for this review. We are in a transition period between patch 4.0.3 and 4.2. There were a few change to the Blizzard UI interface (moving function calls to a secure domain, removal of pet happiness stat, etc) that directly impact unit frames.
Now, normally, in a transition period such as this, I would not be too hard on an addon if it hadn’t caught up yet. But for most of the changes we’re talking months. I have far fewer charitable thoughts in that light.
If a change was made in 4.2 that caused problems, I’ll call it out as such for your consideration. If it was a 4.0 or 4.1 change that broke the addon, however, I am not cutting any slack. That should have been resolved by now. If it hasn’t, it’s possible that the addon has been abandoned, and you should consider that.
Let’s talk about the spread of features and how important they can and cannot be.
A proper feature will jump out at you, especially if you are used to it and it goes missing. For example, the very act of moving a unit frame around is a major feature, and arguably the one single feature that drives people into the arms of the various addons to begin with.
On the other hand, a lot of addons are filled to the brim with features that are nice to have, but not so important. For example, a large portion of the entire gaming world can get by without having the means to add arbitrary text to every health bar. Changing the font, on the other hand, is a big deal if the default one, well, sucks2.
One of the first things to look at is, how much of the default UI does it actually replace? On the whole, you’ll probably want as complete coverage as possible so that everything works in a consistent manner. However, in the case of the group-focused addons, the intent is not 100% coverage, so we don’t want to take away from them just because they have focused goals.
The following frame types are up for replacement.
Raid and Party frames – These only appear during group activities and represent your fellow adventurers. These are usually smaller and more utilitarian, so as to reduce clutter and avoid performance issues. At minimum, it’ll be a frame that has the name of the character and the character’s health. Subframes may or may not be “stuck to” the main frames. I think the better ones are, but not all addon authors agree.
Group Target Subframes – In my opinion, the really good raid frame replacements will also track each members’ target, though positioning it can be problematic. But at least have the ability, is what I say.
Group Pet Subframes – More common than the group target subframe, this shows the combat pets for the group. I find these less useful as DPS, but can see the value to a healer – though I suspect a healer would be using something more … healy.
Player Frame – This represents you. In the default UI, it is in the upper-left corner, and has the player’s pet sub-frame stuck to it as well. Many addons do not keep the pet attached to the player.
Pet Target – Most addons – but not all – also support a pet target subframe. This represents the target that the pet is going after.
Target Frame – This represents your target. Generally it may have buff and debuff info as well. Usually, you can also create a Target of Target and Target of Target of Target mini-frame. In the default UI, the former is latched onto the target’s frame.
Focus Frame – This is like a target frame but does not represent your target per se. Some addons feature a Focus Target frame as well.
Boss Frame – In 4.0 or 4.1, the Boss Frame was added, and, as you likely suspect, it is a representation of the boss or bosses in a boss fight. It is incredibly handy. If an addon does not support it, it better not hide it!
Main Tank and Main Assist – Many addons – including the default – support them. As you might suspect, they represent the tank(s) and offtank(s) should the raid leader so designate them. Some addons have the means for you to assign “private” tanks and offtanks yourself, so you don’t have to nag the raid leader. Most of these also show or support showing each tank’s target, and, in some cases, the target’s target, in the same frame.
Arena Frames – A fairly new addition, arena frames often also support team targets and team pets.
There are a number of features that apply to the addon in general, in terms of how it’s put together, how it handles configuration, how it supports the underlying unit frame mechanics of WoW.
UI Compatibility– This is in reference to the native Blizzard UI, and how well the addon supports it.
Configuration UI – Does the addon use Blizzard’s native configuration panel, or does it roll its own?
Unit Frame UI – The default Blizzard frames have a few UI features that not all addons support, such as “unlock frame” and click-to-drag subsequent to that.
Hiding Blizzard Frames – If an addon replaces a Blizzard frame, it should either hide the default frame automatically, or at least let you turn it off yourself via its configuration panel.
Configuration Features – These features are relevant to the actual setup of the addon itself. The major items are profile support (supporting the loading and saving of preset configurations, usually but not always character-baed), click and drag (visual adjustment of the frames’ position), and configuration mode (simulate a raid or other environment to facilitate the placement of the unit frames).
Extensibility – Some addons offer a constellation of plugins to enhance them. King of this hill is Grid.
Modularity – A modular addon comes with several pieces – typically one core piece, and then additional pieces that extend it further, such as a configuration module. Most of these also feature load-on-demand, so even if you don’t disable the parts you don’t need, they won’t eat memory until you actually use them.
The meat and potatoes of the unit frame addon will be the features supported by the unit frames themselves.
Portraits are little representations of the frame’s owner. They can be animated, they can be 3D, and can be movable. Animation and 3D consume frame rates, so if you are having issues with that, you should keep those features turned off – or eliminate portraits totally if possible. They really aren’t a vital feature.
Faders “dim” the frame to indicate something, such as out of range, AFK, and so forth.
Border highlighting is another way of indicating events visually. The most common use is to indicate that the frame is selected, it is your target, or it has aggro – but that varies a lot between addons.
Combat text is that text that pops up over your character when you are hit or healed. Overall, this seems (to me) to be a noncritical feature.
Geometry – This is a key feature, in that frames should be sizable, scalable, and movable without making a big fat mess. Blow it here, and you’re gonna hear about it.
Different bar types convey information of interest, though health and power are of most interest in raids, parties, etc. Alternate Powers are also pretty crucial in the new Cataclysm raiding idiom – Omnitron, Four Winds, and Atramedes are good examples. Others, like reputation and XP are rarely of interest for anything other than your own toon, and some – such as the cast bar – are possibly better done by other addons such as Quartz. Others, like incoming heals, are largely situational – you’re less likely to care if you’re not a specific role. The fancy ones let you resize everything, but it’s generally not a deal-breaker if the layout is done right.
Auras is a generic term used to describe both buff and debuff effects, and how they are presented in terms of unit frames. Again, this is a feature I feel is best handled by other addons, such as Decursive, though some of the healy unit frames do a pretty good job of providing useful information without getting carried away. Anyway, there’s a bunch of features associated with auras, and if they’re important to you in unit frames, pay heed to the charts.
Indicators are those little symbols such as “in combat“, “raid leader“, “PVP“, and all the various raid symbols. Quite a few of these are truly useful.
Class Features – Several classes have specific iconography which indicates very important information, so how it is conveyed is a big deal. For example, failing to display combo points is probably a deal breaker for rogues and cat druids. Not all classes have special needs, but those that do, are listed.
So, the stage is set. In the next part, I will start discussing the specific addons. I’ll be doing it alphabetically.
Blizzard has been working hard to fix that, however, about which more later. [↩]
Aside from Healium, this is by far the most compact working unit frame replacement that I know of. This compactness comes without sacrificing much in the way of features..
Right off the bat, there is a bit of misfortune. The addon was rewritten a while back, and features deemed nonvital were left out for later. For example, a unique feature, “Frame Style“. Very intriguing, but since it only supports one style (“ABF”), impossible to evaluate properly.
I encountered a number of Lua errors while testing. One is tied to Pet Happiness, making it clear that a 4.1 update is necessary. There was also a typo in the Reputation Bar routine. I fixed this myself because I am awesome that way1. When attempting Raid and Party config modes, there was another error thrown.
The only other issue I found here was that the raid pet frame did not keep up with changes to hunter pets very well2, making it unclear to me how well the addon is at updating information in a timely and meaningful manner. This could be linked to the pet happiness bug, however.
I’m also not sure how well it supports some class-specific stuff. There were a number of irregularities with the display of DK runes – eventually, they worked, but starting out, I was afraid it was overlooked.
Still, for all those minuses, the small size and near-complete feature-set make this addon very tempting, indeed. It’s almost worth a look if you feel adventurous. And if the defects ever get fixed, it’s totally on. And if you’re not a hunter, you’re probably going “What bugs?”
The only caveat is a big one for Hunters – because of the happiness bug, the pet frame’s health value never updates, so you need to have another way to track your pet’s health – or get another addon.
Blizzard Native Unit Frames
There is an old engineering saying, “A good engineer knows that the job is done, not when there is nothing to add, but when there is nothing to remove.” The native UI exemplifies this concept.
Over the years, Blizzard has implemented little features here and there to enhance the native unit frames. The most recent additions – movable units, raid frames – make it almost viable against the full-on replacements3. In 4.2, even more has been added. For example, you can now tie a frame layout to your spec, which is no doubt very handy for healy types that also have DPS or tanking specs.
As far as I can tell, every unit frame is now re-locatable with the exception of Party unit frames (yo, Blizz, get on that!), although subordinate unit frames – player pet, target of target, focus target, etc. – are firmly attached to the parent frame.
The party frames are currently the least well-behaved. When another addon turns off the party frames, for example, the background behind them still sticks around. And, as mentioned, you can’t move them.
There are already a number of plugins for the raid frames.
A brief anecdote: I had a nasty scare on my mage when I tested this addon – the default frames just up and disappeared! I don’t know what caused this, but it only happened on my mage, so I am going to cast my gaze at mage-only addons, and the only such addon I have ever used is Cryolisis, so I’m giving a wag of the finger in that general direction4. A tip of the hat, however, to the forum poster that suggested deleting WTF\<REALM>\<CHARACTER>\LAYOUT-CACHE.TXT – that solved the problem5.
Most people view Grid as solely a healer aid, but when you look at it closely, you realize that it is more than that. In fact, it is a fully functional set of replacement unit frames for party and raid frames.
As-is, it offers just about everything you need for basic raiding (non-healer). However, it’s plug-gable nature makes it really shine. With dozens of plug-ins providing everything from mana bars to custom debuff icons, there is little lacking for anyone. On top of that, it is very lightweight, though that does not include the plug-ins.
Plug-ins are also its Achilles Heel, though. So many have gone bad (not updated or maintained) that it is difficult figuring out which ones are causing a particular problem. It’s also possible that you will become so dependent on a plug-in that losing it will make it hard to raid at all.
The only other downside to this plugin is that it does not do well with vehicle fights. Your UI may get eaten by Grid when fighting bosses like Loot Leviathan.
For the longest time this was the primary competitor to Grid. I had never used it when I was doing my healy thing, but no comparison would be complete without it.
What I just said to the contrary, however, the resemblance between the two is not even skin-deep. They don’t look or work alike. The only thing I can really see in common is that they are both designed with the healer’s task in mind. Each takes a drastically different path to get there, however.
The configuration panels and idioms are somewhat confusing – but keep in mind that it is not intended to be a unit frame replacement, and more a healer aid, thus it’s not intuitive when you have unit frames on the brain (that’s me). Grid itself has the same sorts of issues, though the recent overhaul of the config panel yielded up huge improvements.
Having said all that, I had a difficult time getting anything set up to look the way I wanted it, and after several failed attempts, gave up using it for raid frames.
For a raid frame enhancement, this addon does well. I had no issues using it as a healer. As a full-on replacement, it doesn’t do anything for me.
Simple fix: “self” was mis-spelled “slef”. I corrected a typo. Any suggestions on how to check it in? [↩]
By which I mean, when I dismissed a pet and called up a different one, the raid frames often continued to show my old pet. [↩]
I realize people tend to accuse Blizz of “copying other addons”. I really feel that is a ridiculous claim. Blizz doesn’t re-implement addons. They implement features that people want and are willing to use an addon for. See: movable frames. How many people got X-Perl just so they could move the player frames, eh? [↩]
OK, it happened to my warlock sometime during the past week, too, so Cryolisis is off the hook. [↩]
Healium is astonishingly lightweight for what it offers. It is the smallest of all the tested addons in this review, while offering some unique features others do not. Interestingly, it fulfills probably 90% of what you need from a unit frame replacement, period, even though it is aimed squarely at healers.
There were a few things that I found not to my liking. For example, it would not turn off the default unit frames that it was replacing, making one go into multiple configuration UIs to set it up. I was also not happy that the power bar could not be reoriented from its default vertical (which was hard to read) to horizontal (easier to read).
Fortunately, the plusses far outweigh the minuses.
A key feature for Healium is that it lets you set up buttons for all the unit frames, tied to specific abilities. For example, on my Hunter I set it up for Misdirect, so I can quickly click a button next to a character’s unit frames to MD to them. In many ways this reminds me a lot of Decursive.
One oddity is that all unit frame types are active at all times. However, the individual frames for the group frames do not fill in unless you are in a group, so that’s not as obtrusive as it sounds. Also, if you disable the “caption” bar, they will fade out as you might expect them to.
The pet frame serves as both the player pet frame and, in groups, the group pet frame as well. New pets just get added on at the bottom. After you think about it a bit, you realize this works out pretty well.
Finally, there is the “Friends” frame. This is a unique feature for Healium which allows you to create a frame of people that you designate “friends” to Healium. It doesn’t work off your friends list or anything, but requires you to inform it who you want to track.
So, what’s the relationship between this addon and X-Perl? Is there any? I mean, what are the odds that Perl would figure in the naming of both? Especially since Perl doesn’t actually have anything to do with either?
No matter. What I do know of this addon is that it’s stable, flexible, doesn’t support raid frames, and has what I consider the second-best look of all of them (third-best if you count Deep, which I don’t).
While it is in many ways underpowered compared to others in the field, it still supports a few unique and interesting features. For example, you have a choice in how it scales with your UI scale.
But there are a number of issues that likewise take away from one’s enjoyment.
While configuring the software is easy enough, the layout of the config panel is often confusing, though you can see some attempts at using a standard idiom between the various unit frames.
While Profiles are supported, they don’t appear to affect positioning. Using “Load Global” gets around that, though why that should be the case escapes me.
The Combat Display will not go away even when disabled. Well, I think that’s what it is. There’s something that pops up in the middle of my HUD that belongs to Perl.
Player buffs are handled via an additional module which I cannot find anywhere.
You can have an XP bar, or a rep bar, but not both and not live-switchable. You can only select one in the config, and that’s what you’re stuck with.
This was one of the first ‘modern’ unit frame replacements to come along. It’s complex yet flexible, and that engenders a lot of love – and hate – from the player-base.
One of the first things you notice is that this sucker’s modular, and by which I mean mOdular with a capital O! Everything is a module. There are a few core functions in a core module, but everything else can be completely disabled from the addon control panel. In all, there are 45 or more modules (I lost count).
The second thing you – well, I – notice is that the addon comes up with all of the frames piled up in the middle of your screen. I don’t know how hard it would be to make reasonable assumptions about initial layout, but it would start things out on the right foot. This is, of course, a once-per-character event, and I’m sure that the author(s) “have better things to do”, but, hey. There’s an old chef’s saying, “the first bite is taken with the eye.”
Where this really becomes painful is the first time you Party or Raid, but only because Configuration Mode only supports solo layout. As such, you’re going to need a patient friend to party up with you, and five more to join your raid, in order to get things laid out proper. On the plus side, most people that like Pit Bull probably have this sussed already.
Other than that, configuration is, as one might expect of a full-featured addon, involved if you want to get all you want out of it. Fortunately, most defaults are reasonable, except for position (Really, Grimm? Again with that? I’m not bitter.) The snap-to-grid feature makes for an enjoyable experience.
The ability to define master frame layouts to replicate a look and feel for various frame types is also very nice. In this, you define one or more “templates” and then for each frame type, you associate it with that template.
But, in general, the config process fails to live up to the expectations that the rest of the addon establishes. This is a real quality addon, so to see the config interface so muddled and difficult to use is a real shame. It tries so hard and yet ultimately fails to establish a clear sense of order around this hugely complex addon. For example, turning on or off portraits requires you to look in places you would not expect. Oh, it’s not unusable. But it does have a remarkably steep learning curve.
This addon does sport quite a few nifty features. The click-through flag makes it possible to have a unit frame that won’t react to mouse clicks – in an odd way, it could be used as a HUD display (I believe I’ve seen TankSpot’s Ciderhelm using that feature in his vids). Unique to this addon is the means to swap layout profiles based on your spec, which would probably be a great boon to hybrid classes that support multiple roles.
Among things that I dislike (other than the above) is that setting up something like “Raid targets” and “party pets” is completely manual. The addon simply does not recognize that one frame type is subordinate to another. All the layout work is yours. On the plus side, there ARE raid target frames, missing from most other addons. And also, there were a few unpleasant surprises, such as how it overrides some Blizzard frame elements. In my case, I found out at the worse possible time, that the Atramedes “sound” value was gone, and after some frantic looking about, found it tucked into my player frame. I guess it’s a good thing I had it out.
A word about memory. This addon is massive, but since practically everything can be turned on and off, you can disable any module you don’t need to get some of it back. Oddly, the config module is not one of them, so this makes my memory footprint analysis a little odd looking. This addon does use the Dog Tags library, and that itself consumes a whopping 1.15 MiB. It also supports the LuaText library, which is better maintained and quite a bit smaller.
At the end of the day, I look at Pit Bull and appreciate the rich feature-set and modular nature, but, having seen others that offer what the average person wants in a more kind form, I have to ask myself why anyone would want to use this over most of them. My suggestion to the developers would be to focus on usability above all other things for a couple of months; iron out some of these little inconveniences (if you need a FAQ to essplain it, there’s a hint), at which point this addon will more than justify its heavy footprint. Right now, though, I have my doubts. I’m sure that Pit Bull has a huge and loyal following, and I hope you don’t take any of that personally.
Shadowed (SUF) is touted as a lightweight alternative to others without sacrificing features. Given it’s longevity on my own machine, I think that that’s a valid statement. I have been using this one for several months and have experienced very few issues with it.
Of the list of features you would expect for such an addon, you will not be lacking. When this software was planned out, the author appears to have been quite aggressive at getting as much as possible packed into the software. So much that it is hard to find a feature that would inspire you to look elsewhere.
Configuration has very few gotchas. Positioning unit frames is click-and-drag, though sizing and scaling are still slider-based. There is a config mode but it is limited to one ‘scenario’ – or rather, it has no concept of different scenarios such as ‘solo’, ‘party’, and ‘raid’ – and ‘raid’ seems to have gone walkabout.
There is a unified ‘master frame’ configuration feature that is really cool. Basically, you select the frame types you want to affect, then configure the ‘master’ frame – the settings you configure will propagate out to all the selected frame types. For example, selecting player, player pet and target, then configuring the portrait, will make the same settings take effect for all three frames.
There are a few plug-ins (“modules”) for SUF, but few appear to be actively maintained, or if they are, they haven’t been updated in so long as makes no difference.
Support of Blizzard’s native code is minimal. You can turn off things you’re replacing, and that’s about it. It does not use Blizzard’s configuration framework, nor does it support Blizzard’s recent unit frame improvements such as “unlock frame” on the frame’s menu.
Overall, though, this is an excellent addon that has done me well over time. Light in weight, functional, versatile.
I do have a reservation. First of all, as of 4.1 or 4.2, I am seeing a lot of Lua errors, to the point that BugSack gives up and suspends trapping for a few seconds periodically. It seems to be related to the raid frames calling a protected function. Activity on the WoWAce and WoWInterface fora1 give me pause as to how long this addon will continue development. “Shadowed” – the original author – has retired from WoW, but is still present as a developer, while his co-developers manage as best they can. I’m not sure how long that can be sustained.
That’s it for now! The next installment will finish up with the list of contenders, as well as go over the near-misses. See you then!
The author elected to turn off comments on Curse. [↩]
Touted as a more configurable replacement for Stellar Unit Frames1, this unit frame replacement is a complete rework from the ground up, according to the label on the tin.
Let’s start with look and feel. It’s a rather modern-looking package, in many ways resembling Pit Bull or SUF, at least on the surface. But when you look more deeply, the seams start to show. In many ways it looks and feels like it’s still a work in progress – well, I suppose most addons are, but this one more so.
As an example, the act of setting up a unit frame. Many addons allow you to control what bars and other elements are part of a unit frame, and Stuf is no different. Most of those, however, tidy up behind you. Stuf does not, so, for example, when you turn off the character portrait, there’s a big gap left behind and you need to shuffle things around to cover it. True, you could leave the big gap there, I suppose. Not that I’ve seen that as a favored idiom.
Let’s look at the positives.
First of all, it offers any number of unique and useful features in a very small memory footprint (second-smallest overall!). There’s a config mode, which is always useful. Then there’s the ability to link frames, so that dragging one also moves the other (ala the default interface’s pet frame), which is pretty much unique.
Another unique feature is “premade elements“. For those which were not initially available, you can select from a constellation of presets that speed you towards completion. To further improve matters, you can copy settings from any unit to another, or, from any one element to its counterpart in another unit. This is a very nice feature and promotes a consistent UI design on the part of the player.
Finally, the countdown timers are very nice, clear, easy to read, yet, unfortunately, expensive in terms of real estate. But, if you got it, use it.
Raid frames were another matter altogether. Maybe the reason raid frames are in another module (as are the config settings for it) is that somebody else designed and implemented them. The two halves of the addon just don’t seem to take much in the way of design cues from the other.
And the raid frames are where I have the most issues. I attempted to use these in an active raiding environment and found it to be nearly impossible. We’ll start with the config mode, in which it took me a few days to sort out that I had to drag the raid frames around by a little tab, unlike the normal frames. Pet frames and raider frames are separate and are not linked. There are no raid target frames, either, but that’s a common omission for this sort of addon, so I won’t give it too much grief for that. I was also not agreeable with how the raid frames were laid out, or that it seemed impossible to alter that layout.
I will not go so far as to say that this addon is unusable. It is not. But I will say that it needs a lot of work before it comes in to its own. Given the small footprint and the large number of useful features it offers, I can only hope that that will in fact happen. I’ll be watching, with hope.
If Grid’s weakness is that its plug-ins cannot be relied upon from patch to patch, does this make Vuhdo the perfect counterpoint? Vuhdo is another addon that is widely considered a healing addon, but has the capacity to replace your raid and party frames completely. Best thing is, it does not rely in any way on external plug-ins for its feature-set.
This means, of course, that it’s huge. Short of Pit Bull, this addon is the biggest one I evaluated, and if you remove Pit Bull’s reliance on Dog Tags, it is the biggest!
On the other hand, just look at that config panel. First of all, very unique look and feel. While I have no objections, is it really worth the time, effort, and (likely) memory footprint?
I would be far less concerned if it were for a good cause, such as implementing a more straight-forward way of doing things. Unfortunately, that’s not the case. The config interface is often confusing and non-intuitive. I am embarrassed to say how long it took me to find out how to change the health bar color to that of the owner’s class – and I almost wrote up that it was impossible to do so, before I stumbled across the right thing in one last desperate bid to find something to do so.
Another example of the config panel’s inscrutability is how some flags work. Instead of “show this” and “show that”, for example, you get “don’t show this” and “don’t show that”. That’s just bad design. It probably makes perfect sense to an engineer, which is why you don’t let engineers design UIs.
Something it has in common with Pit Bull is that at first invocation, all frames and panels are piled up on top of each other in the middle. Again, I have to wonder how hard it is to deduce useful defaults from the saved preferences of the existing UI. Maybe it’s a real pain. I do note that quite a few others, DO come up with suitable defaults.
But enough complaining. Let’s look at the bright spots. Besides being an outstanding healer UI – I mean, it supports everything and then some! – it is also an excellent UI for raiding and partying. It even provides raid target and target of raid target information, something sorely lacking in others and extremely welcome here. In fact, it does such a good job that I am considering it as a total replacement for my raid frames, full time, memory footprint be damned.
This is one of the oldest unit frame addons, or, more properly, one of the most mature. But you may find that some of the more modern idioms are nowhere to be found here. Things like a unified profile manager, for example, were unheard of at the time, and now it would be a major effort to implement the same profile manager that other addons use. On the other hand, I do like how the unit frames look. Not as out of place as more modern addons, but not too retro, either.
The addon IS modular, and a number of features may not be of use to you, either if you do not raid (Raid Monitor, Raid Helper), or if you do not raid lead (Raid Admin). These are, however, not load-on-demand.
Configuration is a mixed bag. The various config pages are very cluttered, and show their maturity, to put it kindly. A lot of stuff gets crammed into corners, and then spills over because it overgrows the corner. Still, there are a lot of nice touches, such as how each frame and element highlights when you are configuring it.
Frame scaling is unusual, in that you have a scale setting, and a width setting, but no height.
Raid frame configuration has a few issues. First, you cannot turn off the groups you’re not interested in, and the extra groups get in the way sometimes, since they seem to be top strata. Each group is individually controlled – there’s no snap-together feature here. Main Tank and Main Assist frames are not natively supported in the addon, but it will tie in to other addons such as ORA or the native Blizzard MT frames.
At one time this addon sported a functional HUD, but it was dropped in the past few months. It’s hard to tell why, whether it was because there were so many good ones already out there, or because they were having problems getting it to work right.
Among the special features I notice the following.
What amounts to aura filtering: custom highlights of unit frames based on what debuff they have, based on raid zone. You can also add new ones yourself. Basically it turns the entire frame into a buff warning.
The Range Fader is really detailed, and allows very fine control over the fade distance. It also allows you to select elements to fade, or the whole frame, as needed. This level of control is global, not per frame type.
Seemed light and nimble under most circumstances, except for the pet issue causing lag (below).
Among the issues we have the following.
It still supports pet happiness, but the error handling is suppressing any issues but one. I have experienced low frame rates with this addon, and word on the street is that that is directly linked to the pet happiness leftover code.
The addon contrives to hide the default player buff frames, but does so in such a way that is difficult to undo. I still don’t know how I hid mine, and I’m not quite sure how I got them back, either.
The Player Cast Bar feature has similar isues, except in this case it enables the default bar even if you have it turned off via Quartz or a similar addon. That, too, can be overcome with some difficulty. and, again, I’m not sure how I pulled it off.
There is no automatic default configuration, so expecting the changes you make on one alt to propagate out to the others will result in disappointment. However, it is very easy to copy one alt’s settings to another, and you can designate a default.
One of the first unit frame addons I ever used, this addon has gone from a full unit frame replacement to a unit frame extension. As such, it falls outside the scope of this overview. I’m mentioning it here since, if you’ve been around a while, you’ll eventually ask “Hey, what about …”.
I had high hopes for this one. In much the same way that CircleHUD altered the paradigm of the HUD, this addon does similar things with the Unit Frame. Just look at the screenshot (given that my own UI clashes with it). It’s just gorgeous! Imagine if my button bars and stuff weren’t there.
Alas, it hasn’t been updated since Patch 3.3.3, and it appears that that is something it really needs, as it threw Lua error after error. As such, it is unusable, and doesn’t really belong in the running against the others.
It’s a shame. If that memory footprint is to be believed, this would be the all-time lightweight of them all. I personally think that the LUA errors kept everything from loading properly, thus giving a smaller than accurate measurement.
I dearly hope somebody sees this and picks up development.
In the next, and final, installment, I will come up with some conclusions, discuss the memory footprints you may see, and make a recommendation or three. Not sure if I’ll get this done by the weekend – if not, see you next week!
So, I’ve covered the players and the various features, what I liked and what problems might have existed.
I’ve mentioned in passing some memory footprint concerns, but now I’ll share the whole chart. Click on the image for the actual spreadsheet.
First, a word about the different colors. I wanted to express the modularity of most addons in a way that would give you a better sense of the size of the most-used components, or, ‘core’.
Thus in the chart above I have one color for the ‘core’, or central addon. If the addon does not have modules, then that is the footprint of the whole addon itself.
‘Config’ is the footprint of the configuration module(s), if any.
‘Extras 1′ and ‘Extras 2′ represent additional non-config modules, such as Dog Tags.
Anyway, the overall biggest memory hog is Pitbull, by a long shot. And yet, there i a lot that can be mitigated by turning off components that you do not use. The core – and that includes the config code – is actually fairly compact, and even with most of the standard features turned on, it comes in under 2500 KiB, not too shabby. It’s only when Dog Tags is figured in to this that the addon takes on the gargantuan proportions that the chart reports – and let us not forget, the Pitbull team is flirting with LuaText now, and it’s smaller and more actively supported. So, plusses.
Vuhdo Comes in next, and what can we say, even without its config util, it’s huge. Don’t forget, however, that it’s packing a lot of features that most people will never use. It would be about perfect if the healy and non-healy features were split into a couple of LoD1 modules.
ag_ and Stuf really shine out as small-footprint champs, but remember that there have been a few difficulties, so weigh that against the footprint. If what you do gets around where the bugs or issues are, you may have a winner on your hands.
Grid’s medium footprint can be deceptive, since you have to add things to duplicate a lot of the features other unit frames have. On the other hand, that 1100ish KiB footprint has everything that isn’t a plugin.
Healium was a big surprise. It does just about everything a unit frame replacement should do, but does it in a minimalist fashion, and thus saves gobs of memory on things like portraits (or lack thereof). As a healing addon, I’d hesitate, but as a unit frame replacement, it has promise.
As I said in part 4, Deep’s tiny little footprint is most likely due to all the pieces not loading because of Lua errors. But, boy howdy, it would be amazing if it managed to pull off actually working in that amount of space!
Recommendations, Et Cetera
OK, down to brass tacks.
Despite all the trash I’ve talked about this addon, Pitbull is by far the most stable and feature-rich of the crowd. It is also one of the most obtuse and difficult addons to set up right out of the box. I know of other works from the same developers, and I have faith that they will at some point get around to looking at usability issues. Me, personally – I don’t have the patience, but if you do, and don’t care about the memory, this one is a winner.
I have been very happy with Shadowed Unit Frames up until 4.0 hit, and then it started giving me problems. The future of this addon is, to me, in doubt, so I no longer am as enthusiastic about recommending it. However, if you can avoid the bugs I’ve hit, it’s well worth a look.
X-Perl is still Old Reliable, and as far as I’m concerned, you can’t really go wrong with this one within certain parameters. One of those parameters is “modern feature set”; there are a few new tricks it could learn that would make it even better. Until then, provided your needs are not overly sophisticated, this one will get you through a raid without any problems at all.
My most radical suggestion, though, is to give the new Blizzard frames a serious, unbiased, look. For most non-healy needs, they deliver on par with most other addons in this article. Healy types, of course, are going to have far more sophisticated needs. And in fact, as DPS, I’m not at all certain I can’t do without some missing features, either – but your raiding environment may be far different than mine.
A compromise that I am currently test-driving is using Vuhdo as my raid frames, showing each unit’s target next to the unit. This is extremely helpful when we are in focus-fire scenarios. So far I have been very happy with Vuhdo driving my raids, and the Blizzard frames for my non-group frames.
I really want to love ag_UnitFrames and Stuf, but both have a lot of rough edges that may make them difficult to live with. By all means, if you’re looking to slim down, have a look, but don’t bet the farm on them.
Grid and Healbot do the job for groups, but nothing for the other unit frames, and really are so specialized that I would only recommend Grid if desperate and Healbot if out of all other options. For healies, they’re great, but that’s not what we’re doing here.
Healium is really worth a look if you’re in a minimalist mood. You’ll have to do all the heavy lifting of setup yourself, including hiding the default frames, but the result is an extremely spare yet useable interface.
If in your travels you hear that Deep Unit Frames was revived, do two things. First, have a look! And second, make sure I know!
While there were many fine specimens, there was also a higher incidence of just plain broken stuff, when compared to the HUD addons I looked at back in March. I think there are two factors to this. First, unit frame addons are somewhat more complex than HUD addons – you can really make up your own rules in the latter case, and get away with it. Second, Unit Frames are already part of the system, so you have to not only create better ones, but work within the framework that the original ones do. That isn’t as easy as it sounds.
Bit Rot aside, those that worked, worked well, and provide a wide gamut between austere and indulgent. I truly think that the more elaborate addons offer maybe just a little bit too much information for one to digest, but they also have ways of mitigating – or eliminating – the clutter.
I find it extremely interesting that the default unit frames have become as viable as they have. The old clunkers of the past are gone. Blizzard learns, but it learns slowly, and sometimes it learns the wrong lessons, but in this case, I think they did a good job.
My takeaway is this: if you don’t need to replace them, unit frame addons are very, very optional. Two – maybe even one – years ago, that would not have been a valid statement. Now, if I didn’t raid, I’d probably have none at all.
I hope you’ve enjoyed this little production. as always, if I’ve blown it in any significant way, please let me know.