My quest to level 5 World of Warcraft characters at the same time.

2006-11-25

The WoW

The hard part of all this is playing 5 WoW characters at the same time. I'm still practicing the particulars of it but I will take a moment to go over the general playstyle.

My plans are to actually level 5 different classes at the same time unlike the traditional multi-boxer who usually plays 5 of the same character. In order to do this though I will need to be able to have all 5 characters be doing different things at the same time. The trick is in-game macros and keyboard broadcasting.

First, setup keyboard broadcasting so when you press a key it goes to all 5 computers. Second, setup a macro on one character, that assists the main character and then casts a spell. Put this on action slot 1. Then create a similar macro on another character that also does /assist followed by a different spell and put that on action slot 2. Now, notice that when you press 1 your first character does whatever you bound to 1 and when you press 2 your second character does whatever you bound to do. So you control your main character and use him to target things. Once something is targetted you would press 1 if you want your first character to do his thing and 2 if you want your second character to do his thing. So now, you are able to focus your attention on the primary character while still giving commands to the other 4 characters.

There are some types of macros where you do want all 5 characters doing the same, or similar things at the same time. For example, if you are playing a mage, warlock and priest at the same time you may want them all to cast their core "spamming" ability at the same time (shadow bolt, frost bolt, smite). So you could create a macro as listed above and put it on action slot 1 for all 3 characters. Now when you press 1 all three characters will cast their respective spells. Another very useful macro that you will want them all to do is /follow the main character. Since you will mostly be directly controlling the movement of one character you will likely want all of the others to follow you around so you can just press one hotkey and get them all locked back on to you.

Things quickly get tricky though. Not only do you run out of action buttons and keyboard space very fast you also have problems with creature and character facing and positioning. If you just have your 4 characters follow your main one into melee the 4 in the back will never swing at the creep because he will be too far away. If you try to run past the creep and hit him in the back the creep will often move slightly to compensate, throwing off the other 4 characters. If the creep does AoE you may not want your characters to hang out in melee range.

One solution to the positioning problem is to manually control them all. To do this you simply have to move the mouse over to the appropriate monitor and use the mouse to position the character. The obvious problem with this is that while you are doing that your other 4 characters are just standing there or auto-attacking. Another option is to bind auto-follow keys for your "tank" separate from the auto-follow keys for your damage dealers (have your primary be a healer or something). Then you would have the tank charge in or pull while the damage dealers follow the main character around into better positioning. If the main character is a healer they can afford to take quick breaks to reposition the other characters without hurting the groups performance very much. At first I planned on going with the first option but I'm seriously considering the second option after having played around with it all a bit.

The Software

Synergy right now, custom program later.

At the moment I'm using a program called Synergy (http://synergy2.sourceforge.net/) to allow me to use one keyboard/mouse for all 5 computers. The way synergy works is actually pretty simple. First, you setup one computer with a keyboard/mouse plugged in to run the Synergy server software. Then, you setup the other 4 computers to run the Synergy client software. You tell the client software to startup when the computer turns on and connect to the server machine (the one with the mouse/keyboard plugged in).

When you first start up you will have a mouse cursor on the server monitor(s) that behaves like normal. However, when you move to the edge of the screen the mouse will disappear off that monitor and appear on the opposite edge of the next monitor (you tell the server how the monitors are arranged so it knows where to go). It does this by intercepting the keystrokes and mouse moves/clicks and sending them over the network to the client machine, which then simulates them on that computer. In the end it behaves just as if you had 6 monitors connected to a single computer instead of the more standard 2-monitor setup.

At the moment, while waiting for Burning Crusade to be released, I have actually been working on writing a program of my own that does the same thing but design it more specificly for gaming. At the moment Synergy doesn't work especially well with WoW and it can be a bit of a pain to use at times. Also, I had to write a couple of hacks for the program to allow it to do keyboard broadcasting (discussed below) and hotkey fall through.

One of the main things that allows me to effectively multi-box WoW is the keyboard broadcasting feature I added into Synergy. The way it works is that when it's enabled (can be turned on/off with a hotkey) any keystrokes will actually go to all connected clients and the server instead of just to one machine. This allows me to, for example, press the number 1 on the keyboard and have all 5 computers behave as if they all received that keypress. I will go into more detail in future entries about how this allows me to multi-box WoW but without it, 5-boxing would be incredibly difficult.

2006-11-24

The Computers

The GQ ($200):
Fry's weekly sale. $130 for a full computer (hard drive, cd-drive, motherboard, processor, case, floppy drive, RAM and absolutely nothing else). It comes with Linspire since Windows XP alone costs $130. By itself it can't run WoW since it only comes with 128MB of RAM and on-board cheap-o video. I had a Radeon 9600 Pro laying around I threw in it (amazingly the GQ has an AGP slot) and I bought 512MB of RAM to add to it. In the end I would estimate the computer would cost a little over $200 if you wanted to use it to play WoW as cheaply as possible. You can see the GQ under the desk on the right, the black box back there next to the sub-woofer.

The Black Boxes ($500 each):
I built two identical cases from parts off NewEgg. Initially my plan was to use some old parts I had lying around to build these so I just bought the cases and some hard drives. Turns out, those old parts were laying around for a reason... they don't work. In the end I bought two full computers for about $500 each, leaving out keyboard, mouse, cd-drive, floppy, drive, etc. They actually aren't too bad, Athlon 64 3700 + 1GB RAM + GeForce 7600 GTs. They aren't top of the line but they play WoW fine with all the settings up at native resolution for the monitors (1280x1024). These two computers are the ones stacked on the left.

The Others ($500 each):
The other two computers are computers I had before. Initially I paid probably $1000 each for them but that was a long time ago and I actually think the two black boxes I got are better which is why I listed the price above as $500, because you could get as good/better for that much. They have almost identical hardware and the only thing that makes them any better then the black boxes is that they both have mirrored raid arrays since they are the ones I do most real work on. The black and beige boxes under the desk on the left/right. These are the two computers with CD/DVD drives in them and my primary machines.

Total: $2200

The Monitors

3 - Rosewill R912E @ $200 each
3 - Rosewill R913E @ $200 each
1 - Quad-Monitor Desk Stand @ $330
1 - Dual-Monitor Desk Stand @ $210
Total: $1740

3 of the monitors I already had so I bought 3 more that look exactly the same just newer models.

The monitors are being held up by two Ergotron monitor stands, one quad stand and one dual stand. The DS100 Quad-Monitor Desk Stand (33-096-200) runs about $330 and the DS100 Dual-Monitor Desk Stand, Vertical (33-091-200) runs about $210. The reason I went with a quad + dual instead of a 3x2 array is because I found the dual stand on sale at NewEgg so in the end it came out cheaper. In the end it's probably best as setting up the quad was a serious pain and took two people. Plus, once setup the quad stand is not exactly light and I wouldn't want to even try to move a 6-monitor stand. If I were to do it again I would consider just purchasing 3 dual stands since they are easier to work with.

The listed price above is how much I would have spent buying everything at retail price right now. I got the 3 additional monitors and the stands on sale so I spent quite a bit less then that at once.

The Setup

6 Monitors
5 Computers
5 World of Warcraft Accounts
1 Keyboard
1 Mouse

My goal is to level 5 characters to 70 at the same time. For the curious, I already have leveled 5 characters to 60 individually and to be honest, I'm getting somewhat bored of leveling the normal way. 5-boxing will hopefully give a new challenge to the game while allowing me to get every class to 70 without too much trouble.

When the expansion comes out I will be creating new characters on a brand new server and leveling them all at the same time.

Another goal I have is to be able to tackle the level 70 5-man content by myself. I am hoping that by playing all 5 characters simultaneously from 1-70 I will get good enough at it that I will be able to do all of the level 70 instances. While I don't expect to be able to handle the level 70 hard mode instances by myself, I do plan on giving them a try.