Friday, January 16, 2015

Hiding Garrison Information

We've got a couple of months under our belts in this brave new world of Draenor and in that time I have truly enjoyed my garrison and the new capabilities and activities it provides.  I've recently written about the good things the garrison has done for crafting but now I think it's time to look at some of my frustrations with the current implementation.

If I had to sum the situation up in one word, that word would be "obscure."  Too much of the garrison concept is poorly explained, counter intuitive, or simply hidden from the player. Now, I am completely sympathetic with the idea that exploring the capabilities and function of garrisons is part of the game.  I think that's a valid defense to my criticism. Yet I still think that the inherent ambiguity of the garrison makes it less satisfying as a major experience.

98% success chance still not high enough.

In fact, I have attempted to play that game, and have held off on any unnecessary negativity because I wasn't sure that I had the whole picture.  Even now, there are probably insights into garrison management that I have yet to find.  But I have finally reached the point where, after two months of visiting my garrison practically every day, I'm beginning to realize that:

1.  The garrison does a poor job of communicating a sense of how it's growing and developing. 

I would say that the state of my garrison over the last few weeks has been fairly static.  I log in every day, do the crafting tasks, send my followers on missions and feel like I've spent a good amount of time in the game doing what I'm supposed to be doing.  What's missing is any sense that I am inching closer toward some milestone in garrison development.  In fact, many of those milestones seem artificial and arbitrary.

I have been relying on what seemed like an unspoken contract:  If I work diligently at what I'm supposed to be doing, than the details of garrison development would take care of themselves and the garrison would progress naturally.  After all, "if the garrison isn't your thing, you can ignore it and it will take care of itself."   But now, it's clear that this contract doesn't exist at all.  There are several places where the garrison will simple get stuck and stop progressing unless the player takes an active role and makes fairly important decisions.

From my perspective, we ought to be able to play it one of two ways, though.  Either the game will just take care of everything and I will be able to improve my garrison when its appropriate: Or I need to actively manage the various tasks and buildings and missions and have been given clear instructions on how to do that.  But right now, it seems that neither of these is true.  The game starts out by holding your hand closely when it comes to the initial construction, then it gives you a friendly wave and basically leaves you there.

As an example, in some situations, the player is striving to complete a quota of work orders before certain buildings can be upgraded.  What that quota is, and where you are in its progress aren't naturally presented to you.  You have to know what achievement you're waiting on, and know where to find it in the achievement interface.

My personal experience was that I worked for about a week on an upgradable mine before I realized that I was eligible for it.  I had completed the requirement on another character and didn't think about it with this one. I was interacting with the mine and its foreman on a daily basis, interacting with the architect table multiple times.  There was nothing in-game that was obvious to me that would tell me my mine was ready for an upgrade.

At any point, any of those interfaces could have mentioned it.  Most obviously, the mine foreman should have said something as I traded in my draenic stone: "You know, commander, this mine is ready for a major expansion.  Just talk to Baros and find out what to do."  Similarly, the architect table has a nice green arrow next to a building that's ready for an upgrade. Until you buy and learn the plans, though, you technically aren't ready to upgrade. Since you don't know the plans for the upgrade, and probably aren't going to fork over the 750-1000 gold necessary to buy the plans until you're ready for it, you're never going to see that helpful green arrow until you don't need it anymore. 

2.  The garrison's progress isn't a smooth curve

I run missions multiple times per day and it usually doesn't feel to me like my followers are changing or improving much at all.  They have hit a plateau and are running the same 800-1500xp missions over and over along with an occasional mission for 580 pants that I don't need.  And this is basically where they've been for the last several weeks.  I don't get a sense that these little minions are getting better and taking on greater challenges and that as their commander I am developing these adventurers to their potential and forging a strong team.

Followers hit plateaus, mission progression hits plateaus, building development hits plateaus.  And if you hit a couple of these flat spots at the same time, it can really feel like nothing is changing and your actions are meaningless.

The kicker is that these boring flat spots may only be illusions.  Your followers really are gradually increasing, but you can't readily tell that from two glimpses per day of a field of 15 or more individuals.  So the challenge is not to smoothen the curve but to increase the player's awareness. The solution is to make the garrison internals less obscure.

For example, my perception of my followers radically changed once I got 6 of them to max level and started increasing their gear level.  Instead of tracking twenty-odd minions, I can narrow my focus to a few and instead of looking at the huge range of xp numbers, I can focus on the specific trip from 600 to 655.  Now I can cheer on Bruma Swiftstone and Qiana Moonshadow as I see them making real progress each day.

A better garrison
That experience with followers is what I want for the rest of my garrison. I want to watch as it grows from level 1 structures to the mighty level 3 fortress that rivals the Iron Horde.  I want to know at a glance which buildings need work and which have achieved their full potential.  I want that information to be on the architect's table so that at any time I can get a manager's dashboard of the state of my production facility.

And while we're asking for things, I want people to stop aimlessly milling about my garrison like they belong there.  Don't these characters have jobs?  But that's a different rant.

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