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Garrisons, professions and more with Cory Stockton

Anne Stickney
November 13, 2014
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Warlords of Draenor has arrived, with tons of new content, quests, dungeons, raids, zones, and of course garrisons! During BlizzCon 2014, we sat down with Lead Game Designer Cory Stockton to discuss the development and design behind the new feature, in addition to a closer look at the changes to professions and profession design in Warlords of Draenor. But what's a talk with Mumper without a little transmog talk thrown into the mix -- and it appears we've got more transmog changes on the distant horizon that we'd originally thought.


Garrisons have changed quite a bit, developmentally speaking, since we first saw the feature introduced at last BlizzCon. Can you give us an overview of the changes that were made, and why?

I think what we realized is that we needed to integrate it into the core of the game as a whole. Because we looked at it -- once we were where we were at, in development after BlizzCon, and we saw it as it was feeling a little bit too far removed out of the core experience of the game. You had the Iron Horde stuff, your leveling up through the zones, and then you had the garrison kind of off on its own. And we did playtests, we did a bunch of playtests on the garrison stuff, and people liked what we were doing, the problem was that it didn't feel like it had anything to do with the rest of the game. They were like, why aren't we taking this opportunity? Like you're building this base, we should integrate it into the whole thing.

So we stopped at that point and talked about well, how could we do that. The main thing that came out of that though was that we couldn't do multiple locations anymore. Because once we started integrating and adding more NPCs and changing and having everything run through it, it meant we would have to do everything like seven times, you know? Times three, for the three upgrade levels. So we had to make a pretty tough call, we could either not get rid of choosing your location, or we could really just go hog wild and go all the way in on the feature, and so we chose the latter right, and decided to just not do the locations, and integrate it into the leveling. Make it feel like it's a core part of the entire expansion.

But you do have the outposts.

Outposts are where that was kind of our, 'we'll have something.' They could still feel meaningful to players, and those even evolved over time. Originally it was just you were going to build like, a single building. And then we got the idea of the perk, so you get the perk on the building. Originally, the building you built was the blueprint that you would get. And what we found from doing that you had a choice of a couple of buildings – is you might've gotten that blueprint already, through another means, so then it felt really bad to get the same thing, or it felt like the decision was already made for you, so that's where we came up with the token idea. So when you get the building, you get the token, you take it to Ashran, and you can pick whatever building you want.

Just to set people's minds at ease, when you say you go to Ashran and you turn in the token for a blueprint, is that in a PvP enabled area or a PvE area?

No, that's in the capital city areas which are totally PvE. The only way that you would get flagged or go PvP would be if you decided to cross the bridge, go into Ashran, and then you queue into it. We separated those spaces.

Players are concerned that there seems to be a lack of recipes with garrisons, particularly players that use professions as a means to make gold. Was this a conscious decision on your part, and why was that decision made?

Well, for just people that do the profession that do the garrison or overall?

Overall.

Professions themselves just seem to have less recipes this time around. Overall I think that's just something you're seeing across the game as a whole, that we're trying to streamline and have things not be as bloated, might be a good way to look at it. You can look at the pruning we're doing with character abilities, in that way where a character might have 4 CC abilities. In reality, there's probably not a great reason for that to happen, we could pick the best one, let you keep that and focus.

Professions really fall into that same guildline where we felt like we had to cover so many different item slots and so many different stats, we were building a lot of items. Number one, we have less stats now, and two, we also have stats that convert. Instead of having to make a strength item and a separate stamina item, it'll convert. So that alone cuts a ton of the recipes down that you need. Which in turn will have an effect on the Auction House for sure, but it should be a universal effect across the board – like it shouldn't be just one person is going to have more trouble than another.

As far as the recipes, there aren't really any green level armor pieces or anything like anymore – that was another one of those conscious decisions?

Yeah, I think we felt like there wasn't a lot of great use out of those items. That you level so quickly out of them that it was like, what was the big use for those?

What about transmog?

Well I mean there's always transmog but I don't think we've necessarily at professions as to think that that's your primary source of where you're going to get transmog from. I think we look at it more as like the fantasy of "I want to be a Blacksmith, so I want to make the pieces I can outfit my character with, I can sell them, or I can work for my guild." I think we've always looked at the transmog item stuff like a bonus, a really cool bonus that the tailor can make a specific item that only – that the transmog will only come from that.

Have you thought about integrating transmog more into professions?

We have a ton of plans for transmog, but they're not in the works yet necessarily.

Anything you want to tell us about?

Yeah! I mean we're working on a system that will allow transmog to work similar to how it works in Diablo III, where you would save your looks, you wouldn't have to store things. We're totally actively working on that, we feel like that would be a big feature, be huge to the game, we know transmog's really popular, and what this would let you do is store all those looks, and then hopefully it would have features associated with it, like being able to save versions of looks, change those looks, maybe have the looks be connected to your specs or connected to going into places, things like that. That's all stuff that we haven't done yet, but those are the goals of the system is to really create a way that you could manage all that stuff that doesn't feel as clunky as it does today – I mean we have void storage and we kind of use that as a crutch.

Thank you for the extra tab.

Yeah, and that's just an extra stopgap. We know that's not going to solve that issue overall. So we just have to work on the feature, get everything in that we want, but it's definitely something that we're actively trying to solve, it's just a matter of when will it be ready to ship in game.

What means and methods can people turn to now for playing the gold-making game?

I mean, obviously the Auction House is still going to work the same as it always has before, I just think that the commodities being traded will be different. Because we have new items that are in Warlords that are going to be popular – we don't even know what they are yet, right, because things are going to have to kind of develop as the game comes out. But we do know that clearly we put less gem slots on gear across the board you know.

As a jewelcrafter, I'm kind of concerned.

Yeah, I mean there's no denying that that's going to be obviously, it's going to be harder for a jewelcrafter to sell more stuff.

It's not even selling per se, it's more of a matter of, it doesn't seem like there's much value left to what it is I create, to a degree.

Well gems are still incredibly important, because the item, when it rolls, it can roll a gem socket as a bonus option that you can get. So I think what it does is it makes the gems that, when you do get that item, when that does come up, I think you're less likely to have someone who would put a green gem in because they didn't have a lot of money, they'd kind of spend up a lot for the blue gem, or even an "Oh man, I'm going to keep this item," then you'd even put an epic gem in it.

Are we going to have epic gems again?

It depends, I mean we never have them at launch, we always kind of wait and watch the patch cycle and try to decide when to put them in. With Mists, we didn't feel like we needed them. We talked about them a lot, but in the end, you know, we already had so many things that had to happen to items -- I don't know if you went to the items presentation, but there was an explanation with the reforging, he had the story of Frank. So I think overall though, a gem slot it should become even more important, because it's rare, which means that I still think there will be a high demand for those gems, it's just overall, across the board, there's just not as much stuff.

I guess what I'm saying is kind of a different perspective -- not so much the gold making, it's just you learn a profession because that profession is valuable to you, and it used to be valuable to you because you could make a whole variety of items. And that seems to have been compressed down to a point where the profession itself doesn't seem to be carrying as much weight -- why do I have this when I could just make a garrison building, get some that way, talk to a friend, and why not go with something else? I'm afraid it's going to feel like they've been streamlined so much they've kind of lost their value to a player from a personal perspective, in terms of "Why would I pick this?"

I think that we still want people to feel invested in what they're picking. And that's why I think that like I said, specifically for gem slots, those are still going to be really important. Because when you have it, it's going to sit there and be empty and need to be filled, and that's going to be for a jewelcrafter to fill it. I don't think, philosophy wise, we're not looking to take any of that away. What we're looking to do is not have there be so much overhead for everything in the game with so many stats, so many items, so many things -- because at a certain point the game just becomes year after year, it's just hard to maintain, right. And then we end up spending more time maintaining than we do coming up with cool new ideas.

Professions have been really streamlined, as we discussed – you can go into Draenor at level 1 in a profession and still skill up. Can you talk about how professions work now, and how that differs from what we've seen in past content? Why streamline it at all?

Well the number one reason for us to that is because it just makes the game simpler to understand and more approachable. So anyone that boosts and comes into the game goes to learn a profession, when they look at a list, and they see 90-some recipes, you just instantly close the list. They don't even pay attention to the list. It's so overwhelming. And I think we know that we're never going to be able to reduce it to a point where there's like, five recipes because then, like you said, what's the point? So we don't want that, what we want to find is the happy medium in between. If you look at where jewelcrafting was going, there's so many recipes to cover, so many stat combinations, it just, you know, it becomes more of a spreadsheet than something that feels fun and exciting.

Oh man, trying to keep track of what stats were reckless, perilous, radiant-

Exactly! And I think when the developers start feeling like that, I think that we feel that it's pretty clear that we have a problem, and we've got to try to solve it. So garrisons, you know, is a huge, huge, change for the whole thing. You get to have a building, you can have an NPC that crafts for you, you can have more professions than you've ever had before right, because you can build that building and then you don't get the FULL profession, you get about 85-90 percent of it, you can't make the very best items, but you can certainly do a lot still. But I think those are like, core change wise, those are the reasons behind why we did that stuff. And like you mentioned before, the fact that you can skill up anywhere is just so that we can get people to play in our new content. We don't want you to buy a boost and play Draenor, and then be like oh, you have to go back to level your mining -- it just doesn't make any sense!

Back to garrisons -- players have expressed concerns that they'll be spending all their time in their garrison, and little in Draenor. Is this going to be the case?

Totally not. You are going to go to the garrison a lot, but we really don't see this as lasting longer than 10-15 minutes of what someone would do. You'll go and check in, you'll fiddle with your missions, so like sending followers on missions, getting the rewards from finishing missions, you might have work orders to send off, maybe in the profession buildings. But outside of that, there's obviously content there that people can choose to do, but most likely I think people, it's going to be more of a check in. So you're going to come in, do that, and then head out.

It's also the hub at max level. So we hub you to all the main zones there for our chapter quests and also for the actual just the Timeless Isle style little POI (Point of Interest) area quests where you fill the bar. So you will be there quite a bit, but it's not a situation where it's like "Man, I'm just hanging out here for like an hour and there's nothing to do."

Conversely, garrisons do seem to be a really involved feature, an integral part of the gameplay experience in Warlords. Are there plans to take this model forward and use it in future content and expansions?

There's plans to take the technology forward for sure. We built everything around it knowing that there could be other ways to use this tech. But we also limited everything that we designed into the garrisons to be from Draenor. That's why you can't get followers from anyplace else but Draenor. Because once you did, it would feel really weird to leave it behind. Like well, why couldn't I keep getting followers, like I just did it here? So we tried to do this where it's a thing so that if we decide not to move forward with it, that we wouldn't have anything kind of binding us. So if you look at it something like archaeology, we continue to support archaeology and do new stuff with it every time. Whereas like the farm in Pandaria, since it's located in Pandaria, as soon as you leave, it just made sense that you left it behind, there's a reason why.

Except for Dog.

Well Dog came forward. We take some things! But the technology's really the core component, being able to build a dynamic building in the world, there's a million different things that we could do with that tech. We also have tech -- we talked about it a little bit, it's our AI tech that makes random things happen. That kind of tech we could take forward as well. It's a whole new system that we derived here, it's like an AI brain system.

And the NPCs walk around you, not through you.

Yeah, we did tons of pathing and collision improvements to make sure that stuff would look good. Because you don't want guards walking in and just walking through each other. We're trying to get it looking as good as we could.

Typically with features like this -- I'm thinking the farm here -- they're really heavily used at the onset of an expansion, but they don't really have the longevity to remain interactive and entertaining for an entire expansion's length. Are there steps being taken to make sure this doesn't happen with garrisons?

Definitely. We definitely feel like it's going to be a key part of your entire experience all the way through. And whether that means we'll continue to add new content and patches, or new followers, new missions, we could add another building, we could add tiers, there's a pretty massive level of expansion that we could do. It just comes down to how does it play -- we've really got to get a feeling of what's it like on live, what do people like -- and then from there, we'll continue to evolve in the future. Also I think once people get used to the perks and the things that they're building to give them, they're going to feel really connected to it also.

Just to verify – what's the max number of people you can take into a garrison?

It's a raid, 40 people. And it works with all the same invite system that we have today, that's how it works, so anyone that's in your group, you can convert your group into a raid, set up all your groups. What they do is they can right-click on their portrait and they can decide to go to the leader's garrison, or their garrison. And once it says leaders and they walk into the space, you all go there.

There are a lot of roleplaying guilds really pumped about that.

Yeah we figured that would be something that people would use. The only time we reduce the number of players is for the invasions. And then it goes down to three.

You can only have three people for the invasions?

Yeah, they're all tuned for three people.

Any way you guys can beef that up in the future and do some large-scale stuff?

We certainly could, there's no reason that we couldn't, we just saw that as a great opportunity to do small group gameplay, because we have so much gameplay already for large groups.

It's more scenario size.

Exactly. And we rate you on how you do and you get a score and the score changes the loot that you're going to get.

Besides the garrisons feature, what other feature or piece of content in Warlords are you really excited about?

There are so many new things -- I mean as far as areas go, probably most excited about, and content in general, Ashran. Just because it's like yeah, I worked on Wintergrasp and on Tol Barad and so this is kind of like our third stab at doing an outdoor PvP zone.

How do you think it compares to those two?

Oh it's a pretty different beast number one because it's not predominantly defined by a single gameplay mechanic. There's no concept of winning and losing and resetting. There's the pushing in the middle, but it's really, we don't, we reward very little for that at all. That's more to set the stage for what's happening there. It's all about the dynamic events that happen at the POI's around the zone. Ashran's focused on the two bases at the two sides, right, and then there's a road in the middle. And they push back and forth, and you can help that push to try and take the base, and then you get a small reward for that.

So it's like the tower in between Tarren Mill and Southshore.

Yeah, that's a good way to look at it. But then surrounding that road around the entire zone are a bunch of POI's. Those POI's activate every couple of hours into an event that can happen any time you're there, and it's a dynamic event that people will all go to that and it's a unique little piece of gameplay for each one. Like claim all these thi8ngs, or harvest x number, or do whatever, right. And that exists at all six of those POI's, but then also at the POI's is a bunch of Timeless Isle style events like there's rares, there's group fights, and then there's also treasures, and those are set up at all the POIs as well.

The way we looked at Ashran is we said let's create spaces where we can draw people together and then just let the PvP be free form, instead of saying let's put a very specific rule set. Like in Tol Barad you have to capture all three and hold them for a specific period of time. And then people have to learn that and know what's going on. The idea with Ashran was that you could just show up, and there'll always be one of those dynamic events happening, which will just clearly pull people towards those spaces, and then ...

You see someone red, you attack them.

Exactly!

That's it for time, but thank you so much for talking with us Cory, we're really looking forward to playing around with our garrisons in Warlords, and seeing what you guys come out with next!









































































































































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