Monday, May 30, 2011

Making Crafters Matter II

I started to answer the comments on the last post, but it grew too long. Therefore I made a new post with the answers. Thanks for the criticism! The harsher the better. Just keep it reasonable :)

Roq, the dungeon is procedurally generated and there will be no waiting for respawns, because waiting in a dangerous cavern is, well, dangerous. Monsters will pin you down if you're on one spot for too long. I can also come up with about a dozen other immersive ways to prevent this. Don't think too much along the lines of WoW, please.
There are no levels and only a slow character power progression with heavy diminishing returns later on. There's also no cap. You can get ever better, albeit ever more slowly. Most players will be within a small power interval that is well known to the developers and can be planned in advance.

Rohan, yes, better things need more time. In fact, the best things may take days and weeks to make. The standard stuff, however takes just a few seconds.

Tolthir, that's exactly the point. The whole system is about trusting a crafter. That's why their reputation matters. The letters they add to their signature allows them to create different series of items. They may cheat you. But if they do, they will do much less profit in the future. And since this game has no twinks, that's a problem for the crafter. You can either grap cheap un-signed items or try to attain an item from a well know crafter with his specific signature. An iron long sword is still always an iron long sword. It will always be better and more durable than a wooden training sword. I'm sure you can find a collection of famous and trustworthy crafters on the internet within just a few weeks, as the whole world is just one shard. And some crazy guilds may decide to forge the one sword to rule them all. Who knows what happens if you really invest a fortune to make just one sword?

Klepsacovic, re-crafting is a nice addition. But I wouldn't focus the game on that. Thanks for the ideas, though.

Stabs, this is exactly how such a system is meant to be played.

Kring, thanks for asking this central question. Is it fun for non-crafters to not know an items exact stats? Everybody in this game can learn crafting. It doesn't influence your fighting skills in any way, but the time requirement to become a famous crafter won't allow you to also become the best sword fighter of the world. Playing excessively will lead to diminishing returns on everything you do.
Everybody can get patterns. The rare ones are rare, but they are still attainable for everyone who sets his mind on it and has support of enough players.
Mmmh, my immersion is broken easily, I think, but I cannot understand why a crafter who only works for a guild breaks it!? Oh - there are no server firsts or raids. I can't describe the entire game here, unfortunately. I'm sure there also are famous crafters who work for rich and large social groups. They might call themselves kingdoms, as there is no teleportation.

Syl, there are no soulbound items, all items decay with use and time, there's full loot, but little non-consentual PvP. Means: items are important, but are always temporary; even the best items. It is more important to fight with the correct weapon than to fight with the epic weapon. You don't want to stab a skeleton to death with a dagger. It's not very effective against these bones. Even the most epic dagger fails at that task.

I see, again, it is hard to discuss a feature out of context. Thanks for the feedback, anyway.


  1. > But if they do, they will do much less profit in the future.

    Such a game would have to allow to name and shame and probably even support it. Slippery slope with average players, unless you would like to get something like the Sims mafia.

    > Kring, thanks for asking this central question. Is it fun for
    > non-crafters to not know an items exact stats? Everybody in
    > this game can learn crafting.

    The question was more is this way of obtaining the best items fun for the "customer"-player. Or only for the supplier (aka crafter)?

    > It doesn't influence your fighting skills in any way, but the
    > time requirement to become a famous crafter won't allow you to
    > also become the best sword fighter of the world.

    Sounds interesting. But some guy will be able to play 16 hours a day. Will he be able to master both? Or will it be so grindy that a casual player doesn't have a snowballs chance in hell to ever master something? Or will improving skill in one field reduce already gained skill in the other? Like if the best fighter starts to craft swords all day he would probably reduce his fighting skills because of a lack of training?

    > Mmmh, my immersion is broken easily, I think, but I cannot
    > understand why a crafter who only works for a guild
    > breaks it!?

    In WoW some of the best and coolest loot is BoE and obtained by raids. Like the stuff from the Shadowmourne quest. Or the trash boe drops. But no matter how much gold you have you won't be able to obtain those, at least not in the beginning. Because gold has no value the raid groups tend to use this loot for themself first.

    That's not immersive, to me, because in the real world you can buy everyting for money.

    The game needs to have a way to pay the crafters. Something that's useful in small amounts but of which you'll never have enough. In the RL those two currencies would be money and power, and they can be exchanged.

    Or asked differently. Let's assume you're a master crafter. You live in your hood in the woods, alone. Your swords are the best swords in the world but you can only craft very few of them, maybe one per month, because it requires insane materials or you can only craft one for every full moon or whatever. How would you choose your customer? Just by money? By supporing one who fights for the good cause? By supporting one who can increase your power? By advertising on your realm forum to find a group who, in return, boosts you through some content?

    Yeah, I would consider the last one to be immersion breaking... and it'll happen and if it happens you're forced to use the forum to get those weapons...

    > Oh - there are no server firsts or raids. I can't describe the
    > entire game here, unfortunately. I'm sure there also are famous
    > crafters who work for rich and large social groups. They might
    > call themselves kingdoms, as there is no teleportation.

    Then again, it might work. I think it all boils down what the game allows you to offer the crafter in return.

  2. Going back to the dawn of RPGs, games such as Wizardry 1 and Bards tale, developers had an easier time with gear, because not only could they direct you linearly through a series of levels requiring ever increasing stats, but the games were party based so that you had 4-6 times the number of slots to fill up with gear. In comparison, the problem for modern MMOs is that you've only got one character and so the opportunity for valuable rewards without compromising the gameplay is so much less. When you add crafting as well it gets even worse, because crafted items, if they are to be any good, take away even more opportunities for those moments where you open some glittering treasure chest in anticipation of finding some wonderful new gear that will transform your character's ability to exterminate the rats.

    In your design there are (apparently) no levels, so if that was the case, in comparison to those early games, you not only lose the party advantage, but you also lose the redundancy of gear created by levelling. Then, you'd probably only need to buy one or two weapons during the entire game, which would make the crafting system a neglible influence on your enjoyment of the game overall.

    I notice though that you do replace levelling with gradual power progression - but a rose by any other name is still a rose: Presumably WoW (sorry!) developers burn the midnight oil working out exactly how much difference they need to create between one tier of armor and the next tier in order to create the best gameplay experience. In a game that depends on the attraction of shiny stuff that improves power, you can't so easily magic away the levels... and as your power progression tapers off you need new gear less and less frequently, making the crafting less and less relevant.

    It seems to me that as a concept having designer craftsman would be fun, but Its not a feature in itself that would support a whole game design. My feeling is that it might be more feasible and just as interesting to have the ability to make custom cosmetic items (such as textile patterns, skins etc). But you'd need some way to avoid all the idiots who'd want to go around looking like Homer Simpson.

  3. Roq, I think WoW-Cata doesn't have levels either because the remaining parts of the leveling game is just an annoyance but no longer "the game".¨

    And yes, I think it would be better if every "tier" of gear at level 85 wouldn't increase by insane 13 item levels but by a small and diminishing level. And obtaining the gear through crafters would have the advantage that you don't have to farm old content for the one BIS item.

  4. Each game inherits players from its predecessors. WoW for instance inherited a player community from EQ that had a good understanding of PVE grouping and raiding.

    Whose players would this game inherit? It's not likely to be WoW's because of your low CPP. WoW players will think it pointless to grind for a week to get a 5.88 damage sword over their current 5.87 sword.

    There probably are some players who want this but I think the best games can track a family tree of games that lead in a logical progression to themselves. For instance Doom > Quake > Half-Life. Each clearly drawing from and improving the game experience offered by its predecessors.

    The MMO genre which once had heavy focus on crafting has moved away from it. SWG now has trivial crafting because it's so old and mudflated that most players either have or have access to a maxxed out crafter with millions of near perfect resources. EQ2, originally a game that steered crafters towards interdependence and steered adventurers towards the player economy has now given up on these themes. The "I just want to kill things and not get gouged by rip-off artists" crowd won the forum war.

    What you're proposing is to go back in time to a game style that most modern MMOers feel got superceded by something better. So where would this project get players from?

  5. Roq, thanks for the long comment. I think our different opinions are based on different games. You assume that the character power progression (CPP), more specifically the item power progression, is the driving force behind the game. Just like in any WoW-like MMORPG.

    In that case I agreed with you. However, there are a lot of other central games that can be fun. Fighting off NPC invasions, pure PvP, dungeon crawling, empire building, ...
    and any combination of these.

    Character power progression is a two edged sword. A CPP that is powerful enough to be fun on its own and every step of the way, destroys almost every other aspect of a game. WoW is a good example, CPP has consumed every other aspect over the years. If you ask any player nowadays about his goals, he will anser: More epics. That wasn't always the case.
    It's not necessarily bad, it's just not the only way.

    Also, don't forget that items deteriote in this game. Nothing lasts forever. You will choose to fight with your really good equipment only when it really matters. Similar to Eve Online. Equipment isn't the central game in Eve, either.

    You can very well make a game about other things and then add a little bit CPP. Just a little bit. Enough to feel good about aquiring a better item, although it doesn't make you 10% more powerful. About Blizzard: you are right. They once said that they have a statistics team that calculated that 13 itemlevels are optimal. More power to them.

  6. Stabs, there's still Eve Online and a crowd of players that is not happy about WoW and wish stuff like UO back. And then there's always new players. Also, a game doesn't have to attract 1mio subscribers to be profitable. You can very well make a AAA MMORPG aimed at a few hundred thousand players. This pool of players is certainly there.

    And don't forget that there are probably more people like myself out there. WoW was the first MMORPG. I thought it's the coolest thing in the world: I imagined where the genre would be in ten years. And I lost ever more faith every single year that past.

    Instead of trying to make simulations with ever better gameplay, the industry just tried to make a player base that doesn't care about the simulation. Didn't work with everybody. Thus, there's huge market gap there.

  7. Kring, rememer this: When you'd buy a new weapon you would only know

    1) that basic item "iron long swords"
    2) the stats of a such a basic item
    3) the crafter, if he signed the item
    4) The signature the crafter added, if he added one.

    There's no reason to assume that this sword is better than a basic iron long sword. The only reason to assume this were, because you know the crafter and trust him when he tells you that this iron long sword actually does 10% more damage than a normal one.

    Thus, a new (grown-up) player hardly gets scammed. Why would he trust a stranger, anyway?

    I think it can be fun for the customer. He might mostly fight with un-signed weapons. But if you are part of a rich guild, or just a really rich merchant, you can create/order a really magnificient weapon. Take an expensive pattern, a crafter that spends a lot of time crafting and spend 20 times the usual amount of resources. You can certainly get yourself an edge. But it's always temporary. Everything decays or can even be loot from your corpse. Items are a tool. An expensive tool if you like, but just a tool. The game is not about aquiring items.

    There are restrictions to prevent somebody from gaining skill for 16 hours a day. It's a rater complicated system that players don't need to understand to have fun. But the central point is: The speed of gaining skill is not linear to your time investment, but there's still a positive correlation.

    Money in this game is a perfect reward for crafters. Since it's a player-based economy and everything is tradeable, gold is really important. But since there are no teleports whatsoever, gold selling isn't really a problem, either.

    You will hardly become a amaster craftsman on your own. You need the financial support of a group. But you can be a competitive crafter on your own. It just doesn't make any sense to order the most-magnificient-sword-ever from you, because your slightly lower skill will require more resources to do that than the slightly higher skill of somebody who is supported by group of people.

    Boosting sb. through content doesn't really work like that. Since nothing is instanced, there are no group-size limits. If a party sets our to explore another part of the procedurally generated underunderground caverns, you can just ask to join them. You should try to be quit, though. Too many fighting people are loud and might attract more monsters ..

    Since there are no teleports, you should try to get to now the people in your neighborhood, anyway. The game is not a single-player game. You can have fun on your own, of course, but the context of your actions will need to be a group of people for most activities.

  8. @Kring

    I agree that the difference between levels/power tiers currently appears too high and it would be interesting to see what would happen in a game that narrowed them a bit.I think though its a bit like dividing a cake: You eventually get to a point where a really thin slice isn't that satisfying. That's a problem that Guild Wars has and (as Eric Flannum has mentioned) they're going to make a bigger cake in GW2.

    A cynical designer, one might view MMORPG game design as an exercise in optimising reward allocation in order to prolong gameplay. If you give your users too much cake in one go, then the game will be over too fast and you'll need to bake more cake (add more levels/tiers) more quickly. On the other hand if you don't give users enough cake they'll starve and look for their cake elsewhere. My concern about Nils's designs is that I think he wants to give out a lot of cake on a frequent basis, but on the other hand wants to eschew the practices that designers use to make the big cake in the first place.

  9. @Nils

    Apologies - bit of heavy cross posting. Blog is very lively today!

    "Fighting off NPC invasions, pure PvP, dungeon crawling, empire building and any combination of these."

    I agree, but it seems that noone has yet managed to make a game where the fun of playing it doesn't require the crutch of frequent rewards. So far many of the promised design features for new games such as sieges (Conan), massive open world PvP (WAR) etc. didn't really work out in practice as long term fun.

    "Also, don't forget that items deteriote in this game. Nothing lasts forever. You will choose to fight with your really good equipment only when it really matters. Similar to Eve Online. Equipment isn't the central game in Eve, either."

    But if you deprecate the equipment in that way you also deprecate the means of producing that equipment whether it be crafting or dungeon drops. Deterioration reduces the perceived value of items and that then requires an increase in the items potency to make up it's perceived value. Darkfall (although I haven't played it) seems to have adopted something of this approach and I'm not sure it really works that well. I think Eve (only played it for a very short while) is a different kettle of fish, because the emphasis is more on building up skills over time and that can motivate players too.

  10. Roq, yeah exponential expansion is still working on this blog. Can't say I'm unhappy about it. ;) But it does make discussing a bit difficult at times.

    I agree that nobody has achieved to make a AAA-MMORPG that is about anything else than CPP. In the last 10 years, at least. Honestly, not many AAA companies tried.

    We have a history of several decades of computer games that weren't about CPP and they were played, and played, and played forever. Take Counter Strike, for example. Even though I am not a MMOFPS fan, I think CS is still a wonderful example in many aspects. Especially when it comes to making a highly successful game with a very strong focus on simulation.
    Another axample is Guitar Hero. Or chess or soccer.

    On diminishing the value of equipment and crafting due to making it temporary: The opposite is the case. Crafters need to resupply the market at all times, because stuff breaks down. Ask any player of a game with item decay. They will all tell you that it is necessary to create a market equilibrium.

    You can also put it the other way round: A new company doesn't necessarily has the money to churn out ever more epics and raids and dungeons. The "central game" needs to be about something else. But non-deteriorating equipement doesn't work at all, if the developers don't churn out new epics all the time.

  11. I would be careful with an EVE-style approach of "you can lose anything, only risk the good stuff when you really need it". This can make players too cautious to do anything. Sure it sounds irrational, but players may end up hoarding, always afraid to lose what they have, and consequently never get anywhere. Sure, it's the players being dumb, but devs need to take that into account.

  12. You are right in that this is a problem, Klepsacovic. But there's just no way around that if you want to make all items tradeable and breakable.

    I guess/hope it is all right as long as items just aren't what the game is all about. Besides: you still have the (compressed) CPP that nobody can take away from you. It is just not based on items.

  13. I'm coming a bit late into the discussion, but I had a thought about knowing/not knowing the quality of crafted items. Personally, it would break my immersion if my character had absolutely no idea whether or not an item is better-than-average quality from inspection. There's no need to know the exact attributes -- that's metagame information -- but someone who (say) uses a sword to make a living is going to know if a sword is junk, or if it is a good one.

    In real life, I study a weapon-based martial art. I've learned to be able to tell a piece-of-junk blade from a decent one. If I, an amateur, can learn that, the "professional" that my MMO character is supposed to be should be even better at it.

    So, I think there should be a way over-and-above the maker's reputation for someone to judge the approximate quality of a crafted item. At least enough of a way, for someone who doesn't yet know the crafter to judge "yes, this does seem to be very good quality, I can probably trust the crafter's description."

  14. Kevion C. Coram, I thought about that as well. You are right in that it doesn't make a lot of sense simulation-wise that a master sword fighter doesn't know what kind of weapon he wields. on the other hand, you need to be careful here that you don't focus on simulation too much. Gameplay is still important. And features also cost time to implement.
    I think the master swordsman would find out whether the sword was any good as soon as he hit a few things with it. This seems acceptable to me, even though it is not optimal.

  15. @Nils That works. If there's a way that the player can get some feedback that a piece of crafted gear seems to be working better (or worse) than other gear (s)he's been using, that amounts to the same thing. It might depend on whether/how much the game is modeling character skills. Of course, the feedback should probably be indirect. More an observation that "hey, monsters die a little faster when I'm using this sword than when I use that other one" rather than "woo, bigger numbers flying up the screen!"

  16. This indirect feedback is I think the most brilliant thing about this entire aspect.

    If I understand this right, you can allocate materials to get better durability, but also to just looks. So you might get a sword that looks fantastic, but will break twice as fast and only hit for 70% of the damage another does. So a visual inspection would make you think this is awesome, while the use would show it to be inferior to a less polished looking one, with better internal stats.

    Through that, you form a brand recognition. Those cheap running shoes you bought at the shoe store are broken after a year, but your Nikes that cost three times as much, still keep together five years later. Getting players to form these sorts of connections, on their very own, without hitting them over the head with huge signs pointing to the 5 points better durability, does another neat trick: It makes the player think they are smarter than the game. They found out something about the game and the game world. Even if someone pointed them to the vendor telling them that's a great guy (or gal) selling high end stuff for reasonable prices, then when they discover the tip was correct, they feel like they accomplished something.

    Positive feedback like that is a thousand times better than the little box popping up (ruining your immersion) and telling you have received achieved a reward for not running into a wall for five seconds.