I love crafting. I love the concept of a game where one can play as a crafter, and do little beyond create MMOstuff for barter, trade, gifting, and sale. I like the notion of seeing someone else’s MMOstuff and maybe even finding my own MMOname on it. But I haven’t liked the implementation of crafting in a great many games. So, since making an entire RPG is currently eluding me, I’m going to take a stab at writing a playable demo of a crafting system. Of course, this is going to start with a design, and a goal. (The goal, of course, is addiction! No, I kid… the goal is that crafting systems should be fun and integral to an RPG.)
Neccessity is the Mother of Invention
In my single-player RPG, of course, any single play style must be only one road to success. However, in an ideal world, I’d view crafting as an essential component of advancement. Indeed, I believe firmly that early Star Wars Galaxies had the right idea: players can loot good, great, and even epic components — but gear comes from the hands of other players. There are a few things that I think SWG nailed about this, and I’ll refer to those as I go. For now, the most important thing to remember is that crafters are intended to occupy a valuable and vital role in my MMORPG, and so it’s important to make their game fun, challenging, and rewarding.
Leave me Alone
I’m not saying that it will always have to be this way, but crafting has always struck me as a more or less solo activity. I’d like to introduce interdependence for components and the like, but I have this image that crafter players enjoy sitting in their magnificent palaces of construction, isolated from the mere riffraff who find their pleasures by tormenting armies of poor, defenseless mobs. So (again, this COULD change, but I don’t have the thoughts in me to do so), the actual act of crafting is more or less a solo one, even if you may need to obtain stuff from other folks.
Making my Mark
SWG came up with another nifty idea: extensive customation of item names. If that doesn’t sound like much, then you probably weren’t an SWG crafter. Sure, until someone remembered to make the “real” item name always visible, there were some scams — but a little bit of forethought, coupled with a flexible naming system, allowed for some really nifty item customization at very little “real” coding cost. It’s always a thrill to see your name, or that of someone you know, on some gear you used; it was exciting when I was joining a group to complete my final Master Pilot mission and saw a famous crafter from my server flying beside me! These small touches lend a lot to “worldiness.”
Lootin’ it up
Everyone enjoys phat lewtz, and I wouldn’t shortchange current MMOers from this experience. In keeping with my earlier thought, I’d like to see loot be oriented towards components to prod good weapons into becoming great ones. I’ll even go further; since I’m working with a “cyberspace” motif, then most items should be salvageable for “usable code” that can be rebuilt into new items. Think of it as something similar to disenchanting a magic item in WoW, except with stats attached. And in fact, one possible bonus state could be “polymorphism,” lending to “code” that loses less in translation from one object to another… This will be a relatively passive action, with outcome determined based on difficulty (item overall quality level) and player skill.
The World is Flat
Another significant design goal of WorldIV is for a relatively flat advancement process. One interesting side-effect of that concept is that weapon damage and character health should not increase over time. (Our rough goal is that 3-5 hits should spell doom. Hits, however, should probably be somewhat more rare than in most games.) The place in which items should distinguish themselves is purely in the realm of stat increase and/or special abilities granted, such as health/power (or their equivalents, to be discussed later) regeneration, modification, or the like. And while we’re at it, allow gear to reward and enforce player choices. Awesome damage absorption will decrease evasion; hit-rate boosts might decrease damage absorption. Balance options abound.
Enough Abstract Fiddling, Aready!
After all this theoretical stuff, it’s time to think about a game design. I envision a game akin to the venerable Pipe Dream video game. After all, we’re talking about writing code! A crafter will be presented with a grid (size determined by item difficulty), a beginning and end point, pipe segments (selection governed by the player’s Scripting or “experimentation” skill), obstacles (determined by Programming or “crafting” skill), and a time limit (determined by some combination of the two aforementioned skills). The player must, at minimum, connect Start to End in order to complete the item, before time runs out. Further, as items and player skill advance, the grid may also contain bonus and debuff nodes; connecting bonus nodes will improve final item quality, and debuff nodes will worsen it.
Once an item is completed, it is usable within the game. Or, a crafter may attempt to convert the prototype item (program) into an “installer.” Doing so has a chance (again, based on difficulty and a skill roll) of degrading the item in some fashion, but once this is done, the item will be available for limited mass-production, presumably in a “hands-off” fashion that lets the crafter begin construction and then do other tasks. (Again, this is a throwback to SWG’s factories.) The construction of a prototype will require specific crafted “components” as well as resources; the construction of mass-produced items will require only the resources, but slightly more of them. This means that special or very high-quality components are needed only to produce a prototype, but the prototype’s amazing qualities will be risked in an attempt to convert it for mass-production. Mass-production will be easier on the crafter’s time, but at an efficiency cost. (Market aspects of this will, obviously, be difficult or impossible to test in a single-player game.)
I think this system has some potential to be workable, fun, and interesting. Puzzles could be repetitive, so I’ll have to take some care designing in enough variation to keep things interesting. In all, however, it hopefully can lead to a more interesting and complete crafting experience than some recent entries have produced. Vanguard, in particular, had a crafting system that gave me hope — lots of equipment to collect for tweaking the outcome of crafting, and decisions to make throughout crafting each item. (As Tuebit pointed out to me, even having two choices occasionally is enough to turn it from drudgery into an interesting game…) LotRO, on the other hand, requires little beyond gathering the components of a crafted item and clicking a “go” button. Is the world looking for Pipe Dream crafting or is it just… a pipe dream?
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