Psychochild's Blog

A developer's musings on game development and writing.

15 June, 2008

Weekend Design Challenge: Tradeskills
Filed under: — Psychochild @ 4:40 PM

I’ve been thinking a bit more about tradeskills and crafting lately. How does it fit into a traditional online game? What are the challenges? So, in anticipation of a blog entry on this, here’s your challenge: What is the single most important aspect of in-game crafting, in your opinion?

A few initial thoughts after the jump.

Meridian 59 only has a very simple crafting system. One of the “spells” allows you to distill some spells into potion form. It’s a bit expensive and part of a relatively unloved school, but it’s an option. There were plans to add other tradeskills to create scrolls and wands, but the problem was trying to balance these things. A mule sitting in the corner with a bunch of scrolls interfering with combat made me want to cry. Wands were also really powerful, so finding a way to balance them being made too easily was a challenge.

Anyway, post your thoughts and I’ll write a new post for sometime this week.


  1. Don’t see any posting yet, so I’ll see if I can’t at least find the questions.

    1) Should the best items come from random drops, questing, pvp questing or crafting?
    If you give the useless answer of “All of them” then unless all types are equally hard to get then players will get the easiest type.

    2) Does crafting come from “recipes”? That is, do players find a shopping list that says “1 iron, 2 coal, stand at fire, yields 1 +1 sword? Or does crafting come from experimentation?

    3) What is it about crafting that makes it fun? If it’s not fun, why is it in your game?

    Comment by Rik — 15 June, 2008 @ 9:33 PM

  2. Should the best items come from random drops, questing, pvp questing or crafting?

    Best items from drops/quests=useless crafters. Best items from crafting=possible quests that aren’t worth doing. What I like is the mix of both. Rare/good ingredients from drops/quests used for crafting instead of the end product given straight away.

    Does crafting come from “recipes” or experimentation?

    I don’t have experience with an experimentation system. What I wonder however is how do you really keep an experimentation system as it is? Maybe ATITD is an example (haven’t played it)?

    If crafting rely on only random factors, then I wouldn’t consider me crafting, only rolling dice. If crafting involve “discovering” the optimum mix of ingredients, then once the best mix has been found you then have a traditional recipe system. If crafting rely on “experimentation” points to tweak recipe than there’s no point being a crafter unless you’re the best.

    In SWG, for the time I played (first 2 years), I always bought my guns and armors at the same 2 or 3 vendors just because I wanted the best stuff so there was no point to buy anywhere else.

    Another question to add here would be “Can new crafters can still manage to play a role when they’re surrounded by veterans?”. If veterans can craft better basic items since they have more “experimentation” points, there’s no point asking a new player to provide some parts cause in the end, your end product won’t be as good as an all veteran built item.

    What is the single most important aspect of in-game crafting, in your opinion?

    What is it about crafting that makes it fun? If it’s not fun, why is it in your game?

    The result? Are you crafting something useful? Something you can make money with?

    I don’t think the process of crafting itself need to be fancy to provide an interesting crafter experience.

    Comment by Over00 — 16 June, 2008 @ 6:13 AM

  3. Game designers seem to feel that they’re responsible for keeping players 100% engaged at all times. This might be true of single player games, but persistent worlds have room for more relaxed mechanics. Most modern trade skill systems seem designed from the standpoint that they’re a necessary but inherently boring concept, and so they trivialize the act of making something itself and use ingredients hidden behind combat as a gate instead. This contributes to the phenomenon where materials are always worth more than finished products, which for many completely defeats the purpose of picking up a trade skill in the first place.

    There are lots of situations where a player wants to be logged in and connected to the world but not out adventuring in it. A trade skill system should encourage this type of thing — login while you’re watching TV, up late with a baby that won’t sleep, etc, put something on the fire and zone out or chat with whoever’s around while making a useful contribution to the world.

    I’m not advocating the old-school “hit the button and come back in a half hour when the bar fills up” approach either, though. I think the right analogy is to real-life cooking: there’s no progress bar on the stove that tells you when you’re done; you have to look at what you’re making and judge it subjectively. You might set a timer for 15 minutes, but at the end of it you make an evaluation and adjust up or down. Something like “heat the blade until it just barely turns red” seems like it’s on the right track. Honing a skill like that, as shown by gardeners and chefs everywhere, can be very rewarding.

    Comment by mcj — 16 June, 2008 @ 11:33 AM

  4. I’ve written a couple of short essays on “player-centered crafting design” (here and here), but the gist of ‘em is that the single most important question to ask when designing a crafting system is simply this: who is it for?

    If the intention is to make a game that appeals to creative types and folks who enjoy solving puzzles, then a crafting system whose gameplay revolves around the mass production of and sales competition for identical items — a “tradeskill” model of crafting — is unlikely to be popular. Similarly, if one is primarily concerned with attracting gamers who love competitive action, a crafting system that rewards perception and imagination and is capable of surprising variation in outputs will leave players sputtering in outrage.

    As with other questions of game design, there is no substitute for defining the target audience and understanding what they really want. Only then does it make sense to develop a high-level design (for crafting or anything else) that can be broken down into a feature set. Otherwise we’re just cranking out code and hoping that some gamers will actually like it. We might get lucky with that, but why leave it to chance?

    So: Who’s this crafting system for? Artists? Artisans? Merchants? or Inventors?

    Comment by Bart 'Flatfingers' Stewart — 17 June, 2008 @ 10:10 AM

  5. There are two issues involved with crafting viable, accessibility and value of the end product.

    Games like WoW made crafting too accessible. Everybody did it because it was super-easy. As a result, there was no viability of crafting – everybody crafted and so there was very little differentiated value in your goods to a consumer.

    DAOC made crafting very inacessible. It required lots of time (or illegal botting) and money to level your crafting skills. It required interaction with other crafters (armorers needed tailioring inserts for plate mail, for example). The result, though, was a vibrant crafting market.

    In terms of value of the end product, if crafting items aren’t better than quest drops or raid-boss type stuff, there’s absolutely no value whatsoever in doing it. You can’t expect people to bother if there’s easier equipment available out there through killin’ stuff.

    Comment by Axecleaver — 17 June, 2008 @ 10:59 AM

  6. I have to wholeheartedly encourage attention be paid Flatfingers here, it’s obviously dependent upon your players, but personally, the ability for creativity expression.

    I’ve yet to see a crafting system that allows for much crafting. I’m not saying we have to make it ‘Second Life’, but I really don’t understand how we’ve taken steps backwards from Ultima Online’s dye tubs. I certainly don’t see why players can’t randomly choose not only colors, but create actual designs through a contextual texture editor (say, some painting or dyeing bit.) Put these on capes, armor, swords, etc. The whole “click on a button, wait for the manufacturing process to finish,” thing is really a turn off to me.

    Then again, I rented Forza for the console for the sole reason of car painting, so…

    Of course I don’t think stats should be affected, as players shouldn’t be forced to constantly seek silly new additions, but the ability to account for style and taste would be great. I think it could also help with the whole ‘player economy’ thing, too, as it wouldn’t leave artisan-style players completely left out in comparison to the ‘fight crowd’.

    Comment by Jeffool — 18 June, 2008 @ 4:34 AM

  7. Given Flatfingers’ challenge, I don’t see why a system can’t be built up that would satisfy a wide range of player motivation. What about a system where you can craft, say, any weapon or piece of armor. You’ll have a table of materials that can be put into it. Each material unit adds something good, but also something bad. Perhaps a lump of iron adds +1 defense, but also +1 weight. A magic feather might halve the weight, but add ten levels to the minimum required to equip, etc.

    Questers will be off like shots in pursuit of the rarest materials. Merchants will ply their contacts for the best deals, artisans will study the balance implied by the rules, and produce unique works (perhaps complete with visual customization, if you add an Artisan’s Stone…). ‘Content’ would be easy to add, and there’d be nonstop debate about whether a piece of equipment should always be reforgeable, or should freeze the first time it is equipped.

    Comment by Bret — 18 June, 2008 @ 7:52 PM

  8. Makin’ stuff in MMOs

    [...] I mentioned in the recent Weekend Design Challenge, the topic of tradeskills/crafting has been on my mind. So, let’s take a look at this from a [...]

    Pingback by Psychochild’s Blog — 18 June, 2008 @ 11:58 PM

  9. Bret, like you I’m optimistic about being able to design a MMORPG crafting system that, if not perfectly, at least adequately satisfies different kinds of players.

    Giving most usable objects (whether player-crafted or not) both desirable and undesirable qualities is a game design technique I’ve advocated for a long time. It’s a great way to immediately create the world of “interesting choices” that Sid Meier pointed out is characteristic of fun games. If everything has only positive attributes and no undesirable qualities (or if the undesirable qualities are trivial), that leads naturally to a pure Achiever world — there’s no reason not to compete to try to accumulate absolutely everything in sight. It’s the old “anything not nailed down is mine; anything I can pry loose is not nailed down” philosophy of loot-based game design where the winner is whoever collects the most stuff.

    When you have to consider the effects of individual acquisition decisions, however — when you need to assess whether or not to acquire some particular object… that rewards a different style of play. This kind of game shifts the reward structure away from simple accumulation and toward thoughtful collection. Instead of success being defined by quantity, it’s now defined more by the quality of one’s acquisitions.

    Would Pokemon have been as successful if whoever owned the most cards was guaranteed to win every hand?

    (Side note: we tend to think of money as a type of object that can be accumulated that has no negative effects — the more, the better. But what if we questioned that assumption in a gameworld? What if the more money you amass, the more attractive a target you become for thieves? What if conspicuous consumption makes you more visible to panhandlers [of either the individual or statist variety]? Interesting choices!)

    A player crafting system that produces objects with both positive and negative effects depending on the input resources would IMO be an improvement over the all-good approach taken by most of today’s MMORPGs. It’s amazing to me that the success of the resource-collection part of SWG’s crafting system hasn’t already been duplicated by some more recent game. A MMORPG with the kind of detailed resource collection mini-game described in Bret’s comments above, in which resource characteristics and quality affect the nature of crafted products, might become as popular as that part of SWG was.

    Ultimately, though, designing objects to require a value assessment decision would still need to be examined under the microscope of “is this something that most of my expected or desired players would enjoy?” If the game is intended to primarily attract the gamers who believe that persistence is more important than perception, then it might be better to go with the conventional only-positive-effects model of object qualities.

    Just speaking for myself, though… aren’t there already enough of that kind of game?

    Comment by Bart 'Flatfingers' Stewart — 19 June, 2008 @ 2:24 PM

  10. Flatfingers, clicking on your name I found my way to your blog. Fascinating posts! Some really interesting stuff there.

    Comment by Tim — 21 June, 2008 @ 9:57 AM

  11. The concept of materials altering stats on the finished item, such as the iron and feather example, can be taken even further. The crafting system can be integrated into the combat system, not just run alongside it.

    Consider a characters stats and you can come up with favored weapon types. High strength and stamina? Heavy weapons you can endure swinging repeatedly. High strength and agility? Thrusting foils let you put that strength behind precise strikes. High agility and stamina? Let the spin and momentum of a quarterstaff deliver the pain and absorb the brunt of parried blows.

    On the same token, put caps on the stat affinities to weapon types, or even penalties. Sure, Conan could drop his broadsword and cut something with a dagger, but it wouldnt deliver his strength nearly as well and he might well break the thing trying.

    Even among a weapon class, give such choices. A scimitar is heavier than a shortsword is, its more strength than finesse. Same difference between a quarterstaff and a dire mace. Another thing UO did right was having different moves for the different weapon types. Attach multiple techniques that favor strength or speed to the same weapon types. PvP just got a whole lot more unpredictable.

    Such a system would lend itself not just to custom weapons, but custom characters and fighting styles, more choices and better and more immersive gameplay.

    Comment by Kamen — 8 August, 2008 @ 11:41 PM

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