1 May, 2009
Crafting is an interesting topic in games. In a previous post, I went into depth about how a typical crafting system works in a game. For this article, I want to focus on the interactive crafting system found in EverQuest 2.
History and Perspective
Crafting wasn't always part of games. Ultima Online was the first major MMO to have crafting as an important part of the game, influenced by the interactive world of Ultima 8, the game UO was based on. Meridian 59, like many games that pre-date UO, has no real crafting system to speak of.
The orignial EverQuest implemented a crafting system in the game, not common in DIKU type games at all. The system was that you collected items, put them in a crafting container, then pushed a button and prayed. If the random numbers were in your favor, the materials would disappear and you'd get an item. If not, the container would consume your materials and give you nothing.
Dark Age of Camelot came along and changed that system slightly. You no longer needed a crafting container and failures would not take your materials. However, you had to wait a while for the crafting to finish, the infamous "watch a bar" system for crafting. Items also had a random "quality" value that was set during crafting. The quality of a crafted item was generally higher than item drops, making the items better. One interesting quirk is that DAoC's Armorcrafting required materials created by another crafting profession: heavy metal armors required tailored components as padding for the armor.
World of Warcraft did what it is best at: simplifying existing systems. Crafting would never result in a failure, you would always produce an item. The only random element remaining was advancing in skill after making an item. (This ignores the Alchemy specializations that came along later that randomly created multiples of an item.)
The problem is that this type of system where you watched a bar was boring. People cried out for a system that had an interactive component that kept people occupied, like combat does. The argument was that people who like crafting may not necessarily like combat, but they might still find the "watch the bar" school of crafting boring as watching paint dry. Why not add in a little something to keep people occupied and make crafting more interesting?
So, the developers of EverQuest 2 listened and developed a very interactive crafting system.
The EQ2 Crafting System
EQ2's system worked a lot like combat. You had two bars to watch: the crafting progress and the durability. Every "round" of crafting, the progress bar would increase and the durability would decrease. But, the interactivity needed some meaning, so your goal was to fill up the progress bar with a minimum amount of decrease in durability; if durability was high enough at the end, you'd get a better version (or a greater number) of the item you were crafting. This is roughly analogous to doing enough damage to an enemy while not taking do much damage yourself in combat.
The system also had critical effects. A critical success would fill in a lot of the progress bar, whereas a critical failure would take a lot of durability and even some progress. These happened randomly, just like critical hits in a combat system.
So, what about the interactivity? Well, your character had a few special abilities that would influence the pace of crafting, just like abilities in combat. Some would increase progress or durability by a certain amount, but at a cost; the cost was a setback to progress or durability, a decrease in the chance of success the next round, or some power (aka mana). As you got better in your craft, you would get advanced versions of these abilities which had greater effects; so the ability that increased durability would increase it more, but at a greater cost.
Finally, the system would randomly show up an ability. If you used that ability you would get a bonus. Using the wrong ability gave a penalty, and not doing anything had no effect. This helped to prevent people from just mashing keys to get the powerup and win the game.
The system worked pretty well. It was a system that rewarded a player who learned the system with a greater chance to create good items. Everyone was happy, right?
Careful What You Wish For...
Not quite. The problem is that the audience who likes crafting isn't the same audience who likes combat, in general. While waiting for a bar to fill is boring, most people don't just watch the bar fill. They usually chat, either with others in the area or with their guild. Many people were still interacting with the game through the community, even if they weren't interacting with the crafting system.
This meant that crafting became an interruption like combat is. Worse, since you need to perform near your best to get the best results, you had to pay even more attention. The difference between ending a combat with 90% health vs. 75% health left is a bit longer waiting for regeneration. The difference in durability left in crafting was perhaps an order of magnitude in the amount of money you could make. That means any distraction, such as guild chat, is ignored until the crafting is over.
So, for the Socializer who likes to create items in the game to help their guild, this means that crafting was a time when they could not interact with people. Witty responses either went unsaid, or were responsible for losing just enough durability to make you lose that top-end item you were trying to make.
Another interesting feature that EQ2 had at launch was a system of interdependencies for crafting. In addition to gathering materials, some of your materials were items crafted by other players. For example, Tailors needed patterns created by Sages who normally created scrolls and books that trained spells. As mentioned above, DAoC also had this requirement for one of their crafters.
However, both systems fell prey to the same problem: People who could get the items for cheaper fared much better. People who had guild mates who supplied items at cost, or who had a second account/character to make the items, did better. In DAoC, the most successful armorcrafters were people who created a second character to make the tailor items. My armorcrafter character, on the other hand, had to buy items from other people with a markup. That means that my profit was never going to be as large was the people who set up a second character on a second account.
By the time I started playing EQ2, the interdependencies were removed and players just had to collect raw materials to make their items.
So, how could EQ2's system be improved? The obvious solution seems to be to remove the real-time nature of crafting. Instead of requiring that the crafting system happen in continuous rounds, allow the player to set the pace. Perhaps have a pause button UI element that allows people to pause the action long enough to throw that witty retort in guild chat. Or, give more abilities so that players can use an ability every round, or even have an ability that just advances the round normally. Instead of relying on twitch-type interaction, this would give Socializers the ability to interact with people while they contrbiute to the welfare of their guild.
What are your thoughts? Should crafting be interactive? Or should it remain passive and give people plenty of time to chat with others?