Saturday, July 05, 2008

Crafting and MMOs: A Look from Three Perspectives

Crafting has always been a system that has attracted my attention, especially from a design standpoint. Partially because most games seem to relegate it to a sidebin.

As serendipity would have it, there has been some minor discussion from three different games in development about their crafting systems. Those being Warhammer, Earthrise and Darkfall.

WAR released a podcast several weeks ago where Mark Jacobs talks about crafting in WAR. This was followed with a three-part interview (which seems to be divided into three parts just to be annoying since each part only has 3-4 questions).

In these , we find out that the WAR devs claim that their crafting system is non-recipe based, which is a bit disingenuous. There is a recipe system, its just not presented to the players up-front, and it is more flexible than crafting in most games, which tend to go for crafting systems that are extremely static (IE, X +Y makes Z with no variations). In WAR, the crafters will be able to play around with various ingredients to alter the results of the standard recipes.

WAR also plans on having only a few, limited crafting options at launch; three gathering professions and two crafting. In the interview, Jacobs explained that they would rather start with a small subset that can be expanded later and do it right, rather than trying to do everything at once. And that's certainly a philosophy I can agree with. Three years after launch, WoW is still working on trying to make their crafting professions useful, and failing for the most part.

The ability to customize your potions based upon your needs is great. The more control you give to the crafters the better. I also find their idea of having more gathering than crafting professions interesting, though we'll have to see how it plays out in-game. Is the world going to end up flooded with crafters who cant get hold of materials because there is too much competition for them? WAR also wants to make it so that crafting doesn't replace item drops and quest rewards, which I'm a bit leery of. Now we're headed back into EQ and WoW territory, where the crafted items are only minor bonuses compared to what you get from defeating the Big Bad Boss.

On the other side of the coin, you have Earthrise. In a recent interview, the talked about their plans for crafting (which are also revealed in a post on their forums. They are planning on making crafting THE way to acquire items. Players will be able to craft every item in the game, and they will also be able to make customized items by sticking various parts together. A complex system, and a bold venture by Masthead, but one that I hope works out well so that other games will feel emboldened enough to make crafting more than a side diversion from their amusement park rides.

And then, to round things out to a nice even three, I also want to include mention of a recent post from the Darkfall devs (yes, apparently they are still alive). In Darkfall, the plan on letting players
"You can gather crafting materials from killing mobs, and looting and/or skinning them. You can harvest materials from the environment, for example from rocks, trees, bushes etc. You can get the materials faster from organized resource production, like mines and farms, while collecting in nature is slower. You can craft crafting materials used to build complex items when they’re made of building blocks. Finally you can kill players and take theirs."

Hey, they're stealing my ideas! Though I didn't go into complete detail in the linked post, I've actually had a similar concept floating around for some time, so as you imagine, I'm excited to see how Darkfall handles it (assuming that they ever release their game). I really like the idea of being able to harvest from almost anywhere, ala Ultima Online, but also encouraging player cities/guilds to invest resources and time into creating semi-permanent structures that function as advanced resource harvesting centers. Not only does it allow for multiple levels of play and interaction, just within the harvesting system, but it also provides focal points for interesting conflicts between players.

So, there we have it. Three games will very different philosophies about crafting, though all look to be trending in the direction of giving more control to the player. I certainly hope that this is a sign of things to come in the future of MMOs.

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