Archive for July, 2006

The Crafting System that Never Was.

Posted: July 3, 2006 by Kendricke in General Game Concepts

The changes of Live Update 24 to Everquest 2 have come and gone, and the crafting community is up in arms.  Obviously, the system has been changed.  The word I would use is streamlined, though many tradeskilling veterans would call it simplified, or simply “dumbed down”.  There’s anger there, and lots of it. 

This got me to thinking:  Where is this anger actually coming from?  It’s easy for a relatively casual tradeskiller like myself to dismiss the frustration as some sort of hardcore player angst, and really, I wouldn’t be too far off there.  Active tradeskillers are really just a different flavor of “hardcore” and hardcore players like to have a strong border between themselves and more casual players.  It helps to distinguish the accomplishments of those who put in the time and effort – a way to separate the wheat from the chaff, so to speak.

I’m not downplaying that real feeling of pride, either.  There are many who would simply refer to that as “elitism” in a negative fashion, but that’s not how I would put it.  Oh, it’s an esprit de corps, alright.  Make no mistake about that.  However, it’s a sense of accomplishment, and in a game like Everquest 2, accomplishment is all you have to separate yourself from the pack.  More than items, it’s about reputation – at least to the truly hardcore.

Generalizations?  Perhaps they are, at that.  However, this particular generalization has more than a little grain of truth to it, I suspect.  Really, that’s all accomplishments come down to when all is said and done:  a feeling of self-satisfaction (pride) and the recognition of others regarding that accomplishment (reputation).  You could say that accomplishments in an MMO like EverQuest 2 are really just about how a character is viewed, by both the player who owns the character and other players as well.

In any regard, as I was alluding to earlier, I was thinking deeply where all this pent up anger came from.  Was it just about the tearing down of that border between casual and hardcore tradeskillers?  Was it a feeling of trivialization of effort only?  I believe that there is more to it than that. 

The crafting system in Everquest 2 of today is a far different beast from the one described to us when the game was first being designed.  To many primary crafters, it may well have sounded like the land of milk and honey.  A promised land for crafters to differentiate themselves from hack and slash players.  A game where their accomplishments would truly matter more than most other places. 

Compare that to the EverQuest 2 of today, and it’s easy to see how the initial dream crashed landed into today’s reality.

This is not to say that the system we have today is bad, by any means.  Frankly, I love the current crafting system as is.  It’s not the system I personally would have gone with, but then again, it’s not as if the current system is poor when compared only against itself. 

The problem is that it’s not compared against itself.  It’s compared against other games, and I think more importantly, it’s compared in the dark recesses of most player’s minds against the promises of grandeur they recall from only a few years ago.  What we have and what we thought we’d have are two different things entirely.

So, for those just joining the program already in progress, what’s so different after all?  Let me just get Sherman to fire up the way back machine, and I’ll tell you all about it.  We’re heading back to the long distant time of 2003, when the White Stripes had released Elephant, Return of the King was dominating the box office, and a little company called Sony Online Entertainment first released a few tidbits of what we could possibly expect from a tradeskilling system in their upcoming sequel to their hardly heard of EverQuest title:

In addition to the chance for loot drops, mobs can also drop components. That nasty dragon might drop a hide, for instance. So say you kill Jimmy the Dragon and he drops a Cloak of Fiery Hotness and a purple dragon hide. Why would a player prefer to get the hide over the cloak? This is where tradeskills come in.

(Please note: The following examples are purely hypothetical and are not specifics of what will actually happen in game. These are merely to help you understand the concepts behind the system.)
You take that purple dragon hide to an Artisan of the appropriate ability who can, through effort and skill on his part, make you an uber item that is usable by your class. Some components will make specific types of items: an orc captain might drop a component that can be made into leather armor, a gnoll commander might drop something that can be made into chain armor, etc. Rare components from uber mobs will probably have a larger variety of things they can be made into. The purple dragon hide could be made into boots or a tunic or sleeves—whatever the player needs most. In any case, the purple dragon hide will make an uber item that will be every bit as rare and desirable as standard drops.The advantage to this type of system should be obvious. Instead of having a mob drop an item that is specific to a certain slot and class (and could therefore be unusable by the players who are present), the component will be desired by everyone. There is less chance that an item will be sold off or be given to an alt, because anyone there can have something made from the component that will benefit their class. ”  –Moorgard, Auguest 28, 2003

That system sounds great, doesn’t it?  You kill a hard target like a gnoll captain or a dragon and it drops rare crafting components that you can have made into uber gear by a higher level Artisan?  No wonder crafters everywhere started getting sweaty palms over the upcoming Everquest 2.  Those few paragraphs made it sound like crafters would make the best gear anywhere.  Who wouldn’t be excited about crafting, right?

But wait, there’s more:

“In the case of uber loot, the player-crafted item is not more powerful than the dropped item. Dropped loot simply has a predetermined function, whereas the component allows you flexibility in what you end up with. Also, the enchantments present on dropped loot will already be in place, whereas crafted items can have customized enchantments. But since this is really the first time we’re mentioning the concept of enchantments, I’ll save further discussion on the topic for another time.” -Moorgard, Auguest 28, 2003

Wait a minute?  Customized enchantments?  Could this be the adornment system we’re finally getting with Echoes of Faydwer…over 3 years after the above paragraph was made?  I checked with my trusty magic eight ball and apparantly, all signs point to yes.

Imagine the power held in just the quoted portions I’ve listed above.  Already, back in 2003, MMO players interested in crafting are hearing that the new system will allow them to make powerful items from dropped components, that these items will be on par with dropped items, and that the items can be customized with special enchantments.

How can you top that?  Easy – tell crafters the system will be innovative and require real skill to master.  You appeal to their sense of pride and accomplishment that sets hardcore crafters apart from the casual crafters.  In short, you tell them this:

“Crafting items in our game is not just a matter of buying some components and making uber loot out of them. At the most basic level of the game, Artisans will be able to buy components and make simple items that can be sold to players. However, the more desirable the item will be, the more intricate the process is to create it.Let’s look at crafting a breastplate. (Again, this is a hypothetical example, so keep in mind the specifics of the process may vary.) Instead of obtaining components, plopping them into a forge, and hitting a combine key, we add flavor to the process. You take your components (which will vary, again depending on the level of the item you’re trying to create) and fire up the forge. At this point you enter into a kind of mini game. You need the forge to stay in a certain temperature range during this process, so you have to control the amount of wood you put on the fire. While keeping an eye on that, you also take actions that affect the properties of the finished product. You can refine the armor, which makes it lighter. This impacts its durability, however, so you might want to bolster durability by reinforcing the armor. You’ll also want to shape the breastplate, which affects its overall quality. The Artisan must decide at which point in the process the armor is done, because keeping it in the forge too long could weaken it.” -Moorgard, August 28, 2003 

So now you’re hearing that you’ll have to watch the temperature of your forge, and you’ll have to control how much fuel you use (because that affects the process), and you’ll need to potentially refine the product to decide whether or not to make it lighter (but less durable) or to bolster the strength (which increases weight).  Keeping the product in the process too long also has consequences! 

I remember reading that section the day it was posted and thinking about the possibilities.  Suddenly, the system wasn’t about just click, click, click, click combine and pray.  It was about choices – real choices that had real consequences – choices that mattered and had real bearing.

You could customize the items in this originally discussed hypothetical Everquest 2 crafting system.  You could take the rare fabled components from a raid target, and then determine what type of item to make with those components, and choose the weight, durability, and statistics you were planning on in advance, and then work the process to get the results.  I remember thinking that crafters would need to have knowledge, skill, and timing for that system.  I remember thinking how hard it would be to possibly master such a system, and how those who could would be known for it – in short, they’d have a reputation for it.  Seems that SOE felt the same way then:

“Just as adventurers earn the reputation of being skilled Fighters or Mages, Artisans will earn reputations based on their skill. And it won’t come down to a simple skill number or roll of the die; it will depend on how well the person behind the keyboard plays his or her class.” – Moorgard, August 28, 2003

I remember getting excited.  After all, I was pretty well known in Everquest as a fairly good cleric to group with.  I knew my spells, and knew when to use which.  Different heals had different purposes and uses, and knowing which spells to use when was a big deal.  There wasn’t any one “right” way to heal a group, and I liked the idea that there wasn’t any real “right” way to tradeskill, but that those who learned the system would earn a similar reputation to skilled adventurers who knew how not to grab hate, who knew when to cast and when not to, and who knew how hard you could push the envelope.

The more I heard about this new tradeskilling system, the more I anticipated it.

To be fair, many times a company will list out virtually every function or feature they hope to bring to market, only to find out during development or even beta that this or that idea works much better on paper than in reality.  It’s quite possible that development resources needed to be spent elsewhere other than on crafting.  In fact, I’d say that’s virtually assured.

The fact is that the system we have today, though solid, is nothing like the system many of us thought, or even hoped we’d have.  It’s easy to see how the system right now is a disappointment to many of the tradeskilling veterans who might remember some of the early examples used to describe the future of EverQuest 2. 

What we have is not what we thought we’d have, and it’s hard not to think back with longing to the ideas many of us had fleshed out within our heads on what we thought we’d see.  It’s not necessarily SOE’s fault that a segment of us read too much into what we were told, but at the same time, it’s hard not to hold at least a slight grudge against SOE for not living up to the hype they’d put forth then.

Am I personally disappointed?  I guess you could say I am a bit.  This isn’t to say that I don’t enjoy the current tradeskilling changes.  Hell, I’ve gained quite a few levels since Update 24, and I hadn’t sat down before a forge in nearly a year prior.  However, that’s not to say I consider the system anything close to perfect – just that it’s better, in my mind, than what we had prior to Update 24. 

Compared against itself, the current system is just fine.  Compared to what many of us thought we’d have at this point only leaves me waxing a bit nostalgic, thinking back to a time when dreams of hope and possibility were endless, and the ugly head of reality had not yet reared up to strike.