Friday, 22 July 2011

Prime BFD: thoughts on crafting

Here's a repost of something I said on Prime's forums.

I'm going to make a long contribution because I love crafting and have given the matter a lot of thought.

Let me preface things with a short summary of my crafting career in games.

I started crafting with Lego, age 2, and it was neither M, nor M, nor O. I quickly moved on to baking jam tarts at nursery school, age 3, and while it wasn't M yet it was certainly M although not O.

After adoring the magic item making interfaces in Demon's Winter (Atari ST) and Daggerfall I spent weeks making Daggerfall potions. Daggerfall was M in that there were a lot of other people doing the same thing, it wasn't M, but it was just at the start of games being O as we potion obsessives compared recipes on forums.

I moved on to Diablo II an adventure game where almost as a throwaway they allowed us to make magic items in our Horadric Cube. I achieved what is perhaps the pinnacle of success for experimental players when after a post I had written on playing an almost invulnerable Barbarian in hardcore permadeath mode using a full set of crafted safety items appeared on the front page of a fan site Blizzard radically nerfed Cube crafting. Nerfing, not imitation, is the most sincere form of flattery. Gameplay was now Massive, I played with hundreds of different players, Multiplayer in games of up to 8 and Online.

My first MMO that was widely recognised as such was Star Wars: Galaxies which I played for most of 2003, occasionally surfacing to pay bills, eat food and reluctantly attend family events like Christmas.

In Galaxies I started out as a Medic, soon becoming a Doctor. In fact I was the first Master Doctor publicly buffing on my server in a game where hardcore players relied on buffs and buffs were insanely good. I would receive twenty tells while loading into the game and hunting meat to make my buffs with was mostly a matter of explaining to people when I would next be back in Coruscant. Perhaps unsurprisingly I burned out, changing to Master Armoursmith. This became one of the most interesting crafting characters I have ever played.

SWG was designed around player interdependency. You needed medics and doctors to heal you, entertainers to heal a different bar and crafters to get stuff. Dropped and vendor loot might as well not have existed it was so weak. What's more there were no alts – one character per server. If you didn't want to personally play a Droid Engineer as your main you had to buy your droids from someone who did.

What's more all quality was concentrated at the top. There was armour made by a Master Armoursmith who was a skilled player who worked hard on resource gathering and there was crap.

I became the second best Armoursmith on the server and was widely considered the best because of a gimmick I came up with – designer armour. “”Designer” has become one of those words that just means “good” but originally in the rag trade it meant something quite specific – clothing made to the designer's specifications rather than the customer's (that stuff is known as “tailored”). Everything I made was a specific design, a rather snazzy black base with red lapels and stripes. Every piece of Armour I made had the exact same design as every other piece, people would offer me millions to make them a suit of purple armour and I'd send them to a competitor.

People adored it, I couldn't make stuff fast enough and I was as popular as the top man whose stuff had clearly better stats.

What I liked about Armoursmithing was not just the adulation of the masses but the minigame behind the making of it. To make good armour I had to tour the galaxy every week checking patiently for each type of mineral on my shopping list on each planet. If I found a good resource I'd either scan it down and drop harvesters (if it was a resource that lurked beneath the earth) or run after it hitting it (if it was a resource that ran around sqwawking). I would arrange with friendly player tailors and artisans to buy crates of certain sub-components that I needed.

Making a suit required a number of separate sub-component crafts many of which themselves involved sub-components made by myself or other types of player crafter and each craft was a turn-based minigame where I could make decisions about how to play the minigame that might alter the stats of the final item. Making the final combine depended on carefully spending “experimentation points” to alter stats. I could make the armour more resistant to falling apart, easier to wear or more likely to keep the person inside alive. People wrote extensive theory about armoursmithing on websites, we even invented a name for the science of SWG armourcrafting theorising: Layerology.

It was the most fun I ever had in a MMO and a very memorable character.

So to Prime. (Hey you – wake up, I'm being relevant!)

Prime is going to launch directly against SWTOR. They are broadly similar games. SWTOR has many advantages – it's a more famous setting, it's had a lot of money spent on it and it's from a well-regarded veteran studio. For Prime to succeed it needs to not fight SWTOR on its own turf, it needs to look at how SWTOR is deciding to do things and do things different.

Particularly crafting.

SWTOR is launching with a dumbed down version of WoW's dumbed down crafting. Hell, it's not even crafting imo. You get your stuff and click a button and it pops out. If that's crafting then clicking a clip into your Sig & Sauer is manufacturing a pistol.

Crafting is a major opportunity for Prime BFD to blow the pants off off the competition.

A good crafting system and a good player economy is zero sum game design. Every decision that makes the crafting game good, every decision that makes the economy interesting makes someone else's gameplay less fun.

In WoW everyone is a master crafter. In WoW no one is a master crafter. If you make crafting so painless, so accessible, it ceases to become gameplay and just becomes a chore. No one in WoW loves crafting the way I loved my armoursmith. It's just something you grind for +40 Stamina.

So this is how I think crafting in Prime should go:

yes to complexity
yes to no upper limit (you can always get better)
yes to rewarding those who hunt down the best resources
yes to stats on resources
yes to crafting being miles better than dropped loot
yes to crafters being dependent on combat characters to get the best resources (Prime, but also resources harvested from dangerous animals like Rancor hide
yes to crafting optimally requiring multiple maxxed skills (so you don't just have maxxed Master Weaponsmith then five maxxed skills to be awesome at combat with).
yes to item decay and destruction
yes to variations in stats from piece to piece
yes to crafting requiring a turn-based minigame
yes to kick ass killers developing friendships with awesome crafters
no to squirrels being discovered on death to have been carting suits of plate mail around.
no to best in slot
no to everyone being a master crafter
no to WoW's crafting system reskinned

Seriously folks, let's support a Prime that blows SWTOR out of the water on gameplay. So we're playing a “I've been saving this Kalameshi 3.09 Sniper Rifle for a special occasion – take it and cover me I'm going after his stash” game while they're being told to kill ten rats by a Welsh-accented thesbian.


  1. The system you describe allows for maybe three or four viable crafters of a given type per server. I see clearly how it lends a sense of a given server feeling more like a real place. But surely you can also see that this is a niche product design...unless of course only 3 or 4 people per server care to do a particular type of crafting and the great bulk choose to be combat focused consumers.

    If Prime is aiming to be the next Darkfall, or perhaps even EVE, this is great advice. The more hardcore and complex the better. Certainly it has no hope of competing with SWTOR in the mass market, why even try to cater to them? I can see where it could occupy a niche that will have been abandoned by SWG by the time both games launch.

  2. "unless of course only 3 or 4 people per server care to do a particular type of crafting and the great bulk choose to be combat focused consumers."

    partly this although I think you can design such a system to support more than 3 or 4.

    - increase the time it takes to make things. If you have to play a 30 minute minigame to make one sniper rifle people aren't going to be able to make them for hundreds of other players.

    - localise trading. There's a guy in our town who makes ok guns or we can travel 30 minutes to buy great guns. Problem is we need guns now.

    But yeah I'm hoping it will be a niche game. It would be crazy if it were not a niche game. It's launching in the same quarter as SWTOR and is VERY similar. The chances of picking up people from the mainstream are close to none.