Aggro Me: Craft This
Aggro Note: If you're looking for Friday Humor, please scroll down. You don't want to miss this one. And yes, this counts as my Monday post even if it's Friday night.
So what is this post all about? Well, as part of our MMO Round Table, Moorgard, Blackguard and myself swore an infernal pact to comment on certain previously agreed upon topics without prior discussion or reading each others posts. We decided that midnight EDT would be an auspicious time for our simultaneous posting. So be sure to check out the posts on their sites as well (here and here). Rumor has it that those two are waiting until 12:01 A.M. to fiendishly copy and paste this post. And ask yourself if they care enough about your mental well-being to provide hilarious cartoons to go along with their posts. Okay, so my comics are horrible and I didn't even want them to clutter up this page, but you will find links to them throughout. So, on with the subject of hand...
Is Crafting Necessary?
It depends. If you are going for a non-subscription, casual MMO meant to be played for an hour at a time, then perhaps resources would be better allocated elsewhere. But if you are trying to create a full, rich virtual world, then crafting can be a huge plus. It makes players feel like there are many options in the world and that it has more depth than it might otherwise. It can allow players who are not that fond of the core game mechanic, adventuring, to still have a place in the virtual world. Likewise, it allows those players who tire of that core mechanic to have other gameplay options while still remaining in the virtual world.
The truth is that many players have come to expect crafting in major, high production value titles. Now, if someone can come up with another game segment which provides the same benefits of providing gameplay options and increasing the depth of the world, then that's fine. But until that crafting alternative arises, crafting is a major plus. Comic here.
So, how should crafting be implemented? Let's first look at how not to do crafting and then we can look at some solutions.
The Wrong Way
Crafting as Tedium
If you look for macros related to MMO's you will quickly find that the most common and best designed ones are related to crafting. Why is this? When a gameplay element is tedious, players will look for ways to circumvent it, even if it means breaking the rules. And crafting is certainly tedious. It is actually a black hole of tedium which sucks in all that is boring and from which no fun can ever escape. So it is not surprising that players use macros to circumvent this.
Also, what are computers good at? They are good at doing simple, repetitive tasks. And there you have crafting. If a macro can play your game, it is probably not a fun game. Now, some players will endure all that tedium, especially in a virtual world. But why make endurance of boredom a gameplay element? Comic here.
Crafting in Groups
I understand some upcoming games seek to make crafting more fun by making crafting a group activity. I don't think this is the right way to go. Crafting is generally a solo activity. Note that I did not say it was a solitary activity. It certainly involves social interaction with other crafters and buyers. But it is hard enough to find a group to adventure with. Do you really want to find a group to harvest with?
Plus, remember that one of the stated purposes of crafting was to provide other options. If you are merely expanding the core gameplay to include crafting, you are not adding that option. If killing a level 7 orc by casting "fireball" is replaced by cutting down a level 7 tree by casting "saw wood," you may as well kill the orc. Because it's probably more fun.Comic here.
Aggro Solutions (TM)
From the Ground Up
Harvesting is a rather tedious and predictable proposition. To improve it you can make it a more skill-based affair through either "twitch" type skills or strategic thinking.
Let's say you want to go the twitch route. Have players dodge through a cave-in in order to get to the ore they need. When cutting down a tree, replace the Progress Bar Snooze with a bar that moves at random speed. Require players to click at a certain point for power and accuracy. Have them finish by thrusting the mouse up in a straight line to represent the swing. All these factors would play into the quality and quantitiy of the items harvested.
But perhaps you feel "twitch" type skills are out of place in an MMO. I can understand that. In medieval times, hey, even in ancient times, no one harvested stone by walking around and mining random rocks on the ground. They built mines and quarries. So why not do the same in the virtual world?
Let's use the mine as an example. Allow players to purchase a mine which will be a special instance. Players can select from a wide range of employees to hire. Do you want expensive, skilled artisans? A crew of cheap ruffians? A mage trained in dowsing for minerals? All these choices will play a factor.
The mine will run even if you never visit it. But quality and quantity will suffer. To truly be successful, a player must visit and make decisions. Perhaps all of your employees hate your skilled foreman. Do you want to fire him and lose his skill or deal with an unhappy crew of workers. Decisions like this can play into factors like morale, teamwork, skill, and so on. You could eventually buy a larger mine with more workers.
When technology allows it, you could move these mines, forestry operations and farms out into the shared world space. Even with instances, these harvest operations would accomplish the dual goals of making harvesting more interesting and allowing players to have a feeling of ownership in the virtual world.
Comic here.Crafting as Fun
I can go on the net and in a few minutes find cheaply made flash games which are more fun then crafting. So why not dedicate some time to making the process of crafting addictive and fun? Whether you want to include elements of twitch play, turn-based strategy or real time strategy, the key is to make things interactive and require player skill. Just take a look at my harvesting examples and apply them to crafting. Memory, reflex, sound recognition, spatial visualization, puzzle solving and strategy are just some of many elements that could make crafting a game and not a chore. Of course, you do not want to completely remove players from the world. You do not want to have them sit down at the forge and then Tetris pops up. But working great gameplay into the theme and feel of the world is merely a challenge and not a barrier.
Crafting as Art This suggestion is more for the future and not for every game. But when:
* You buy a tapestry because you love the designs a certain player-artist creates and you would buy anything she made.
* When hanging your tapestry you find your home is too small and dark so you hire a player-architect to create an airier abode with wood tones you enjoy.
* You realize you need some money to pay for your new home and decide to go adventuring. You have a choice between two breastplates with equal stats. You buy the one that has the player-made design you prefer.
Then crafting will truly be art.
Now as I said, this will not work for every game. You may wish to control the art assets because you want to retain a certain theme and feel in your virtual world. But I think it could work in some games. If you want to start with baby steps you could allow players a selection of colors and patterns. Comic here.
What about the inter-dependency of crafters and adventurers? You want one group to rely on the other, but not too much. It's merely a question of balance. And what about the desirability of crafted items as opposed to items received adventuring?
Let's take the example of a special sword. Since your main gameplay is adventuring, you really don't want that sword to be made by crafters. So what do you do?
* It may take a certain type of ore only available from difficult mobs to make the sword. Adventurers would then give this ore to crafters to make the sword.
* You gain the special sword by killing a dragon. A crafter can create a hilt for that sword. Now, by itself, this hilt may only give plus one to a few stats. Nothing special. But who wouldn't want to add that hilt on to their already fabulous sword?