Saturday, September 19, 2009

Oh Boy Trade Skills!

This is a big deal for many people. I don’t get it, because there isn’t really much to ‘get’ in current implementations on the market. WoW has the various bases covered with regards to gathering and crafting skills, and those seem to be the big two. Warhammer also has gathering and crafting skills, and require you only have one of each so you don’t become ‘that one guy in WoW with herbing and mining that only loots stuff all day and never sits down to make anything’.

The gathering skills themselves (in Warhammer, for example) seem silly to be limited to one per person. There’s butchering (the cutting up on dead beasts), scavenging (the looting of dead humanoids' pockets), cultivating (i r grow teh plants), and salvaging (which is basically WoW’s disenchanting skill). With the exception of salvaging, I don’t understand why some person would be able to cut up a dead deer, but when presented with a dead body, they would have no idea how to put their hands in the dead guy’s pockets? Seriously? Salvaging magical essences from an item sounds a bit specialized, but ‘rifling thru pockets’? What’s the matter, you can’t find them or something? Open your character page; you have two pocket slots yourself.

For gathering skills, the ‘easy’ trade skills, there should be nothing stopping someone from buying a pickaxe and whacking away at any ore veins they come across in the game. Obviously, they wouldn’t be very skilled at doing so for the first ones they came across, and those attempts would invariably fail. But that’s the point. You get BETTER at harvesting the resource, but there’s no artificial limitation placed on “oh you can mine ore, but you can’t also pick flowers if you decide you also want to have inscription, too”. There’s this perceived need to limit people to two slots of skills, when in practice, it’s just frustrating. It’s the same dynamic as saying ‘oh mages can’t wear plate mail’ when that actually makes no sense whatsoever. Just because that’s the ‘established rule’ means nothing. I should be able to put on a ballerina skirt and plate mail helm regardless of my class. The only thing limiting my ability to do so should be the circumference of my head itself, but this is already getting into my Armor discussion.

Let’s refocus on Trade skills. Suffice to say I think a player should be able to pick up as many trade skills as they wish, and the ACT of using the skill should be the only limiting factor to it ‘skilling up’. You could have a level 1 gnome who is an expert at harvesting herbs, and can safely pick berries off the Death Kill Vines that grow on the Cliffs of Mount Pain, but that level 1 toon isn’t going to make it to the shrub without an entourage escorting his delicate hide out there. There’s obviously an upside to being a tough guy and being able to slay all the monsters from here to the berries, but players shouldn’t be expected to raid endgame dungeons if they only want to sit in town and make necklaces to sell. In fact, the ‘level 1’ portion is strictly a ‘combat level’ designation. You get more hit points as you ‘level’, but using your trade skill levels a separate number, which is actually already implemented in these games. I’m currently 104 Talisman making on my Black Orc in Warhammer, and (happily) there doesn’t seem to be a combat level associated cap to my trade skilling. I get the items I need to make my talismans from buying renown gear and disenchanting (salvaging) it. In retrospect, I should have made a level one alt my ‘salvager’ because I don’t need to physically be able to wear the gear to purchase and salvage it. Instead, I was forced to roll an alt with the Scavenging skill (which requires you to venture out to the battlefield and actually do the looting there). This, in turn, forces me to actually level the alt as well, since running around the battlefield trying to kill things as level 1 isn’t very productive.

There’s an entire population of gamers that derive pleasure from ‘playing the auction house’ or just crafting items. They really have no interest in running huge scripted raids, or participating in glorified versions of ‘Kill the Carrier’ or ‘Capture the Flag’. I’m not one of those people, but I think I would have an appreciation for a trade skill that actually requires practice to be proficient, or made more sense than “stand at the anvil and click the button, and then wait 15 seconds for your new chest piece to appear in your bag”.

Warhammer has an interesting new skill called Cultivation that allows you to grow seeds into plants for use in the Apothecary (potion making) trade skill. It’s interesting in the way that reading that last sentence was. Like, ‘ooh! that sounds neat!’ …then it’s not. You end up looting watering cans from dead mobs (watering cans? watering cans.), along with seeds and soil, then combine them all and grow a plant, using nutrients if desired as well. The timing of it, for whatever reason, is an accelerated grow cycle, and takes about 1 minute to grow a plant. You put the seed in the window, and a little sprout appears. Then you wait for 15 seconds, and add soil, wait another 15 seconds and add water, and wait a final 15 seconds and add nutrients. I can see where they’re going with this, but the timing itself is not only unnatural (plants don’t grow in a minute), it’s just staggered enough to be annoying. You can’t go get a soda while your plant grows, because you’re hovering over it waiting to throw dirt and watering cans (watering cans?) on it.

There’s an expression about something being as boring as watching grass grow. Warhammer has managed to make it an in-game feature. New trade skill planned for the expansion? Wet Paint Monitoring. Awesome.

If you’re going to do a plant grow cycle, why not make it last a while? I understand you don’t want people to have to harvest their fields in August (is that when fields are harvested? I have no idea), but make a grow cycle take a week. Stop in to water your plants each day, and actually invest some time in the outcome. If you go on vacation, your plants will die! Have a plot of soil that isn’t ‘one icon large’. As you skill up, your ‘workbench’ improves, and you can have two rows of plants in your garden. You could take a close look at them as you water them each day and pick bugs off them, or pluck weeds. Certain plants would actually yield berries or flowers that you can SEE in the trade skill window, and need to be carefully plucked with a smooth mouse motion that won’t break the stalk. Pruning could play a role. I’m still talking about the plant skill, and haven’t even gotten into blacksmithing or anything yet. There are so many millions of ways you could have made this skill interesting, instead of ‘watch the slow, boring 4 frame animated gif, and click the watering can (?) icon at frame 2’. Did I mention everything from goblins to demons to bandit lords drop watering cans? I have like 200 in my bank. It’s ridiculous.

I’m not just picking on Warhammer, either. WoW does the same thing. Smelting metal takes 3 seconds per bar, and there’s no way to smelt ten bars at a time, unless you download an addon to do it for you. You don’t even need to let the molten hot bars cool before you can throw 500 in your bag and run off (don’t get me started on inventories). Why not have different metals have different smelting points, and you have to fine tune the forge to bring it to the proper temperature? After smelting, let the bars cool. If this all sounds like a pain in the ass, then probably a trade skill isn’t something you need to waste your time on. I’m sure there would be a bunch of people on each server more than happy to play a ‘merchant’ style character, even if only on an alt, that could set up shop and craft wares for the rest of the populace. No one’s willing to do it? Then just live with loot drops. You don’t NEED to craft any items; it’s just another avenue to an end result.

The point is that crafting throwaway items over and over just to skill up in the span of 20 minutes is silly. You need to give people an investment in what they’re crafting, and make it take more work than ‘click the button and wait 12 seconds’. People will take up the positions, and will become valued members of the server, or at the very least, very rich, because no one else will be hassled to bother doing it when there’s a BG popping in 32 seconds.

Next up will be a look at skills like jewel crafting, or blacksmithing. Creating an actual interface for crafting items, and how you can incorporate 'skill' into the trade skill itself, forcing someone to actually become proficient in thier profession to succeed. Stay tuned, this is just getting started!


Danas said...

Glad to see you're still writing Iso. Been a long time reader of NA, although I never posted.

Anyways, in regards to this topic, did you ever play Star Wars Galaxies? Your post made me think back to the crafting in that. It was one of the things that I think really stood out in the game before it went to shit. Everything felt so much more involved and worthwhile in it. I wasn't a hardcore crafter, but I had some good friends that were. You were able to use different quality elements to make better products. Two people could make the same style blaster pistol, but depending on the quality of elements harvested, one persons would be way better than the other. This was really great in that it helped people who only wanted to play crafters make a name for themselves as producing quality items. I think it was a great idea, that I have yet to see implemented anywhere else.

Curious if you ever had the opportunity to see it in its prime.

Rich said...

i never did check out star wars past the very very beginning. In the first 5 minutes of play, as a Level Nothing Nobody, I was already being personally escorted by Han Solo and Chewbacca to the Millennium Falcon for a daring escape, and my eyes rolled so violently i had a seizure and collapsed on the keyboard.

SWG has always been mentioned as having a superior crafting system, and Tobold has mentioned FFXI (having advanced plant growing mechanics) as well as A Tale in the Desert, which i did check out for about a week at one point, because the crafting system was insane. in ATitD, you had to pick papyrus, dry it by the river, grind it up, press it into sheets, and go thru some crazy system in order to get a single sheet of paper. They basically plotted out the entire system that you actually go through, and modeled it in game. It was impressive.

The next article I'm working on incorporates a system on 'workbenches' for each skill. something sorely lacking from WoW and WAR (which is my main area of 'expertise'). It'll be up tomorrow or the next day the latest. just ironing a few kinks out.

Anonymous said...

I've never really been a tradeskill person. It took ring enchants to force me to finally level enchanting up in WoW, I still don't have a tradeskill past rank 10 in Warhammer. So my opinion on trade skills is basically that they are worthless time sinks that shouldn't effect the game unless they themselves ARE the game.
I know why companies put them in their games. We all have our resident guild packrats. Banks, alts, and bank-alts stuffed full of rabbit meat just waiting to be cooked (spoilage?).
I do agree with the idea of gathering whatever you want and skilling up from there. So if you want to be a level 4 flower gatherer/miner/pocket rifler you are welcome to it. But I do think it should be limited to physical constraints. I.E. a big bruising ogre shouldn't have the dexterity to pick flowers precisely. An Erudite shouldn't have the muscle to successfully mine the deepest iron deposits.
Crafting skills should be limited by level. So you get X number of crafting skill points to use per level, if you want to be a jack of all trades and be level 30 in 5 dif. professions go for it. Or you can be 150 in one.
It rained at my film festival (watering Cannes). Lame.

Anonymous said...

As a longtime reader of, I've loved your replies to other posters, and then when you started posting regularly. I lost touch of the site for about a half year, and just came back to it two weeks ago, now I saw you left there. I'm just glad you left a forwarding address so to speak.


Keep up the great writing, and please include more articles on Japan.


Anonymous said...

Hi Iso/Ixo. Been a longtime reader of NA and glad to see you on your own. Your site could use a little sprucing, but that's unimportant as long as the content is good (which it is so far!).

A thing about using items that don't belong to the class (mage not being able to wear plate, etc). I always thought it would be a good idea to let all classes wear whatever type of armor, but make it so it's not worth it for them to do so.

For example, a mage could wear plate if he thinks it makes him look sexy or whatever, but what's the point if it has stats he can't make use of like agility or strength? Same goes for weapons and other items. Also, as the type of armor changes, so would the weight - and that would affect movement. It never made sense to me to have a fully plated guy run at the same speed or jump the same height as a cloth wearer.

Just some thoughts

James Warne said...

While unrealistic, the "wait 10 seconds for my uber-complicated crafting thingy to be made" process never really bothered me.

What does bother me is that 90% of everything I ever crafted was completely worthless to anyone and everyone, and was vendor'd a few seconds after I was done making it. It's a tough balancing act, though. Make crafted items too desirable, and people won't have the motivation to run dungeons or go kill stuff for drops. Make them worthless and you have a mindless time sink while players level up their skill.

I think Blizz is on the right track with item upgrades or modifications, instead of crafting the item itself. Blacksmiths will be able to craft a "belt buckle" that can be applied to a belt and adds another gem slot. Bingo! Worthwhile and useful, and makes the debate between crafted gear vs. raid/instance gear a moot point.

Anonymous said...

Just to gauge a response anonymously, how would people feel about getting a bunch of old NA/RG members together and opening up a new forum/site... just wondering..

The problem with NA/RG is not with the moderators/users/most admins. It's because the highest level people no longer contribute to the site(e.g Redbot)

Tesh said...

Atlantica Online has an interesting crafting system. There are tons of crafting skills, and anyone can pick up any of them.

You level them up by crafting items, but levels aren't gained automatically, they have to be "trained" by a skill master or, and here's a good twist, by another player who is sufficiently ahead of you in crafting skill. They gain experience for training lower level crafters, you don't have to pay the trainer.

Pretty much any loot drop is an ingredient in crafting somewhere (and there's no vendor trash; everything has a use, as far as I can tell, even if it's only as an ingredient). The auction interface is clean and simple, once you know how to use the Search function.

The weird twist is that crafting requires combat. You don't have a time bar, you aren't limited to a location (crafting happens anywhere you can fight)... crafting happens because you're fighting. The act of winning combat provides "work" that is applied to your crafting project, and when the work order is filled, the items are completed and waiting for you in a sort of "crafting netheraether". (Not in your inventory, but in a waiting spot preventing further crafting.)

That part is a little weird, fighting to craft, but if you love combat, it's a great idea. The combat in Atlantica Online is fun, so it doesn't bother me in the least, but for someone who doesn't like the combat, crafting isn't going to be fantastic.

JediOfTheShire said...

If you had been able to see SWG in its full glory (yes I found the game to be glorious in the beginning) then I think you would appreciate the time they put into making it what I consider to be the greatest crafting system I have ever seen.

Materials were not only of varying quality, but they were truly multidimensional (figuratively) parts of the crafting machine. There was not simply Tier 1-10 of metals and T1-10 of reactive chemicals etc. Each metal had a number of statistics that made it unique and react differently to being used in different types of crafting. You could also experiment (the way that system worked always confused me a bit, but I had some success making cool stuff) to create an item not only unique because of the materials you used, but also because of your own personal tweaks.

Harvesting was also more than just running around picking up those pesky little dots that never want to show up on your minimap. You had to purchase (or construct) survey equipment and then run around on foot finding the best concentration of the resource you were looking for, and then if you only needed small quantities you could sample it yourself, but you could always set up a mining station if you were going to need a lot of material, and then you just have to pay for repairs/fuel to keep it pumping out huge amounts of that resource on a regular basis.

They also made crafting a "class" so that you could do what you wanted in the game without being chained to combat. WoW and most other MMOs out there are very 1-dimensional in their approach to gameplay because crafting is always an afterthought- just something that you add to your combat character. In SWG, like Danas said above, you could actually play the SWG:Crafting game instead of the SWG:PvECombat game or the SWG:PvPCombat game.

I don't know what anyone was thinking when SWG... well... it went to hell is what happened to the game. It blows my mind that anyone still plays it after losing the greatness and uniqueness that it was :/

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