Crafting with Variable Stat Materials

 

After the widespread popularity of my Crowfall overview, I thought the natural thing to do would be to follow-up with something niche and wonkish that only like, three people will care about – so let’s get to it!

As you are all likely already aware, back in 2003, Star Wars Galaxies set the bar for what an MMO crafting system could do, and that bar hasn’t really been raised since then. Today’s topic is just one of the many crafting mechanics that made the game’s system great that I’d like to see reborn in Crowfall – variable stat material use.

To really explain why this system worked so well, I’ll need to provide a little background on a few of the relevant facets of Star Wars Galaxies‘ crafting system. Here’s a quick TL;DR on the the important details:

Basically every item in the game was crafted, would eventually need to be repaired, and, after several repairs, replaced (decay in SWG is a whole beast on its own – here’s a quick run down if you’re curious).
Much like Crowfall‘s one character per campaign rule, you were limited to one character per server – crafters were doing it as their full-time profession, not as a side-profession on an alt.
Crafters could mark crafted items with their name, and would sell items using searchable NPC vendors placed in the game’s extensive open-world player housing.
Crafting materials were found by exploring with a surveying tool looking for procedurally generated resource spawns. The locations and concentrations of those resources changed with time, so you would have to look for new spots once your old one ran dry.
Item crafting included very flexible recipes, as each required only a certain resource type for each required material. Several individual resources would meet this type requirement and each of these would provide different pros and cons for the stats on the final item (variations in damage, range, attack speed, decay rate, etc…).
In addition to the above, Star Wars Galaxies also included the topical system – variable stat materials:

Raw materials had stats – so, for a Crowfall example, iron ore that you mine might have statistical ratings for its toughness, malleability, maybe a magical property or two – I’m not sure (full disclosure – I am not a blacksmith IRL). This is the underlying reason for the varying effect of different materials on the final item’s stats.
Those stats could differ between materials of the same type. In other words, not every iron ore was the same.
All resources harvested from the same spawn would have the same stats (disclaimer – I could actually be wrong on this, but as differing stats prevented stacking, this would have been wildly inconvenient).
Resource stacks of differing stats could be blended at a crafting station to average out the resource’s stats, making it usable for crafting if you didn’t have enough of a matching stack to meet the recipe’s requirements.

As you can see, each specific resource type has quite the range of variation. On top of that, the recipes were often not very specific. Some recipes would call for siliclastic ore, but others would only require sedimentary ore, which included siliclastic and carbonate ores. Other, broader recipes might even only require low grade ore, which included sedimentary, carbonate, and igneous ores, all with their own sub-categories of ores. If you haven’t gotten it yet – Star Wars Galaxies had an extremely deep crafting system.

Perfectly rolled resources were incredibly rare and equally valuable, creating a system where it wasn’t just about finding the right type of material, but which specific material of that type was right for the item you wanted. There were a lot of options when you wanted something crafted, and it rarely boiled down to one clear choice.

There were a few great benefits to all of this. Primarily, because of the many combinations of materials going into creating a finished piece of gear, the odds of two crafters creating the exact same item was very low, creating a market environment where every item being sold was just a little bit different. In a system where every item is unique, not only is it possible for a crafter to really make a name for themselves, but it’s almost necessary to keep track of them so you can go back when you need another – and with the decay system, you would need another.

On top of this, gathering and supply chain procurement became a game all on its own, as all of the depth added to item creation affected them as well. If they couldn’t gain access to those nodes themselves, crafters looking to create items with specific stats would want to seek out other players with harvesters on the right resource nodes to negotiate an agreement for those materials.

Why we might not get it

I’m no programming expert (or even a programming novice, for that matter), but if I’ve ever heard of anything that I think would create a lot of work in database design and administration, a system wherein every resource and every item is basically unique takes the cake. While this likely wouldn’t be much of a strain on server load (due to it, by my wild guess, not having too much of an effect on the number of database calls that would need to be performed, as it wouldn’t have to be referenced regularly in combat), it does have the potential to be a lot of work to both implement and keep running.

That said, if Star Wars Galaxies could pull it off in 2003, I have a hard time believing that Crowfall can’t pull it off a decade and a half later. Plus, procedural generation of resource spawns is a good and natural fit for Crowfall‘s already procedurally generated campaign worlds. Here’s hoping!

Update:

Reddit user /u/Ceridith made an excellent post on /r/MMORPG detailing one of the potential downsides of a variable stat material based crafting system that I neglected to address. The post is worth reading in its entirety, but here’s a quick excerpt:

Variable stat crafting means that the crafting system is much more complex. Not only in the actual design, but in the amount of effort players need to put into crafting to make worthwhile items.

Then of course there’s the balancing aspect of it all. How much effort should be expected of players to invest into making decent items? Once they can make those items, how powerful are they against the rest of the game?

If you have a steep enough difficulty curve with a payoff in line with that, you can get into severe power scaling issues. Which, as cool as SWG’s crafting system was, it was incredibly broken in this respect. Composite armor sets with 90%+ damage reduction existed in SWG. Which while yes, the best armor sets were ridiculously expensive and rare, they were also incredibly unbalancing in both PvE and PvP. And then of course let’s not forget doctor buffs, which the top tier buffs could more than quadruple player’s stat pools and regeneration rates.

As gear power rises in an MMORPG, increased potential for extreme customization can greatly exacerbate the balance disparity between varying gear setups. This is something that the balance team would have to spend time working to address, and is another way in which the implementation of such a system would lead to increased development costs. Is it still worth it? In the right game, I believe so.

With regard to Crowfall specifically, the team has marketed the game as having a flatter gear curve than what players are used to in most games. Ideally, this would be a significant mitigating factor that would help to stave off any balance issues that a variable stat material crafting system could introduce. Thanks again to /u/Ceridith for contributing to the discussion.

Check out Crafting with Variable Stat Materials, Part II: Community Roundup Edition for more discussion on how a variable stat crafting material system could be implemented within Crowfall.

 


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