The last few weeks I have been pretty lax with my daily blog post. My friend Ariad has managed to churn out some posts to fill the void, but in the end I have just been slacking due to some fairly significant deadlines. I’ve also noticed that when I have been incubating a large post, I seem to get thrown into a minor writers block. In the past these are marked by the days I have posted patch notes and nothing much else. However in the post E3 / Pre 1.3 lead up, there isn’t a lot I have felt like reacting to. After several weeks, I am finally posting this topic.
How Randomness Ruined Crafting For Me and Rift Revived It
I know that is a big subheading, but over the last few weeks I have come to realize a few things about crafting in general. I have always respected crafting in MMOs but in general I have never been one to hang out at the forge as it were. It has been a fun diversion, a nice break in the adventuring action at times, but never really something I sought out. I think a good deal of this is the way that WoW and other games have treated crafting in general.
Crafting has always fascinated me. The ability to gather up seemingly unrelated bits and through an interface bind them together into something new and usable by my characters. There almost seems to be an arcane thrill to it, and your serious crafters carry with them an aura of sage respect. Many folks look to crafting as a profit center for them, but for me it has always been either a nice way to augment my characters gear list, or simply something I can do to make myself useful for the guild as a whole.
Above is an image from the game Minecraft. This pretty much shows the kind of crafting that first enthralled me. I could not find a really good image of the Everquest crafting system, but for the most part Minecraft is a good facsimile. EQ featured a system that I can only think of as crafting off the rails. Later crafting systems became stratified, with certain classes and recipe books, but in the beginning it was just you some gathered materials and a machine.
Fishing was pretty straight forward, and I think everyone in Everquest spent some time on the docks fishing for fun and profit. However for me at least, the serious crafting came far later. It was not until I started getting random ore drops from the Orcs in Crushbone that I started to wonder exactly what I could do with them. Thing is in Everquest, there was no instruction manual. You never knew whether an item was just there to be sold, or if it could be repurposed in some amazing way to craft something for you.
The crafters in the game, had not only managed to raise some numeric skill, but also figured out and memorized a vast number of patterns in their head. Later on Allakhazam took a good bit of this trial and error out of the equation as players began to share resources. However it was still up to you to gather up all the needed materials, and remember how to combine them once you got back in game.
The biggest problem with crafting in Everquest however was that it was an extremely expensive and or time consuming venture. Materials were either purchased from players or vendors, or farmed in dungeons. This was not a fast process at all, and the weight of ore made it so you could not carry much of it at any given time. As a result we would spend hours in zones like Beholders Maze farming the mudmen for hours on end, trying to get enough ore to turn into metal to begin to craft anything at all.
The Big Shift
The biggest problem with Everquest was the acquisition of materials. The first big shift in crafting was the creation of the “resource node”. The first game I can remember playing that had unique resource harvesting nodes was Horizons: Empire of Istaria. Almost as insanely difficult to find as the Everquest shot, was one of Horizons, now renamed Istaria: Chronicles of the Gifted. The above shot shows a basic resource area, with little bits of rock scattered around the land.
While the game itself had many shortcomings, it had an amazing crafting system. In addition to resource nodes, Horizons also introduced the concept of crafter only gear, that increased your skill and the ability to carry crafting items. It also introduced a system of sleds, that you could load up with resources and then drag like a cart back to town.
In addition there were numerous “public works” projects, like building towns and bridges that opened up new content areas to the players. The big problem however is, crafting was extremely tedious. You spent literal hours harvesting materials in the field, then dragging it back to town to craft components, then additional hours spent applying them to the projects. Building bridges for example, took literal weeks of players crafting nonstop to create. While the game play was very unique, and intricate, it was also a bit dull.
The Mini Game
While extremely detailed, crafting in Horizons quickly became a chore and after the first few times doing anything it really lacked much fun. With the release of Everquest II, I honestly feel the developers were trying to take this concept and make it fun. As a result they introduced what I can only call the crafting mini-game.
On the right is an image of an item being crafted in Everquest II. As you started crafting you reached certain milestones, each producing a slightly different version of what you were attempting. Each step you managed to reach, produced a higher quality item. If the item was part of a multi-step process, it ultimately determined the maximum quality of the final product.
As the player crafted an item, they would encounter various events that would impede their progress. If you look below in the window you see the event “Loss of Concentration”. Each crafting profession gave the player a set of new abilities for their action bar, each with an icon that would correspond with a certain kind of event. To counter “Loss of Concentration”, the player would mash the corresponding button on their hotbar.
While in some ways this made crafting seem a bit more like an epic struggle versus your materials… the realization was that ANY time you wanted to create even the most simple item, you had to deal with this interface. Items never “grayed out” and became truly trivial. There was always a chance of getting something that you couldn’t use from the process. Over time they streamlined the process to reduce the number of useless items that got created in the process, and removed many of the 5 or 6 part processes to craft an item. However it still retained the sluggishness of knowing, any time you needed to craft something for a guild member you were committing yourself to 10-20 minutes worth of slogging through the crafting mini-game.
Dumbing it Down
The release of WoW was game changing on all levels, and crafting was no different. Prior to WoW the trend with crafting seemed to be to make it more and more intricate, giving players the option to make crafting their primary game play experience. WoW went completely the different direction. Everything about the crafting process was streamlined compared to its predecessors.
WoW kept the resource gathering system that was node based, but managed to greatly streamline the item creation process. Sure there were very painful leveling experiences that involved lots of odd items (leatherworking I am looking at you), but for the most part the process was straight forward.
You chose a gathering profession, and a crafting profession that complimented each other. Gathering collected the items, and crafting spit out the finished items. As the game moved on the leveling of these professions became even more streamlined. However from day one, wow leaned on a crutch that would ultimately become the source of all of my frustration with the system.
For some reason, Blizzard developers LOVE random chance. If this were used primarily for those nice to have items, it wouldn’t be so bad, however every major crafting recipe relied solely on random chance. Instead of making resources hard to get to, or drop off difficult to kill monsters, they placed a random loot game into the equation. This was seen in the need to find the holy grail ore node like Khorium or Titanium, or the need to skin and herb for those annoyingly rare Arctic Fur, and Fel Lotus (or any Lotus for that matter).
There are many ramifications with a system like this. Firstly, the rare must have items become ridiculously inflated in price in all of the markets. This was especially noticeable with the rare Lotus drops, due to the fact that every raid on the server needed multiple each week to craft flasks. Secondly there is a social cost to the random element, especially with the rare ore spawn. Players will do anything and everything in their power to beat others to these spawns.
The policy of fastest fingers win, ultimate leads to frustration on the whole. Ultimately, I had reached a point where I really had no interest in crafting. It was something I did, because ultimately as a raider I felt like I needed the various crafter only bonuses. However once max level, I rarely did any crafting for fun. Doing the daily quests, just seemed like skull drudgery due to the massive contention for resources.
The other major point of frustration with the WoW crafting system is actually two fold. Firstly crafting has always been something you could do while leveling to augment your gear, and ultimately lead to a more enjoyable leveling process. Problem was, that in general, past the first 75 levels of a trade skill, the items you could craft were greatly under your usable level range. On top of this, there was the annoyance that very rarely could you ever craft a complete set of armor for any given range. You could get one or two pieces, but never a full suit like most other games had.
Restoring My Faith
Due to the amount of loathing that I had built up towards crafting in general, I never really messed with it much during the first few betas of Rift. Honestly it wasn’t until guild members started talking about being able to create weapons they couldn’t equip for several levels, that it peaked my interest. So when I finally managed to start crafting during the head start, I was amazed at how enjoyable I found the process.
There have been complaints from those used to the more complex systems, that Rift crafting is too simple. However for me, coming from the streamlined system of WoW, I appreciated that fact. As I began leveling, I was impressed with the ease of resource gathering, and the ability to craft full sets of gear for any particular level range. In addition, like my guild members talked about, I was able to craft items that I would grow into as I leveled rather than those that were of no real use to me. This alone fixed several of my annoyances with crafting systems in general.
However, the big fix was still to come. As I was harvesting copper nodes, I noticed I got a quest item: Unusual Ore. When I took it into town, the Mining trainer gave me a quest to gather up 10 tin bars and 10 copper bars. Upon turning in, the trainer gave me a recipe for crafting bronze bars. Instead of relying on random chance, all of the rare crafting materials in the game are similar to Bronze Bars, being an “alloy” of two existing items. This pretty much knocks down my other major problem with the WoW system, it removes most of the randomness on a daily basis.
One of the other nice systems that rift introduced was a universal crafting currency. Artisan’s Marks are gained from doing work orders in the crafting center of your faction’s capitol city. These are then used to purchase various “nice to have” patterns, especially the ones that use the rare materials. You can level from 1-300 in any of the crafting professions without ever using these patterns, however they unlock often times higher quality items.
Having a universal crafting currency was a massive step in the right direction. In WoW it became extremely frustrating that there was a unique currency for each profession, that could only be gained by doing daily quests. With a universal currency, you can pick and choose which professions patterns to purchase. On my rogue I am doing 2 rune crafting and 2 outfitter quests a day, but as a result I am saving up the currency to buy those expensive outfitter patterns.
Where the system becomes counter intuitive however, is with the crafting Plaques. Basically crafting plaques undo a lot of the good of having the universal system. When you complete master level work orders, you have a random chance of gaining a plaque for your specific trade skill. These plaques are used to purchase the most sought after epic quality patterns. There is no construct in game that allows you to trade one flavor of plaque for another. It seems to me, that Trion would have gone with a single crafting plaque currency rather than tying things down again to specific professions.
As a whole, I can’t really call the Rift system the ultimate crafting system, but for my purposes it works. Crafting for me is something that I like to use as downtime. I go out adventuring in the world, gathering materials, and then go back to town and craft a few things up. It acts as a much needed pause in the action, before going out again to kill more baddies. However I have heard from others that they really miss the level of intricacy from systems like Everquest II.
Problem is I am not sure where the happy medium would lay. Adding complexity also adds to the amount of time that a player is forced to sit at the crafting machine. For most of us this is not really a win situation. In EQ2 I loathed having to craft anything for a guild member, because not only did it mean porting back to a central location, but also tying up a good amount of time that I could be off doing cool stuff. With rift, I am always game to knock out whatever is needed, because I know that once the materials are pooled I can do a combine in a matter of seconds and be on my way.
I hope given time, additional patterns can be added that are more complex that will help give the craft-centric players more of a sense of ownership in the process. As a whole, there really are not that many plaque patterns to gather. I know on my armor crafter I have already purchased everything available, and simply do the dailies for money and the hope that eventually new patterns will be introduced. However were the plaques trade-able I would be gladly handing them off to guild members to help them complete their sets.
Quality of Items
My other complaint is the fact that without dungeon drops, you cannot create high end gear at all. In other games, I am used to those rare item patterns being equivalent to the first tier of dungeon/raid gear. Problem is, that in Rift the epic crafted items are as a whole below Tier 1 dungeon level. The player funnels all these resources into an item, and quickly finds out that it will be replaced the first time they run an expert dungeon.
As a result, one of the big complaints is that none of the gear crafters can create is really valuable and worth selling. Personally I have never used crafting as a profit center in games, but I can definitely see this as a problem. Crafted epics as a result are becoming the stock and trade for secondary characters, and thoroughly useless to mains. I am hoping that one of the patches manages to buff these up to at least Tier 1 level, giving them a slightly longer shelf life and worth more.
I realize this post is extremely long, far longer than most of mine. However I wanted to dig into the various systems before arriving at Rifts. I like most of what I see in the Rifts crafting, and it has like the subtext said revived my interest in crafting as a whole. I almost always have a stockpile of materials in my bank, and that is something I never could have said back in previous incarnations. I can definitely see some weaknesses here and there, and some things I don’t like, but overall I think it managed to strike a “happy medium”. Also anyone who actually managed to make it to the end of this post has some serious fortitude.