[MUD-Dev] I Want to Forge Swords. [Another letter to game designers]

Batir batir at frontiernet.net
Fri May 4 03:54:07 New Zealand Standard Time 2001

Sei Ming has done it again.  A follow up to the I want to Bake Bread essay
is available at http://uo.stratics.com/news/Editorials.shtml.  From the

<<EdNote: I've expanded the intro to the entire article>>

I Want to Forge Swords. [Another letter to game designers]

 Some of you might be familiar with I Want to Bake Bread --an essay
 that I wrote a few months ago. That essay spoke in
 general terms about some of the things that you as game designers
 could do to attract crafters to your game. It also gave
 some reasons why you might want to do so. It was an easy essay to
 write, because I didn't have to solve any of the problems
 associated with crafting. I just pointed them out and --as you
 probably noticed-- left you holding the bag.

 I received much more feedback from that essay than I expected and
 much of it was along the lines of "I agree, but how do
 you see crafting actually working in a game that you would like to
 play?" That was a tough question for me. I had ideas, but
 I'd never tried to set them down as a unified whole. In case you
 have any doubts, it's much harder to try to come up with a
 solution than it is to point out a problem. This essay was written
 in part as an answer to everyone who asked that question.

 Based on the feedback from that essay and my own views, I'm going
 to try to be a little more helpful this time around.
 Naturally, I don't know much about how your game works internally,
 and --depending on the game-- I might not know
 much about how it works externally either. Because of that, I'll be
 a bit on the general side. You will need to fill in the
 specifics for each idea (or decide that certain ideas won't work in
 your world at all).

 There are many aspects of crafting that could be discussed, but
 there is not enough space here to do them all justice. This
 particular essay will focus on ideas that I associate with the
 "making items" part of crafting. For now we're going to ignore
 such topics as training, repairing, identifying, artistry,
 participating and selling. All of those things are also important
 crafters, but it seems like a good idea to talk about making items

 Just so I'm not wasting your time, let me list a few things that I
 think are fundamental. If you really don't agree with these,
 it's probably not worth your time to read any further:

     Player interaction should be encouraged. This builds
     communities which make it harder for us to leave your world.

     Player diversity should be encouraged. This promotes attachment
     to characters which makes it harder for us leave
     your world.

     Player decisions should be important. This promotes a sense of
     realism and self determination which turns us into
     evangelists for your world. 

 As with baking in the previous essay-- smithing is just the current
 crafting metaphor. I also want to forge muffins and dresses,
 phasers and chairs, scrolls and steam engines, bedknobs
 and broomsticks, blasters and potions. I want to forge
 swords and all of the other items and equipment in your game. 

 I. Resources

     How do we get resources? Gems and ores, hides and herbs,
     circuit boards and energy cells: the raw materials
     of crafting in your world. What do crafter want to know first
     about resources? How do we get them?

          Gathering: one of the abilities we should be able to
          choose is the ability to gather resources from the
          wild. These abilities (mining for a smith, plant lore for
          a baker, transistor-transistor logic handbook for an
          electrical engineer...) are a natural adjunct for
          crafters, but they also provide a means for your new
          players to interact with your established players by
          providing raw materials. Becoming more skilled at
          gathering might allow an increase in the quantity or
          quality of the resources found. Ideally, whether to
          gather more or better resources would be influenced by
          player decisions.

          Looting: this form of resource procurement generally
          requires slaying something first. Once the something is
          slain, it may or may not require the use of an ability to
          procure the resource. Some resources may simply be
          carried by the creature (say, in a pouch, backpack or
          wallet) or be readily removable (like a battery or an
          antler). Other resources might require some special
          knowledge to remove correctly. If an ability is required,
          it should probably be an ability that is not costly to
          master (in terms of time and any skill cap) to encourage
          adventuring types that it is worth their time and effort
          to do so.

          Purchasing: because it generally decreases player
          interaction, purchasing resources for crafting from
          computer controlled characters should probably be
          avoided. Purchasing resources from computer controlled
          players also has the potential for introducing artificial
          floors and ceilings on the price of resources. Don't do
          that, because it makes our decisions about the worth of
          objects in your game less meaningful. Of course, to get
          away with not having NPCs that sell resources, the other
          avenues must offer sufficient quantities (and the correct
          varieties) of resources.

    Where are the resources? Location, Location,
    Location... First of all, make locations meaningful. If
    movement between two locations is quick and easy, then they
    are --for all intents-- the same location. We would prefer
    that you have distinct locations in your game. We would like
    to be known as the best bronze smith in Three Creeks, or the
    only certified droid tech on Revoli Seven. If popping from
    location to location is too easy, then people will not settle
    down and call one location home.

    Once you have locations in your game, you can add interest by
    making some of your resources location specific. Crafters who
    want to work with this resource would need to travel to a
    town near where it can be acquired, or they will need to find
    a group of people willing to transport it to their
    location. Items made from this resource would --in all
    likelihood-- be less common the farther you traveled from its
    point of origin.  These resources my be quite a bit more
    valuable to players who live in far off lands.

    Congratulations, you have just added Trade, Trade Routes,
    Trade Houses, Pirates, Bandits, Wagon Trains, and Mercenaries
    to your game. Of course, we are not suggesting that all of
    your resources have to be location specific. There could be
    varieties that are found "everywhere" and varieties whose
    location appears to be quite random. We will love your game
    more if the appearance in the last sentence is deceiving.

II. Subtypes & Properties

    We like diversity; give us subtypes. While simply having
    "hides" might be fine for adventurers, please think ahead and
    make it possible to divide hides into rabbit pelts and raw
    hide, antlers and eyeballs, snake skin and dragon
    scales. Your crafters will expect this type of detail, and
    some of the rest of this essay assumes that it exists in (or
    can be added to) your game.

    The wrong approach: More important than just having different
    subtypes is how they act in your game. We're not in favor of
    a straight progression in quality. All this does is ensure
    that everyone will be wearing armor that is made of the same
    material. It doesn't really help in the long run to make the
    higher quality resources scarce. All that will do is put off
    the day when everyone is using the same items.

    The right approach: Decide what qualities you want the items
    we make to have, then assign them in various combinations to
    the resource subtypes. Let me give a more extended example of
    this using armor. Suppose you decide that your armor is going
    to have the following characteristics (just for example):

         Weight: duh, how heavy it is.

         Flexibility: can you do a backflip, climb a wall or cast
         a spell while wearing it?

         Refleciveness: how well will it protect from a laser or
         other damaging photoelectric effects?

         Insulation: how well will it protect from heat and cold?

         Colorableness: how easy is it to dye another color?

         Slashing: how well does it protect from bladed weapons? 
         (perhaps inversely proportional to how much damage the
         armor takes?)

         Bashing: how well does it protect from blunt weapons? 
         (perhaps inversely proportional to how much damage the
         armor takes?)

         Durability: how much damage can the armor take before it
         is useless?

         Maintenance: how expensive it is to maintain this armor?

    Obviously, some of these things are going to be influenced
    more --perhaps even exclusively in some cases-- by the type
    of armor (leather, plate, bullet proof, containment field...) 
    than by what the armor is made of.  That's fine. All plate
    armor might be to inflexible to cast spells in no matter what
    it is made of, and all leather armor might produce less sound
    than any chain mail.

    Lets look at one specific type of armor, and pick one made
    out of metal... How about Platemail? The idea is that
    Platemail itself --due to it's design, nature, tech level,
    blessedness or whatever-- has certain properties, but these
    properties can be modified to a certain extent by what the
    platemail is made of. This can be accomplished by taking a
    "base resource" (which may or may not actually exist in your
    game) and saying that everything made with the base resource
    has the properties of the armor type itself. From there you
    assign bonuses and restrictions for your resource
    subtypes. Here are some examples:

         Iron Ore: no modifications (the base resource for metal)

         Mithrial: weight -20%, reflectiveness +10%, Bashing -
         30%, Maintenance + 05%

         Bronze: slashing -10%, bashing -10%, Maintenance -10%

         Valorite: slashing -05%, bashing -05%, puncture -05%,
         colorableness +40%, Maintenance +20%

         Titanium: weight +20%, insulation -10%, colorableness
         -60%, durability +50%, Maintenance +10%

    The crafters --based on availability, player demand, and so
    forth-- would decide what to use when they make something. Is
    the above list balanced? Probably not, but we know that this
    balance is important, and probably hard to get right the
    first time. Change the percentages, change the scarcity,
    change the ability level needed to work with the subtype as
    you need to. We know that balance is important, and --as
    crafters-- we'll support changes that need to be made. We
    don't want only one resource subtype to be the "best" in the
    game. We're for diversity. In fact, we want to be able to
    combine the different subtypes as well. Maybe that's an
    ability we gain as we progress as crafters? If it takes 500
    ore to make a suit of platemail, let us experiment with a 300
    Mithrial and 200 Valorite alloy. The same obviously goes for
    alchemists mixing potions, technicians making droids,
    shipwrights building ships and so forth.

III. Quality

    We'd like you to consider adopting the idea that each item in
    your game has an attribute called quality. Item quality need
    not have a large impact on your game. And, as it pertains to
    crafting, quality would have two different effects.

    Resources would have a quality associated with them. The
    quality of the resources used by a crafter would effect the
    quality of the item produced. At high levels of ability, you
    might need higher quality resources to produce certain
    items. This could be accomplished by using only high quality
    resources or by using a larger --perhaps much larger-- number
    of normal quality resources. This usage of a larger number of
    normal quality resources would be an expression of the
    crafter sifting through to find the best or distilling lower
    quality resources into higher. Why bother? It is a good way
    to ensure that there is sufficient monetary "space" between
    the cost of items produced by low ability crafters and high
    ability crafters. You could also accomplish the same goal by
    increasing the rate of failure at higher ability levels, or
    simply requiring a much larger number of resources at higher
    ability levels, but we feel it is more realistic to demand
    that at a certain level of ability a crafter must use higher
    quality resources to produce the best items that they can

    As mentioned above, the other effect on crafters would be
    that each item they produce would have a quality associated
    with it. There would be many things effecting the quality of
    the item. For example: resource quality, equipment used to
    make the item, the quality of that equipment, the crafter's
    ability, the item's difficulty, the location where it was
    made, the phase of the moon(s) and whatever else you feel is
    relevant in your game. How big of an effect would quality
    have on an item? It need not be a large amount. Perhaps
    something like a range of +/- 10% for the attributes of the
    item that you feel should be effected by item quality. You
    might ask, "Why do it, if it doesn't have a large effect?" 
    Because it sets the stage for player decisions such as:

         Do I want to make this as quickly as I can or as well as
         I can?

         Do I want to take the time to have the quality of this
         item ascertained before I sell it?

         Do I use high quality resources on an item for this
         newbie I just met?

         Should I pay this player more for these resources since
         they are separated by quality?

         Do I want to use these high quality resources on an item
         that I can't sell quickly just to raise my ability?

    Player decisions are good, and this is another way that you
    can add them to your game. Combine this with the idea of
    resource location and you've added decisions like, "Do I want
    to risk my life to get the purest copper?".

IV. Blueprints

    How do we know what we're making? To create an item you would
    need to have a blueprint for that item (recipe, schematics,
    manual, plan, drawing, diagram, textbook...). Blueprints
    would list things like: the name of the item, the raw
    materials needed, the tools needed and so forth. By looking
    at a blueprint, a smith could get a general idea of how
    difficult that item would be for them to make and how long it
    would take to complete the item.

    How do you get blueprints? When you begin your life as a
    crafter, you receive (presumably after suitable training and
    payments) a set of basic blueprints from your guild. These
    should serve you in good stead until you can procure
    more. Where do you go for more blueprints? Here are a few
    ideas. You'll have to see which ones make sense in your world
    (your game is probably more interesting if not all blueprints
    are available from all sources):

         Purchased from guildmasters 

         Found as loot on "monsters" (those crafty orcs) 

         Created by players (if you allow research in your game) 

         Copied by other players (if you allow blueprints to be
         copied by someone with, say, the literacy and crafting

    Blueprints, like everything else, would have a quality
    associated with them. The quality of the blueprint might
    affect the resources consumed when making the item, the
    quality of the item produced, the amount of time it takes to
    make the item, the ability level required to make the item,
    the chance of succeeding at making the item, or anything else
    that makes sense in your game. It is possible that a given
    blueprint might be of higher quality in some respects and
    lower quality in others. If you allow players to make copies
    of blueprints, I would think a copy would almost certainly be
    of somewhat lesser quality than the original.

    Blueprints come in two varieties: specific and
    general. Specific blueprints tell you exactly what resources
    to use to create "red beard's mighty longsword of fresh
    breath". General blueprints give the crafter some latitude in
    deciding what to use. For instance, a general blueprint for a
    morning star might specify "35 ingots, 10 of which must be of
    myronite". The drawback to using general blueprints is that
    they are always of lower overall quality than a specific
    blueprint used to make the same item (and they don't
    generally have cool names).

    Blueprints also give you a fairly straight forward means of
    allowing more than one crafter to work on the same
    project. The person who starts the project (lets say it's a
    project to create 10 long swords) can allow others to join
    the project by presenting them with the blueprint. There
    would need to be rules about ability gain, quality of the
    items produced and the amount of time involved in completing
    the project, but those can be dealt with individually for
    each game.

    For convenience sake, it would be nice if we could bind all
    of our blueprints together in some form.

V. Item Research

    This section is completely optional, and is meant as a means
    for your players to explore the item space that you have
    defined without requiring you to setup specific named items
    for all of the variations that you allow in your game. If
    they wish to make an item for which they have no blueprint,
    they begin to research a new item (which may, incidentally,
    have already been researched by another player). Here's an
    overview of the research process:

       1. The player purchases a "research log" and uses it to
       designate the general type of item that they are
       researching (short sword, potion, rifle, loaf of bread,
       thruster...). They then designate the resources they will
       be using (both the type and quantity). You may wish to
       also allow them to pick which tools they will be using to
       create the item, or you might have the type of item they
       are making determine the tools they will need.

       2. The crafter attempts to make the item. If they succeed,
       an item called "research item X" is created (where item is
       the type of item and X is the number of items so far
       created from this research log). In addition to the item,
       an entry is added to the research log: "Did item X perform
       as you expected?".

       3. It is now up to the crafter to determine if the item
       produced is indeed the item attempted. For some items
       (potions, drugs, spells) this will involve actually using
       the item and noticing the results. For other items it will
       mean performing (or paying for the performance of) tests
       on the item to determine it's properties.  These test tend
       to render the item unusable, which makes research fairly

       4.Once the crafter has determined whether or not the
       properties of the item were as expected, they record that
       information in their research log by answering the
       question "Did item X perform as you expected?".  This
       represents the accumulation of knowledge concerning the
       production of this item. Answering the question correctly
       results in gaining knowledge, and answering it incorrectly
       results in loosing knowledge (or gaining incorrect
       knowledge if you prefer).

       5. When they have gained sufficient knowledge about the
       item, the research log becomes a blueprint, and they can
       then use it as any of their other blueprints. At that
       point, the crafter gets to decide on a name for the new
       blueprint. This is the name by which all items created
       from this blueprint will be known, so it must be chosen
       wisely (assuming you allow named items in your game). If
       copying of blueprints is allowed, all items made from
       copies will also use this name.

    It is probably worth noting that the easiest way for your
    code to produce items that do not perform as expected is to
    internally substitute some percentage of the resources used
    for resources of another type. This will cause the research
    item to perform in a noticeably different manner (if the
    correct tests are performed) without requiring you to define
    hundreds of different "unexpected results" before hand.

    This process is intended to allow for research in online
    games without reducing it to a predetermined set of steps
    that can be retrieved from a web site two weeks after your
    game ships. The properties of each item will eventually be
    available from a web site, but those who wish to engage in
    research must still determine if their results are consistent
    with the results of their crafting peers.

    Simple items would presumably require little research before
    they could be created. Though, more research may result in a
    higher quality blueprint.

    Finally, it should be noted that players who do not wish to
    research items are not required to do so. They can beg, buy,
    borrow, loot or steal their blueprints from others. The most
    expensive item a crafter can produce might be a research log
    that is completed but as yet unnamed.

    Note: If you wish to implement creation of entirely new item
    types by players that would be great, and we would certainly
    appreciate it. But I can't personally see an easy way to
    implement something that complex.

VI. Item Creation

    At one point, I was of the opinion that the interface for
    crafting needed to be as detailed as the interface for
    combat: hammer the ingot with just the right tool at a
    certain temperature for a specific length of time; quench it
    in the right liquid and then move on to the hilt. Choose just
    the right amount of material to balance the blade.  Put an
    edge on the blade and assemble it together with the
    hilt. Each of these becomes a process that the smith must
    supervise, make decisions for and --potentially-- ruin their
    work by doing incorrectly. If done realistically, I expect
    the result would be involved, complex, eventually tedious,
    and would invite macroing.  Designing the process in an
    involved way that would tend to preclude macroing would be a
    project on par with designing a combat system. Realistically,
    I don't expect a game company to devote resources to
    something like that. There are crafters who would find it
    truly enjoyable and amazing, but there are at least as many
    who are escaping the constant pressure that monster hunters

    Assuming you don't want to go with something so complex, I'm
    going to suggest a more relaxed approach. The player selects
    the blueprint for the item they will attempt to create and,
    --in the case of a general blueprint-- the resources they
    will use. Next they select the number of items they are
    attempting to make. Then, based on the item, resources,
    player ability, blueprint quality, player tool quality, phase
    of the moon and whatever else you care to include, the
    computer determines the length of time it will take the
    player will finish the item.  After the player has worked on
    the item for that length of time, the computer uses the same
    variables to determine the quality of the item produced. I
    prefer the approach that each attempt will result in the
    production of some item --an item of absolutely abysmal
    quality in some cases. You may prefer that a player simply
    fail to produce anything at all in those cases, and stop the
    crafting process when they realize they have failed.

    A player may only work on one project at a time, but may
    freely start new projects (as long as they are based on
    different blueprints) and switch between projects by
    selecting a blueprint with a project that is already started.
    It should probably also be possible to cancel a project.

    How long should it take to complete a project? I would
    suggest that the completion time be related most closely to
    the expected life of the item. A loaf of bread would take
    less time to make than a suit of armor. A suit of armor would
    take less time to make than a house. After life expectancy,
    the complexity of the item should be considered. A short
    sword should take less time to create than a serpentine short
    sword of the maztors. The type of resources used to create
    the item could have an effect on the completion time as
    well. Finally, it should take longer to produce a higher
    quality item. What factors might reduce the amount of time? 
    The crafter's ability, the blueprint quality, and the quality
    of the tools used certainly come to mind.

    How long should it take to produce an item in more absolute
    terms (i.e., real world time)? That is a game balance
    decision that has many factors, but I think the important
    thing to keep in mind is that a crafter has to be able to
    earn an amount of money that is comparable to the amount that
    can be earned by your other players.  This must be tempered
    by the amount of risk each group is exposed to, and also with
    the demand of your playerbase for the items that crafter
    produce. If items tend to cost too much, you might try
    reducing the amount of time it takes to make the item;
    likewise if they cost too little.

    Also worth considering is allowing players to continue
    working on items when they are logged out. The work could
    probably be expected to continue at a slower rate, and a
    "mandatory" 8 hours of sleep could be "required" by only
    allowing a total of 16 total hours of online and off-line
    crafting during each Real World[tm] day. This helps even the
    playing field between casual and hardcore gamers, and also
    lessens your server load by avoiding crafters feeling that
    they must remain logged on so they can finish an item. If you
    do something like this, it might be beneficial to have the
    amount of "work" done while off-line gradually diminish until
    it runs out.  There's no real need to worry about a player
    setting up a project and coming back a week later to collect
    500 suits of armor, because they could not carry enough
    resources to make more than a few of them (perhaps not even
    one, depending on how you design things).

    A compromise between a very complex approach to crafting and
    this bare bones approach might be to call for certain events
    during the life of the project. Tell the player that they
    feel more of a certain resource is required.  Make them
    switch to a different tool at different points in the
    process. Require that they are within a certain proximity to
    "large tools" such as a forge or an oscilloscope. Ask them to
    perform a test on the object... The item they are crafting is
    not ruined if they can not immediately satisfy a condition,
    but work on the project is halted until the condition is met.

    This allows some activity during the crafting process, and
    also reduces player's ability to macro crafting (of course,
    by this point I hope we've done the things necessary to
    reduce the need and desire to macro).

    One final decision needs to be added to this model of
    crafting. Players should be given a means of specifying the
    amount of attention that their character is giving to Item
    Quality, Ability Training, and Construction Speed. My own
    model for this is a slider where increasing any one of these
    three reduces the other two proportionally. Thus a crafter
    would need to decide which of these was most important for
    any given project.

VII. Summary

That's a general overview of how I --and the people from whom
I've stolen ideas-- see crafting work in a game that tries to
attract crafters. Is it the only possibility? Certainly not, and
I look forward to hearing how others would attempt to address
some of the issues raised in the first essay. This is just one
way that making items could be implemented in the spirit of the
"I Want to Bake Bread" article.

Of course, making items itself is just one of the issues that
effect how crafters view your game. In a future essay, I'll
collect some thoughts on implementing the crafting ability. We'll
look at questions like: How to you gain crafting ability? What
benefits does the ability give you? How does crafting interact
with other abilities? How do crafters and other players know what
you've made? How do we repair items? How can multiple people work
together in crafting? What about the merchant aspect of crafting?

Thanks for suffering through such a long essay, and we look
forward to playing your game.

Sie Ming 
SieMing at gatheringspot.com
[self appointed speaker for sword forgers of all varieties] 

Post Script:

And I'd like to say thanks to everyone else who sent e-mail
saying that they wanted to "bake bread" too. Special thanks to
those of you who reposted the essay in other places. I learned a
lot by reading peoples reactions on message boards and
newsgroups. Thanks for posting it, and thanks for telling me so I
could read the responses. I'd also like to thank those of you who
helped prepare this essay with your comments on the "prerelease"

As always, I'd love to hear any feedback that you have after
reading this article. I'm certainly not above revising it to
include a new idea or to remove something that's unworkable. If
you have any thoughts on the questions raised in the last
paragraph (or ideas for the next title) I would really like to
hear those. I believe those are the hardest questions, and
they're next on the list. I would prefer that you made comments
here (opens in a new window) because then we can all share our

And, as before, feel free to reproduce this essay anywhere a game
designer might see it. There is a printable and generic HTML
version available if that makes it easier to do so. Posted on
Wednesday, May 2, 2001, 9:16 AM EDT by Sie Ming (Editorials)

Worth the read, IMHO.


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