Shroud of the Avatar: Exclusive First Look at Crafting
The team at Portalarium recently released some of the conceptual designs for their crafting stations. As you might expect, crafting was a major topic of conversation during my recent trip to Austin. So I decided to tell you a little about what I found out. And no, it had absolutely nothing to do with my editorÂs pleading, demanding, and/or threatening me to find more exclusive content.
Some of what the team is doing in Shroud of the Avatar is based on standard models weÂve seen in games past, but what you may not expect is some of the twists they have in store on how those models fit into the game. Today weÂre going to talk shortly about the crafting system being planned for the game and how it supports a potentially robust enchanting system. Then weÂll take a look at how some of the teamÂs plans for looting could impact crafters, and lastly how not all the crafting takes place in-game. And if some of that information happens to be exclusive to Ten Ton Hammer, well then in the interests of journalistic integrity I must insist that it was purely coincidental, and not at all related to my familyÂs continuing safety.
CraftingÂs Back. Back Again.
Yeah, you guessed it. As unoriginal as Slim Shady himself, the crafting system in Shroud of the Avatar is based on the tried and true standard of the generic tree-like recipe system with the typical raw resource refinement system. You may also find this shocking, but I actually like that theyÂre taking this route. YouÂve seen the same basic design in EVE Online, arguably the best economic model to date in MMOs. The concept is a solid foundation to build on, and because itÂs intuitive, most players will understand the basic ideas without much trouble.
Besides, I would submit that the model really is a lot like real-life in many ways. You learn a bit about basic computers, and then you have to decide whether to focus more on networks or servers, and from there into specific operating systems or hardware. If you break it down, thatÂs actually how we learn to do nearly any specialized task. In real-life, specialized tasks are formed of more general tasks at the root, so it makes sense that as a game model itÂs ideal. Plus, itÂs obvious it works and if itÂs not broken, donÂt fix it.
Where SotA will diverge from the beaten path is in the actual crafting of finished items and in how players get access to recipes. WeÂve seen systems in the past where you needed a specific number of components to make something else, but what makes this system unique is that you may never know everything you could make. Sure thereÂll be recipes that you can buy from in-game vendors just like every-other game on the planet, but not all recipes are available via in-game looted written form or from vendors.
Now hereÂs where it gets interesting; itÂs looking like there will be a few ways to figure out how to make new crafting items. You could spend some time experimenting with combinations of sub-components and materials to learn how to make things, or another player could give you the recipe. ÂUnlike most games where you maybe go find a spell seller who sells you each spell one at a time, knowledge can be transmitted from player to player. If I can create some level 2 blacksmithing recipe, you can create that recipe. I can just tell you, ÂhereÂs how you make it.Â You donÂt have to buy it and once youÂve done it that first time, itÂll be copied into your recipe book so you can remember how to do it,Â says Richard Garriott.
I expect thereÂll be plenty of people crying about how they deserve instant access to everything without any effort, but this is a sandbox game created by the guy who quite literally defined the genre. This is a game for real gamers who want a challenge and donÂt want their experiences limited to max-level a la World of Warcraft. I suspect there are plenty of gamers out there excited to finally see a more sophisticated crafting system and even more excited to see Lord British leading the charge.
One thing not defined yet is the impact of types of material on the crafted object, but itÂs early in the process and that could certainly change. Even if the recipes are generic wood/metal/stone affairs, I still see a lot of potential to the system, and it strikes me as very easy to add complexity post-release, which is a big win.
Enchanted to Meet You
Lest you begin to find yourself getting too excited, calm down before you flip any tables in geek-fueled glee. ThereÂs more here that I think youÂll like, and even more that the child-like fans of certain otherÂ lesserÂ MMOs will likely hate. IÂm talking about system used to turn those generic muggle weapons into flaming blades of burning death.
Enchanting in Shroud of the Avatar will not be something thatÂs included in the recipe creating the base object. Enchanting will be an extra step that someone will have to take after the item has actually been crafted. Until itÂs been enchanted, a magic wand is just a pretty stick, but once your resident spell-slinger has worked his magic, that little stick now spits fireballs like it means business. I think IÂll call mine Mark 19 after one of my favorite weapon systems from my Army days.
Typical for Lord British, thereÂs still a catch. Those of us, who played D&D before it was wussified, remember how unique magic equipment was, and SotA promises to uphold those grand old standards. Enchanting an item requires the desired spell be cast on it and each casting is a single charge. As with any other time you cast said spell, reagents will be required for each casting. Thus enchantments take time not only to complete, but to even prepare for. Lord BlackthornÂs Flaming Brand of Kobold Womping sounds great, but the effort required in building up charges means itÂll also be something only used for emergencies.
There was a question that came to my mind in thinking about this system, and I thought to ask Richard Garriott and Starr Long while we chatted. I was curious why would I ever bother with enchantments if I were already a spell-slinger, then? Starr answered, ÂOur combat system works in such a way that you may not always have the spell you want prepared at a given time. The benefit of casting a specific spell on an item and having that item equipped is that you have that spell there and constantly available as long as you have charges left.Â
TryinÂ to Catch Me RidinÂ Dirty
Shroud of the Avatar will be a skill-based system, so obviously one reason to craft a lot of stuff or to enchant it is so that you can work on building that skill up. Of course, thereÂs likely to be a solid player-market for quality items as well. All pretty standard so far, but there may be another reason you may not know about. ThatÂs so that you can sell the stuff to NPC vendors.
I know, I sort of did a double-take on that one too, but once you hear the reasoning, it borders on genius. ItÂs not finalized yet, but thereÂs a plan for handling player-made items sold to vendors that would take a percentage of those items, and put them into the world as loot. So itÂs very possible that after clearing that kobold lair, you may find yourself the proud owner of a Lord British-built chair, or an end-table possibly.
The idea stems from the thought that the NPC vendor maybe sells said player-made items to some other NPC in another town, and some are ÂstolenÂ as theyÂre shipped and eventually find their way into some random loot pile. The NPC will keep a few to sell in his own store as well of course, so shopping in a town with a prolific blacksmith would mean youÂd likely see a lot of his wares on local vendors.
What I love about this idea is that crafters will in effect be getting advertising by selling their stuff to the vendors and that it promises to give the players even more ownership of the world. Sure killing some critter and looting a short sword isnÂt something to go nuts about, but seeing that the looted sword was created by a player-smith adds tremendous depth to the world. You immediately ask yourself how the sword ended up there, and where this smith may reside. If the sword is of some make youÂve never seen and youÂre a smith as well, perhaps it generates a personal quest to find this smith and learn from him.
Richard Garriott points out, ÂWeÂve got to do something with all the swords anyway, so rather than just delete them from the game, letÂs just keep those swords we swept up. When we need some treasure out in the world, weÂll just populate that treasure with player-made stuff first. So you might loot a sword somewhere and see that it was made by a friend, and thatÂs just cool.Â
A Whole New World
Starr Long says, ÂWe donÂt want the world to be filled with stuff we made. We want the world to be filled with things that the players made.Â And I think that really sums it up very nicely. In the end, I think thatÂs what we all expect and will likely find in Shroud of the Avatar. Those small touches that donÂt really seem all that significant on the surface, but that give the in-game world more depth and texture. Touches added not because it was the shortest route to completing that piece of the game, but because it gives players that greater sense of ownership of the world.
Crafting is a direct extension of a development teamÂs philosophy, and by looking at this system we can see more directly than anywhere else what the motivation behind the game is. ItÂs the foundational component used by developers to empower their customers to own the product, and from what IÂve seen so far, Portalarium wants you to have as much ownership over the in-game world as possible. They have some pretty cool ideas and only time will tell if they can live up to them or whether they fall beneath the Axe of Deadlines. I have a good deal of hope for them, though and I think theyÂll find a large number of fans are rooting for them as well.
Now if youÂll excuse me, Special Agent Jones is here to handle the exchange Â er, I mean I need to turn my next article in.