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Theorycrafting Crafting - Part 1: Itemization

    • 1415 posts
    September 25, 2019 11:41 AM PDT

    (I am cross-posting this from Pantheon Crafters in an effort to generate more discussion.  You can view the original here.)

    Some of the recent constructive criticism of the statements in the developer roundtable got me to thinking – what would I do if it were me designing Pantheon?  So, I thought I would put it here and see what people thought of it.  At first, I was going to do a single post but realized that would be absolutely huge, so I’m going to break it up a bit.  This is Part 1.  Expect more to follow over time.

    First, some disclaimers:

    Disclaimer 1: I don’t pretend to be all that smart.  I’ve had the opportunity to see a lot of good and bad in MMOs over the years but that doesn’t mean that what I envision would be perfect or not potentially require tweaking.

    Disclaimer 2:  I’m a moderate, and an optimist.  I still believe that some of the classic tropes of MMORPGs and their economies can work, long-term.  I don’t think we have to throw out concepts or ideas just because they’ve been poorly implemented or poorly managed in other games.

    Ok, all the disclaimers are out of the way.  Here’s what I would design in Pantheon if it were entirely up to me.

     

    Part 1 - Itemization

    Before I can talk about anything else, I need to talk about itemization.  This is important because every other design decision in the crafting sphere ultimately hinges on how itemization works.

    I want to start off by saying that it’s been my experience that level-based systems lead to mudflation no matter what you do.  When you give people a ladder to climb, and their gameplay revolves to a large extent around climbing that ladder, it’s just the nature of the beast.  When they get to the top, they’re going to eventually want the ladder to grow bigger.  And since items in a level-based system are also a component of the ladder, those items will have to continue to grow bigger as well.

    With that said, however, I think it’s possible to mitigate mudflation to a very large degree by doing smart itemization.  I will try to illustrate what I mean by that:

    First things first – rather than having items boost raw power directly, what you want is for more powerful items to increase in terms of the potential benefit.  This means that things like damage dealt and damage mitigated are determined primarily by other aspects of your character and that while better equipment helps, each piece is not a significant bump in character power by itself.

    I have two examples to illustrate what I mean here:

     

    The Broadsword

    In most games, you could expect a broadsword made of bronze to have a damage range of, say, 5-8.  A broadsword made of iron might have a damage range of 7-11.  Steel, 9-13.  Mythril, 11-15.  And so on.  The problem with doing this is that when you’re scaling combat encounters, you have to start thinking about what equipment the player will have as well as other factors like bonuses from levels, attributes, skills, or etc.  And that means that the power of the enemies will have to rise proportionately to the power of the weapons.

    Instead, imagine if every broadsword in the game had a base damage range of 6-10.  It doesn’t matter what that broadsword is made of, on its own it doesn’t do any more or less damage than any other broadsword.  Sounds boring, right?  But the damage isn’t the only stat.  What if the “quality” of a broadsword (based on materials used in its construction) contributed to a secondary stat.  For these examples I’ll call it an “effectiveness” rating

    The “effectiveness” rating is essentially a stat that determines how well the broadsword can be used in the hands of a skilled wielder.  That bronze broadsword is heavy and off-balance, so maybe it only has an effectiveness rating of 80.  That steel broadsword, however, is well-made, so it has an effectiveness rating of 100.  The mythril broadsword is lighter and stronger than steel, so it has an effectiveness rating of 110.

    Effectiveness makes sense when you think about attack damage being influenced by other properties of the character using the weapon.  A warrior might have high strength that gives him a bonus to damage.  Or, an experienced swordsman might have specialized training that gives him a bonus to accuracy and a greater chance to land critical hits.

    What does effectiveness do?  That’s simple.  It acts as a multiplier on those bonuses.  This means that a specialist warrior with high strength using the mythril broadsword is going to be more effective than if he were using a bronze broadsword – and much more effective than a novice warrior would be.  However, that effectiveness boost is a relatively flat curve and does not represent exponential growth in character power.  If our skilled warrior couldn’t afford a mythril broadsword, he could still pick up a steel one and do fairly well.  Fights might be a little tougher for him, but not to the degree that they would be in most games where that mythril broadsword is effectively tuned for enemies 10 levels higher than the steel broadsword is.

     

    The Shield

    For my second example, consider the humble shield.  A shield provides a bonus to armor and to the chance to block an enemy attack, mitigating its damage.  Pretty straightforward, right?  In most games, the amount of those bonuses is determined by the construction of the shield.  So, a flimsy wood shield might only grant 3 AC and a 5% block boost, while a steel shield might grant 12 AC and a 12% block boost.  Because of this, each “tier” of shields offers a fairly large boost in terms of power from the previous one.  This in turn also leads to mudflation, where higher-level monsters end up having to hit much harder in order to justify the differences in equipment tiers.

    So, what if all shields had the same AC value and block percentage boost based on their form, rather than their construction?  Meaning that a buckler might provide 2 AC and a 10% block boost, while a kite shield provides 4 AC and a 7% block boost (because it is bigger and heavier and harder to move to intercept a blow).  These numbers would be the same regardless of whether the shield is made of wood, steel, or adamantite.  But like my example with broadswords, shields also have an effectiveness rating that scales based on their construction.  And likewise, people using shields have skills and attributes that largely determine the results they get when using a shield (or any other piece of armor).  Thus, effectiveness contributes in the same way to the results – as a multiplier on the maximum potential of those skills and attributes.

     

    Why do it this way?

    The point of the effectiveness concept is to ensure that while items contribute to character power, they don’t cause character power to grow at a rapid or exponential pace – one that would then precipitate vast amounts of mudflation as the character climbs the level ladder.  The other benefit of doing something like this is that items will now push players towards horizontal progression – improving skills, abilities, and the like.  If our warrior gets his mythril shield and mythril broadsword but doesn’t have the training to really take advantage of them, they’re not that much more useful than steel versions would be.

    I want to be clear here that there are plenty of other ways to achieve similar results mathematically.  I just invented a stat called effectiveness to illustrate the concept, but you can do the same thing with attribute bonuses, skill modifiers, or whatever you want.  The goal is to keep the power curve fairly flat in order to contribute to mudflation as little as possible, while still providing people reasons to seek out better items than what they currently have.

    I also want to be clear that no matter what itemization method you use, in a progression-based game there is always going to be some amount of mudflation.  It can’t be avoided, since you are allowing character power to increase as those characters advance, and you want to ensure that they are met with appropriate challenges at every step of the way.  This would even be true in a purely skill-based progression system without levels.  But, by keeping the numbers smaller and more manageable, and by focusing players more on horizontal rather than vertical progression, you can set the game up to be much more resilient to the impact of things like expansions that allow players to progress further than they originally could.

    Finally, I want to recognize that one of the risks of a flat power curve is that item upgrades may not feel as compelling for players (although from experience, many players will obsessively pursue even the smallest bonuses if they think it will give them an advantage).  It should be possible to get around this however by giving items unique and useful secondary effects.  This could be anything from bonuses against certain types of enemies (everyone knows to use silver against werewolves and cold iron against wraiths), to unique special effects, to unlocking special attacks or abilities.  There’s plenty of room for additional things on items in a game so that you don’t always have to increase raw power – it just requires some imagination.

    I realize that I didn’t really talk about crafting at all, yet – and that’s on purpose.  I strongly believe that a game can have the best crafting system in the world and none of it will matter if a poor itemization strategy leads to massive mudflation and obsolescence over time.  This is the first of probably a half dozen posts I’ll make, and the others will talk more about crafting.  I just wanted to get this one out of the way first since it’s so critical to everything else.

    Comments, ideas, and thoughts are of course welcome.

    • 1695 posts
    September 26, 2019 8:43 AM PDT

    Nephele,

    I'm scratching my head a bit on this one.  With the first weapon design choice we basically have the material making the difference, with Bronze sword having a lower overall DPS (as well as lower damage cap) than Iron, etc on up until Mithril. But with your 'effectiveness' rating, they all have the same damage but somehow that effectiveness difference still makes Bronza < Iron < Mithril, does it not? The player still wants a Mithril sword over anything else, yes?  It is still the better choice?  Aren't you just moving the difference from the 8-10 damage into the effectiveness stat?

     

    • 1415 posts
    September 26, 2019 9:03 AM PDT

    Vandraad said:

    Nephele,

    I'm scratching my head a bit on this one.  With the first weapon design choice we basically have the material making the difference, with Bronze sword having a lower overall DPS (as well as lower damage cap) than Iron, etc on up until Mithril. But with your 'effectiveness' rating, they all have the same damage but somehow that effectiveness difference still makes Bronza < Iron < Mithril, does it not? The player still wants a Mithril sword over anything else, yes?  It is still the better choice?  Aren't you just moving the difference from the 8-10 damage into the effectiveness stat?

     

     

    I probably didn't explain it as well as I should have in the initial post.  Let me try again :)

    I see damage output as being controlled by a number of factors:

    - The damage range of weapon being used

    - The character's skill in using that weapon

    - The abilities the player chooses to use in combat.

     

    What I want to see is a 'flatter' progression from one weapon type to another.  Yes, mythril should still be better than steel, and steel better than bronze, but not on the order of giant leaps in damage output.  It should be enough to be noticeable, but not so much that you can pick up a better sword and immediately feel like a god against everything you were fighting before.

    So, the way I envision doing that is by keeping damage ranges relatively identical between weapons made from different materials, and instead implementing an effectiveness stat that impacts those other contributing factors.

    The idea is that a better weapon might only do marginally more damage on its own - say, a 1 point difference in the damage range - but that its properties allow the character to reach greater heights of their potential with skills and abilities as well.

    In theory, this would mean that a low level character picking up a mythril sword would not really see much benefit at all - because their skills and abilities are such that a few percentage points don't make all that much difference.  A high level character, on the other hand, would find that the mythril sword gives them a definite edge in combat.

    At the end of the day it's all math and there's plenty of other ways to do this.  I just like the idea of an effectiveness stat that acts as a modifier to everything else, because at least in my mind, it makes balancing to achieve that flattened power curve easier.

    I hope that helps explain my thinking!

    • 1622 posts
    September 26, 2019 9:56 AM PDT

    In pantheon's current design I'm not sure Weapon damage / DPS does affect anything but Auto attack damage (and maybe ressource generation). Most skills have been shown scaling from different stats but very few have included [weapon damage] in it.

     

    That can smooth the importance of a weapon by itself, but also make it a negligible upgrade when offered so.

    • 1695 posts
    September 26, 2019 11:16 AM PDT

    Nephele said:

    At the end of the day it's all math and there's plenty of other ways to do this.  I just like the idea of an effectiveness stat that acts as a modifier to everything else, because at least in my mind, it makes balancing to achieve that flattened power curve easier.

    I hope that helps explain my thinking!

    I'm beginning to understand, thank you.

    What I would expect is that if you have 2 characters each wielding the same weapon, say a Mithril sword with a damage range of 8-12 but one character has a weapon skill of 10 while the other has a weapon skill of 50, is that the bell curve you get after X number of hits would be vastly different.  The lower skilled player's damage distribution would be skewed far more to the lower end of the range with most hits being 8 (and a lot of misses) with few hits, if any at all, reaching 12.  The higher skilled player would see it's curve skewed to the upper end, more hits in the 11-12 with few, if any at the <10.

    So it isn't the damage number of the sword itself that completely dictates the DPS output of the character, but the actual weapon skill which has a higher effect.

    But this really only applies if you're dealing with a model where auto-attack represents the vast majority of your DPS and I don't see that being the case in Pantheon.

     

    • 1415 posts
    September 26, 2019 1:29 PM PDT

    Vandraad said:

     

    But this really only applies if you're dealing with a model where auto-attack represents the vast majority of your DPS and I don't see that being the case in Pantheon.

     

    It's interesting that you say that.  I feel like auto-attack will account for a large portion of your damage output in Pantheon - otherwise the LAS doesn't make as much sense.  If damage output is tied mostly to abilities, then only the abilities that do the most damage will be used.  The only choice involved in ability selection would be situational factors affecting damage output - ie, use ice attacks against monsters that are weak to ice.  But all else being equal, people will simply slot the highest damage things they have and use those in a rotation.

    If that's what combat in Pantheon ends up being, then I think it would be a horrific missed opportunity for the game as a whole.  Part of injecting meaningful choice into the ability system is going to be insuring that all of the different abilities available to players are useful and desireable in their own right.


    This post was edited by Nephele at September 26, 2019 1:29 PM PDT
    • 256 posts
    September 26, 2019 1:53 PM PDT

    @Nephele Your idea makes sense to me and I like it. The better the material, the more effective you are able to use it, so your damage output increases but on a relative scale. Someone higher level would also get a relatively higher output than a lower leverl character using the same weapon.

     

    However, I do understand Vandaraad's point as well. This system would work where a majority of the damage is being generated from autoattack or if the weapon effectiveness also influences the damage coming from skills/spells. If the majority of damage is coming from skills/spells and the weapon has no impact on that, then the weapon improvements would have to be more substancial for better weapons to have any meaning.

    • 730 posts
    September 27, 2019 4:26 PM PDT

    As a lover not a fighter let me see if I am picking up what you are putting down.

    Suppose shawms come in a variety of woods from humble pine to exotic purpleheart. Bards have some skill like “timbre” that they improve through leveling, or training / practice. Then a virtuoso with excellent timbre will make her group perform better even with a simple pine instrument than a complete novice would with the most expensive woodwind possible.

    I like the concept in theory for crafted items, but suspect that if my timbre skill is high, I have achieved enough success to afford the fancier shawm. Not sure why I would be using a simple pine one (unless item decay exists, and pine is my cheap emergency spare). I also get a kick out of rare drop items like the Big Bad Boss Bassoon that is nearly impossible to acquire without a fully keyed raid force deep in the Seven Locked Door Dungeon. Fingering that monstrosity should boost my group (even with low timbre) noticeably. I suppose it all comes down to tuning the weighted formulas for “effectiveness” so that your fun increases with both a new toy or improved skill.

    On reflection, I fear I have added nothing to this discussion, my apologies. Just trying to follow your crafty thoughts.

    • 1415 posts
    September 27, 2019 6:00 PM PDT

    Kumu said:

    I suppose it all comes down to tuning the weighted formulas for “effectiveness” so that your fun increases with both a new toy or improved skill.

     

    Trust the bard to summarize it far more eloquently than the blacksmith! :)

    • 1415 posts
    September 29, 2019 11:05 PM PDT

    For anyone wondering, I have parts 2 and 3 up on pantheoncrafters.  I'll probably post them (together) over here sometime this coming week, if I can make the formatting work.  But I want to get part 4 written before I do that too.

    The main reason I'm going through this exercise is simply to spur discussion.  We truly don't know the specifics of how things will work in Pantheon yet.  We can make guesses based on what's been shared but there are still a lot of different ways things could go.  Even though we don't know what's coming, discussion right now will help us be ready to evaluate the system once it is revealed.  Plus, maybe we can point out some potential pitfalls along the way as we talk about hypotheticals and help steer VR away from those.

    Anyway all that is to say, more of these threads coming soonish.

    • 682 posts
    September 30, 2019 4:59 PM PDT

    @Nephele

    I like the idea and have thought of similar systems for a game I've been working on.  Something to keep in mind is that EQ actually had a similar system that was made irrelevant due to the "ladder" effect you spoke of because they couldn't expect the game to require as many expansions as it produced; the only way for them to continue to provide a sense of accomplishment was to increase those numbers dramatically.  Originally, the EQ numbers were relatively small, for instance ranging from 1-2 damage at level one up to 40 damage for something like the SHD epic great sword.  Their actual calculations were done through the character "Level" the "Weapon Skill" and "Weapon Type" vs the target's "Level" their "Defense Skill" and "mitigation type".  They capped skill rating based on level and class, so a level 50 warrior with a 250 piercing skill and 225 Strength could still do a lot more damage with a rusty short sword than a lvl 40 warrior could do with a fancy weapon (primarily due to "level, stats and skill".

    • 260 posts
    October 16, 2019 5:30 AM PDT

    Well the way I see it, in order to low-mid tier metals not to become redundant in the late game i would rather see the effectivness vs monster resists (much expanded mechanic than in Witcher series, where iron/steel was for humans and silver for monsters) and so orichalcum could be effective against dragons and lizardfolk, iron/steel  vs most humanoids and animals, copper vs elementals and amphibians , silver against ghosts and so on.

    • 1695 posts
    October 16, 2019 2:10 PM PDT

    Hegenox said:

    Well the way I see it, in order to low-mid tier metals not to become redundant in the late game i would rather see the effectivness vs monster resists (much expanded mechanic than in Witcher series, where iron/steel was for humans and silver for monsters) and so orichalcum could be effective against dragons and lizardfolk, iron/steel  vs most humanoids and animals, copper vs elementals and amphibians , silver against ghosts and so on.

    Another method of keeping all materials relevant is that higher tier recipies always include some materials of lower tiers.  So if Mithril were to be the highest tier metal, a 'Mithril' sword would not be 100% Mithril but rather an alloy of Mithril and other metals. Your lowly Copper Sword uses just Copper, but your next tier up might be Bronze which still uses Copper but now adds in Tin.  Progress to your Iron sword where you might think Bronze has no role to play but any number of sub coponents (hilt, pommel, inlays, etc) could still need Bronze.  Same goes for Steel which is nowIron with Coal added.  You just keep some non-negligible portion of the overall composition reserved for those lower tier materials and they maintain their relevence.

    • 50 posts
    November 9, 2019 5:20 AM PST

    Not saying it is a better system because they all have their own merits but one interesting way of handling weapons and armor is

    done in the game The Repopulation.  There,  weapons and armor are shells.  They use items called Fittings that make the weapon and armor more effective.

    The shell has a few stats and determins a few things but one shell could be used from day 1 as a brand new char and modded throughout your journey well

    into the "end game".  Your skill in that weapon type determins the number of points of fittings your weapon or armor piece can hold.  The shell determins the

    number of fitting slots the equipment piece has.  Different slots can have different fitting types etc etc.  Fittings are primarily crafted by players but some basic ones

    are quest rewards or mob drops.

    I see all the systems kind of equally as they all do the same thing in the end.  The difference is primarily how you scale items with level increases.  Is it better to get a new

    weapon every level or two ?  Is it better to have 6 weapons to use depending on your goal ?  Is it better to have one weapon and change it as you level and depending

    on your goal ?   I am not sure.  They all have their own merits. They can all work equally well.

    I think the main thing in any system chosen will be to balance crafted vs drops, bound vs. tradeable,  twinkability, etc.