Tuesday, July 1, 2014

What is Crafting?

As you will notice, this is not a Weekly Character Update. I will be putting that in tomorrow. But today I was wanted to write about Crafting.
Crafting has taken a forefront in my thoughts because WoW and STO are both making changes to their crafting systems. WoW seems to be removing some of the capabilities and traits from it and with all the other changes to gear and traits crafting had to be re-looked at to fall in line with all of these changes. STO, on the other hand, is completely redesigning their crafting system. And these changes have caused discussions on their respective forums.
Now the changes on WoW to crafting have so far been low key and I have not seen much on it. But my understanding has been that the changes are to accommodate the changes they have made to the rest of game system, including healing, mana regen and stats. But I since I have not seen any real info on the changes I will not comment further.
STO changes are very sweeping and radical and are in Beta Test on Tribble server. I have been on Tribble and tried it out and have reached some conclusions about what the direction is and how well received it will be. The forums have been very vocal on this topic and have brought forth some points that got me to thinking about crafting in games as a whole.
To start with, you have to know what crafting is before you can emulate in a game. So looking up Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary for the definition of Crafting and you get: to make or produce (something) with care or skill. So to put it into words that mean something to me and related to games, Crafting is the process of making something with skill. 
Now in WoW, when you look at the crafting system and this definition, the results are good. You have to have a certain skill point level to craft a particular item. Once you have reached that, you learn from making that item till you have so much skill that that item is simple by comparison and therefore doesn't give you any more skill. This forces you to move on to other items to make to challenge your skill so that you keep learning. Therefore always making you make things that always take more skill if wish to get better. This fits the definition and so can truly be called crafting.
In the New STO crafting system, you assign a Duty Officer, basically a crewman on your ship, to make something. Upon completion of this you gain skill points and the item. Your skill level does define what items you can make but only at certain points. If you have enough Duty Officers, you can assign a different DOff (Duty Officer) to each item and your ‘skill’ advances. Your Individual DOff's doesn't get that skill, just your character. And since these DOff's can be ‘bought and sold’ on the Exchange, when a DOff leaves the skill doesn't go with it and so doesn't change your character skill. Additionally, the item created will have a random chance as to what ‘quality’ that item will be. This random chance is affected by your skill level, the mark level of the item being created, the quality of the assigned DOff, and some catalyst that you can buy from the c-store. So , following my definition,  this systems uses others to make something that sets chance of what quality the item will be based upon skill, worker quality, bought resources and item complexity. This doesn’t fit the definition well and over reaches what a crafting system is.
So what can be done about crafting in STO? STO is now calling crafting Research and Development (R&D). It seems like they are not sticking with a tradition sense of crafting in a game. SO does that mean we need to redefine Crafting or create a new definition for what they are creating? I don’t think STO is going to go down the traditional path of crafting and so we would need to redefine what exactly it is they are creating.
My first clue as to what this new paradigm is in the very name they gave it, R&D. R&D is where you have a team made up of people with various skills working together to create a prototype. The prototype is then tested to make sure it works, and figures out if this a feasible idea that the company can make money on. To apply this to STO, your DOff's is the team used to create something new. But it doesn't quite fit because you are making the same things over and over again, with random results on the quality. With the system being called R&D, it really isn't.
By that lead me to the thought that the R&D is really a manufacturing plant. Manufacturing plants take resources and put out a specified product. Manufacturing has quality controls that look at the product, doing random testing and ejecting those products that fail to meet certain standards. These ejected products are either sent back to be recycled and added back into the system, or collected and sold at a reduced cost as a way to recoup some of the loss from mishaps. STO R&D you are taking resources and creating a specific product with a variable quality. The better the quality the more it sells for in the exchange or at the vendors. This most closely resembles the STO system. SO it seems that my Starship Captain is now a Captain of Industry in a traveling factory.
Working with that idea, it would seem that you would need a workforce and plant manager. But in the system you are just selecting one person to make this item.
I need to take a moment right now to talk about the ship’s crews. There are basically four levels of Ships crew.
The captain of the Ship is you and is the top tier of the ship’s crew. And the only Player Character onboard.
The next step down is the Bridge Crew. These are NPC's that are fully customizable by the player and fill the rolls of department heads and away team membership. They also fill in ship stations and provide skills that you can use in combat. The Bridge Officer’s or BOff's also come in quality levels ranging from common to Very Rare.  All BOff's are also officers and you can promote them in ranks when you want to within certain guidelines. BOff's can also be bought and sold on the exchange, you can change what skills they have and you decide what gear they are equipped with. You also have the ability to change their looks, race, sex and name.
DOff's are the next tier. These guys are your named enlisted men and women that crew your starship. They have profession and quality levels. They also have traits. You cannot do any customization to these guys. Their name, race professions and traits are all hard coded. You can buy and sell them on the exchange and they come in the same range of quality levels. They are also the guys you send out on most of the minor mission that you have.
The last tier is the crew compliment on a ship. They are just a number on your ship that is tracked. None of them are name nor do you have any interactions with them. It’s a stat that ship has, and has crew is incapacitated you ship suffers is capabilities during space combat. They do not have a quality to them.
So going back the DOff that you can assign to make something in the R&D, I see this as you are assigning the Plant Manager. The ships compliment is managed by the DOff. And it’s the DOff'd quality that influences how the crew works for him and determines the final quality of the end product. And this fits the manufacturing style of creation.
But the randomness of the final quality of the item made was not truly explained by this. Or is it? If the crew is just a collection of unnamed guys, it might be that every time you assigned the DOff to make something, he gathers a random group of people together to retool the workshop and make the item. It’s this randomness of people that ultimately determines the final quality. And that allows me to say that the “skill level” that you acquire is not really assigned to you but to your crew. And the DOff's quality allows for it to manage the people, organize the work space and give directions in order to avoid most of the pitfalls and help increase the quality of the final product.
So the new STO R&D is really a manufacturing process, with you assigning a plant manager (DOff) to make the workers (crew) to create a one off item from a universal workshop. Seeing it as this; you can understand where they are going with this new system. But they confuse this issue by calling it a crafting system and R&D. And as long as they call it by these names, I think they will cause a lot of anger with the community. I also think that as long as they try to make dilithium, a resources that is limited in how much you can get in a day, a necessary cost to get the best gear they are going to relegate the manufacturing system to a little used feature.
My feelings to increase the usefulness of the STO R&D will require removing or dropping the cost of dilithium by a factor of 10 or more, remove c-store requirements to control quality outcomes, and making the quality randomness lowered for higher skill levels by dropping common and uncommon qualities from the outcomes. I also think that the amount of experience points it takes to go from one level to the next has to be retuned to make it a more gradual step. They also need to do this to cut down the amount of time to actually get to make level in just the one school. And there are seven schools.

These are my thoughts so far. I have more to ruminate on these changes and hope that Cryptic will actually consider what people have been saying about this new system.  Until tomorrow, Enjoy!

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