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Crafting in WildStar | Phillip Chan on progression, philosophies, & Elder Crafting

Carl Phillips
Carbine Studios, MMORPG, NCsoft, WildStar

Crafting in WildStar | Phillip Chan on progression, philosophies, & Elder Crafting

Just as we had recovered from the information blowout on all things customisable, Carbine Studios and NCSOFT decided it is time to discuss another important aspect of WildStar – the crafting. After all, there’s nothing quite like using your own weapons and gear to mow down your enemies (and / or other players) but how exactly is this achieved in WildStar, and why did the developers go with the systems they have? To find out the answers to this, I was invited into yet another conference call with the studio, this time with Carbine's head of US PR for Michael Shelling, and Systems Designer Phillip “P” Chan, who gave us the lowdown on how Carbine were aiming to make crafting not only fun, but involving and rewarding for all.

Origins & philosophies

Before we dived in, Chan explained how his role on the team was the “design and implantation of WildStar’s crafting” alongside Systems Designers Chris Magoun and Primus Majda. On where the team currently stands, Chan noted that they are “working really hard to integrate beta tech and polish what we’ve got in the game for shipping quality,” and that involved “a lot of bug fixing and a lot of refinement.”

We kicked things off with the topic of how the team approached tradeskills as a concept, with Chan revealing that getting it just right is no easy task. “I think it’s very easy for both designers and players to focus on the number of tradeskills or what the output of tradeskills are,” he began, “but the thing that I’m the most proud of for our tradeskills is that actually we have different systems that work really well together and work very specifically for the outputs that we’re trying to put in the in-game market. We have circuit board crafting, co-ordinate crafting, and they are their own separate crafting systems with their own gameplay and their own philosophies.”

Crafting in WildStar | Phillip Chan on progression, philosophies, & Elder Crafting

With such a huge emphasis on choice and customisation within the rest of the game (as we’ve shown in the past), it should come as no surprise that Carbine have wished to bring that into the crafting side of the game. “I think it was Sir Meier who said in one of his Gamasutra article that “A good game is a series of choices,” and that’s really what we’ve tried to do here,” Chan explained. “We’ve kind of had two overriding philosophies – that’s one, and the other is that we just wanted to make systems that actually had gameplay and are fun that we would want as players to take part in, and that’s really what we’ve tried to do here.”

It’s here that Chan and Shilling explained how the gameplay for crafting works, but instead of just regurgitating the specifics (and boring those that already know) I am instead going to refer those that don’t know (or just want a refresher on the mechanics) to the episode of Dealspwn Playthrough dedicated to Crafting, which you can find right below. Instead, we’re going to forge ahead to aspects the video doesn’t cover, such as the philosophies behind each mechanic, and how they are refining them even further, as well as elaborating on the depth of the talent trees, being a dedicated crafter, and what to expect at the end game.

Circuit Board Crafting

As shown in our Crafting video, circuit board crafting is for making equipment for players to wear and use, as Chan mentioned that the philosophy was to allow the player “to customise, maximise and specialise.” By allowing players to manually set the stat balance of their gear, it allows players to fine tune their characters to the nth degree – something that will no doubt be of great importance in raids and PvP.

Chan than explained that the team recognised that when it came to crafting, players usually split into two different groups. “We have a group that kind of cares about crafting but is really more concerned about using it as a means to an end, who don’t care about necessarily contributing to the economy, who will just put the right chips in to get it to zero fail with maximum amount of stats and then hit the craft button. Then there’s the second part of the population which is people who really care about crafting and really care about their items being the best in the marketplace, and are willing to risk their mats to really push the boundary getting close to that 30% fail limit with the maximum number of stats.”

Crafting in WildStar | Phillip Chan on progression, philosophies, & Elder Crafting

Although it is basically down to a roll of a virtual dice, the risk verses reward element of crafting is apparent in circuit board crafting, although I do wonder if at level 50 players will be so brave as to risk hard earned materials for a few extra item levels. Either way, it’s yet more choice at the player’s disposal, which is has been a recurring theme in WildStar.

Fine-tuning Coordinate Crafting & Discoveries

Those players interested in becoming a Technologist or an Architect will be spending a lot of time with coordinate crafting, as they attempt to guide their crafting point across a Cartesian graph using up to three additives (or moves) to get there. The thing is, Chan goes on to explain, the random element of the additives makes sure that players can’t just lazily make stack after stack without thinking. “I think on the team we refer to it as reaction gameplay because you use an additive and it moves you towards the target or moves you point, and you have to react to it,” Chan said. The main reason behind this was because Carbine “didn’t want people to just look up the most efficient additive combinations online once the game goes live.”

“You have to pick an additive that’s going to help you move the points towards one of the targets that you’re trying to hit,” he continued, “and yeah, there is that element of choice because you have a main target in the middle and then you have multiple targets that are usually variants of the main recipe. So, the example I think I gave you was a healing potion, you know, a standard, instant heal pot would be in the centre, and that’s your default. You don’t fail if you don’t hit a target, you’ll always make that. A healing variant might be a heal-over-time potion or a bloom – you know, you get a few ticks of healing and then one big heal at the end – and that might be somewhere else on the grid.”

Crafting in WildStar | Phillip Chan on progression, philosophies, & Elder Crafting

Another part of coordinate crafting is Discoveries, which Chan explained place “hidden recipes on the [graph] that are obfuscated at the beginning, and the location of that discovery recipe is actually random from player to player.” So, in short, a very literal game of hot or cold (it even uses those words in the UI) but as Chan already mentioned, this was to try and ensure there was no all-knowing way of blindly crafting everything possible, “or at least that’s the idea,” Chan admitted with a laugh, “some players are really smart!”

Admittedly, Chan went on to say that while there had been a fair amount of positive feedback on the system, it hasn’t been all smooth sailing for Discoveries. “There are a lot of changes coming down the pipe that, if you’re in beta, you’ll know that coordinate crafting needs a little bit of help and we’re working very diligently to add features to this system that are going to make it a lot less painful, I guess. For one thing the UI is getting an overhaul – actually all of our UIs are getting an overhaul – but I think a lot of the pain with coordinate crafting was really to do with the UI and that’s being improved. We have an amazing UI team that’s working very hard to make the crafting stuff better.”

Crafting in WildStar | Phillip Chan on progression, philosophies, & Elder Crafting

Progression through the Tech Tree & Talents

While most MMOs would leave progression in crafting at doing the finding recipes either from vendors or random drops in the world, Carbine have thrown in a new form of progression through its dedicated tech tree, which Chan explained immediately rewarded players with new recipes by doing simple tasks that, as crafters, would be usually doing anyway. “[For example] the tech box might say something like “craft three steel greatswords” and if you complete that task, the system will know and it will reward you with a cold-forged steel greatsword,” said Chan, “and that one might have a better a better schematic (a better circuit board layout), it might have a little bit more of a power threshold, it might be a couple item levels higher, and then you make some of those.”

Chan went on to state that while players will find the tech tree the easiest way to get more powerful schematics, it was by no means necessary to follow to experience all of a crafting profession. “You can actually get from the novice tier, which is lowest, to the expert tier without having ever gone down the tech tree, although it is the most efficient way to level,” he explained. “But it was a very simple reward thing where we wanted to say “let me give you two small goals that you can accomplish in bite-sized chucks and feel rewarded at every step,” instead of saying “collect all the materials and hit the craft all button and just, you know, make a sandwich!”

Crafting in WildStar | Phillip Chan on progression, philosophies, & Elder Crafting

That said, the tech tree isn’t the only progression to be found, as Chan went on to mention how the talent tree - where players can assign points gained through crafting - can be used to help players specialise on specific types of items, and be recognised for it. “[For example] if Michael Shelling wants to be a recognised swordsmith on his server, he can actually put points into talents that improve his fail threshold, his greatsword customisability, he might choose a particular type of metal to work with, and these are all choices that he makes that makes him special in some way. This talent build that you choose will make you different from other crafters.”

Life as a Crafter on Nexus

As players wander around their respective zones levelling, crafting isn’t just an additional thing that players must remind themselves to do – they become a part of the quest hubs themselves thanks to the Work Order notice boards. Relating to the on-going story in said zone, they provide another layer of progression for players, usually 2-3 quests per hub per tradeskill that unlocks progression within the crafter’s chosen profession, unlocking more schematics in doing so. That said, it’s not the only way to gain new items to craft, as Chan was about to explain.  “Additionally there are world schematics that are located throughout the content,” he said. Whether it’s adventures or PvP, or just random loot drops in the world or in dungeons, crafting has a place in all of these things, and we plan on, when we start talking about raids, integrating crafting into raids as well.”

The mention of PvP spurred the question to clarify if that meant there would be certain schematics that only be obtained through PvP specific for those who prefer PvP content, which Chan confirmed was the case. “PvP schematics will have PvP stats already infused onto the circuit board which is normally the only place that you can get [them], “he explained. “Again, the world schematics are another way for players to be prestigious. You know, you have people who really take the time to go farm these, and we’re not just talking about easy farming – we’re talking about spending hours killing mobs to get a lot of these drops. [For the] PvP one, you obviously have to go kill [other players], so that might be more fun than grinding mobs.”

Well, that’s one way to encourage relentless slaughter, and I can already hear the excuses – “I’m sorry, Exile scum – I’m just trying to learn how to make a new pair of boots!”

Crafting in WildStar | Phillip Chan on progression, philosophies, & Elder Crafting

Continuing on from the conversation of making crafters different from one another, the topic moved onto if players could become a known and revered crafter on their chosen server, which Chan said was possible. To help illustrate this, he gave an example of how this would work. “Well let’s add another person into the mix, and let’s say both of us are swordsmiths, and I have one talent spec and you have another spec, but you’re specialised in greatswords,” he began. “We make the same sword – on the backend it’s the same item ID – and the difference is that you’ll be able to get extra stats out of it, you’ll be able to make it more efficiently. When people compare our swords they will that yours is more powerful, that it has extra item levels on it, that you’ve overcharged it more than I could overcharge it. You’ve got better stat distribution than I could ever have on mine,” and Chan believes this will set certain players part from each other. That said, we returned to this topic later on, so stay tuned.

Enhancing through Runcrafting

Although he was reluctant to call it a tradeskill, Chan did also give us a rundown on Runcrafting, which he explained doesn’t take up a tradeskill slot and becomes usable to all players at level 15. “It’s a lot like Diablo II’s runeword crafting where items at different qualities have rune slots on them and you can basically put a rune in there that further improves the items,” Chan said. “There’s a whole elaborate system of colour coding and elemental flavouring for them, but the neatest thing about them and the reason why I [make the comparison to] a Diablo II runeword is that item sets in our game are actually tied to the runes, not to the item. “

“So you’ll actually craft some of the set runes and place them in different slots, and it doesn’t matter which slot you put them in, there’s a set counter that says “hey, you have this many points across all of your items” and you’ll get bonuses based on that instead of collecting all five pieces of armour.” He continued by explaining such a system allowed for “a greater breadth of reward structure towards the top end” due to how players wouldn’t be necessarily locked to best-in-slot armour pieces for set bonuses, and could instead focus on runes best suited “for your playstyle or your AMP setup.”

Crafting in WildStar | Phillip Chan on progression, philosophies, & Elder Crafting

The Gathering game

In our crafting video we give you a quick look at how gathering works in WildStar, with players equipping some sort of laser and using it to gather resources from nodes, but Chan made sure to remind us that this wasn’t the be-all-end-all of collecting your materials. You see, there’s a chance that when you gather items it can begin an event, suddenly changing the dynamic of the situation from peaceful gathering to something much more action-based.

“One of the events that we have is the scrambling node, where you start hitting an iron node or whatever, and it turns out that it is actually a creature that you’re mining,” Chan exaplined. “It gets up and freaks out, and you get extra ore as long as you keep lazering them while they run away. And that’s not even the coolest one! The coolest one is what we call the Ore Worm, and basically the event is a giant worm comes out of the ground and you have to fight it, and we’re talking about [it being] three times your character size, and when you kill it, it becomes a portal. You actually go into its mouth and into a micro [instance] that’s a cavern with ore nodes, and in the future we want to have more than just the ore nodes, but you get 2 minutes to go on a mining spree inside the worm and then you get booted out after that.”

Crafting in WildStar | Phillip Chan on progression, philosophies, & Elder Crafting

Longevity, relevance, & what lies ahead

Although he wasn’t willing to go into too much detail, Chan took the opportunity to tease us all on what crafters can expect to come at level 50, more specifically with the Elder Game. “We’re working on some of the Elder Game stuff – the Elder Crafting – and we’re really excited about that,” he said. “There’s some really neat stuff coming down the line. We’re utilising what we call one-off schematics which are basically schematics that are only one use tying them into the tech tree. It’s going to be a really neat thing, I wish I could talk more about it but we’re still in the gestation period for that.” Of course, by teasing us about the Elder Game crafting, a whole can of worms has just been opened, and so one reporter asked if this would create a plateau in terms of casual crafters finding their usefulness diminished to hardcore PvE players once they hit the Elder Game content.

“I talk pretty much daily with [Systems Designer] Jeff Tallon [better known as J-Tal] who’s doing the Elder Game itemisation plan, and we’ve talked extensively about how crafters are going to play a part in Elder Game crafting, and I can’t give you any concrete answer on that right now, but just know that I am fighting very, very hard for crafters to mean something at the end,” Chan insisted. “We have talked about if crafted items are on par with some of the best items in the game, that there would be raid material requirements, so if we were to think back to early WoW, how it would require you to collect ingots in Molten Core to make the Sulfuras, Hand of Ragnaros for example, I don’t know if it would be that many or how those would drop – that’s not a conversation I’m ready to have yet – but we do talk very constantly about how to make it meaningful in the end game.”

“[It was also mentioned] a while back about possibly setting aside a couple of slots that might be where the best item might come from crafting as a source.” It was something Chan said was “still on the table, but again I’m not really at liberty to make any [comment] that could be published!”

The giant tease.

Crafting in WildStar | Phillip Chan on progression, philosophies, & Elder Crafting

It was then put to Chan that if raid gear was on par with crafted gear, if that would negate the need for hardcore PvE players to even bother with crafting skills when they are already raiding, suggesting that if there isn’t a balance between crafted and looted gear, as well as bonuses from taking certain crafting professions, it would create a divide that could potentially hurt the game in the long run. “Again, we’re looking at different options on how to integrate crafting into everything,” he began, “so I don’t want to go with [previous statements] about having slots segregated out for crafters, or that the materials that drop from raids necessarily be soul bound, so I would say that knowing a crafter that can make some of the best stuff in the game is probably advantageous for the hardcore raider that would may not necessarily be interested in crafting.”

“[Also in regards to that question] I believe you are referring to some of the character bonuses that you get for having particular crafting professions,” Chan continued, “such as [in World of Warcraft] tanks being required to take jewelcrafting and mining because of the extra health, we don’t have any plans to make combat bonuses like that available to crafters.” Chan did admit that  the topic may be one that Carbine “revisit further on down the line” but that they are aware of the pitfalls of that particular design. “If we were to do it, it would probably be in a WildStar sort of manner, which is say it would probably be less impactful on the combat side, and probably more funny than anything else.”

Crafting in WildStar | Phillip Chan on progression, philosophies, & Elder Crafting

Chan was then asked about the mentioned one-use schematics for Elder Game crafting, and if the risk-verses reward nature of the overcharge system would mean we could really lose these rare crafting patterns, or if they would be exempt from overcharging to keep things fair and balanced. “It is something that we’ve designed but we haven’t really implemented yet, or play-tested and gotten a lot of internal feedback on yet, but when I say one-off schematics I mean they are at one time one-off schematics,” Chan explained. “So if you pick up an Elder Game crafting schematic and craft it once, you’ll probably know how to make it after that like it’s a box in the tech tree. So, the box in the tech tree says ‘learn this schematic and craft it a couple of times,’ and then it will give you a schematic permanently.”

The topic then moved onto probably the most hardcore question of the day, returning to the topic of the relevance for crafters in the long run. This was broken down into two points – firstly, if WIldStar provides players with enough content associated with crafting to present players with the possibility of being a dedicated crafter (with EVE online being brought up as an example), and secondly, how if there are no combat bonuses associated with crafting, if players would genuinely bother with taking a crafting progression to max level and continue with it into the Elder Game. After commending the questioner on the hardball issue (and rightly so) Chan dove right into the topic at hand.

Crafting in WildStar | Phillip Chan on progression, philosophies, & Elder Crafting

“That’s a very difficult question – it’s a very good question, but it’s a very difficult question,” Chan admitted. “So the thing to keep in mind is that, as a designer your job isn’t just to design pie in the sky, because I would love to design an economic system as a backbone for an MMO, but that’s simply not the type of game that WildStar is. I’ve gotten this feedback a lot from players in beta regarding the depth of the economy, and obviously as a designer there are all kinds of things I would love to design. One of them would be an extremely in-depth, fully consumable, un-soulbound economy like the one that EVE [Online] has, but again we have to design within the theme and flavour of the game, and WildStar simply isn’t that sort of hard economy game. It is much lighter, it is much more playful, it is much more gameplay and much less spreadsheet. I sympathise with the people that hope that WildStar will have an economy that is as in-depth as that, but it simply isn’t the direction we are going.”

Chan concluded his answer by stating that the aim of WildStar’s crafting was to have its own gameplay elements to it, which he felt the team had accomplished, but becoming ‘spreadsheet online” was not the aim in any shape or form. “Maybe down the road we might find ways to diversify the economy, referring specifically to Clark-Fisher model of economics where we have different segments of industry – right now we only have two out of the four covered – and I would really like to see that expand, but if we do go in that direction it will be in a WildStar fashion. It would not be an EVE thing where you make a player own a station and do research there.”

A huge thanks to Philip and Michael for taking the time out to chat about the Crafting in WildStar, and for NCSOFT for once again allowing me to invade their phone calls! Don’t forget that you can check out all of our WildStar coverage be heading over to our dedicated hub page, which includes all of our episodes of Dealspwn Playthrough, Matt’s on-going series The Noob, my Wrap-ups on the classes in the game, and a whole host of interviews with the fine folks at Carbine.

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