Saturday, December 30, 2017

Making Your Own Entertainment : EQ2, EQ2, GW2

One thing I'm really feeling the lack of in my MMORPG diet these days is crafting. Tradeskills, if you prefer. It's historically ironic because there was a time, back around the turn of the century, when I positively seethed at the very existence of crafting in my virtual worlds.

Back then I had some very specific and, looking back, bizarre ideas about what MMORPGs were supposed to be. I came to the genre looking for a kind of always-on version of the tabletop rpgs I played for much of the 1980s.

You can't buy style.
 I imagined the computer as a species of tireless, patient, selfless G.M., handling the ruleset and setting out the miniatures and maps, while the magical internet would provide an endless supply of willing players to make up my surrogate gaming group.

Things did turn out something along those lines. When it came to adventuring, EverQuest and the rest of the early offerings managed to look at least a little like the gaming sessions I remembered from the eighties.

There were goblins and orcs and dragons, for sure. We whacked them with swords or fried them with fireballs. We had hit points and armor with stats and we talked to NPCs to get ideas about where to go and what to do and then we took a long time getting there and argued with each other as we traveled. So far, so familiar.

But then there was all this other stuff. An economy, for a start. I found myself bartering with other players for things I needed. What's more, if I wanted anything specific I had to spend half a session traveling across the world to some kind of souk, where I was expected to stand around for hours listening to people hawking their wares.

An entire Sunday's gaming might consist of nothing more than an extremely risky cross-country trip followed by three hours of reading a jumble of text scrolling up the screen, just so I could come away with a new sword that was just ever-so-slightly better than the one I started with.

It was exciting to do once or twice but as as far as fantasy wish-fulfillment went it seemed an awfully long way from dragon-slaying. I developed a strong antipathy to the very existence of player-run economies in MMORPGs and for several years I believed that all in-game economic activity should be restricted wholly and entirely to player-NPC transactions.

I felt almost as strongly about crafting. It was an alien concept to me. My tabletop group never once in five years of Sundays crafted anything. We played a lot of different RPG systems - AD&D, Swordbearer, Dragonquest, Golden Heroes, Paranoia, Call of Cthulhu and at least three rulesets devised by members of the group - but I don't recall any of them even having rules for crafting, let alone anything in the games relying on make-do and mend.

The most I ever recall us doing would have been to take something to an NPC and come back a week later to pick up whatever we'd had him make for us. The idea that we'd sit down at two in the afternoon and spend three hours knitting chainmail, driving studs into leather or scribing spells into a book would rightly have been treated with derision. We had dungeons to delve and mysteries to solve!

Progression servers - the one place crafting still really matters.
Cut to EQ. Even now, the best part of twenty years later, I remember the afternoon I spent negotiating with a tailor to craft a set of studded leather armor for my druid. I remember haggling over the price, traveling to a meeting point, hanging around waiting for him to craft the stuff, opening the trade window and handing over most of my savings.

I also remember that I did it because, even though it took a couple of hours out of my adventuring schedule, to have made it myself would have taken me days. The entire process was time-consuming and laborious.

You had to kill animals to get the skins and they didn't always drop the right skins and you couldn't easily find the right animals. You had to buy basics from NPCs and they weren't always in the same place as the devices you needed to use to make stuff (although at least as a tailor you could carry your sewing kit with you).

Even when you had all the stuff it wasn't just a matter of clicking a button and the thing magically appearing in your bag. You had to have the skill and you got the skill by making stuff and you could fail to make stuff. You often failed and when you failed you lost the mats and had to get more. The worse you were the more likely it was to happen. You began bad and you got worse before you got better.

And yet you had to do it  - or pay someone to do it for you. In those days crafted gear was often not just the best you were likely to get - it was all you were likely to get. It was bad enough in EQ but DAOC took it to the next level. That's where I learned to loathe tradeskills.

Oh, my dear, no. I don't think there's any hope for you at all...
For some years my ideal MMORPG would have had no player economy whatsoever and if it had tradeskills they would have been purely for fun. Dropped or quested gear would in every case be superior to all crafted gear of equivalent level and much easier to get. At a push, maybe, crafters could make gimmicks, like tinkers.That would just about be acceptable, provided no-one actually needed anything they made for anything important.

And then, somehow, over the years, all that changed. The arrival of the Broker system with EQ's Shadows of Luclin expansion (actually about six months after, which is how long it took SoE to get it working) changed my entire belief system on economies.

My time in EQ from SoL through Planes of Power and up to somewhere around Depths of Darkhollow could be accurately characterized as The Dumpster Diving Years. I probably spent - literally and without exaggeration - more time trawling through NPCs' resale stock for items to put on the broker at vastly inflated prices than I did adventuring.

Meanwhile EQ2 and then, especially, Vanguard turned me into a crafter. I took up Provisioning at the start of EQ2 because it required the least effort. It was a useless craft at launch but once the devs actually added stats to food and drink I began to make made a good deal of money out of it.

And I enjoyed it. Crafting in EQ2 was a lot more active than in EQ. Although EQ crafting involved considerably more than just pressing a key and watching a progress bar, most of that was in the prep work. When it came to the moment it was just that - a moment.

Not really what you'd call a "crafting station"
In EQ2 you had to stay with the process from start to finish, nudging the machine along, playing progress against durability, fixing problems as they arose. You could even die if you got it wrong at a dangerous device like the Forge. It felt involving, active, entertaining.

Vanguard ramped that feeling up by a couple of orders of magnitude. Crafting in Telon was the first
time I felt as engaged by tradeskills as by adventuring. There were quests and factions and discoveries and the process itself was challenging and satisfying. It's still by some considerable margin the best implementation of crafting I've seen in an MMORPG. I miss it a lot.

Coming out of the end of Vanguard I ran straight into Domino's dominance of EQ2's crafting scene, a period when the whole tradeskill aspect of the game flourished and grew beyond anything I, or probably most players, had ever imagined. The end result was that I became a convert to crafting and you know how zealous and evangelistic converts can be.

For the last five years all I've really had to work with has been Guild Wars 2's dry tinder. The first few weeks after launch were exciting. I returned to my provisioning roots and took up Cooking.

What do you mean, "pothead"?
One way that GW2 tried to make crafting engaging was by dint of Discovery. You can follow recipes or you can just combine various ingredients and hope for the best. All crafts allow some discovery but Cooking runs entirely on random combines out of which you can learn to discern patterns.

That was fun for a while but soon there were lists online of every possible combination. I had the willpower not to read them but just knowing they existed took some of the purpose out of the process.

As the years rolled on, the GW2 developers ceased even to pay lip service to creativity in crafting. The focus moved from discovery to grind, from quality to quantity. You needed to make a lot of things and the things needed a lot of mats.

After a while crafting ceased even to be a craft. Many of the combines for anything worth having moved from crafting stations to The Mystic Forge and, lo and behold, there we were, back at my own original understanding of the concept of "crafting" in Adventureland.

In the modern conception of crafting in Tyria you collect a bunch of stuff and give it to an NPC, in this case the Genie Zommoros, who lives somewhere on the other side of the Mystic Forge. He then magically, flawlessly and instantaneously converts what you give him into the thing you want. And that's crafting.

I thought about this last night when Mrs Bhagpuss showed me the astonishing and astonishingly ridiculous Eggnog Helmet she'd just made. When I finish this post I'm going to log in and "craft" one for myself. It should take me about two minutes and most of that will be traveling from the bank to the forge.

It's a very, very far cry from anything I'd call real crafting. Fortunately, I do have a fix on the way. The missing tradeskill Signature line that wasn't ready in time for EQ2's Planes of Prophecy expansion is due sometime in the New Year. Let's hope it's a good one At worst it'll be another ten levels of Weaponsmithing and Scribing and that's not nothing.

Still, I wish I'd taken more time to enjoy my crafting back when it was good. I wonder how the crafting is in Project: Gorgon...


  1. Crafting has always been a mixed bag for me. It wasn't a thing in MUDs I played, but there it was in early EQ where it was mostly a waste of coin initially, doubly so if you saw the prices of better gear at the Commonlands tunnel. We've been through the comedy of early EQII. For some reason I still craft there when I go back to play.

    WoW was very EQ-like to start with, you could make a bunch of stuff that wasn't half as good as the first drop or quest reward you were likely to get. That has evolved some. My favorite now is the engineer, a trade I took up with my paladin, regretted for ages for the effort and uselessness, but since WotLK have enjoyed immensely after Blizz decided the profession should be about goofy, and sometimes dangerous, gadgets and odd looking gear. That and my tailor, who makes big inventory bags, are the only two professions I pursue with every expansion.

    I would totally take the time to craft that Eggnog Helmet for the cosmetic look if nothing else.

    1. I just finished making the helmet. It took me longer than expected but only because of all the fiddling around to find the mats in various banks. It looks better in game than in the screenshots - it was really hard to get a good picture of it and we had issues with the lighting (why is it always night whenever you want to take a photo in an MMO?).

      I enjoyed crafting in both WoW and lotRO but they both suffer from the same issue as most MMOs, which is that crafting seems to get more repetitive, more expensive and less useful the higher level you get. I generally get the most entertainment and use out of making things at the beginning of an MMO - after a while it just seems so much easier to do something that makes money and just buy what you need.

      I do think professions that make gimmicks and tricks have a big advantage, though. That never gets old the way making your next set of armor or spells can.

  2. I did alchemy in WoW as a requirement for my raid team, and an engineer for the goggles. That's about it. Skipped it in EQ completely and also have been skipping it in Eq2 with my new playthrough.

    I didn't draw that line you did - in the dozen or so PnP takes I played growing up didn't craft a single thing. Odd they are standard in MMOs

    1. Yes, I always found it odd and still do. MMORPGs came directly out of MUDs, which I never played. Was crafting an inescapable component of MUDs?

      You definitely shouldn't skip crafting in EQ2 though. It's half the game and often the better half!

    2. As I noted above, I don't recall crafting the way we see it in MMORPGs ever being a thing in any MUD I ever played. Certainly, TorilMUD, from which EQ was cribbed, had no such thing. The closest I recall to crafting were quests that required a few special components in order to craft/create a special item. But those were more like "hand the NPC your items and some coins and get your item" vending machines than crafting.

  3. To echo what has already been said, I enjoy crafting when the gameplay is interesting and the rewards are actually commensurate with the effort. In most MMOs it's a tedious chore that takes twice the effort and offers half the rewards of any other gearing method.

    The only MMO where I've genuinely enjoyed crafting is ESO. It's still kind of a timesink, but it gives you a lot of freedom because you can customize most anything about your gear, and you can make some pretty high end stuff. Maybe not best in slot, but far better than I'd get just wandering and questing as is my wont.

    At this point pretty much all of my characters' equipment in ESO is stuff I made myself (bar jewelry, which can't be crafted).

    I know you're almost exclusively an MMO player, but I have encountered some recent single-player games with strong crafting, as well. I got really into it in Dragon Age: Inquisition.

    1. I'm not sure I made it entirely clear in the post but what I'm missing is the opportunity to craft purely for the fun of doing it. What was so great about crafting in Vanguard wasn't that the things you made were really top-quality, although if you were good they could be. It was the actual process of crafting. I looked forward to sitting down at the PC to do a full session at the crafting table in the same way I'd look forward to doing a dungeon or an adventure instance. EQ2's crafting isn't quite as compelling as that but it's close.

      I'd have played a version of Vanguard that had no adventuring at all, only gathering and crafting. I'd play a version of EQ2 that was all housing and decorating. I think the greatest of Landmark's many problems was the then-management team's lunatic insistence that it had to be a "full MMO", whatever that means. MMOs at their best can be everything to everyone but they can't *all* be that. Sometimes I do wish more developers would specialize to find a loyal and dedicated audience rather than everyone doing a bit of everythin g and most of it not all that well.

  4. I have to point out about DAOC crafting, mind-numbingly tedious though the act was, tied into the game economy like no other mmo has. Their were no mining/gathering nodes in the world - all mats came from salvaging equipment drops off mobs. And all mob-dropped equipment had randomized stats, so in order to to get that perfect set of stats and resists for your play style, crafters were priceless. It's that interdependence that is what's been missing in moms ever since DAOC.


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