Crowfall - Embargoed!
Embargoes and crafting herald a new era in the Crowfall development cycle. Red Thomas makes a trip to Austin to learn more and shares what he finds with readers. How has the game been impacted by the “fortunes of war” and what can backers expect moving forward?
No one said the developers have been thinking about me specifically while working on some of their latest updates for Crowfall, but I’m pretty confident that I’ve been on their minds. Partly because we share a lot of friends on social media and I’ve been in a taunting mood lately, but also because ACE has made several significant updates that directly link to my favorite aspects of the game.
In my last Crowfall article, I talked a bit about some of the major updates to crafting and industry in the game. Several of those improvements have either been patched into the live client or are towards the final stages of development now. Today, I’m going to take an extra hard look at how experimentation works and how some recent updates impact crafting and the experimentation system.
I’m also a big fan of how the game is designed around innumerable worlds with discrete life cycles, and how that system lends itself well to time-limited campaigns. A major component of that system has just fallen into place, and Crowfall looks to be far closer to the fully-firing game loop than the company would want to advertise. I’m going to raise a few hairs by telling you where I think the game is in development and what you can probably expect over the next year or so.
Smoothing the Circle
As I noted in the last article, I think the addition of the war tribes to Crowfall is a pretty key step in a good direction. By adding in NPC mobs and having them drop interesting loot, ACE filled in a pretty big gap in the game’s design. Crowfall is clearly a PvP game before it’s anything else, but that doesn’t mean there’s no room, maybe even a need, for a PvE component in the game.
For one, there are a lot of players (like me, for instance) who play at odd times and often alone due to work or family life. The game has to have systems for supporting solo players, and a rewarding PvE experience can be an important part of that. PvE is also a key tool in smoothing the learning curve in games and in smoothing several gaming loops, both of which have seen focus this quarter from ACE developers.
The war tribes have seen further refinement and have more planned. Since various tribes tend towards certain archetypes, you can expect loot tables to be adjusted to be more reflective of the tribe you’re fighting. Sneaky types will drop poisons and gear related to those archetypes and more tank-like character will drop that sort of gear, for instance. This will eventually allow players to target the war tribe that best suits their playstyle and increase their chances of getting the specific loot drops they need.
In part, this system allows players to find non-player-crafted gear that diminishes the reliance on player-crafters. This might seem contrary to what I’d normally like, but there’s a good reason for it. Because crafting is so interdependent, playing at odd times or not being a part of a large in-game guild dramatically limits your ability to be effective in combat. Making crafters important is a cornerstone of Crowfall’s design, but not to the point where you can’t play at all without that support structure.
More targeted loot tables will be a huge step in smoothing out that particular rough edge but crafting itself has already seeing some help. The current system requires a month or two of training skills before some key weapons can be crafted and then only if you can find the right crafters to create the subcomponents you need. This interdependence was a little too extreme and the devs have come up with a pretty good solution.
Recipes will be moved so that basic forms of all weapons are available much sooner in the trees. Also, crafters can make basic versions of all required components, which allows them to make those recipes whether they have access to relevant supporting crafters or not. For instance, blacksmith will make a much better metal buckle than a leatherworker, but the leatherworker can still make buckles that will allow him to complete his leather armor. That armor will just not be quite as good as if he’d gotten the subcomponents from the appropriate dedicated crafter.
Maybe the most valuable conversation I had during my trip to ArtCraft’s studios was the chance to talk with Thomas Blair. Blair is a rock star in the development community and those who’ve been playing MMOs for a while are well aware of his touch on some of the most definitive games of the last two decades. His style and influence is felt all through crafting in Crowfall and I was glad for the chance to get some details from him on how experimenting works in the game.
The conversation came up because the team recently changed the way experimenting works. In the past, the number of pips you could put into experimenting was dependent on the quality of the material used in the crafted item, up to a maximum allowed by the character’s skill. The problem is that the quality of material also determines the base stats, so the material was effectively having a double impact on crafted item quality. That wasn’t the intention and it resulted in wide gaps between tiers in items, and thus gear mattered a lot more than was desired.
The solution was to revamp the experimentation system so that skill directly impacts the total number of pips a player can select when crafting, and each experimental option can have the same total number of possible pips irrespective of material. If the item has durability and speed as two options, then both of those options will always allow up to ten pips in each no matter what material is used in the recipe.
I’m not sure how well understood experimentation is, but it’s a pretty interestingly advanced system. The player’s skill verses the difficulty of the recipe determines a base number, which is used with a degree of randomness to calculate a bell curve result of experimenting with each pip. The curve for a highly skilled crafter making a common quality item will be skewed dramatically towards the higher end, which means the crafter will nearly always make a virtually optimal item.
You can increase the difficulty of each experiment by adjusting the risk and using higher-quality items. Difficulty expands that bell curve, meaning you could get more out of a success but at a greater risk of failure. While quality of material and risk increase the difficulty, that’s balanced by player skill, which weights that bell curve towards the higher end, improving the chances of successful results and diminishing the chances of a failure.
While it all factors into the eventual values, Blair tells me that the new base values for risk are +6.44% for no risk up to 12.08% for the maximum, but then item quality has an impact as well. Critical failures are always -7%, and regular failures are no impact either way. Each pip is an experiment, or an attempt to improve the item. Notionally, ten perfect rolls with maximum risk would increase the given attribute of the item by 120.8%, but of course you’d end up burning a fair amount of ethereal dust or chaos embers rerolling bad experiments to get there.
Embargo loops are one of the key components of the fully functional game loop that’s been missing up to now. The ability to spin up multiple campaigns with various rule sets has existed for some time, though the testing has mostly been around changing the campaign durations. Embargoes are the next step, which control the material a player can take into and out of a campaign.
This is one of the driving forces in the economy and a key benefit of victory. Everyone will have a chance to bring some items back to their Eternal Kingdoms at the end of a campaign, but the victors will be allowed to extract more resources from the recently deceased world. What players can take into new campaigns and how much will be another of the adjustable factors that will help create different rule-sets for different campaigns.
The team refers to the allowed item slots as “tokens,” but it’s really just the word they’ve chosen to represent that arbitrary number. Personally, I’d really like to see the mechanic adjusted to use actual tokens that can be looted or lost, and that could be saved and used in other campaigns. It’s a neat mechanic as it stands, but I think would contribute to the economy more and be made more interesting as another tangible currency in the game.
The player’s global inventory is now called the “vault,” which is used directly in the Eternal Kingdoms and Gods Reach. Players entering new campaigns with item import restrictions will be prompted on the number of items they’re allowed to bring and will be asked if they’d like to select any.
A Few Guesses
With the new system to restrict item exchanges between campaigns and the permanent vault in place, I think Crowfall is closing quickly on the point where I’d consider the game launched. Gordon and Todd aren’t going to be happy seeing me say that, but that’s because their definition of launched and mine are a little different. It’s their job to try and manage expectations, but my job is to sling opinions like a pasta in an Italian kitchen.
I know there are a few other specific features they intend to have in the game before they announce a final wipe and there will certainly be more wipes between now and then, but wipes bother me far less in Crowfall than they do in most other games. The leveling mechanic exists in Crowfall, but I don’t think it’s hugely impactful due to how quickly even a solo player can power-level themselves. Thus, having a character or your inventory wiped out occasionally isn’t that big of a deal. Losing skill is a slightly bigger issue, but also isn’t something that bothers me a great deal either.
ACE has been pretty tight-lipped about their internal goals and schedules, but I’d be surprised if I didn’t see nearly everything I’m looking for in Crowfall by this fall. By spring, I’ll be mildly shocked if the game weren’t in a state that even ACE would be willing to acknowledge as no longer being pre-alpha.
Most everything I see between here and there is basic balancing and maybe the expansion and refinement of a few existing systems. Whatever you’d like to call that state, I’m sure there’ll be a few bugs and some ongoing balancing, but then that’s still called sustainment in most product life-cycles.Full Disclosure: Red Thomas is an SEC accredited investor and has invested in ArtCraft Entertainment, the studio developing Crowfall. While Red makes a good faith effort at subjectivity, unconscious bias is always possible, and readers should take the potential of bias into account.