When I first set out to design Chronicles of Elyria I defined the five core principles which I wanted to drive all major decisions. The first was that the world must be “Dynamic and Immersive.” If something in the world can change – either through player interaction or naturally over time, it probably should.
This lead to several thought experiments in which I examined the ways in which our world is dynamic, while most MMOs are static. My experiments began with the characters themselves and the introduction of aging & dying. From there it expanded to a character’s environment with things like day & night cycles, weather, seasons, and even natural disasters.
Next, it grew to include the non-natural world with things like dynamic civilizations, political boundaries, and the rise and fall of governments. Finally, it ended with the examination of the abstract concepts that make up civilization, such as culture and technology.
In this week’s design journal, we’re going to take a look at how Chronicles of Elyria continues to push the envelope with a system of research-driven technology which lets players determine the direction of research, while allowing us to monitor the rate at which technology is evolving. This ensures we have the technology ready when the players are ready for it.
In most MMORPGs technology is static, so it’s important to understand what we mean when we say technology in Chronicles of Elyria is dynamic. To do that, we first need to define what “technology” is. In Chronicles of Elyria, technology is represented by the set of all products and components people know how to create, as well as the set of all materials they know how to gather and process.
As indicated in Design Journal #9: Crafting & Professions, the knowledge of how to craft items or process resources is represented by "recipes" or "patterns". As your character learns new things, the number of recipes they know will expand. When we talk about the advancement of technology, we mean the introduction of new, never-before seen patterns and recipes.
These new recipes can introduce the processing of new materials for Gatherers, the construction of new components for Producers, and even the ability to create all new, never before seen items. As can be seen from the screenshots and renders in this design journal, these can range from things like clocks and telescopes, to war machines like ballistae, all the way to modes of transportation like gliders.
What’s not shown in this design journal is that technological advances can happen across all of the Producer and Gatherer skill trees, allowing for the development of new medicines and poisons, new methods of scribing, and even new construction materials. Now that we know what technology is, let’s learn about how it evolves in Chronicles of Elyria.
Passive vs. Active Research
When designing the research system, we had to make a choice about whether we wanted to make research active or passive. An active research system would be one in which players proactively spend time tinkering with things, experimenting, and well... researching. We really liked the idea of that system, however we felt like - and this is a first for us, that it would over-complicate the game.
What we were really looking for was the pride and achievement that comes from discovery, the collaboration that can exist when multiple people set a goal and try achieving it together, and the excitement that comes from seeing the world evolve and change.
As a result, we opted for a passive research system in which research happens automatically in the background without players having to spend time doing the research. Our first instinct was to just let players do research while offline using their OPCs, but this created problems because while we wanted some research done by OPCs, we wanted the most challenging research to be done by players.
In the end, we settled on a system that lets us be a partner in determining how quickly new technology is introduced into the world, while giving players full-control of which technology is added.
Research in Chronicles of Elyria is a process of trial and error that is integrated into the every-day act of crafting. Once you attain Expert rank in crafting a specific item, you can choose to spend additional resources each time you craft the item to study some aspect of it in order to solve a problem. These can be things like making a blade stronger, armor lighter or more flexible, or livestock live longer. It can also be problems such as adding reflection to the surface of glass.
Your percent chance of solving a specific problem is based on the amount of research you, and others, have contributed to solving the problem. Some problems require more research than others and you won’t know how much research is required or how far along you are. In this way, research may feel a bit random, but it’s not. The more research you pour into something, the more likely are to discover something.
Research vs. Production
When first crafting a new item you’re invariably focused first and foremost on making sure you’re able to create the item at a passable quality. However, after you’ve attained the level of Expert for that specific item you’re sufficiently capable of making the item that you can instead optimize for either advanced knowledge or faster production.
Beginning at Expert level a slider will appear on your crafting UI which begins in the middle with "Quality," and then extends to the left and right toward two different values. To the left is "Research", and to the right is "Production". Where you put the value of that slider affects many different aspects of the particular crafting or material processing you're about to do. It effects:
- Whether or not you have the potential to discover something
- How much fatigue you have after crafting an item
- The cost of performing the crafting or processing in terms of resources
- How severe the risk of failure
Move the slider more to the left and you’ll have a higher chance to discover something. Move the slider to the right and you’ll suffer less fatigue from the crafting process and will be able to push out more items more quickly.
Regardless of which direction you adjust the slider, doing so will cost you more resources and also increases the risk that you’ll experiment or work beyond your capabilities and end up destroying your resources, or worse, injuring yourself! After all, one of the biggest blockers of innovation and automation is personal risk.
Risk vs. Reward for Producers & Gatherers
While Champions and Explorers are often seen as the heroic characters in the world, Producers and Gatherers are no less important. While Producers never have to leave the safety of the village, there’s still ways for them to take risk, and as a result, change the outcome of the overall story. The further you move the slider to the left or right on the Research vs. Production bar the more risk you take.
Initially, you may just be risking the loss of materials and perhaps the destruction of your tools, but by moving the slider out further you risk the loss of your building, personal injury, and maybe even death.
But, as with adventuring, with great risk comes great reward. If you regularly go out on a limb to push the boundary of innovation, you can expect to achieve greatness within the technological community.
Necessity is the Mother of Invention
When trying to decide how a game mechanic should work, I often look to our reality for hints and guidance. In the case of Technology & Research, innovation in our world has often occurred as a result of effort to solve a specific problem. At the same time, new ideas and technology often happen due to experimentation, trial, and effort.
In Chronicles of Elyria, we mimic this behavior by allowing players to determine which types of problems they want to solve. Any time you move the “Research vs. Production” slider to the left of center a button becomes active which, when clicked, gives you a list of problems you’d like to solve or things you’d like to investigate with respect to the item you’re creating. This is one of the most exciting parts of this system as the list is dynamic and changes based on several different triggers!
Event-Driven Triggers: You may have the option to research new technology based on changing world state such as the advancement of the story or going to war with another kingdom.
Skill & Mastery-Driven Triggers: If you get specific skills to a certain mastery, the synergy between the different skills may provide you with additional research opportunities. For example, achieving mastery in certain carpentry and tailoring skills may provide you the opportunity to research interesting new technologies.
Resource-Driven Triggers: Having multiple resources in your inventory that can be combined together in new and unique ways can often provide you the ability to do research. For example, if you’ve got copper and tin ore in your inventory and attempt to make a copper bar, you may be able to research bronze.
Location-Driven Triggers: Some technologies require characters to be in specific locations in order to unlock specific technologies. This makes sense intuitively. After all, it doesn't really make sense for someone who's land-locked to be researching boat-making.
Based on this system, there is some amount of meta-game thinking allowed. We want players who understand the relationship between certain materials, the components they make, and the final product to play a role. If I, as a player, know how to construct a telescope, I should be able to use that information when guiding what I research to eventually lead to the discovery of a telescope.
Another important thing to note about this system is we may provide a large number of prompts, across a wide number of skills without actually having the assets or mechanics in place to support the research players are doing. But, by monitoring and observing what players are researching it communicates to us what the players’ interests are and can push us to implement additional technologies.
Guilds & Educational Institutions
While it's possible to do research or increase production on your own, it's much easier to do so if you're part of a guild or educational institute. Guilds and Schools often have advanced versions of the crafting stations which allow added benefits.
Schools often have crafting stations which allow for safer research while guilds may have versions that allow for safer mass-production. As well, if you do research as part of a guild or school, your ability to discover something is based not only on the time you've spent in research, but also the time everyone else in your guild or school has spent in research. This can result in dramatically increased chance of discovery.
There is a trade-off, however. If you perform research on the equipment of an organization, such as a Guild or School, you're implicitly agreeing to share all discoveries you make with the institution. The effect is quite different depending on the institution. If you make a discovery as part of school, they will turn around and make the information freely available to everyone. On the other hand, a Guild will often go and Patent the technology, granting them sole and exclusive rights to utilize the new knowledge.
Patents & Implicit Contracts
Patents are a Kingdom-wide system that allows non-royalty or nobility to create laws through implicit contracts. These implicit contracts prevent others from crafting an item or processing a resource without breaking a patent law. Can others still do it if they know how? Sure! While Patents protect the investment someone has made in researching a technology, it's still up to the individual to enforce the implicit contract.
Patents give the owner exclusive rights to use a technology for a period of three real-world weeks. After the first three-week period of time the owner can request an extension for another three weeks, however this is often very expensive. After the full six-week period of time, or if the owner chooses not to file for an extension, the patent falls off and it becomes acceptable for anyone to create the technology.