It’ll only hurt for the first 20 levels, honest

I should be used to the blogger hive mind by now, but it’s still occasionally surprising. Wolfshead recently recorded (on Twitter) that he’d got his first character through to level 20 crafting in EQ2, and noted immediately how much easier crafting becomes when you hit 20 — which led him to wonder why it’s so damned hard in the first 20 levels to begin with.

It’s something I’ve been pondering recently because I — quite accidentally, I assure you — ended up with 2 accounts in EQ2, my old full-of-crafters account and a new, soon to be full-of-crafters account. Which means I’ve been levelling several new crafters, mostly to cover the professions I don’t have on the old account, but also because I just plain enjoy crafting. Understand it or not, it’s a fact.

One thing I don’t enjoy, however, is levels 1-20 crafting in EQ2. Well, technically it’s levels 1-9 and 10-19. Did you know that the friendly book selling crafting tutor will automagically *poof* you from 9 to 10 and from 19 to 20 if you talk to him at those levels? It’s because you have to choose a sub-profession at 10 and a specialty at 20 (so you do it at 9 and you get bumped up, don’t ask me how that makes sense), but I’m pretty sure that isn’t mentioned anywhere. Then again, it’s been a good 3+ years since I read any quest text relating to crafting, so for all I know it’s spelled out in fancy neon letters, but I sure haven’t noticed it. Seriously, in any DIKU type MMO, a FREE LEVEL is like Christmas; two FREE LEVELS! are like Christmas and Thanksgiving rolled into one, and not making it glaringly obvious as an option is just weird. (Also typical of EQ2. Not that the devs want to hide things from the players, though for all I know they do /tinfoilhat — but more because it’s such a huge, rambling, varied sprawl of a game I bet nobody has a complete handle on it anymore, not even its designers.)

Even so, that’s an almost-score of tedious, difficult, and certainly frustrating levels if you’re a newcomer to crafting in EQ2 and don’t know that when you hit 20, it’s all downhill from there. Grindy and long, certainly, but not nearly as difficult. Here’s why:

In EQ2, crafting recipes require that a certain amount of progress (blue bar) be achieved before a certain amount of durability (green bar) is lost; in the vanilla client this is broken down into 4 “stages” – 4 bars stacked above each other with progress moving from left to right, top to bottom, and durability doing the opposite – but crafting is really a continuous process. At the end of each 4-second “round” of crafting there’s a success-roll and a corresponding change in the progress/durability situation; you can get critical successes, critical failures, and a whole gamut of results in between, with the base (unmodified) result being -10 durability, +50 progress. Each round, the player can use up to three arts that will affect durability and/or progress. It’s simple enough once you get the hang of it: make the blue bar go up while preventing the green bar from going down.

craftwindow

These crafting arts get automatically upgraded as you level your crafting profession — every 20 levels (20, 40, 60, 80). So, as is fairly logical in MMOs, your skills/arts improve as you level. What doesn’t change, and this is why crafting is so much harder from 1-20, is how hard a recipe is to make (I’m pretty sure base difficulty is relative to crafter level / recipe level, so levels don’t alter that)  and how much progress you need to get to complete an item. I’m sure there are some recipes that vary from the norm, but in general, a recipe needs something like 1100 progress to complete — 400 to fill the first bar, 200 for each of the next 2 bars, and 300-ish (I can never remember this last one) to complete the final progress bar. Whether you’re making a tin flail at level 5 or a ferrite flail at level 75, you’ll need to get upward of 1000 progress to complete the item. The difference is, at level 5 your crafting arts are — how do I put this delicately? — crap. They’re just good enough to keep you from totally flubbing items IF you craft defensively (work durability for all you’re worth), watch the random results, and get lucky. Because the random results don’t change either — base round result at level 5 is -10 durability / +50 progress; base round result at level 75 is, you guessed it, -10 durability / +50 progress.

Having a -50 durability / -30 progress round “roll” result at level 75 isn’t such a big deal, because your crafting arts can mitigate that durability (and/or progress) loss almost entirely, so you’ll end up with something like -3 durability / +20 progress, or +18 durability / -8 progress and so on, depending on what combination of +dur/+progress arts you’re using. At level 5, however, when your arts tend to add a measly 8 or 9 progress or durability, you’re constantly trying to stave off disaster and a bad “roll” on a given round hurts you a lot more.

So basically, making stuff stays at about the same base difficulty no matter what level you are in EQ2 crafting, but how well you can react to it changes as you level up. Which is why low-level crafting is a frustrating pain in the butt and high level crafting is a breeze.

And yes, that’s back-assward. I understand why it is how it is, but it’s still extremely off-putting for newcomers and to my mind, it explains why so many people try crafting in EQ2 and go “ewww! I think I’d rather go get a root canal!” Having gone through the 1-20 stage many times, I know it gets better, but what if it’s the first time you’ve ever tried crafting in EQ2 — or, god forbid, the first time you’ve ever tried crafting in any MMO? Yikes.

And, so that I’m not just complaining without offering solutions, here’s what I’d do, though it would mean changing the basic “one size fits all” recipe design in the game: Make recipes require a variable amount of progress to complete depending on their level. A level 5 recipe shouldn’t require exactly the same amount of progress as a level 75 recipe — that’s just daft. Understandable design (and, I’m sure, much easier maintenance over time), but still daft.

From where I sit in my comfy armchair, it’s the easiest thing to change without messing with the whole system. You wouldn’t have to change the reaction arts or their values; you wouldn’t have to change the basic 4-second “round” system, with its random result that can be modified by applying one’s arts. Actually scratch that — I have no idea whether it really would be easy to change. Let’s say, it’s the most relevant thing to change in order to change the newbie crafting experience in EQ2. Even if all you did was make level 1-9 recipes require say 600 progress and level 10-19 recipes require 800 progress — you’re still shaving off a whole lot of frustration and irritation without substantively changing the experience. Besides, we’re MMO players, we expect things to get harder as we level, so needing more progress as you level up isn’t going to shock anyone.

Crafting is such a complete and well fleshed-out activity in EQ2 that it deserves better treatment in its first 20 levels, and players deserve a better chance to see that it can be fun and engaging (I’m not talking about the act-of-crafting system, which is average, but about the whole crafting metagame). EQ2 is one of the few games that takes its crafter population seriously, almost on par with adventurers, and where crafting is not just something you do when you can’t find a group. Being a crafter is a valid playstyle choice in EQ2, much like it is in EVE (which actually takes the whole thing even further) and a few other games. So having such a frustrating 1-2 hour (if you’re me, probably 1-4 if you’re new to crafting) induction to crafting itself is not smart, and will rebuff people who might really enjoy it.

Not that I expect this to change. Crafting has received a bunch of dev-passes over the years, but the basic crafting mechanic (rounds, use arts, result roll) is exactly the same, including the whole how-much-progress-to-finish thing. Making changes to it would require using resources that could otherwise be used on content and who knows what else, and I’m sure EQ2 doesn’t have a million (or even one) spare devs/design types running around with nothing else to do. So instead, the community relies on being able to assure newcomers that it gets easier after 20… provided the newcomers know (or think) to ask, which they shouldn’t have to do in the first place.

– – –

EDIT — I should know better by now than to hope I’ve made myself clear in these posts.  There’s clarity, and then there’s me, and we don’t seem to mix when I write. So, some clarifications:

— I am NOT saying that crafting in EQ2 is difficult or that levels 1-20 take a long time (what with rest xp and first-crafts, they really don’t), I’m saying it’s difficult for newcomers to get to grips with (which is slightly tangential to this post) and that it’s a much more difficult experience than the levels after 20. It’s harder to make pristine items. It takes longer, because your arts suck. That’s it.

— I am NOT saying that I had a hard time crafting in EQ2 OR that I dislike the system or the metagame. I had some difficulties getting the hang of it when we started in 2005, but believe me when I say it’s been a long, long time since I had any trouble with it. Even back then, once you master the whack-a-mole system it uses to counter random events, and once you work out that you can use three reaction arts every turn whether you need to or not, you have to work really hard (or not be watching the crafting, which is not something I do) to fail — or, in the case of the older system, to get anything but a pristine result.

— I’m also not discussing crafting in EQ2 in general, since I have enough to say on the subject that it wouldn’t fit into a single post. I have an opinion about the system and its various subsystems and mechanics, but again, that wasn’t what I was trying to write about.

Apologies as I once again fail to say what’s in my head and end up saying something completely different, apparently. 😉

16 responses to “It’ll only hurt for the first 20 levels, honest

  1. Pingback: West Karana » Daily Blogroll 8/12 – Dominix edition·

  2. There are several things going on here.

    First, each individual item takes longer to make, but the levels really fly by as well. During the last bonus weekend, I think I averaged two first pristine combines PER LEVEL in the 10-19 bracket.

    Second, for better or worse, there is a certain degree of interconnection between crafting and adventuring. Adventuring levels 1-9 fly by incredibly quickly and 10-19 go almost as quickly. They don’t want to dig a huge hole for players trying to pick up crafting as they level, especially since your adventuring is probably going to have a headstart unless you specifically know where to go to seek out crafting before you start leveling. For example, the game is designed to have players leave the first part of Timorous Deep at 5/55 in all six harvesting skills, which is painful to repair in later parts of the zone.

    Finally, I actually PREFER the long and challenging combines. The thing that gets very mind numbing in the 70’s is that it is very very hard to actually fail a combine because, as you pointed out, your reaction arts will cover for any mistakes you make. I probably craft 20% faster if I’m paying attention instead of spamming random reaction arts, but sometimes that tradeoff doesn’t feel especially worthwhile. By contrast, level 1 crafting requires – and benefits from – my full attention.

    There was a discussion of more impactful reaction events on the official forums, and Domino jumped in to say that there was a limit to how aggressive she could get with reactions without disturbing semi-unattended crafting. I like the rest of her work, but this comment made me sad. When players are spacing out during crafting, it’s because the difficulty is too low in the context of the sheer volume of items that players need to craft – probably 100 items per level in the 70’s, or stacks of consumables at two items per combine. The solution to that problem is to make the crafting both more dangerous and more rewarding, not to move it closer to WoW and LOTRO’s “click button, watch progress bar, collect item” model.

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    • “The solution to that problem is to make the crafting both more dangerous and more rewarding, not to move it closer to WoW and LOTRO’s “click button, watch progress bar, collect item” model.”

      That was really the last thing I was trying to suggest. All the same, there’s a disconnect between how hard levels 1-20 can seem (regardless of how fast they go by) and how much easier it appears to become past 20. That’s not a good thing for inducing new players to try crafting. It’s also not a good thing for crafting at the higher levels, as you point out.

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    • Domino’s comment on semi-unattended crafting is due to 1) the social crafter — the person who is using zer crafting time to chat in guild and chat channels (or perhaps using zer chatting time to craft) and 2.) the distracted crafter — the person who is crafting while also cooking dinner, keeping an ear out for a currently-sleeping baby — things that would interfere with adventuring, but which crafting can be worked around. She’s not really trying to accommodate the zoned-out crafter so much as the one who is crafting because that’s the gameplay that is doable while distracted.

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  3. I didn’t find the first twenty levels (of the recent version of crafting) difficult, I found that you had little control over the end product or chance of success.

    This is really what you get access to later and once you have that? It’s a joke how easy it is.

    The problem with the lower level craft is that you only ever get abilities that take away durability for progress which means you’re not as equiped to affect the durability (resulting in quality) of the product in a positive way.

    It’s not harder. It’s just sort of silly.

    Yes, you can mash your buttons but at that level it’s not necessarily a good thing.

    Once you get the abilities (I believe this is after 20) to increase durability at the cost of some progress, you don’t need to use the other ones at all.

    Easy mode: Just use the ones that increase durability because your chances of not making any progress are incredibly low. And if you don’t make progress (very rare) you’re durability is still full so you’ve got all the time in the world.

    Really, the only challenge to crafting is finding the materials (heh), finding the recipes (heh) and not falling asleep while watching those bars.

    Yes, you can use the ones that eat durability for a high amount of progress then use the durability increasing ones to speed up the process.

    You also don’t need to just fire one ability. You could mash two progress increasers and one good durability increaser and get ahead. I’ve even gone through entire creation of an item without hitting the button that matched the ‘complication’ and still succeeded.

    Again. It’s not challenging or difficult, it’s simply random and you’re ill equiped in the first 20 levels.

    You know I hate crafting, but this system is pretty bad. It’s a big timesink after 20 because you can guarantee the quality of the product so you’re really just going through the motions and wasting time.

    I’m aware the same can be said about leveling in WoW, I know. I don’t disagree. I still say the journey from 1-80 in WoW (or other games) offers more than sitting in a dark instance looking at those four bars.

    Unless you’re being social. It’s a good time to chat with folks if you have them available but that’s not why I play these games but it is no less a valid reason.

    How’s that for being PC?

    I actually think VG had one of the better systems even though I always got bugged during the tutorial and could never continue (CS Help – abandon the quest and do it again).

    With that system (it was similar to EQ2) you had stages for creating the object and you could spend points on each of the stages which would impact the end result. There were complications as well, but you needed more of a plan than 1,2,3 – oh, that icon, push 2, 1, 3 since you had a limited resource. You also had to prepare which tools to use ahead of time which made it a little different. It also made more items available to characters allowing crafters to chase gear a little too – crafting rewards aside from an end product?! Awesome!.

    EQ2’s system doesn’t cost near enough mana and some classes can circumvent that with buffs and anyone could use decent drinks.

    It’s a disappointing system, really. Now if each recipe had variation to it or required more immediate reactions (sort of like a Simon Says game) it might be considered challenging or require people to pay attention :$

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    • I have to disagree with you entirely — once you know the crafting system in EQ2 and learn to hit those 3 arts each crafting round, it’s actually almost impossible NOT to make something pristine first time, every time.

      The only time I *ever* fail a crafting action is in the new crafting instances, which uses a slightly different set of arts and a much nastier set of penalties if you fail to counter an event properly. Those places have brought back the “death by forge!” JC mentions below, which is a good thing. (You don’t have to do the instances and you don’t have to fail to pay attention – if you go in and actually watch what you’re doing, failed counters are more a case of failed muscle memory or inattention than anything else.)

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      • Isn’t that what I said?

        Ultimately it ends up being trivial to make things and there is little risk of failure if and the only danger is falling asleep at the keyboard? :$

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        • My bad. I totally read “really hard” instead of “really easy” — and I read it twice.

          /stares suspiciously at coffee cup

          I need more caffeine, more quickly! Anyone got a spare IV drip bag & hook system? Must have wheels.

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    • Oh, and as regards VG — I got several crafters to 50 (which was the cap back then) and really, the system seemed innovative but turned out to be just as grindy as any other crafting system out there.

      Most game systems are grindy. Adventuring is grindy, but it’s less noticeable for the most part because you’re not standing there like a lemon, you actually get to run about and grind. Crafting just throws its grindiness in your face and dares you to complain about it.

      My other beef with VG’s system was that (at the time, back in 2007) you had to carry around a CRAPTON of crafting stuff. Resources, if you wanted to make real items (but you wouldn’t be grinding those so it was ok), but the big pack-busters were all the glues, threads, rocks, salt, turpentine and whateverallelse the stuff was called that you had to use to counter those events you speak of.

      And again, once you’d mastered the system, it was a lot less interactive and a lot more automatic than you’d think.

      Not saying it was bad (no worse than just about any other non click-once-to-create system), but it wasn’t the innovation it might have seemed. A step on the way, maybe.

      I was a Vangirl for a long time, so I’m not pulling this out of my crafting backside. 😉

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  4. Bring back “Death by Forge!”

    Used to be the 2nd most common killer of player, only behind the dreaded “Small Treasure Chest.” Those traps were killer — literally.

    I kinda have to agree on the low level grindy thing being offputting. I have a character I intend(ed?) to make a sage. I have tons of crafting mats stocked in her bank waiting for her to use and. . . .she’s been a level 12 scholar for over 2 years. Heck, I can’t even bring myself to get my level 72 provisioner to 80. Yet I love my 80 jeweler, go figure. But yeah… I just have a hard time even wanting to get any toon to 20 crafting. I do have a 22 alchemist (leveled when subcombines were still necessary) a 21 tailor, 28 armorsmith, and a 20 woodworker, but I’ve never felt compelled to level them up either in spite of getting them all “over the hump” as it were.

    Guess I’m just not really a crafter at heart.

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  5. Oddly enough, though I agree with your final suggestions, I’ve never found 1-19 that much of a trial. Similar to how you ae heading, I have two accounts both laden with crafters (I always love crafting more than adventuring).

    That said, one of the reasons I don’t find it difficult is because I’m used to the foibles – yes, I know and use the auto-leveling at 9 and 19, and I also tend to have stacks of stashed raw and rare harvests – and I make a fair amount of even T1 Mastercrafted). Remember, it used to be worse when we didn’t even have the durability buffs in T1.

    One thing that isn’t properly covered in the tutorials is that you can use the crafting-buff skills even when there isn’t an event to counter. A lot of new folk seem to struggle til they learn that. That, and the timing of the buffs (you can fit all three types into one ‘craft-period’, with time to spare even if you have to wait for one to refresh etc)

    However, my gripe is actually with the cost of the T2 (10-19) Advanced books on the Broker. Some of them are extortionate.

    I’m taking a brief sabbatical from EQ2, purely from RL piling the work on, though my accounts (both Station Access) still await me.

    I’m trying to put together a better system for crafting from the ground up for something I’m designing (players can be pure crafters, adventurers or both), but distractions keep getting in the way. f you’d be willing to Blog about possible methods, I’d certainly be interested.

    Yours,

    Elkestra
    (Ann-Marie)

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  6. A couple thoughts. First, for leveling from 1-10, I thought the introductory crafting quests got you most of the way there, so the grind should really be from 10-19. But it is a bit of a grind.

    The second is about Green Armadillo’s comment about Domino’s comment about not being able to make crafting too hard. Does anyone remember the uproar about the tradeskill instances being too hard? In those, you really do have to pay attention or you’ll never make anything. I even managed to suffer “death by forge” once. I’m almost at the point I need to go back to the tradeskill instances to gear up my army of crafting alts for the next expansion and I hope they haven’t nerfed the difficulty.

    And your right in your conclusion that people learning to craft shouldn’t have to rely on the player base to reassure them about crafting. I’m in a crafting heavy guild and we actually wrote a book on how to use the reaction arts that’s proven helpful to people. Why can’t SOE put that kind of thing in the in-game help?

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    • Heh, see my comment above on those. So far, they haven’t been made any easier that I can tell. Nor should they be – there’s plenty of gear available from the instances themselves (the +10% success chance weapon-slot tools), from the Far Seas vendor (+skill crafting clothing) and from tinkers (+1 to +3% success chance bonus at least, and there may be one more we haven’t reached yet).

      My evaluation so far of stuff that helps you craft is that those success chance items are the bomb, because they reduce the number of grumble-sequences you can get — you know, where for 3-8 rounds it’s nothing but “brrm! lose stuff! brrrm! lose more stuff! brrrrm! ahahah you pathetic weakling crafter! brrrrrm!” (and so on). +craft skill clothing ain’t bad either, but from practical experience it seems that once you can bump your non-tree skill past 50 (they’re at 49 to begin with) and your non-specialist skills past 100 (they’re at 99), any more doesn’t make as noticeable a difference as the +success stuff does. That’s because the recipes are level 69-70, so ~350 skill to make, and whether you have 51 skill or 61 isn’t going to make a huge diff, and there’s only so much clothing you can wear.

      That book on crafting sounds really interesting! I’ve been meaning to do an EQ2 basic crafter’s guide for some time, but I’m a slacker. 😛 All I’ve done so far is taken the screenshots.

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  7. Wow, all those crafters? Why do you even spend your time crafting? It’s such a waste. You’re not even really playing the game at that point. You might as well play tetris.

    I mean, do you get any fabled loot from crafting? NO. Therefore, what’s the point? You casuals just don’t get it and really never will.

    (OMG I’m kidding everyone).

    But seriously Ysh, after you fill all the slots up on your new account if you still have the bug I don’t have ANY crafters and you can craft my toons up!

    Well I do have a 400 tinkerer but my wife did that for me :p

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  8. Most of this seems to be jumping ahead of the basic questions. Ysh, you say you “understand why it is how it is.” Why?

    Should being an apprentice and learning the basics of the trade (as a game and as a roleplay simulation) be harder than being a master? or vis versa?

    I don’t think there’s an obvious answer. Yes, masters do crazy-hard stuff, but they’ve also naturalized most habits and strategies. Masters are more likely than beginners to feel flow. Beginners have to think about what they’re doing, rather than what they’re making.

    As a simulation, the beginning levels should be hard. But, as a game, the early levels should be easier. Perhaps that is at the heart of the problem — trying to balance the game elements and simulation elements. What do you think?

    Anyway, I agree that it’s ridiculous making beginners and experts reach the same amount of points to craft an item. It makes designing the system easier for the devs, but doesn’t do justice to the players.

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    • Eh no, what I really meant is, I understand why it’s that way because of how it fits into the overall crafting system.

      Basically, it’s one size fits all. Recipes always take more or less the same amount of progress to complete, and more or less the same amount of skill (i.e. your level relative to the recipe’s level)m and the baseline “round” result is -10dur/+50 progress — the only thing that changes is how good your reaction arts are. Those start off crap and get progressively better, so logically it gets progressively easier to make stuff. Not counting player experience and knowing what you’re doing and so on. On a pure numbers basis, a level 1-20 crafting art that does +8 durability/-10 progress is a lot worse than one that does +20 durability/-10 progress, especially when the base tick (or round) result doesn’t change as you go up.

      All that changes is your ability to modify those base numbers.

      In comparison to other existing crafting systems (we’re not talking theory here, that’d need a whole week of posts), EQ2 is a little better than most but not really different.

      It just seems counterproductive to make it harder to start — especially since EQ2 crafting is tough enough to get your head around, given that there are 9 crafting professions, 8 “tiers” of recipes, and a crapton of harvesting things you need to know about as well.

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