Tobold's Blog
Monday, December 05, 2011
SWTOR companion crafting

Skeleton Jack has a guide to SWTOR crafting, so I will not write a lengthy description of how crafting works in Star Wars: The Old Republic. What I would rather talk about is *why* crafting works like this, and why it might be a better system than some other MMORPGs have.

Crafting is the creation of items without the direct involvement of combat. That definition also tells you the principal problem of crafting in an MMORPG: It competes with getting items from looting. If you could craft the same epic item that some raid boss drops, there would be a diminished interest in raiding. But if you can't craft anything half decent, then why bother with crafting at all? Thus MMORPGs over the years have used a lot of half-baked crafting systems and always had problems getting the balance between items from crafting and items from adventuring right. One typical bad solution is to make crafting indirectly depending on combat: The epic you can craft needs a recipe or component that only drops from the raid boss. Unfortunately that of course removes all the interest in crafting from the people who were interested in it *because* they saw it as a chance to get good items without having to raid.

To allow a crafting system to produce items which are useful, the design of that crafting system has to contain some sort of obstacle to overcome; otherwise players can just mass-produce more of those items than anybody needs, and the value of crafted items tends towards zero. Many games use a system of crafting skill points and the difficulty of gathering resources as obstacles. That does not work very well, because at the same time gathered resources and crafted items are the basis for the player-run economy. Thus if armed with a sufficiently large stack of gold, a character can level up a crafting skill from zero to level cap epics in an afternoon, just running between auction house, mailbox, and crafting station. By making the obstacle based on a tradable currency, players can make crafting trivial by obtaining that currency via higher level characters or even from gold farmers.

So what obstacle, what non-tradable currency could be used to make it impossible to take shortcuts on crafting? Time! Time is the ultimate currency in all MMORPGs and other online games, because each of us only has 24 hours a day. While "time spent playing" can vary by an order of magnitude between players, that is still better than gold, which can vary by several orders of magnitude. And once you make the obstacle mostly real time instead of time spent playing, everybody is equal.

And this is how companion crafting in SWTOR works: To gather a resource or craft an item, you have to send your companion away for some time. I only experienced low level crafting in the beta weekend, where that time was some minutes. But that could easily be expanded to hours or even days for crafting an epic. As an added obstacle, you don't have your companion available to help you fighting as long as he is out crafting or gathering (although I don't know how that is handled once you get several companions. Can you craft with one and fight with the help of another?). Crafting also needs credits in SWTOR, but I would guess that the time requirement will be the main obstacle. While there will be undoubtedly "SWTOR crafting guides" to be found on the internet plotting the fastest path to maximum skill, somewhere in that guide it will say how many hours and days that takes minimum. And as there is no queuing of crafting commands, players will even take much longer than this minimum theoretical duration, because if their companion returns while they are offline, they can't send him again before logging in again. If you wanted half a dozen "crafting alts", you'd be busy all day just logging between characters.

I do think this is a very good system. Yes, it will annoy some people who want instant gratification. But it will allow others to actually craft items of value. And it will make crafting an important part of your main character, instead of being a task outsourced to an alt. I believe that crafting in SWTOR will be a lot more meaningful than in many other games. And that is quite an achievement.

Can you craft with one and fight with the help of another?

Hi Tobold,

Yes, there is queueing. Each companion can queue up to 5 items to craft and you can repeat this on any other companions concurrently.

So in theory, by the time you get all your companions, you could have 25 things on the go at the same time!
Also, companions go away if there's no room in a group, so if you're doing group content your companions will most likely be free for crafting.
In the Beta weekend, I got my arm skill to a bit over 200. You could craft with one companion and have the other one (you have 5 @ maxlevel, but only one can accompany you at any one time) with you, including fighting. And you can queue up to 5 crafting (not gathering) requests for each companion. I.e., queue up 5 items for Mako and 5 for your never-leave-the-ship droid in order to get ten made faster.

It's not a bad system; I'm looking forward to trying it out.. Whether one considers it slightly more or less sophisticated than WoW is probably influenced by your biases. (If you include the add ons, API, Mobile AH and external web sites (e.g. Undermine Journal), then TOR is quite a bit less sophisticated that WoW for serious crafters. Of course, it is a big disappointment in that the crafting is so light. OTOH, that is not surprising, especially for a 1.0.

It seems to be a very good crafting for people who don't want to craft. Alas, it seems like the limiting resource on Crafting is essentially Farmville. Someone who checks their crops (companion crafting) more frequently will harvest more/level faster than someone who checks less frequently.

Ten days until Early Access and we shall see.
Can't help but drop an obligatory EvE reference in here:

Because of the constant destruction that is inherent in every aspect of EvE, combined with the open market that it offers, crafting never becomes a pointless exercise. Instead it is a whole separate game within EvE with thousands of people competing to provide the items that people need.

No other game in my experience has come up with a better way to keep the crafting profession viable, although I do realise that full loss open world PvP is certainly not for everyone.
As Hagu points out, this system sounds fine for people who don't actually want to craft, just want to receive the benefits of having crafted.

How does SW:ToR cater for players who see crafting as the main gameplay, though? I've met a lot of MMO players over the years who only play to craft and craft because they like crafting, not because they have any particular interest in using what they make. Handing that off to a Companion doesn't sound like a satisfying option for that demographic.
Note, too that in SWTOR, to get better-than-green items, you have to tear apart green items you create.

For a concrete example:

As an Artificer, i was able to make "blue in color" lightsaber crystals that improved my critical strike rating. These items were "green" rarity - that is: "uncommon". In order to learn the recipe for the "rare" version of the same crystal, I had to create and tear apart several "green" rarity green-critical-crystals. This eventually gave me a much better blue-quality green-critical-crystal recipe. (in early crafting, the uncommon recipe was, IIRC, +2 to Crit rating; the rare recipe was +3 - which is significant, below level 17.)

When I got the next tier of crafting, I was given NO blue-quality-recipes - each one has to be built and worked with to create improved items.

Plus, any item you get can potentially give you a new recipe - I never did, for instance, learn the Orange power crystal recipe, despite tearing apart four or five I found over the course of adventuring.

I'm not sure how this'll work out at higher level, but it's definitely going to be interesting to see how it develops, and how this system balances.
The way I see it, TOR has a better crafting system than the basic vanilla system we know in almost all MMOs, headed up by WoW.

But it feels like it is just a smidge away from a truly good crafting system. It almost hurts because it is really SOOOOOOO close, with so many nice ideas, but still feels kind of generic.
That's not that different from WoW.

To level my inscription, the only reasonable way was to craft a new recipee, something you can only do once a day.

But yes, getting crafting right is hard. I still remember crafting a clothes set for my warlock. It was so good I didn't want any of the epics for at least an entire instance.
I refrained from an EVE reference out of deference to our host, but will comment on @Mike. I do not see the uniqueness of EVE being the destruction, as much as CCP's goal of having "everything" (or at least as much as possible) player created. That is a fundamentally different paradigm than stuff drops but we put in an "elder gaming" crafting that will appeal to a few people but want everyone to know the good stuff comes from Pv[EP].

But upon reflection, perhaps the real crafting system was Second Life. You could actually design and create new objects, not just objects the developer put in.. The fact that someone, within the rules, made over a million RL$ doing that in 2006 adds to the cache. Of course, the TTP was quite low.
It's a decent system, and it suits the theme. The galactic hero has far more pressing demands than flying around planets picking flowers. In particular, it's amusing to see something like Diplomacy as a gathering profession.

It also seems designed to put a bit of a brake on goblinism. Which is a good thing for us moochers and slackers. :)

Mechanically, I will admit, however, to enjoying traditional in-person gathering and crafting a little more. I like doing non-directed things "in the world" and one of my latest worries concerning SW:TOR is that it might succumb to the lobby game syndrome if the lower-level planets don't offer some reason to return.
As Carra already mentioned, WOW has similar time components to crafting. For instance, tailors can only make one of each type of dreamcloth a week. Transmutations are one a day for alchemists. and if you're a blacksmith, well, truegold is on a cooldown, as well.
You can still harvest some items in the world as you go if you dont want to send out your companions, though I think that depends on the gathering type.

Bioanalsis I saw could be used on creatures I killed and I could scavenge from Droids.

Very similar in mechanics to WoW but with the companion crafting and access to recipes I think it will have the added factor that crafters like.
sullasalannah said...

... Hey, Sull? I may be late in mentioning this, but - there /are/ nodes out in the world for gethering professions.

They don't "unlock for use" until you have a companion, but they are out there.
There's two main objections (other than the already mentioned artificial time barriers already in place for WoW crafting) to the "more meaningful crafting" claim I think.

1) Even if there is less supply, if all I can make in the early/mid levels are Noob Weapons of +1 Badness that anyone can get better of by doing quests/group activities, demand will still be very low. Except for the few blues that leatherworking, blacksmithing, etc. could create, not only did everyone mass produce them but no one wanted them.

2) It's still not crafting. I remember reading your reviews of A Tale in the Desert and how excited you were that you actually crafted things to level your crafting skills, not just clicked the craft button (or now in TOR just tell your companion to make it).

I think there are other ways they could do time limited crafting. One way off the top of my head is this: After doing a certain quest for Miner Bob, you can buy an instanced section of the mine from him. As you do more quests (say for example clear out more of the mine), then you can buy areas with better ore. Then, every X time, you can go in and mine Y amount of that ore. Make the ore soulbound or something to that effect, and now you're limited to the spawn rate of the ore.
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