Knowing your craft – A story of iterating on a crafting system

By @ 10/17/12 in articles

The four straight hours of drinking red wine and plugging ideas for things you could craft into an Excel spreadsheet felt very productive indeed.

Neither the Minecraft system of putting things in a grid nor the mini-game mechanics of other craft-centric titles was the right fit for us, necessitating too much guesswork for the impatient iPhone user. We instead opted for having items be more specific than their raw materials, opting for the ability to create a long wooden pole or short wooden pole (for example), rather than placing a different number of ‘wood’ items in a line.

Six months later, we actually had XML data files in place and could start plugging those items into our engine. One at a time, we began to weed out the ones which were superfluous (shrubbery), redundant (gold-tinted, wood-handled copper axe) or just plain silly (advanced fishing rod).

Lo, the ditched items were buried, but not forgotten, fodder perhaps for some future update to the game once we’ve launched.


Then we turned to the user interface to actually figure out how to make it all work. Being a big fan of rather silly but quirkily addictive touch mechanics, I suggested we have an interface where, once the appropriate items had been selected, you actually pull a big medieval-looking lever.

So the plan was in place – the four item maximum had been reduced to three (for screen real estate purposes), and a giant working lever replete with sound effects was to be employed.

Problem: What do we do when an item has the same ingredients as another item, but differs in quantity? Do we ask people to drop multiples of the same item? Do we make it automatic? Do we ensure that no two items have the same recipe?

The latter of these solutions seemed to be the hardest, so we came up with an alternative solution where, once you have selected your items and pulled the lever, two potential crafted items appear on screen and you can select the one you wanted to make.

A bout of playtesting with this mechanic in place, however, made it painfully obvious that the motion of pulling the lever carried with it a sense of finality, with many people skipping the selection process entirely and not knowing they hadn’t actually completed the crafting process.

We pouted.

And grimaced.

Something had to be done.

The lever had to be the end point, as it was universally loved, even if a little silly.

Upon further examination, we realised that the quantity mechanic was still as cumbersome as before (guessing precisely how many wooden planks you’d need for a shelf, for example, is just as horrific a bunch of nasty guesswork as the grid system in Minecraft), which left us with one other option: one recipe for each item only.

Thus, my hair was torn asunder, deracinated if you will, as we spent considerable time white-boarding a new system whereby no two items could be crafted using the same combination of items. Unless, that is, you were working on a different crafting bench (workbench, furnace, blacksmith’s bench etc), which gave us some decent lateral movement at least.

Behold, our great work of white-boardery above! (Excellent. Now we don’t need to release a strategy guide… — Rohan)

So here we are, bleary on account of the IGDA Beer and Pixels event last night, attacking the mechanic with all the zombified vitriol of a Tony Robbins enthusiast, attempting to rub out the final selection screen part and give all y’all a crafting mechanic worthy of your time. Of our time. Of the Flat Earth name. Of life itself!!!

(I think Leigh should drink less coffee. –Rohan)


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