Procrastination Amplification: Punditry on MMOs and games in general.

How Not to Do Crafting: New Vegas Edition

So I finally managed to get some hours of Fallout: New Vegas in and despite the initial awkwardness I must say I’m intrigued once again. That said, the crafting system is atrocious. I mean sure, technically it is similar to the system used in Fallout 3 (something that can be said about most of NV actually), but there it was hidden and pretty much non-intrusive. In Fallout: New Vegas – not so much.

From time to time game designers get the idea that it would be great if players could use every item they find (or at least a large percentage of those) for crafting purposes. They then put in all kinds of junk into the game that can be dropped by enemies and has some use in some obscure recipe. Players will run through the world and see crafting ingredients literally everywhere. As a player you get three choices: don’t bother with the crafting system, look up crafting recipes with interesting results (online or in-game) and collect with a clear goal in mind, or collect everything, clutter your inventory and hope to get the ingredients for something useful sooner or later.

If you ignore the crafting system and sell everything to vendors, the system failed for you. It might as well not be there. That can’t be what game designers want. Looking up stuff is intrinsically boring and takes away immersion. I don’t want to spend time to make a grocery list of which items to keep in a single-player game. That leaves option three which I usually take but which is just as bad as the others, really. My inventory ends up being full of shit (literally in the case of Warhammer Online) and I’ll sooner or later sell the stuff to a vendor anyway and feel bad about it.

In an MMO or a grindy single-player RPG it is pretty easy to ignore stuff until you need it and then go out to get it. Most players in World of Warcraft will not collect meat dropped by beasts they kill during levelling, but will sometimes go back into a region to hunt down beasts that drop a certain type of meat which they need right then and there. In Fallout: New Vegas you can’t even do that. The other day I found an empty motorcycle gas tank which seemed as if it should be used in some form of crafting somewhere. I couldn’t just leave it and go get one later when I would need it because there are only a few strewn around the Nevada desert.  I also wouldn’t ever know that I could use one unless I scanned the whole list of crafting recipes and found a good one that used the tank.

The same goes for various kinds of meat, fruit, chemicals, electrical components, and ammunition parts. There are so many recipes available and so few guidance points regarding the location of resources that it is very inconvenient to start crafting at all. This leads to me playing the game as if there wasn’t a crafting system and feeling bad for it.

There are a few things to learn from this example. For one, don’t give people a huge list of recipes all of which require a very specific set of ingredients. For another, make material collection goal-oriented. I should go out with the intention of collecting golden gecko hides to improve my armour instead of killing the geckos “just in case” carrying their hides around for a year and then finally finding some use for them. Surprising rare drops are also cool, but they absolutely need to be rare.

  • Gathering with purpose is farming and that’s not always so great either. What might work is to have all the random junk, but players can break them down into modular parts: bolts, nuts, plates, springs, that sort of thing, and breaking down an item would teach the player how to remake it as well. So there’s still variety to find, and maybe this or that find is better for this or that part, but it can all be compacted into only a few slots.

  • Hm, a good point. But I don’t think purpose always means farming – repetition is what turns an enjoyable activity into a boring grind. But going out to hunt a particular dragon for its scales seems much more interesting to me than randomly killing the dragon because it’s in your way, finding the scales, and then using them hours later in some obscure crafting recipe (or never).
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