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Richard Garriott Interview - Part 2

Shroud of the Avatar: Crafting and Economy

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Richard Garriott at Unite 2013

Warren Schultz

 

At the Unite 2013 conference in Vancouver, BC, I spoke with Richard Garriott de Cayeux, about his ongoing work with the Kickstarter-funded Shroud of the Avatar.

We previously talked about the state of Shroud in general, as well as crowdfunding. In this second part of the interview, we talk about the crafting system and the economy.

 So what are you most excited about in the title right now?

 I’d say there are three areas I’m most excited about right now. The first is working with Tracy Hickman on the story. I'm a big story guy, story is hard to do well. I think I do it reasonably well, but I'm not a professional writer, so having a top notch writer in my corner can really help that a lot.

I'm really excited about the conversation system. The fact that we are not doing what most roleplaying games do these days, which is menu-based conversations that feed into a menu-based quest system that feed into repetitive level grinding… There are arrows on the map that lead you to the repetitive level grind. We are not doing that. Instead we are going a little old-school with a little bit of new tech, with the conversation where you just walk up to NPCs and converse—as in, to type like you would to any other player in the world. And the fact that it can also extract multiple sentences the time… to respond to multiple queries concurrently… It wasn’t something I asked for from the designer, he just made it so. It’s just great when you stand in front of an NPC, and say “Greetings, bartender. My name is Richard. What kind of beer do you have on tap? I am especially interested in an ale.” And the bartender will respond to all of that.

 The third [feature I’m excited about] is the crafting system. And we still might even expand it from here, but the basis of it is allowing us to create many, many more discoverable and shareable recipes for doing things.

So, if you go back to Ultima Online. Ultima Online was one of the best MMOs for living in a diverse world, beyond combat, and I think we’re going to beat that mark pretty well with Shroud of the Avatar.

So, not only will you be able to go out into the world and gather raw materials, but that raw materials list is much broader than it ever has been before. And raw materials are usable in a number of crafting trees concurrently. You then refine those resources, meaning that you refine ore into ingots, you can then pull it through wire molds, or sword blanks, then you go to a blacksmith hypothetically, and then forge those into other things. We’re even making all the tools that you need for all these sorts of processes things that you make through other versions of the processes, and keep them all in good repair, and in working order in things you do with each other’s’ things in an interconnected way.

And because of the way that falls out also, the recipe itself is not a requirement, and so you can discover good recipes, so to speak. Which means that we can also invent new recipes later, and just not tell anybody we did it, and someone may or may not figure it out.

 So would you say that you are trying to create a top-to-bottom economy, where even the most mundane things in the world are crafted? How comprehensive are you planning to be?

 Pretty comprehensive. I mean there are some places where we’re not being comprehensive, like you can’t go build a house from timbers, at least, currently. But yes, we are trying to make sure the economy is self-sufficient.

And we’re trying to get away from like a lot of MMOs, where if you want to go up in blacksmithing skill in swords, you make a bunch of useless swords. And you make much more useless swords and much more useless swords. And so we’re trying to get out of that loop, and instead get you working on things which are actually useful to the playerbase. And of course, repairing things that are wearing out is something that is useful to the playerbase, and if you’re making all the other kinds of tools and things that are used throughout the game, that is also useful things for you to make instead of repetitiously building less-useful parts.

And we’re even going to say that to the degree that people do need to make a hundred basic swords, that those can be used as raw material in something else, so that there’s a reason to have these things.

 In previous games there was the problem that the economy would get saturated with low-level items. Even if useful, there were a billion of them. Do you have a plan for that sort of problem?

 Not really, no. That’s a hard problem to get in front of. We’re really going to take a lesson from Wizard 101. One of our early designers was one of the designers on that, specifically on the economy. And one of the things they did, was in addition to the player-to-player economy, if you have any form of NPC economy, it allows you to make up for some deficiencies.

One of the ways they did this in Wizard 101, and I may be misrepresenting it slightly… If the local bazaar… we’re doing regionally-differentiated availability and pricing. What that lets you do though, is if you see a glut of say, swords, well, as the local bazaar sees a higher frequency of swords being dumped into it, shall we say. At first, what you’ll see is the price dropping for swords to what we consider the floor. And once it’s below the floor, it just eats them. So we can kind of bracket the min/max of what is a reasonable price to pay for something by purposefully draining the excess out of the system itself.

 Player-created items?

 Player created items, but it can be spawned items that people find way too frequently; for example if we have the spawner set too active for a period.

 It would be interesting to see a global event where there was a shortage of swords…

 This isn’t something we’re doing yet, but something we’re discussing. We’re discussing making the economy as close to zero-sum as possible. And what we mean by that is that the only treasure that’s able to be spawned by the spawners is value that has been extracted by players somewhere else in the game. And, therefore, you would see shortages. If you have everyone rushing the Lich King to get golden crowns, pretty soon, he’s out of golden crowns. So, then there’s no value in killing the Lich King. So, we’ve talked about doing something as hard-nosed as that, but we’ve not been able to predict the results of that well enough to know if we really want to be that draconian.

But at the moment, we just want to make sure we have as many levers as possible into the economy management. We’re trying not to drive the creation of useless materials, and simultaneously find ways to extract things that are glutted.

 So, for the sword example, do you have the ability to do swords to ploughshares?

 Everything can be broken down.

 So it becomes less about the mining/forging cycle.

 Right.

Continue on to part 3 of the interview, where we discuss crowdsourced game assets.

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