Pot-Luck Dinners and Dungeon Sushi

I’m working on some very simple content for the pre-alpha build. Today I added potatoes and onions for the Gardening skill. Now I’m taking a quick break before diving into the Cooking skill. I figured I’d talk about the brainstorming process a little.

When I sit down to work on a skill, say Cooking, step #1 is to brainstorm a long list of possible experiences that could be involved. The brainstorm list for cooking looked something like this:

  • Hidden recipes
  • Custom herbs with different effects
  • Recipe swap meets
  • Pot-luck dinners
  • Hot-dog eating contests
  • Food of the gods
  • Player-made recipes
  • Fresh food bonuses

And so on, about a page worth. (A lot of them were kind of redundant, and a lot were really far out there.) Next I sifted through the list to find the ones that resonated with me. I circled those. From the list above, the ones I liked best were:

  • Pot-luck dinners
  • Fresh food bonuses

I waffled on “custom herbs with different effects” for a while, but decided it wouldn’t be as fun in reality as it was on paper.

So why these two?

Pot-Luck Dinners: Rewarding Player Interaction

The idea behind a pot-luck dinner is that a bunch of players get together to swap food. Each brings a stack of some food item, and they all trade them and eat. It’s a simple, non-directed social activity. There’s no explicit “pot luck” mechanic in the game: I just use it as a prototypical player-driven experience. If pot-luck dinners are entertaining, then a lot of other social activities may fall out of the implementation.

Pot-luck dinners are possible in WoW, or EQ2, or any game with food items, as “roleplaying activities” that have no game meaning. That’s not good enough; I want the game to reward the roleplaying.

A Tangent On Role-Playing

By the way, I hate that phrase “roleplaying activity.” It always means “something that fruity weirdos do.” As if pretending to murder dragons was a very mature and reasonable thing, but pretending to have a pot-luck dinner was bizarre and crazy. To me it seems like most MMOs are stuck in the mentality of an eight-year old boy: it’s “cool” to pretend to be a wizard, so the game mechanics are focused around that. But pretending to be a chef or a gardener is stupid. You can still pretend if you want, but the game isn’t going to help!

To be completely blunt, all roleplaying activities are pretty silly. This entire hobby is pure escapism. But since we aren’t all eight year old boys, maybe it’s worth allowing more kinds of escapism, hm?

The most bizarre part, to me, is that games like WoW do have tiny gestures toward craft systems, and people love them, they eat it up. And yet… no further development is done to those systems, aside from occasionally tossing in a new recipe. Blizzard is happy to redo the combat system six times, but will never even attempt to add depth to leatherworking. This is a clear indication that they just don’t care about those “fruity weirdos.” Which are a big percentage of the player base.

No game can have rules for everything players want to do, of course. But when possible, the game mechanics should be there to facilitate play. After all, that’s literally what RPG means: a roleplaying-game¬†rewards and facilitates roleplaying via game mechanics. (Wow, I am way off on a tangent.¬†Sorry!)

Pot-Luck Dinners: Cooking Mechanics

So taking into account all the things I circled, here’s how cooking works:

Players have a Gourmand skill. This determines how much benefit they get from food. Each kind of food has a Gourmet Level. If your Gourmand Skill meets or beats the food’s Gourmet Level, you get the maximum benefit from the food — otherwise you get a lesser effect.

So a biscuit (Gourmet Level 0) gives 10% health regeneration to anybody who eats it. And anybody who eats a spicy tuna roll (Gourmet Level 90) will get some amount of health regeneration, but if they have Gourmand 90, it gives 25% regeneration.

(So far this is exactly like EQ2′s food system, by the way, if you substitute “Gourmand Skill” with “Combat Level”.)

Here’s the interesting bits:

  • You only increase in Gourmand skill by eating higher-Gourmet foods than your Gourmand skill
  • Foods give diminishing returns, so the first time you eat a food, you get a big XP boost, but by the tenth, pretty much nothing. This resets over time, so you can come back in a few weeks and get more XP from them — if they’re still above your Gourmand skill.

There, now we have a system that rewards eating a variety of things! Which in turn rewards people who cook a variety of things. If someone is offering an unusual dish in town, you’ll have a reason to care: the big bonus to Gourmand XP for first-time consumption!

And now pot luck dinners, where everybody brings the fanciest dish their particular skills allow, will have some in-game meaning.

Freshness Bonuses

I also want to support Freshness Bonuses for cooking and other skills. The logic goes like this: suppose you’re deep in the bottom of a dungeon, you’ve been murdering dragons for hours, and it’s time for food. Which is better, a stale sandwich you made beforehand, or a soup made from fresh dragon meat? Obviously the freshly-prepared item! (Why? Because… it just seems more fun.)

So fresh ingredients have a timer on them that lasts 15 minutes. If you use the fresh ingredient in a recipe, you get a Fresh food item.

This is trickier to implement than it sounds, because foodstuffs can be stacked into big piles — at which point they get treated as the same item, internally! That means it’s impossible to have different timers on items in a stack.

So my best answer right now is that fresh ingredients can’t be stacked for 15 minutes. After 15 minutes, they get replaced with normal, stackable versions of those ingredients. And perhaps you can salt meat to make it stackable immediately — handy if you have no intention of cooking with it right away.

The freshly-prepared dish would likewise be a special unstackable item for 15 minutes, and then become a regular stackable version. (Presumably with some way to make them stackable right away if you need the pack space.)

The Freshness Bonus is actually not that big a deal for cooking — I mean, even the freshest food in the universe is only going to help you so much. But for some of the other skills it’s a lot more important.

Take flower arrangement, for instance: this skill takes flowers as input and produces vases full of flowers as output. You can place these vases in the world for anybody to look at. For newbies, flower arrangements are completely pointless. But if you have a high Meditation skill (a prerequisite for some of the monk-like abilities), you can use the Meditate verb on flower arrangements to gain bonuses.

So when we mix in Freshness Bonuses, now combat areas can have occasional Fresh Flower spawns. A monk who takes a moment to create a Fresh Flower Arrangement may get a very significant short-term boost from meditating on it.

A Shotgun Approach to Activities

This isn’t the normal design process. Normally I’d focus on one game mechanic at a time and iterate over and over until it’s fun. But I don’t want to do that here: I want a complex world with all kinds of crazy interactions. So I fear that iterating on one tiny mechanic will cause me to miss the forest for the trees.

Instead, I’m making sure the game can support a whole bunch of things that could be fun — things like Flower Arrangement sound like they might be entertaining on paper, anyway. Hopefully a fair number of these ideas will actually be fun, and if they have that spark of fun in them, I can polish them later while still maintaining an intricate world where everything fits into everything else in amusing and surprising ways.

Screenshot Diary of the Week:

Here I am in my sad little proto-garden watering proto-potatoes. I'm actually out of water here, so it's time to head down to the lake... which is infested with tigers as usual. Sigh... better go get some armor.

 

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7 Responses to Pot-Luck Dinners and Dungeon Sushi

  1. Andrew says:

    I like everything I’ve read in this post.
    Of course, I always enjoy reading your blog, but I had to reply today just
    to say how much I wish people like Blizzard would pick up on this idea and
    implement more non-combat mechanics (does that sound better than “fruity roleplaying mechanics”?)

  2. Zubon says:

    No idea if it is in the latest version, but A Tale in the Desert has/had a version of that Gourmand skill. Taste everything!

    In a demonstration of efficiency and social organization, a group of players worked out a set of recipes that would take you from 0 to cap, formed the Nile Kitchen guild, and made a line of hundreds of kitchens down which players could walk and sample from each cookpot.

  3. Eric says:

    @Zubon – ha! I love it, that’s basically the ultimate potluck. I think I’d be okay with that happening in my game, it sounds like fun for everybody involved.

  4. Razak says:

    About the spices… I would refer you to Order Up! on the Wii. The game has you making standard food dishes for your little restaurant, but you can go to the market and buy spices. You can then mix those spices in with your foods to get different versions of the food and some of the customers will pay you more if you get the correct version. Further, you had to get the right spice combination in order to pass the food inspector (it actually tells you what spice he is looking for). It was a simple mechanic but it added a ton of depth and I think it is totally worth adding. I think you could really turn this into something amazing in an MMO setting.

  5. Whorhay says:

    So far as implementing freshness goes I have a suggestion.

    Give all food items a freshness value similar to a durability count. This counter counts down at a standard rate for all food items including components. When it reaches zero the food or component is no longer edible/useable or is considerably less effective. The benefits derived from consuming a food item is based on how old it is. These items can have varying values for their freshness so that things like trail rations and such last effectively much longer than something like a fresh salad. When items are created from other items the finished products freshness is determined by the ingredients that went into it possibly with a bonus. So far as stacking goes don’t automatically merge stacks of items that differ very much in freshness. When stacks are merged the freshness should be averaged between the stacks that went into it based on their quantity and such.

  6. Expert Novice says:

    You should try and look at every possible combination of two skills and try and make some cool way that they interact. Like Gourmand and Gardening. Maybe you can taste the soil to explore potential nutrients? If your taste buds are good, you’ll pick up on the subtleties of lanthanides. An excellent location to garden cucumber, one might postulate.
    Then you could just go over a table of the skills comparing every skill with every other skill. That how my left-brained self would handle it lol.

    Also, Gourmand idea!
    Having a numb palette could let you eat pretty much anything but having a classy one would force you to partake of delicacies, exclusively.

    Seriously though, Eric, it sounds like your really coming along nicely. Obviously no where close to done, but your really making progress, and that’s nice to see.
    Not a whole ton of indie MMOs and yours is the only one i know about that is open for discussion and in the works. Inspiring work sir.

  7. Logan says:

    I like Expert Novice’s idea about numb/classy palates. As a potential addition, make some foods that are an acquired taste. You can tie it to the Gourmand experience calculations… Say, you only get a percentage of the benefits unless you’d had the food enough to drop it to 0 XP (regardless of whether it’s above or below your Gourmand Skill). That also means that you’d have to eat that food reasonably often, or you’d start to lose your taste for it, making it less effective.