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.
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: