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If I Had a Hammer

Last Friday, the team did their first major milestone presentation. Everyone participated in producing art, game design, or software for this milestone. We all got a chance to see some of the work the art team is doing on the first character models that will be used as we begin to test the game, as well as experiments the art team did on various shadows and surface lighting techniques. The game designers continue to elaborate on the idea of hexes and how various hex types will interact to form the overall map of the game world. And the programmers showed off a working multi-client / server implementation of a chat service which they are using to test their networking systems. We are also able to visualize a large in-game space with a walled structure, some watchtowers, trees, and terrain looks so we can debate questions of size, scale and distance from a common reference. The world is taking shape!

We're also busy working on the fulfillment system that we'll use to get rewards to the backers from our recent Kickstarter, including access to the multitude of PDFs that were a part of many of the reward tiers. If you backed either of our Kickstarter projects, thank you! We're very grateful for your support.

Kickstarter Fulfillment

Our recent Kickstarter wound up creating a very complex project with a number of different reward tiers and many add-on options. Some of the rewards and add-ons are books and PDFs that need to be written, developed, and edited and then shipped or made available for download, others are metal and plastic miniatures that need to be manufactured and shipped to you, and some are in-game benefits that won't be available until we have a game to play. We want to make sure that we get all these rewards into your hands as soon as they become available, and we want to be sure that you receive the exact combination of reward tier and add-ons you want.

To make that happen, our partners at Paizo are working on a fulfillment system that will go live in a few weeks. We'll ask backers to log into the Paizo site to confirm your personal information for receiving your digital and physical Kickstarter rewards. You'll be able to specify exactly how you want to "spend" your pledge for add-ons, or even increase your pledge to a higher reward tier or select more add-ons if you wish.

We expect to have our pledge management system ready in late March. When we're ready to go, we'll send backers an email notification with information on how to access the fulfillment tool. We'll have more details about that process when the fulfillment tool is ready for use, but here's a quick preview:

  • If you have a paizo.com account and it matches the email address you used for Kickstarter, the fulfillment tool will connect your pledge to your account automatically.
  • If you have an account on paizo.com that uses an email address different than the one you use on Kickstarter, we will have a simple process for you to connect your Kickstarter pledge to your account.
  • If you don't have an account on paizo.com, you'll be asked to create one. Of course, you can get ahead of the game by signing up for one now. While you're there, drop by the Pathfinder Online messageboards and say hello!

Again, thank you for your enthusiastic support. This is going to be a lot of fun!

Speaking of creating things, let's move on to the game design topic of the week: crafting. This week's dev blog digs into the question of how gear gets created. We've been clear that we want an economic system run by the player characters to be central to the game design, and the process by which resources are gathered, made usable, then crafted into items is absolutely critical to that objective. Designer Stephen Cheney has written up some detailed thoughts about how the system might shape up.

Gathering, Crafting, and Gear Progression

The vast majority of gear in Pathfinder Online is player-crafted. Players acquire resource components through gathering, harvesting, looting, or salvaging. Most components have an intermediary step to refine them. Crafters then turn the refined components into usable gear and items. Sometimes there's even an additional step where usable items become components, such as with enchanting.

Throughout this entire process, each component and finished item has a quality rating. This rating ranges from 1 to 300, which is the same numerical range as skills. Quality rating is capped by the skills of the characters harvesting a resource, processing a component, or crafting an item, which means that the highest quality final goods require highly skilled characters to have been involved with the whole production process.

Salvaging, Looting, Harvesting, and Gathering

There are five ways for components to enter the world:

  • Existing items may be salvaged for components. This can be done using either a field salvage kit or by taking the item to be salvaged to the appropriate crafting facility. The salvage kit is consumable, but allows the wielder to use the quality rating of the kit instead of her own skill level when determining the quality of the component gained through salvage (and doing it in the field likely reduces the item's encumbrance versus lugging it home). In a crafting facility, the character can use her skill to deconstruct the item. Salvaging an item is inherently lossy, and will not return all components used in its manufacture. In addition to reclaiming player-crafted goods, creatures and NPCs that use gear may drop damaged or otherwise worthless gear which can be salvaged for useful components.
  • Enemies may drop raw components. Many creature types, particularly magical creatures, will drop "remnants" that can only be collected by players with the correct knowledge skills, and which are useful in enchanting and alchemy. Creatures may also have useful leather and meat available to players with the right skills. We currently envision this as presenting an additional loot window visible only to those with the correct skill rather than being a "skinning" type action performed on the corpse.
  • Harvesting nodes will appear throughout the world, and players can interact with them using the correct profession skills to acquire a small number of components. For some nodes, this may require the player to have a particular harvesting tool. These are very similar to the way harvesting is handled in other MMOs. These nodes actually draw their resources from the hex's current chance to generate supply (e.g., a hex that is very likely to create iron ore mines is also more likely to spawn iron ore harvesting nodes).
  • Gathering nodes will often appear in hexes. These are very large sources of material (mines, stands of trees, magical essence junctures, etc.). The player must place a gathering kit of the correct type near the node. This spawns a storage object and some additional art to indicate that the node is actively undergoing gathering. Over time, the storage fills up with components that can be removed and carted off, and the total available components in the hex is reduced.
    • Meanwhile, creatures are drawn to the gathering operation (both spawning new attackers and drawing in nearby existing creatures); these are usually hostile, but may sometimes be allies if you have the right alliance ratings for the escalation cycle going on in the hex. These creatures will generally try to attack players in the area, but will destroy the gathering operation if no one is around, so it may require a lot of organization to try to run multiple gathering operations simultaneously.
    • Gathering kits are crafted by players and generally include peasant levies provided by a settlement (this represents you supervising a large number of unseen NPCs doing most of the work). This is one of the ways a player can get the Heinous flag: levies of enslaved peasants produce a slave labor gathering kit that can mark you Heinous while the operation is in progress.
  • Players may also set up long-term farms, ranches, logging camps, mining operations, etc. instead of an inn or watchtower in appropriate terrain. These constantly generate more common, lower-quality components, and may allow players with the correct professions to work to improve the resources acquired.

In most of the cases above, the quality rating of the components is procedurally generated in some way. For salvaging and looting, it's based on the creature's rarity and threat; for harvesting and gathering, it's based on the hex location and how frequently it's been farmed lately. For example, a vein of quality 200 metal is much rarer and more valuable than one that's only quality 100, and quality 300 components are extremely rare.

When you salvage, collect, harvest, or gather, your skill bonus (or in the case of salvaging, the quality rating of the field salvage kit) sets a cap on the quality of the components recovered. A character with a 150 bonus to his mining skill reduces a higher-quality vein to quality 150 ore, but would get the full 100 out of a quality 100 vein.

This relationship of quality to skill bonus continues throughout the later steps of crafting...

Refining

Most component types have an intermediate production step that uses a different skill. Miners gather ore and weaponsmiths turn it into swords, but a smelter needs to turn that ore into ingots, solder, wire, and foil before the weaponsmith can use it.

The refining step requires a facility and may take time. As with acquiring the raw components, the appropriate skill bonus serves as a cap to the quality of refined goods. Quality 150 iron ore turns into quality 110 iron ingots if the refiner's skill bonus is 110.

Crafting and Enchanting

Each crafter has a number of recipes unlocked by raising the correct skill, and may be able to acquire others by exploring and getting achievements. Recipes call for several components (generally refined components). For example, a basic steel longsword may require 3 steel ingots and 2 leather strips.

Every crafting recipe for a final, usable good includes a minimum quality; if your components aren't good enough, you can't even attempt to make the item. Once you bring them together, the quality of the item is set to the quality of the worst component (or your crafting skill, if lower).

Using the minimum quality (or slightly higher) gets you a standard version of the item. At certain milestones of higher quality, your item will come with upgrades. A minimum 100 recipe made at quality 200 may, due to these upgrades, result in a better product than a better recipe made with minimum quality components.

For weapons and armor, upgrades typically come in the form of additional keywords. Other items get upgrade bonuses we're still working out, but you'll always get something cool for using higher-quality components than are required.

Finished gear can effectively be used as a component (along with magical essences and gems) for characters with the enchanter craft skill to apply a minor but permanent magical boost. Enchanters can also make temporary-boost consumables for gear (some of these work by temporarily supercharging the minor enchantment on the item).

The actual production process for all crafting involves going to a crafting facility, selecting the recipe you want to make, and selecting which of your components you want to use for the production. Once you've locked everything in, a crafting timer begins counting down (likely adjusted based on building upgrades, the number of people using the building, and other settlement features). For long productions, there may be intermediary events that encourage you to check in on your project from time to time. When the timer completes, the item is dropped into a private storage compartment in the crafting building for you to retrieve. We're hoping we'll be able to further streamline this process, particularly for large batches or heavy items, by letting you automatically move items from and to private or shared vaults anywhere inside the settlement rather than having to have all the components in inventory (e.g., pulling components straight from your personal vault and depositing the finished item directly into your company's vault).

Ultimately, the best items in the game will be the results of a long process: they were made out of a mixture of rare, high-quality components that made their way through the hands of several highly skilled professionals as they were gathered, refined, and assembled into a finished item. A maximum-quality sword isn't a rare drop from a raid boss, it's the hard work of at least half a dozen professionals with unsurpassed skill that brought elements of increasing refinement from the wilderness into your hand.

Quality and Color

To make high-quality materials and items obvious at a glance, we're expecting to map standard videogame rarity color codes for item names roughly into quality level. The lowest quality items will be listed in gray, somewhat better items will be white, intermediate items will be green, moderately good items will be blue, fairly high quality items will be purple, and really high quality items will be orange or even gold.

This means that the color code of an item will be more indicative of its "level" than serving to indicate that the item is better than its level as in other MMOs. Starter characters will probably never have items better than gray or white, while advanced characters may only wield such items if they're really desperate after death has parted them from other gear.

When you're listing items for sale, or making purchase orders on the market ,you'll be able to specify a range of quality for the items you're working with. You'll be able to sort listings by quality to help winnow the lists to the stuff you can afford, and to allow you to more easily see the market price for various degrees of quality. An item's color coding is simply a quick and easy way to get a rough approximation of the relative value of that item.

Threading and Powerful Items

As mentioned previously, players that die and respawn leave most of their gear on their husks. The only items that remain with them are those that have been attached via metaphysical "threads." Players will have discretion in tying threads and can reassign threads without losing them: one day a player might have 19 threads devoted to her armor; the next day she could switch them to instead protect her gloves, hat, boots, belt, and amulet. (Items require different numbers of threads based on their size and importance.)

As a player advances, she can purchase more threads. However, items of higher quality and tier require more threads. A starting character with starting gear has sufficient threads to protect all the gear she is likely to carry (one weapon, a set of armor, and a half dozen or so miscellaneous items). A character that has reached level 20 in a role and has all top-quality gear, meanwhile, may only be able to protect her armor and one weapon, three weapons and a miscellaneous item, or some other combination (but she could protect a larger amount of gear if she were willing to use weaker items for some of her slots). And a new player given a top-tier weapon may not be able to bind anything else but that.

Additionally, players use threads to bind to intermediary resurrection sites: you can always respawn at the nearest big statue of Pharasma (usually confined to rare, significant locations), but the world is also full of player-created or pre-placed smaller shrines to Pharasma. If you bind to one of these smaller shrines, it's likely to be much closer to the place you died.

Effectively, starting characters are going to have sufficient threads to protect most of their gear and rarely suffer major setbacks from being killed. However, as players advance their characters, they'll have to start making meaningful decisions about death: Will you use mostly weaker gear so you don't have to risk much of it on death? Will you bind to a lot of shrines so you're always near your corpse for a better chance to recover everything before it's looted? Or will you bind only your most prized and best gear, risking the rest?

Discuss this blog on paizo.com.