Thursday, November 29, 2012

Realistic approach to crafting in video games

Note: File this under "things that only game developers and maybe a few economists care about".

Looking at the approaches to the crafting of items available in video games, I see two approaches to crafting in video games:
  1. List = Each item, for which you have the resources to craft, is displayed in a list, and can be crafted by selecting an item.  Terraria uses this approach.
  2. Drawing = Each item must be crafted by placing items in predefined arrangements in a limited number of slots.  Minecraft uses this approach.
Both of these approaches share two properties:
  1. Limited list of craft-able items
  2. Predefined categories of items craft-able with predefined set of items.
Neither crafting approach is open to player ingenuity, as Linux is open.  If a player wants to make a less expensive pickaxe, he can't make it less expensive by decreasing the quality of the pickaxe, nor can he substitute items.  Rather, crafting is a fixed paradigm, in which the player can only craft what the developers allow.  There are ways in which developers try to make their paradigms lean toward realism, but they usually revolve around magic (e.g. enchanting in Minecraft and Diablo) or some other arbitrary buffing system.

This paradigm is modifiable outside of the game, but this is no solace for those who cannot program yet wish to improve their situation inside the game by merely making things in different ways than the game permits.  In the spirit of realism in gaming, I propose a crafting system that takes what humans already do in order to craft something.  It has two modes of crafting, in order to represent the widest range of means by which humans craft stuff:
  1. Limbs
  2. Machines
By default, every player has two hands to hold stuff and two legs, among other things.  In each hand you can hold an item.  You can swing each hand; you can press two things together with both hands; the range of activities of hands is endless, which will make this particular approach to crafting difficult to implement in a way that mimics the total range of realistic human manual crafting options.

Let us take a simple example to explain the Limbs Mode of crafting: turning rocks into smaller sharper rocks.  The player holds a rock in each hand.  One rock is a rock from a river; it is soft in appearance and rounded due to erosion and weathering.  The other rock is hard and a bit rougher in appearance.  The player swings both rocks together, breaking the river rock into pieces.  The harder rock merely gains a scuff mark, but is otherwise unaffected.  Now, the player has a hard rock in one hand, some rock pieces in the other hand, and some rock dust and pieces on the ground in front of him.  The player's effort may or may not get him a sharp enough stone; chances are that he got mostly dull chunks of rock.

The Machine Mode is much more complex, because machines can be very simple machines that require human operation, or they can very complex, that require that a button be pressed to start and stop them.  Let us take the example of a forge.  When you want to heat up a piece of metal, you have to use a pair of metal tongs to hold the piece of metal in the center of the forge's fire pot.  Since the fire pot doesn't burn hot enough on its own, air flow must be introduced, usually by some sort of bellows.  While the player is holding the tongs, which is holding the metal piece in the fire pot, he has to operate the bellows.  Thus, acting alone, using a simple forge is a two-handed operation.

Operation of machines, such as forges, involves tools and manual effort, but that is not the norm for modern machines.  Nowadays, many machines (e.g. home printers) require only that you supply it with input materials (e.g. ink and paper), a power source (e.g. electricity), some data (e.g. document information), and to press a few buttons (e.g. the power button and the print button).  Thus we can see that modern machines are less labor intensive than older machines, such as forges.  The labor intensiveness of any particular machine tends to be inherent to the machine, though it is obviously possible for a machine to be used in a way other than what it was designed to be used.

Regardless of the Mode of Crafting, players must at some point use their limbs, most likely their hands, at some point in the chain of crafting.  That is, before a player can a forge, some player must build that forge, which will likely require the use of tools, which in turn requires the usage of hands.  As was likely already obvious, this two-moded approach to craft is really a one-moded approach; the second mode is only possible by means of the first, and all it does is make production easier.

This may all seem cumbersome at first, but it need not be so when implemented.  Heck, I readily admit that my approach to crafting is tautological; my theoretical system is realistic when I merely tell you how it works in reality.  However, this essay is meant only to provide the concept of a realistic approach to crafting.  I am merely exposing reality, in its simplicity, so that realism in games may be easier to achieve.


 There are two questions that I have not answered above, which I will have to address later:
  1. How are machines to be built?  (hopefully without the need for physics calculations being done on the fly.)
  2. How can this realistic approach to crafting escape from the pit of the predefined items, that plagues Minecraft most of all.
      (The answer must tie into the answer to the first question.)
I do have answers for those two questions, but I think they are not sufficient to present yet.  I am seeking to keep things simple, just as crafting is simple (i.e. use your hands) so machines and item definition must be simple.  By simple, I don't mean easy; I mean something along the lines of, "the most raw", and, "in its most rudimentary constituent parts."

No comments:

Post a Comment