I’ve been trying to find a little time to dig into Vanguard, at least get a taste of the major elements they’ve tried to get built into it, and a couple of days ago I found enough time to track down the harvesting and crafting sub-games.  As I mentioned in the previous post, I was a little disappointed with each of them, but for different reasons (YMMV, of course).  My first impressions “below the fold”…

Crafting

No doubt because I made a point of actually seeking it out instead of going with the flow of the game, I actually found the crafting trainer first… ran right past the harvesting trainer without realizing it.  The actual thought process went something like this:

I’m killing (chaos-tainted) wolves and bears here, and the option exists to skin them, but I can’t because I don’t have the skill.  Waste not, want not… I’m going to get my harvesting and crafting skills before I waste another couple dozen critters for these 2 quests, plus who knows how many more…

The trainers haven’t been anywhere along the path so far, and according to the world map, there’s a city just a little ways further along… logically, that would be the place to start looking.  Might be a risky trip, tho… the designers obviously expected people to be higher level (i.e. >4) than I before moving on to the big city.  Better avoid everything along the path…

Which explains how I could miss the harvesting trainer stationed along the side of the road I had to travel to get to the town.  Eh well, it didn’t really matter.

I was almost immediately irritated about crafting, before I even knew what the process was.  I had to choose a trade for the character before I knew much about how any of it worked, and apparently, this cannot be changed.  Not an auspicious beginning, as far as I am concerned.

Designs lock people in to a specific category (i.e. “classes”) to prevent jacks-of-all-trades, and in a largely solo activity like crafting, the usual reason to do so is to create “cross-pollenation” with other PCs by requiring components for various things that only someone else can make.  That, in turn, has always been a recipe for frustration for me in the past… we’ll see if Vanguard has similar issues.

I wasn’t all that enamored of the interface for the process either (although I did feel it was better than the diplomacy interface).  The interface is essentially a small pop-up which walks you through the established crafting process step-by-step, as determined by which “recipe” you are working on.  (Actually, I’m still not sure if my reservations are really an interface problem, or a process problem… read on to find out what I’m talking about.)

At each step, you have 1 or more actions that you can perform, which either add to your progress on that step, or to the quality of the item.  You also have a specific number of “action points” to spend to complete the item… if you run out of action points before the item is finished, you fail.  I never actually failed in the half-dozen items I made, so I don’t know what the full consequences of that event are: I’d guess loss of materials (at a minimum)… this is a game that fully believes that wasted time is not a strong enough penalty in itself.

While I appreciated being lead through the process by the interface, there were multiple steps where there was really no choice to make… it was “hit the only active button again, please”.  Obviously, this was early in the game, and the process has plenty of room to become more involved and engaging, but I wonder if a few less button pushes could have been required in those cases where there was only one real option to select anyway? 

It started to have a “slot machine” feel to it at one point (pull the only lever and watch the colored bar move…), something that raises my hackles very quickly.  Problem with the interface, or the process?  Not sure.

  • The interface could have included a repeat-until-complete option… but it’s not likely to be necessary later on (the character will have more abilities, and thus more options). 
  • There could have been 2 options at each step.  On the other hand, more options at each step this early in the training process might just be confusing. 
  • Any part of the process where there was only 1 option could have simply been tuned to complete in one “pull of the lever”, but that might mislead a person to expect the same later on.

It makes for an interesting design problem, at least…

On the plus side, the control interface is small and far less intrusive than the diplomacy interface… you can actually keep track of what is going on around you while performing crafts.  Socializing during crafting shouldn’t be a problem, nothing is rigged to a timer like EQ2 (at least not yet). 

The process itself should be at least minimally engaging as time goes on, although the lack of any apparent hooks into some ability to customize items on the fly is a minor personal disappointment to me… it appears the recipe you are using determines what you are going to get, and the main influence you have as the craftsman is what quality you are shooting for.  Not unusual, and hardly a deal-breaker, just a feature on my dream game “wish-list” that I have yet to encounter.

It will be interesting to see how many options there really are as far as “abilities” that can brought to bear in the process.  There are two game elements the character can apparently learn: recipes (defining what can be made), and abilities (defining how various steps can be completed).  Adding in tools and equipment specific to the crafting process, there should be a fair number of decision-making opportunities and plenty of room for distinction… the question is, how many/much?

Harvesting

Harvesting was disappointing in that it is a WoW redux, in large measure.  Choose 2 (out of 5 possible) types of resource you want to be able to collect.  You can drop them and select others at any time.  They did add an overarching “Harvesting” skill, as well as individual Skinning, Reaping, Mining, etc. skills, presumably so that changing skills isn’t a total loss every time you did it.

The harvesting process appears to be a simple timer, during which multiple “skill checks” are made behind the scenes, determining how many scraps/pieces are produced from a particular resource instance.  Combining 20 such “scraps” yields 1 usable component for crafting.  Very straightforward, not really much different than what’s been done elsewhere. 

It was kind of fun actually chopping down trees and watching them fall, tho.  It was also significantly creepy seeing them pop back into existence in the exact same spot a couple minutes later, full grown…

One interesting addition: there appears to be some ability to “group harvest” as well, it’s mentioned by the trainer… however, I didn’t have an opportunity to find out how it really works.  It sounds like multiple people can work on the same resource at the same time, and it has an additive effect on the amount of resource generated… but the details were sketchy (does the timer move faster?  how much more resource is generated, and who gets it? and so on)

One irritation: the character automatically switches back and forth between his “adventuring” outfit (in this character’s case, magician’s robes) and his “harvesting” outfit (work-a-day tunic, pants, etc) based on what he is doing.  I actually found it kind of irritating while doing the hunting and skinning combo. 

It is definitely convenient having everything change in/out automatically, but for mere display purposes I think I’d have preferred to simply be able to select a look and stick with it… let the bonuses still apply, just don’t bother to change the view.  I felt a little like a strobe light during the night-time lighting: the robes were a light, almost luminous, grey, while the work clothing was dark brown and green…