on Jun 11, 2008
This post focuses on some of the details of the crafting system, which is largely undocumented. What I have here is just my guesswork on the matter. I’m sure there are inaccuracies in it. Also note that I’ve only played the “marksman” class, so I don’t know how things are for the other classes in the game.
When describing the addictive pull of Diablo II, one person said, “You keep playing because you can’t shake this feeling that there just has to be a better sword out there, somewhere.” Killing monsters in search of loot gives much the same thrill people get from those scratch-off lottery tickets, or slot machines: The next one might be a winner. Each monster is a Piñata, just waiting for you to knock him open and see what goodies he has, and there’s always a chance you might hit the jackpot and get something really good.
Except, in this game the crafting system makes the search for loot largely irrelevant. There are level restrictions on items. To use a weapon of awesomeness factor X you must be at least level Y. If your weapon is under this limit, you can take it over to the nano forge and upgrade it. (I’m pretty sure it won’t let you upgrade the weapon if doing so would make the weapon unusable for you.) So, at any time you can be reasonably sure that you’ve got nearly the best weapon you’re allowed to wield.
The whole “there’s got to be a better sword”, thing never enters into it, because if you did find something better, you probably wouldn’t be allowed to equip it.
Suggestion: It was a bold move to introduce a crafting / upgrading system that negates the need for treasure hunting – which was the biggest draw for Diablo II over the years. It was either bold, or foolish. The crafting and upgrading had better be really compelling if they’re going to supplant treasure hunting as the focus of the game. Speaking of which…
There are several devices and at least one special “vendor” type person in each base, who together form the item crafting and upgrade system of Hellgate. The game never explains any of it. No NPC in the game makes mention of them. The machines are just sitting there, and you have to figure out how it works through experimentation. Which would be fine if the whole thing weren’t so inscrutable.
How it works: When you find stuff, instead of taking it back to town to sell you can choose to take it apart. This will break the item down into a number of components. There are (if I remember correctly) nine different different types which are used as a sort of raw material / currency when creating new items (you’ll need blueprints) or upgrading (use the nano forge) your existing ones.
There are all sorts of odd limits that come into play here. You need enough of each of the required parts and you need to be high enough level. Once you’ve got the item, you need to have enough points invested in certain attributes to equip it. Again, I worked this out entirely on my own. There is never a quest to even nudge the player in the direction of these devices. The game really needs one.
Things get even more messed up when you get into the mod system.
Suggestion: Just some in-game mention of this stuff would go a long way to teaching people how the hell they’re supposed to play this game. All it takes is a short little quest from an NPC. Here’s a handful a junk parts. Go over to that machine and make me a zapperthing or somesuch. Done? Hey, thanks. Here’s some XP. You know, you can use that machine yourself… etc. See also: Horadric Cube, Diablo II.
Let’s back up. In Diablo II, there were gems. Colorful little gems that, I must admit, looked really cool in a “Bejeweled” sort of way. They had a tactile appeal. Sometimes you’d find a weapon with a “socket”. You could put a gem in the socket. If it was a weapon, then adding a ruby would cause it to deal X points of additional fire damage. Ice damage for sapphires. Poison damage for emeralds. And so on. Once you fitted a gem, there was no going back. You had to think before you united a gem and an item, but the system allowed you to customize your gear. It was fun and straightforward.
Each gem had an associated type of damage:
- Red / Fire: Moderate damage. Sure and steady.
- Blue / Ice: Lower damage, but it freezes foes, slowing them down.
- Yellow / Lightning: High damage potential, but very variable output. (Sometimes it would deal high damage, sometimes almost nothing. Each hit was a crapshoot.)
- Green / Poison: Huge damage output, but the damage is delivered gradually over several seconds.
Everything I just explained could be understood by simply looking at the in-game tooltips. A quick glance told you everything you needed to know to consider the tradeoffs and decide what you wanted.
Now, back to Hellgate:
Now items may have several different types of slots. Battery slots. Fuel slots. Ammo slots. Tech slots. As with gems in Diablo II, you can put stuff in those slots. In the upper left of the screenshot above you can see the tooltip for an “Anchored Tech”, which goes in a tech slot. JPG compression has made a hash of it, but the part in red reads, “Mod level 6 (Requires item levels 1-12)”. So there is the level of the mod, the level of the item, and the level of the player. Do not ask me how these relate, because I’ve never made sense of it. It’s confusing and arbitrary.
But the worst part of the system is that you have no idea in the world what will happen when you put that tech in the gun. Some techs will say, “Adds 25 phase attack strength”, but you put it into the gun your damage output goes up by (say) nine points. Another tech will say, “Adds 9% phase attack strength.” Okay. Nine percent of what? Of the base damage? Of the phase attack it’s already doing, if any? What is “phase” attack anyway? Another tech just says it reduces energy consumption (which makes no sense because most weapons don’t use energy – you can hold the fire button down forever) but those techs somehow make the damage go up as well. You’ll have six different techs you might equip, and no way of knowing which one is the best or what the tradeoffs are. Worse, once you insert the tech, it changes the level of the item, which may prevent you from inserting other bits.
If my description makes no sense, I’m sorry. I wrote the preceding paragraph five times before I gave up and settled on what you see. I suddenly realized that I was writing the documentation Flagship never bothered to give us, and if I’m going to go to all that trouble I should send them a bill. Short version: This is your primary method of keeping your weapons up to date, and the system is utterly mysterious and totally undocumented.
On top of this is the fact that there are too many damage types. Fire damage. Electrical damage. Physical damage. Spectral damage. Phase damage. There is tremendous complexity here. But who cares? Without knowing what benefit you get from any of these, why should the player worry about it? How does “spectral damage” differ from “phase damage”? Is one better than the other? Against certain monsters? On Tuesdays?
Then there is “extra” damage to various monster types: Necros, Specters, Demons, and some others I can’t remember. In Diablo II, Act II was almost entirely spend fighting undead. Act IV was nearly all demons. You could select an appropriate weapon to deal with the most common monster type you’d be facing. In Hellgate the monsters are all mixed together, so there’s no reason to specialize. The player certainly isn’t going to switch weapons every other monster just for an extra 8% damage. It’s yet another layer of needless and unexplained complexity.
They could replace the tooltip for every tech with, “Extra some percent of damage, sometimes. Maybe.” Because that’s how it all reads to the player. Aside from leveling, this is the player’s primary vector for growing stronger, and they are never given the information required to make an informed decision. Choosing is fun. Guessing is not fun. Particularly if you have no way of appraising your guess after the fact.
Suggestion: I like the idea of socketing different items to customize a weapon, but this entire system is impenetrable. The player should be able to make their decisions based entirely on what they see in the tooltips. Leave out “phase” damage and “Spectral” damage and focus on properties players will grasp. For guns it would be stuff like, accuracy, refire rate, range, splash damage, and upper / lower and damage output. Barring that, the game should offer a “preview” of how the weapon will change if you use the mod you’re holding. Making the system understandable is step #1 of making it fun.
Shamus Young is an old-school OpenGL programmer, author, and composer. He runs this site and if anything is broken you should probably blame him.