Thursday, September 21, 2017

Howdy, everyone!

Thomas “Blixtev” Blair here, and I’m going to chat with y’all today about a pretty substantial update coming (with the upcoming 5.3 update) to one of our key gameplay systems, Resource Harvesting.

The last time we updated this system, we focused mainly on the products (what came out of the nodes) of Harvesting as well as revamping the whole tiered approach we originally took with resources. This time we took a good hard look at the moment-to-moment gameplay of harvesting resources.

One of the benefits of the very open development of Crowfall® is that we are able to see a system in use by many more people than we could muster internally, and we are able to observe how that system performs in a live environment.

That being said, it is always challenging to find some spare time in our development schedule to make substantial revisions. Sometimes, however, work on a different, non-related system will create opportunities to revisit things. This is such a case. When Engineering made changes to the character Power Trays and Stances system as part of the 5.3 update, it inadvertently gave us an opportunity to test out some more “action-based” Harvesting mechanics.

This situation usually happens in reverse: we tend to create bugs in non-related systems when we touch anything. So I guess it’s good to see that we can get benefit from this, too.

Let’s dive in!


We had gone with a pretty standard hold a “hotkey to interact” model as seen in many games.

Under that design, the player would aim their reticle on a specific node, then hold the F key to interact. The appropriate tool would be summoned from their inventory, and 15-17 seconds of node destruction would follow, a looping animation would play, and a variable amount of resources would spew from the node.

f-to-interact node


It worked, but it wasn’t terribly exciting. Although the rewards felt good, the mechanics to get those rewards didn’t. It was too long, and there was very little interaction. It also left us very little room for enhancing the activity with the Power system.


From a high-level vantage point, the new Harvesting system is far more action-based and meshes very well with our action combat. It is amazing how much better it feels to harvest now.

Under the new design, the player equips a type of tool based on the type of resource they want to harvest. These tools will behave like consumables, in a manner typical of survival games. Players will aim their reticles on a specific node, and the targeted resource node will highlight. The player can then perform multiple left-clicks or hold down the left mouse button. There will be eight to nine seconds of node destruction on a node that’s rank-appropriate for their tools. Visual fly-text will show the amount of damage dealt with each swing while multiple unique animations will create some visual excitement. Resource doobers collect around the node, and players collect the doobers.

While this may not read as being that different, it is much more responsive and interactives in terms of the way it feels.

But how did we get there?...


As I mentioned earlier, updates to the Power Trays triggered some of the experimentation here. We had to update the Power Tray tech as we now have characters who can have three or four trays, and managing these trays was becoming was problematic. (Not to mention how mashing the T-key to cycle through them wasn’t going to be a fun experience.)

Every player will now start out with the new Survival Tray. (In early prototyping we called it the ”Consumables Bar” because that is largely what it holds.) The Survival Tray would be the default tray that was initially active for every player and when they pressed Z it would transfer them to the Melee Tray and put them into combat mode. This was great because it was super-obvious to everyone if they were considered “in combat” or not.

Also, one of the cooler aspects of the new Power Trays is that we could now drag items from the inventory to Power Tray, essentially creating a shortcut to that item. Once we had this functionality, we started experimenting with the kinds of things we could drag to the Survival Tray and what happened when we did. (Many things exploded in this phase, as you can imagine, because it’s a fundamental change in the way players can interact with items.) This is where we tried dragging Harvesting tools, and were like “This is pretty cool! What if we took this further?”

That experimentation led down a path of other changes. At a certain point, incremental changes no longer made sense, so we stepped back to take a look at the system as a whole: Consumables Bar, stances or other bars and shifting between them, power load-out, you name it.

To facilitate this, we created the concept of a “currently-equipped tool”. Once we had the concept of an equipped tool, other decisions flowed out from there. For example, we decided to short cut the “summon a tool” action and just leave that tool in the player’s hand to speed up the Harvesting process. And, because the Consumables Bar allows multiple slots, you can actually load out multiple of the same tool (and avoid having to open your inventory to re-equip a pick when one decays). We elected not to allow consumables in the other bars so as not to mix the metaphor (and to keep the player state simple: only one tool or weapon can be active at any given time.)

As I said, this model should be extremely familiar to most players. You now decide what your current tool is, and you are responsible for equipping the proper tool based on the type of Harvesting you want to do.

Crowfall Harvesting NoTool Watermarked-1024x670


I had prototyped Harvesting powers as left-click powers in the past, and that prototype gloriously exploded in my face at multiple stages. (Hey, that’s all part of game development!)

First, I tried making Harvesting powers as left-click combos, but unfortunately the combo powers never seemed to advance through the combo properly and looked super janky. Even if the combo method had worked, it resulted in four separate left-click powers (one for each Harvesting type) that would require the player to meticulously loadout the specific power to their left-click instead of loading out a left-click attack power. You can imagine this would be a pretty big pain in the ass to actually play as you would constantly be swapping left-click attacks. So I shelved the entire thing.

Once tools were in the Survival Tray, I thought about that earlier prototype and if the tech changes had changed any of my base assumptions. Not exactly, but we were much closer to a consumables model, since the player would be able to select what their current active tool was. All we needed now was a way to change the player’s active left-click power based on the tool or weapon that the player currently had equipped, and maybe using a repeating power instead of a power combo chain.

Not only did this version of the prototype work, it was waaay more fun to run around and harvest. The animators enhanced it even more with some flourish animations to break up the visual pacing. Enabling the fly text that was shut-off by default made it feel even better since fly-text not only gives valuable feedback to the player as to how much damage their current tool is doing vs the current resource node, but it also creates a nice sense of progression as you get better at Harvesting (and it creates some visual eye candy!)

Crowfall Harvesting SummonTool Watermarked-612x1024


That’s right there are still things we can and will do to make the Harvesting feel even better. We have a couple more pieces that are in the prototype phase that might or might not survive the prototyping process. Once the trays are online, we also need to go back and test a bunch of our previous assumptions relating to how players behave when in or out of the various stances (things like run speeds, sprinting, knockdown, etc.) This new system gives is a much stronger foundation to work from, so we will see where this new path leads!


Updates to the Power Tray system led to all players having a Survival Tray, and it created some opportunities to prototype with the Harvesting mechanics. The prototyping really paid off, and we now have a more action-based Harvesting system, a system that allows for consumable items (and Power Tray use of them) and provides a better base for future changes.

We have had a great time building this system, and we look forward to getting it in front of you as part of the 5.3 update!

As always, please feel free to leave comments on the forums, and we’ll see you in game!

Thomas “Blixtev” Blair
Design Lead, ArtCraft Entertainment

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