Crafter's Roundtable: The concept of Matrixed Progression


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Note: Like all Crafter's Roundtables, this is also posted on the official forums for discussion. The goal of every Crafter's Roundtable is to generate community discussion that might help the developers at Visionary Realms as they move forward with implementing the Crafting sphere in the game.


During the Crafting Developer Roundtable a few months ago, Ceythos mentioned that he was looking at the idea of a different type of progression for crafting. Instead of having professions that you choose at creation and then level up inside, he mentioned that he was exploring the idea of a more free-form, skill-based type of progression and whether that might work out better for Pantheon.

I call this concept Matrixed Progression, and today I wanted to post an example of how it *might* work. My goal with this is to get people thinking about the concept, not to say that it should work in any specific way. There are a few advantages to matrixed progression if it's done right.

1) You don't have to treat each area of crafting equally. In a profession-based system, you can't really make alchemy harder than cooking, because people need to be able to choose either one of those when they start out. Likewise, you have to make sure you have enough things to make in each profession so that it feels like a real profession. In a matrixed model, it's ok if you have 200 cooking recipes and only 20 alchemy recipes, and it's also ok if you make those 20 alchemy recipes much more challenging in terms of their requirements. You can do what makes sense for each type of crafting and its role in the game.

2) You can set up cross-area dependencies more easily. In a profession-based system, you can't really make a high-level armorsmith recipe require knowledge of leatherworking, at least not without stretching things quite a bit. However, in a matrixed model, you absolutely can do this, and set up dependencies in any way that makes sense.

3) You don't have to tie everything into a strong vertical progression. In a profession-based system, it's hard to justify meaningful choices like specializations in certain types of items. For example, if you wanted your weaponsmiths to be able to further specialize in creating swords, or spears, or axes, you'd have to come up with similar specialization choices for every other profession you have. In a matrixed model however you can have different specializations in different places. You can set things up so that players can choose to go deep in particular areas or focus more broadly across an entire type of crafting.

This isn't to say that matrixed progression doesn't have some potential downsides. For starters, it's more complicated than a profession-based model, and that can be a deterrent to players, or at least require an innovative UI to help them understand their choices. Likewise, depending on how you set the rules of crafting up, it's possible that matrixed progression might allow players to stack bonuses and make things easier than you, as the designer, had intended. Like any other game system, it requires careful planning and thought during implementation.

Anyway, because Ceythos mentioned this during his roundtable, I think it's something we should all think about. Below is a very simple example of what matrixed progression *might* look like that I worked up. It's just there to get people thinking.

In this example, the crafter starts at Novice Artisan (at the bottom). From there they pick a general crafting type (Blacksmith) and work their way up the tree, which branches out as they go. Each skill box along the way has some requirements to unlock it and provides some benefits, whether those are additional recipes that can be crafted, new techniques that can be used during crafting, or bonuses to the efficiency of some of those techniques. I've done my best to show this at the top with a focus on one of the boxes. You could imagine this being a mockup for an in-game UI where crafters chart out their progress or figure out what they want to work on next.

To make a system like this work long-term while still encouraging interdependence and socialization, there would probably need to be a limit on how many boxes an individual player could have unlocked at any given time. This might be a hard limit (for example, you can only ever unlock 35 boxes, and you have to give one up if you want a different one after that), or it can be a soft limit, where the more boxes you unlock, the bigger the requirements are for each additional box after that. Either way though, the system allows you to pick up the boxes that you care the most about, and ignore the ones that you don't.

Just to be totally crystal clear, this diagram is just a very basic example to help kickstart the conversation. If I was going to try to design a progression matrix for Pantheon right now, with all the different types of crafting that could be in the game, in as much detail as I think they deserve, the resulting diagram would be FAR too big for the forums. I hope everyone will take time to talk about the idea of matrixed progression and how it can work in Pantheon.


There are some very interesting elements in that suggestion.

To allow players to start off with any profession is to set yourself up with baseline of redundant content. As time goes on, that baseline will start to wide even more and the amount of players present in those stages of skills will increase. In other words, if you allow players to start off and develop basic skills in all classes quite easily and relatively fast, these players will have pushed up to the ‘skill’ – point where further advancement would take them more (too much or less convenient) time investment. Over a period of years, many players will keep advancing this broad baseline as it is the easiest and quickest way to advance the character (even if those basic skills do not benefit the player much). The abundance of skilful players at that level will have its impact on the economy at that level and also on how that tier of content is perceived. If the crafted content at that skill level has become saturated by players, it will start to trickle down into the adventure side of that tier. This could start to undermine the value of early tier content.

In order to slow this scenario down, as you cannot really prevent this from happening in any game, a stricter limitation on number of skills/profession choice per character would be needed. Bringing it down to just 1 per character is ultimately the best path to slow things down the best you can.
You can start off by zooming in on the skill requirement details, that might slow things down as well. But if you do not restrict the player in its choices, even these skill requirements will be caught up relatively quickly. Especially when you’re just looking at the lowest skill advancements. There would be little need for interdependence in these first few stages of artisan development. This isn’t a bad thing per se as the player can have a taste of all styles of crafting and they can choose to specialize later on and spend their time at the work station they prefer.

The fun factor is also something to consider. As you mentioned, you only showcased one simple matrix. But if you’d implement the entire matrix into the game, how enjoyable would this overview be for the player? They’d have a wall of skill-options in front of them. A starting player might not be motivated to even commence this section of the game. Or are only the known/explored things of the matrix visible to the player?...In this case you’re talking about an entirely different experience for the player. How do you create a hunger/motivation in the player to actively work towards skilling up in all skills? You either allow them to experience advancement at regular moments in time. If you don’t, the player might be discouraged over time and experience it as a dull drag through the mud in order to get where they want to go? Just imagine skilling up one line of your suggested matrix, how long will it take, will the journey be fun, am I stimulated to invest more time to max out in other lines as well? The question here becomes: Will I be very good at something unique or will I just dabble a bit in everything and not be excelling in anything at all. Both of these scenarios might have demanded equal amount of time investment of the player.

A player should be able to test out the different crafting classes. (although I see a scenario where races can determine how skilled one might be able to get in certain crafting classes) After spending a certain amount of time exploring, the player should then decide which trade skill-class they prefer to advance in. At this point the game could have explained why they have to make that choice and how to solve possible issues they might have by this restriction. Here, the game can implement storylines where the player needs to start interacting with other crafters in order to continue in their chosen profession.

Overall, VR has already directed their game towards meaningful choices with the up and downsides of those choices. You choose a race that has pro’s and con’s (you can’t be any class in each race), you choose a class within that race that has its specifics. It would seem fitting that crafting would have similar design. This just for sake of being a complementary design choice. I’m not saying trade skill professions should be linked to a race, but rather that one needs to make a decision and accept the consequences of it.

In case shared banking would be in the game, your suggestion would play in the hands of independency. As players can make alts and with only 2-3 alts could cover all classes. Even with soft or hard caps on your so called boxes. To slow down this scenario from happening over time, 1 class per player could be a good design decision.

This matrix would allow for a quicker advancement in multiple styles of crafting. When you have only 1 craft style available, the time required to advance can be longer. But if you take the same time requirement and implement it into your matrix, it might discourage the players from continuing as they’re not experiencing this advancement often enough. The multiple class matrix thus requires faster advancement, which can put pressure on putting out more content or faster content over time as people start to reach the max of those boxes. You could play the exponential card, but then you’ll have to consider the grind-drag scenario and how much of this would still be enjoyable?

One way to allow multiple class choices, might be to link the pace of advancement with the amount of skill points earned. A player with few overall skill points might be able to earn more points faster in comparison to an advanced player that has accumulated a lot of points already. Every line of boxes is still available, it’s just the more overall skill points you earn, the slower gaining new points will be, no matter which skill box you’re working on at the time. An example could be; a Novice artisan (5 points earned so far) and a Master Blacksmith (500 points earned so far) both decide to commence at the bottom of the woodworking class. The Novice artisan will earn points more quickly than the Master Blacksmith. In a sense this suggestion is putting a break on advancement based on your current progress. Why? To prevent fast pace progression and diminish the value of meaningful choices within crafting. (I hope, that you understand where I’m going with this.) In this mechanic, investment really start to matter


A more complex take on this last suggestion would be that you put communality of different classes into the equation. Some skills of a provisioner might be closer linked to an alchemist than to a blacksmith for example. This mutuallity could allow for faster progression in that skill if the player already has related skills in the alchemist skill lines. The level of a skill box could be a factor that has an impact on the pace of advancement. If you have 1 level 2 skillbox you'll progress at standard pace within that box. If you have another level 2 skillbox initiated already within that same tradeskill class, you might advance faster in a level 2 skill box of the same skill line or profession. If you have progressed in a level 2 skill box in a different profession, you might get a beneficial boost on advancement/progression but that might be lower than if it would be in earlier mentioned scenario. So in this equation, you have something putting a break on the pace of earning skillpoints (1), but at the same time you have benefactors that impact your progression in the other direction. This might seem complex, but it can make sense and it could make for a logical impact on the choices players make as they hone specific skills. This suggestion does not require a maximum of skillpoints per skillbox. The actual amount of skillpoints within a level X skillbox could be the actual number to put into the mathematical equation, thereby increasing the value and meaning of the time spend by the player within that skillbox.