Interview: Camelot Unchained lays out its innovative alchemy system

One of the major slices of content being worked on in this current 90-day quadrant of Camelot Unchained development is its crafting system, specifically and initially the design of alchemy. During City State’s afternoon stream, the studio explained that the alchemy craft will essentially allow players to mix “an almost unlimited number of combinations” using ingredients with an ever-increasing number of effects. It’s a consumables craft that requires experimentation and tinkering and allows players to come up with their own favorite recipes.

Ahead of today’s stream, we got a sneak peek of the alchemy system, including a tour through the spreadsheet tool simulating the combination system, and we spoke to City State’s Mark Jacobs about the craft’s influences, innovations, and impacts. Read on for the details!

MassivelyOP: I can definitely see the Elder Scrolls influences here, but my first thought was, “Oh, Asheron’s Call!” For those not familiar, AC1 had a huge array of ingredients for spells, and players were meant to combine them and try to figure out the formulas on their own. Of course, that created a scenario where people figured out the good formulas almost immediately and then shared them online, which meant there wasn’t much point to having it. How exactly is CU avoiding that trap?

CSE’s Mark Jacobs: I’m not as familiar with AC1 as other MMORPGs, but AC1 was a recipe-based system, correct? In our system you can have recipes for items, but it is not the core of the system. There will definitely be some bad combinations as well as combinations that are both bad and good at the same time as that overall, they are worth using despite the negative effects that come along with the positive. I don’t see that as a trap at all, just part of the game. And please keep in mind that this system allows people to make potions that might have a really great Effect(s) but also have some side effects that are, for them, worth taking the potion for. Sort of like taking the bad with the good. As you mention below, SWG had that same type of system and it worked great in that game. Hopefully it will work as well in this game.

Do you think the variety and number or expense will be enough to deter sharing, or are people still going to zero in on the ideal combos?

As this system is 100% deterministic (at least for now), there isn’t one ideal combination per Effect, or at least I hope not.

For example, let’s say that you wanted to make a basic health potion. Because of the way these types of systems work, you could have a lot of different combinations of ingredients to create the potion. The key, though, is that no matter what combination you use, you only get a health potion, not an improved health potion unless you match a different Effect. So, if you used the finest ingredients in the world but they only matched the Health Potion 1 Effect, you would still get a Health Potion 1 whether you used the cheapest ingredients or the best ingredients. And what is ideal will depend on what the player wants at the time. You might want to create a consumable with Health Potion 1 and Speed Buff 1 vs. Health Potion 1 and HoT Potion 1. Or, if you don’t have access to some of the ingredients you typically use, you can substitute other ingredients. That’s why this type of system is more flexible than a standard recipe system.

Now, you can make a recipe system that works like this by allowing types of items, rather than exact items themselves, into recipes, and that makes it a lot more flexible. I’m doing that with the Cooking System, as a matter of fact.

(Note that this is just a concept pic for the general crafting UI, not the final look of the alchemy UI itself.)
Put another way, what does the in-game financial burden of this system look like – are you expecting only wealthy players/guilds will be doing true experimentation while everyone else just borrows formulas because of the expense of test-tubing one’s way through the system? Or do you expect the cost of experimentation to be relatively superfluous for the average player?

That’s a huge concern for me with any of our systems/mechanics, whether crafting or combat. However, as of now, I’m not focused on using gold sinks for this type of system, but we will use time sinks with your Vox. This mechanic has been part of all my discussions about crafting ever since the Kickstarter began. It’s one of the main reasons I went with a Vox (crafting station) versus separate places/stands because I wanted our crafters to be able to do more, if they choose, than stand in front of a Vox watching the paint chip off. Most experimentation will not destroy an item. And as you level up your Vox’s skill and your skills, discovering what an ingredient is made of will get easier and easier.

How will the actual combining screen appear for players? You mentioned that we won’t be playing a Match 3 game, but what will the matching “minigame” actually look like for the player, UI-wise in the game?

Still TBD of course, but it isn’t going to be about playing Match 3 or Match 10 for example.

One of the things that leaped out at me is that this is an elaborate alchemy system for an MMO, but you’re deliberately limiting the effectiveness of the crafted potions in PvP, which let’s be honest is what CU is mostly about. How exactly does prepping a bunch of long-duration potions before heading to the RvR areas really change things – won’t everyone still need to potion-load? Aren’t we just changing when the potion chugging is happening?

Couple things to keep in mind. First, I’m only limiting the effectiveness of the potions that can be used to aid a player during PvP. And all other potions, dyes, etc. will not be limited in that way and will be quite effective and useful. So, only one part of this system is limited and even then, only to help ensure that there is a more level playing field for battles, without imposing the potion-loading you mention. The elaborate nature of the overall system will be fun for Crafters but the mechanics for all parts of this system will be the same, which will make it very easy for Crafters to segue from one part of Alchemy to another.

Secondly, yes, we are changing when chugging happens, but that’s the key. By limiting its usefulness minute-to-minute in PvP, we keep the fight focused on the players’ ability to fight in RvR, not who has the most pots. Also, the thing with long-duration potions is that players will have time to stock up on them – which isn’t the case if you have short-duration and highly useful potions, of course, unless you have unlimited access to them and unlimited bank vaults of holding! If a player can get a HoT potion that works for days or a week, that means that the player only has to have a few potions to be covered for days of RvR in their vaults. And since that is the case, putting some potions into their vaults ahead of when they will need them is something smart players will do so that as their supplies run low, they will still have a lot of time to get replacements. Also, since insta-heals via pots is not a thing in RvR, there will be no need to go out into the wilderness with enough potions and lotions to stock a local CVS. ???? And as I also talked about during the KS, players can’t have an unlimited number of buffs on them at any one time. That’s also a big deal in an RvR game like CU. As the buffs lean to HoTs, rather than major stat boosts or insta-heals, players won’t worry quite as much about going out into RvR if they weren’t able to pre-game. And as some of those same HoTs or buffs can be added by a healing-class, there will be multiple ways to get the same kind of buffs without even having potions.

As designed, this system is intended to favor core crafters but still be accessible to a degree for “popcorn” crafters. I’m curious whether you think it will actually be worth the trouble to the majority of players to try to be hybrid on this front, especially if the system isn’t going to heavily factor into PvP. Why not just buy stuff from the local specialized alchemist? Is there any reason other than convenience?

Exactly, but there are people like me out there who don’t mind doing a bit of crafting but who don’t want to be full-time crafters. This also is a good fallback for players who can’t get, for whatever reason, some of the more basic potions. It’s really not much extra work for us to do this, as you can see from the spreadsheet. A couple of values, some animations and we’re good to go. So, from our end, it’s an easy add. And if we want to save that time, we can let players use the communal Voxen that we’ve talked about in the past. Thus, even if it’s just a small number of people per Realm who want to do this and its cost to development is minor, it seemed to me to be a nice addition.

Can we talk about interaction penalties and side effects a bit? You mention that some combos will generate unwanted disadvantages – but do you anticipate some players using that on purpose? For example, Star Wars Galaxies’ spice came with huge bonuses and highly annoying “downers,” but they were still worth using, often even above other buffs that had no disads. Will players be willingly trading off one boost for another, or are they meant to avoid all penalties when they can?

Spot on, again. That’s exactly what I’m going for, so I think that the answer is yes.

And just how often are budding alchemists going to be blowing themselves up? 😀

Hehehe, never enough to suit me! In truth, not very often. But I keep thinking back to the scene in Captain America, where Howard Stark is working with the Hydra weapon that was powered by the power of an Infinity Stone, and blows himself and his lab assistant across the room. ????

(Note that this is just a concept pic for the general crafting UI, not the final look of the alchemy UI itself.)
What happens to experiments that go awry but not catastrophically? Can players junk them or salvage them in any way to get back ingredients?

Right now the plan is to make failed experiments useful and not a gold sink. So yes, a way to salvage will be available. In general, I’m not a fan of systems where you can lose everything again, and again, and again as a gold sink or way to gate success. I’d rather use a time sink and/or Vox sink to accomplish the same thing.

Will any other crafts in the game see similar mechanics, or is alchemy the only one that will work with this combo-discovery system?

Right now only Alchemy is using this system.

Can you give us a glimpse into how other crafts might differ? (It seems like this system would work a lot better for cooking than for, say, smithing.)

Sure! Cooking might use a hybrid recipe system that allows types of ingredients as well as specific ingredients for the recipes. Other systems have done this of course. Based on the small amount of time I played with my version of that type of system, I think it will work quite well.

The calculator/spreadsheet I got to preview ahead of this reveal – which I imagine similar to what the devs are actually using to tweak this system – is definitely complicated, on par with the kinds of spreadsheets I build for my SWG and City of Heroes toons. (This is not a spreadsheet players will need to see, but I suspect they will build one on their own. Players always do!) And I don’t feel like the spreadsheet itself is difficult to follow, but once you get hundreds of mats in the system, nobody’s going to remember which mats go with what. Even with just a handful of ingredients and containers and effects in this demo sheet, I can see this system spiraling out of player accessibility really quickly. So I guess I want to understand how the bulk of players are going to see this system – are they going to see the depth and freak out at the idea of spending time in a spreadsheet (or more likely the inevitable website calculator) just to figure it out? Is the in-game UI going to be structured to make all this much easier? Do the devs see people just mucking around with it, or do you think we’ll be playing “spreadsheets in Camelot”?

First, the calculator is what I used to design the system and which will be continually tweaked by design. Spreadsheets just make things so much easier for doing this type of stuff. On the other hand, for players, I don’t want them to have to spend as much time for Alchemy as they will for the crafting of other items such as weapons and armor. And even if you added hundreds of ingredients, somebody can and will write a spreadsheet/code where you put in your desired Effect and the spreadsheet would list all the combinations you could use. And even without that, players will post possible paths to follow just as they do with other games. Now, since many of the ingredients will be Realm-locked or only available in the other Realms, players won’t have to worry about managing huge amounts of data unless they start characters on other servers for the other Realms (okay, I’d be one of them). And even then, it isn’t about managing a lot of data per item, it really is mostly about the Properties used in the matching system. And our Crafters’ Voxen will handle that via a UI and the recipes you store in it, so you don’t have to remember every combination you’ve used. That would be cruel.

As always, thank you Bree and MOP for the questions. I hope you and all our possible Crafters out there liked what you heard and now look forward to playing around with the system!

Thanks as always for speaking with us! Readers who are interested in the alchemy system should definitely give the stream a re-watch, and if you’re more curious about studio-related goings-on, stay tuned for our second interview later this month on the state of the game/studio and its funding.



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