Ultima Game Developer: Crafting
Crafting in role-playing games tends to go one of three ways. Too often it is all performed “off-screen” by NPCs, which then sell the results to the player. Some, like in the Ultima series, make combinations for all items that can be created that work the same every time, assuming the correct steps are followed. Finally, there are some games in which crafting skills must be learned and honed, so that in addition to the right ingredients in the right order, you must be skilled enough to succeed, and either do so or fail based on your rank in that skill.
When you design a game, determine what type of item creation you will allow. If you character can forge their own swords using rare and mystical ingredients, with very little guidance, then they will likely want to bake bread, enchant a magic shield, and brew their own beer as well. Each thing that is added increases the interactivity of the world, and the difficulty of a well-constructed game.
Whether you use a skill system or not, think about whether the player should always succeed. In Ultima VII, the Avatar has the opportunity to visit the Isle of Fire, and create the Black Sword, also known as Arcadion, or the Shade Blade. To do so, he must trick the daemon Arcadion into an ether gem, which he recovers from a neigh-indestructable dragon, and forge a sword from pieces of blackrock by properly heating the blade in magical fire and beating it with a summoned hammer. After quenching the blade, the gem was set into the pommel, giving life to the powerful artifact. If any part of this was performed incorrectly, it must be redone. For such a heroic feat, making it impossible to fail completely can be understood. However, the Avatar can also create loaves of bread from flour all day, never burning any. While the mechanics of this can be understood, it makes it seem less realistic. The Avatar also does not show any training in either profession, yet can perform both admirably.
If Ultima VII were produced using the Ultima Online skill system, it is likely that the Avatar would need to work on his Blacksmithy skill before he could attempt the forging of the Shade Blade, but if he failed the pieces would be returned to him for another attempt. If he failed his Cooking check for bread, however, the flour would be wasted and the bread lost. Using such a skill system is the focus of another Ultima Game Developer post.
For an Ultima-style game, the “do anything” model from Ultima VII is probably the best to use for single-player games, although you could consider adding a chance of failure to any attempt. Just remember that if an important combine fails, the player needs to have a recovery option. On the other hand, a social or massively multiplayer game might benefit from a full skill system, where crafting increases the diversity and opportunities for player interaction.