So, you may recall last week we got some juicy information on Circuit Board Crafting with a little comment that the opportunity will come to design an item slot for inclusion into the game. Well, here's that opportunity, hosted here on WSC! Of course, you're going to need a little more information so for all the details, we turn you back over to Primus again... Hey everyone! This is Primus, back again to talk today about Item Slots. As part of the iterative process of game design, we are adding new Item Slots to the character. We are actually adding four new slots, three of which we have pretty much decided on. For the final slot, we wanted to allow you guys, the Community, an opportunity to voice your thoughts and contribute meaningfully to the design. In order to do that you have to understand why we are adding new slots and what we are trying to accomplish with them. That is what this post is about!On Friday I gave some important context when I talked about our item system. We internally call this system Circuit Board Crafting (CBC). If you have not had a chance to check that out, I strongly encourage you to do so now, as this post will assume a certain amount of familiarity with that system.What is an Item Slot?Each character has a “paper doll” interface with several open spots on it for placing items. These are called Item Slots, and each one can hold one or more different types of items, depending on the character’s class and level. The weapon slot can hold a different weapon based upon which class your character belongs to, for example.The Item Slots we have revealed so far are Weapon, Shield, Chest Armor, Shoulder Armor, Feet Armor, Hand Armor, Leg Armor, Head Armor, and Gadget. That is nine total locations, eight of which can have stats on them. The number of slots for gear has an impact on many systems within the game and the way things are balanced, the flow of rewards from questing, how many different items there are on a boss drop table, and so on.About a year and a half ago we cut several slots, including Belt, Face, Rings, and some other jewelry. Why did we cut them? The Circuit Board Crafting (CBC) System allows you to move Microchips from one item to another. Our goal for this system is to make it encourage players to select the best parts of multiple items and merge them together to form one awesome item. As we began to plan loot progression we knew that Microchips would often be the only part of the item you want. You may have to get an Ability Chip off of one boss and blue ARC (Attribute Relay Chip) in order to upgrade that awesome new weapon you just got. It made sense at the time that we implemented this system that we have less Item Slots, because it takes more work to fill each one. I will get back to this point later. Some Items Slots we had were not very WildStar. We like to talk internally about what is and what isn’t WildStar and we felt that rings and jewelry are great for a hardcore fantasy setting, but do not fit in well with our whimsical sci-fi setting as types of gear. We removed some Slots we felt were out-of-theme. These slots happened to also be our only class-independent slots, meaning that everyone could equip any of them. Class-Independent slots are a good option to have, which we'll talk about later as well. There were some difficulties with Art. We did not specifically cut slots because of this, but it did influence which slots we cut. The Belt Slot is a good example of a difficult slot to deal with. Each visual display for leg armor and chest armor has to line up exactly with each visual display for the belt. This caused a lot of unnecessary restrictions for artists creating new outfits and quite a few bugs. Cutting belts not only lifted some of those restrictions and headaches, but it obviously also meant we did not have to make the belt art assets in the first place. This had a ripple effect on other assets, allowing the team to create more varied and interesting housing items, for example. We also cut the Face Slot at the same time for similar reasons. About a year ago we decided to add Augments, which were class-specific items that changed how your abilities worked. We recently decided to move this functionality to another system, so Augments were cut (but not the cool stuff they did). Since these decisions have occurred, we have been iterating on systems, creating tons of new content, polishing the existing zones, creating dungeons and adventures, planning the Elder Game, and generally working our butts off to make an awesome game. We are getting to the point where we are really seeing everything come together. We get to see how our designs work out in real time, with actual players hammering on the game. Sometimes we see things gel better than expected and we want to propagate them into other areas. Other times we have unexpected issues pop up and we have to figure out how to modify designs to deal with them or remove a system all together. Sometimes things just are not fun and have to be changed. Fun is king.We had a method for itemizing quests in the game that was not fun. Every third quest or so would give you two decent upgrades to choose from, and you would completely replace your gear every level. This may sound fun, but what actually ends up happening is that you never feel like you are getting an upgrade because your choices are always marginally better than what you have. You do not get that JACKPOT feeling.We have group content , Public Events, and Challenges which all give you a chance to score better items. A lot of people really enjoy figuring out where they are going to get their next item from and going after them. That is something that is lost in the previous method, where you knew that even if you missed a specific quest this level, you’d just replace the item in the next section of the zone you were in.So why did we decide to re-add slots? We wanted to decrease the rate at which you improve a specific slot, so that it feels better, but doing so reduces the overall rate at which you get cool stuff. To compensate for that, we need more types of cool stuff to give out. Previously at level three you would have access to five different slots! That means you start repeating rewards after just five quests, if you get a reward from every quest like you do in Northern Wilds. If we have more Item Slots to give out, that means we can go more quests before we start to repeat rewards. This holds true in the Elder Game as well, where you get more frequent upgrades in dungeons due to having more slots, but you don't have to worry about throwing away that new gear you just earned for something better immediately after winning it. Earlier I talked about crafting and modding requiring parts from multiple items. This is a situation where the sum of the parts does not equal the whole. It is satisfying to get a new item, but it is not quite as satisfying to get a new microchip, which you can put in the item. We can use the new microchips as shorter term rewards, but we felt like we have been shy a couple item slots for pacing purposes. This will allow us to increase the drop rates on items without affecting the overall amount of time it takes you to gear up. The not-WildStar slots we removed served a very important purpose – they provided a different set of “buckets” for itemization. Sometimes designers talk about itemization as a bucket problem. It is related in a lot of ways to probability and statistics. Each bucket is a group of classes/specs that can use the same gear. For example, if you have Heavy Armor with Strength locked onto it (locked chips cannot be changed), that bucket is only for Warriors, because only Warriors use Heavy Armor and want Strength. However, if we are talking about a Shield with Locked Strength, then that is useful for both the Warrior and the Stalker. Removing slots that were Armor-Independent reduced our ability to switch up buckets. We would like to get some of that utility back so that when you are in a raid competing for drops, you are not always competing with exactly the same group of people (this creates undo pressure to metagame your group composition to promote less competition for drops, something we definitely want to avoid as much as possible). We need to replace Augments, which you used to have two Slots for. A few months ago we added the Shield Slot to the game. This brought back a class-independent slot and through utilizing it, we realized that we were really missing out by not having more class-independent slots. Design Goals and RestrictionsSo now you have some background information on why we are adding new slots and what sorts of things we have considered with adding or removing slots. As a designer, I use information like this to constrain my design. It is good to start with a list of goals and restrictions – we have a lot of information here to make that list. Sometimes we ignore restrictions when brainstorming, but the ultimate answer will have to account for them in some way.Design Goals have granularity, and smaller goals are derived from overarching goal. In this case, one major goal is “Make getting rewards awesomer”. This is a driving goal for this change. Other goals can be derived from this, but they have to progress this goal.Most of our restrictions are related to developer resources. Any time we devote resources to creating something new, those are resources that cannot be used elsewhere. Our priority is to make a fun game, but we have to make smart choices about how we do it, and pick and choose what to focus on.Here is an incomplete list of Goals and Restrictions: Make getting rewards awesomer! We are adding slots so that we can increase the number of rewards given out. These items should be easy to pass out on quests or dungeons. These items will use Circuit Board Crafting and Modding, because we want to have incremental rewards related to them (microchips and power amps). New slots must use existing technology. This basically means we have to limit the amount of code time required to add these, so we can't do anything crazy like "a slot that changes every animation for every ability." No new art assets! Unfortunately this means we cannot make a new visible slot, no matter how cool and innovative it is. New Slots should not require space on the Limited Action Set (LAS). This means no “clickies”. Items should scale in power with their level, not the player’s level. Generally flat increases are better than % increases. We do not want players to farm low level areas to get the best Weapon in the game because it has the only +10% to all stats Special. A “self-revive injector” has a similar problem – it is just as good at Elder Game, if not better. Some of these restrictions are not absolute, but we like to pretend that they are. We want to create fun, but we have a finite amount of resources to do so. We are really looking for the best bang for the buck, so to speak. It does not take a ton of work to add a new slot that just gives stats, but we are passed the phase of development where we can justify creating whole new systems, or redesigning entire swaths of content.For those interested in taking a shot, I have some suggestions about how to utilize our existing technology to come up with great ideas.Design by RestrictionA powerful way to design is to categorize things and then restrict how you make new things based upon that. I will give an example from our very own WildStar! We have a Feet Slot that often makes use of Item Specials. We have a system (coming) for restricting which microchips can be modded onto which items. We have decided that movement related specials only go on the Feet Slot, so now you have may to choose between 10% move speed and 2 extra meters of jump height, because you only have one Specials Socket on your boots. This is good design because it creates meaningful choice without requiring any new coding. Spell SystemOur Spell system is pretty flexible and powerful (and complicated!). The same system is used for class abilities, stimpacks, and Item Specials. There may be opportunities to fake systems using Spells. A lot of innovative things can be done without additional technology, just by using this system. Unfortunately I cannot really spell out everything it is capable of. Theme ItMake sure that the slot has good theming. Remember that we removed Rings because they did not fit the flavor of WildStar. We have released lots of awesome flavorful videos that capture the sort of personality we strive for.An Actual Example!This milestone I created several proposals for new Item Slots. We are implementing three of them and another three or so were discarded. This example is one of the ones we are implementing. It has a good theme, is simple to implement, and is fairly elegant in its design. Some of the information has been [redacted] so that Aether does not murder nag at me.Weapon AttachmentThis is a universal slot for Assault Power and offensively oriented stats and abilities. It uses the CBC System. It may have a Specials Socket that has access to use Weapon Specials, making it the only destination other than a Weapon to place Weapon Special Microchips. A percent of this item’s Power will always be spent on Assault Power, making it the only non-Weapon slot to get Assault Power, as well.Implementation:This slot will use the CBC System, and make use of Slot-Restricted Microchips. Items of this Slot can be socketed with General or Weapon Special Microchips. Schematics for this slot will always utilize either 20%, 30%, or 40% of their Power on the Assault Power stat. The Assault Power Microchip will always be Locked in. The Assault Power Microchip is not extractable or moddable. Random Stat Chips for this item will include the offensive stats only. That’s it! There is a theme and a few rules. I have not created any new systems or made any sweeping changes. The most controversial part of this chip is that we are now allowing players to have up to two Weapon Specials, where we previously were only allowing one. This may limit the types of things we can do with Weapon Specials, but since most of them have not been created yet, that is okay.Hopefully you will take away a little bit of insight into how we go about making design decisions, and how much work goes into a task that seems small. I hope you guys take a swing at this task and I look forward to all of the creative and innovative ideas you come up with.