# The Magic Box

Crafting is about converting resources into goods through some form of manufacturing. To start, think of the manufacturing process as a black box. What goes on inside is magic. On one side of this magic box is a slot that says “input”. You put some combination of items in there and out the other side, from a slot that says “output”, comes some new item. Crafting!

These two slots are the streams. You have an input stream, resources, and you have an output stream, goods. This should remind you of two things we already defined: High Streams and Low Streams. These high/low qualifiers don’t refer to height, but to potential volume of traffic. You can define the difference between a High Stream and Low Stream in many different ways, but we are talking about video games, if you remember, so we define the difference between them by a players ability to hold information in their head; namely, around their short term memory.

The seminal work on short term memory limits was a paper titled “The Magical Number Seven, Plus or Minus Two: Some Limits on Our Capacity for Processing Information” by George Miller. Since then we’ve honed in on it a little more, and the generally accepted limit is four, plus or minus one. It is entirely possible to augment a person’s short term memory limit through certain psychological tricks, like Chunking, so realize that this is not a hard rule, but rather a guideline of intent.

Point is, the way to differentiate a High Stream from a Low Stream is going to be in the player’s ability to hold the entire possibility of that stream in their head, more or less. A game like World of Warcraft limits your profession to only a few materials (around 5), and then even further limits you by your level. Contrast this with a game like Dead Rising 2, where there are hundreds of potential items that you can combine together. This is a rather loose definition, I admit, but it’s surprisingly useful, and you’ll see why in a minute.

Let’s return to this magic black box. We have a stream of resources coming in, and we have a stream of goods coming out, but what about the box itself? The box itself represents the player’s interface to the crafting system, which is what we call Manufacturing. Now, like the streams, we define the manufacturing in one of two ways: Simple Manufacturing, or Complex Manufacturing.

Simple and Complex, in this context, are defined by the mental and physical requirements they ask of the player: aka, how much work is required. A simple system would require nothing more physically demanding than clicking a button, while asking for nothing more intellectually stimulating than reading a list. World of Warcraft is a simple manufacturing system. There is no mystery to what resources are required, as each recipe tells you exactly what is needed, and the only input required to create a product is the click of a button.

Complex manufacturing, on the other hand, requires more from the player. Minecraft’s crafting system would be considered complex, as it requires not only that you figure out what items are required to make something, but also how to lay them out inside the grid. Note, too, that Minecraft on the 360, by these definitions, would be considered simple manufacturing: it’s the same game, but two different implementations. Ask yourself why that change was required, and if it was a change for the better.

# The Crafting Model

All of this combines to give us a model for discussing crafting systems. This is important, for constructing a model to describe crafting systems allows us to define them into archetypes:

  • High – Simple – Low (HSL)
  • Low – Complex – High (LCH)
  • High – Complex – High (HCH)
  • High – Simple – High (HSH)

This looks all nice and neat, certainly, and we can extend this model further, if desired, but we haven’t verified its usefulness, so let’s test it against our cursory understanding of some crafting systems.

# Vanilla WoW – LSH

  • Low Input Stream
    • Each crafting skill is paired with its own unique resource pool — tailoring with cloth, or leatherworking with skinning — which provides a great means of demarcating the resources into metally manageable chunks of information.
  • Simple Manufacturing
    • To craft an item requires, at the most, standing in front of certain objects in the world, while having something in your inventory. Once these requirements are met, the act of crafting requires a click of a button and waiting a set amount of time.
  • High Output Stream
    • The number of items that come out the other side of the crafting system are both various and randomized. There is a predilection of building a bountiful number of the same exact good, in order to grind your skill, but this does not negate the range of goods that can be created with the system. More importantly, for this to match the model, these goods must be created with the same few resources.

# Dead Rising 2 – HCL

  • High Input Stream
    • Almost every item you pick up in Dead Rising 2 has the potential to be a resource in the crafting system. It may not be viable, but it has the potential to be a part of the system.
  • Complex Manufacturing
    • This one can be a confusing. It looks like simple manufacturing, for the system does a really good job of alleviating the complexity: Only two items can be combined, and you collect recipes as you play the game, which show you combinations that will work. Despite this, the player must step up to the system and do more than simply press a button. They must make choices, and those choices require Self Knowledge (Human Capital).
  • Low Output Stream
    • There are a lot of items that can be created in Dead Rising 2, but an output stream is not defined by the totality of its output. It is defined by the number of goods from single resources. Most items in Dead Rising 2 are limited to 1 or 2 combinations.

# Some Others

  • Minecraft (PC) – HCL
  • Minecraft (360) – HSL
  • Dead Island- HSH

The model is seemingly able to slot disparate crafting systems into our archetypes, but we lack an integral component: For an archetype to be meaningful, then it must serve an equally meaningful goal. It is through the combined understanding of archetype and goal that the model becomes useful.