Estimating Difficulty

When A Tale in the Desert introduced barley as a growable crop, they also added a technology that could be unlocked by donating 100,000 barley to a university. How did they get the number 100,000? Nekhmet (one of the developers) grew a bunch of barley, they figured that the players would learn more efficient techniques (ATitD uses player skill-based crafting), and then they multiplied to get a large but not ridiculous number of hours of work. It turned out that Nekhmet was a prodigy at growing barley, at that technology was unavailable for months until ad hoc additions to the game allowed barley output to double and triple.

When Guild Wars 2 introduced pumpkin carving, a few hundred pumpkins were hidden around the world. It was an exploration achievement: find 150 to unlock the title. A technological problem let the same pumpkins respawn after carving, and they spawned on a per-character basis for a per-account achievement, so you could get the title without leaving Lion’s Arch.

When The Lord of the Rings Online introduced Mines of Moria, the dungeon fights that were its endgame were a mass of bugs and exploits, some of which were obviously unintended (stand in a doorway while a door closes: your weapons are on one side, your body is on the other, and the boss cannot hit you) while others surprised the players when they were declared “unintended” (kite the boss around his throne so that it is between the two of you when he uses his devastating area effect attack).

When City of Heroes introduced the Hamidon raid, players found a variety of ways to beat it, ranging from sniping it from beyond its range to capitalizing on teleportation and invulnerability to avoid damage. For months, every technique used was patched away as an unintended exploit. Some developers claimed that there was an intended way to beat Hamidon, but the players never seemed to find the “intended” one, and it is not clear whether it would have actually worked. Hamidon was later reconfigured into a fight with a more obvious “intended” approach.

Guild Wars 2 has a pop-up warning when you start the cooking crafting skill, telling you that it is more expensive in terms of time, silver, and karma than the other trade skills. Cooking is the fastest, cheapest, easiest craft to take to 400 skill, notably having the last points available for a few hundred karma worth of peaches where other skills require dozens of drops or even globs of ectoplasm.

Can you cite a dozen examples from your gaming history where “hard” content was trivial while “easy” content was literally impossible at release? Can you see why I am suspicious of any player claims about how hard something is supposed to be, what the developers’ intent was, or who this is for?

: Zubon

7 thoughts on “Estimating Difficulty”

  1. I’ve maxed out five crafting professions now in Guild Wars 2…and yeah, Cooking was by far the hardest of them to master. The sheer number of ingredients and the fact that some were really rare and some could ONLY be bough with karma meant I spent a ton of time on my main gathering so my cook could progress a few levels. There’s also the fact that many ingredients that are absolute staples (flour, sugar, water, salt, etc.) had to be purchased – anyone who’s done cooking will have spent a small fortune on the profession.

    You don’t need ecto or any items that require dozens of drops until after you’ve maxed any of the other crafting professions (ecto is a level 400 mat, so you’ll already be maxed out by the time you need it).

    I maxed tailoring first, and that was when most fine mats were 1s+ and several of the 400 level fine mats were several silver and ecto were close to 30s apiece (I despaired when I maxed it and realized that powerful blood were 20s). I definitely spent more on tailoring than cooking. However, ones I’ve maxed since – Jewelcrafting, Artificer, Armorsmith, and yes, Cooking, were significantly cheaper, with Cooking having the largest time and gold sink due to the mats that could only be purchased and the massive number of ingredients needed and number of recipes available.

    And that doesn’t even take into account the destruction of your storage that being a chef in GW2 essentially requires…

    1. I kept track of the gold I spent on cooking when I leveled it, it was 1 g 23s. Plus a few thousand karma, but I have gobs of karma that seems to be almost useless. Good luck doing weapon smithing on only 1.2g without farming boatloads of mats or putting in lowball buy orders on the AH. Also, you do need ectos to get the last 25 levels of jewel crafting, unless you want to spend a lot of mithril grinding on green recipes.

      I could see cooking being the most difficult to level if you didn’t have an 80 ready to go knock out a few hearts, but most expensive?

      In other news, I’m all but positive I saw a post just a few weeks back from one of the former CoH devs that there was in fact no intended way to beat the original Hamidon. They just figured that people would somehow manage it.

      1. I spent just over a gold, each, on both armorsmith and artificer. I only had to make one ecto recipe for jewelcrafting, and I had the ecto required already, but generally once you hit 375 crafting one or two items of the karma recipe will max you out (I had no karma on the character I was jewelcrafting on, and that was before recipes were account-bound – I didn’t need it to progess until I was at 390 either). I then promptly sold the jewelry for more than it cost me to make it, bringing the amount I spent on jewelcrafting to nothing.

        Whereas cooking, between merchant mats and some that were just damn hard to find in the world (I never was able to harvest a single vanilla bean, for example), ran me about 3 gold in total. Almost none of what was made was worth selling. Tailoring cost me probably close to 10g, because of how expensive mats were when I did it, but where I to do it again on another character it’d probably run closer to how much I spent on armorsmith, probably a bit more.

        I don’t farm things. I just collect everything (my guild jokes that we travel from resource node to node), and salvage all white drops I get. I had two stacks of iron by the time I got to needing it for armorsmith, had another stack when I needed it for artificer, and managed to get another stack each of bronze to start off my weaponsmith. I’m doing both leatherworker and weaponsmith now and have only had to buy thread so far.

        The biggest way the regular crafting professions are going to cost you actual money is if you try and do more than one at a time and they’re both at the same tier, because then you’ll be splitting mats you need for both. Keep them at different tiers so you can bank up your mats at the same time, and it’s easy to do so cheaply.

      2. At the time, they claimed that we were supposed to induce a “controlled” Yellow Dawn, and then somehow re-clear it. The final strat of “keep Hami held until he dies” was never even remotely intended. The drawback of Hold Phase was the insane lag, and the fact that if enough people lagged badly enough for Hami to break hold, the resulting Yellow Dawn rendered the entire zone uninhabitable until server reset. I vastly prefer New Hami, I gotta say.

        I still remember when they were beta testing the new Hamidon encounter, and they had just massively wiped. The few survivors started recalling everyone, the call went out on Broadcast “It’s time for some Slick Twilight!” (Foe-targetted power that res’d any dead allies in range, plus a location-aoe Oil Slick that had to be “killed” with fire damage to ignite it. One plus one equals mass resurrect in complete safety). The Dev in charge of the new Hamidon, Back Alley Brawler, said “O.o!” in channel. They’d never even considered that combo. And then they left it in, because it was so totally awesome they couldn’t bear to take it away.

  2. Getting 400 Leatherworking was a breeze. Very, very straightforward. That’s my only maxed craft skill so far. Other members of our guild were maxed in several crafts – leatherworking, tailoring, jewellery, around the end of the first week.

    My cooking, on the other hand, is stuck in the mid-200s and likely to stay there. Yes, it may be easy if you “cheat” by looking up recipes. I look up nothing. I looked up nothing for Leatherworking but all the combos followed a very obvious pattern and I needed to Discover only a fraction of the ones I could see to complete each tier. I was also able to sell everything I made for a profit or use it myself. I made money skilling up.

    Cooking, on the other hand, has no obvious recipe patterns that I can see and a vast number of ingredients. Gathering them requires a huge amount of traveling and Hearts must (probably – I’m guessing here – as I said, I don’t look this stuff up) be completed to open certain vendors for some recipes and ingredients to show up.

    Add to that the incredible amount of bag space cooking takes up and the fact that virtually everything you will ever make sells for 1c on the TP and yes, I do think Cooking is by far the hardest of the craft skills.

    Of course, if you use a guide from a website I imagine you can do it in an hour or two, but I would consider that the same as not having done the skill at all. I’d do it to get something I felt I needed but wasn’t enjoying, but I am loving cooking and I want to discover every single recipe on my own.

  3. The greatest “difficulty” in leveling Chef to 400, if you’re not just using a guide or the wiki, is A) figuring out where in the wide world all those karma ingredients are hiding, and B) trying to cope with 10-30 different intermediate ingredients that you can’t store in collectibles with obfuscated indications of how many of them you need or how long you need to hold on to them. It might only say that there’s one recipe to discover with Pile of Paprika, but it doesn’t count five more with Simple Chili Seasoning. Or whatever. And don’t get me started on Ball of Dough.

    If you’re getting advice from someone that already has done it, or even just referencing the wiki pages for where the ingredients are and what the recipes are, Cooking is *cheap* and pretty easy to hit 400. Knowing that you can buy 100 Horseradish and some cheap Red Meat off the TP to run off 100 Minotaur Steaks with a karma recipe and then you break into the 250 Peaches you knew you needed to buy…… Easy as baking a cake. If you’re trying to do it on pure unaided Discovery, you’re in for a heck of a slog. And you can kiss all your available storage goodbye.

    Having raised all eight to 400, I feel that JC is the cheapest/easiest to level, in large part because the crap that you’re outputting isn’t nearly as crappy as the other tradeskills, and tends to resell for a greater percentage of the mats invested. (Mostly because Trinkets don’t drop, and people are less likely to check every Karma vendor to try to keep them updated.) And the patterns are stupidly simple, and you’re not getting stuck on fangs/bone/venom all the time. If you’re trying to get all eight skills up, whether on one toon or on alts, by far the biggest bottleneck for cash investment or time investment is the piles and piles of Fine mats you need. If you’re only trying to level up one or two, then that bottleneck is far less present, and the balance shifts.

    Personally, I’m just glad I’m *done*. I think I made about 4g when I finally got that last 400 and liquidated my Collectibles bank.

  4. When we launched DAOC, the dragons were intended to be extremely difficult (huge bucket of hit points, devastating attacks, etc.). One simple bug moved them from extremely difficult to “You’ve *got* to be kidding!”: Dragon breath weapons were line attacks, they affected everyone in front of the dragon when they went off, and were swung through an arc, badly hurting everyone they hit. Problem was, the aggro code pre-empted the arc movement, but didn’t turn off the breath weapon. The dragon would breath, killing its current target. It would switch to the next target, badly hurting or killing everyone in the semi-circle between. Since it took spamming taunts to keep the aggro off the spellcasters, often the next target would be a spellcaster, who would die immediately from the breath weapon, causing the dragon to switch to the next target….

    We called it “pinwheeling”, and several hundred characters attacking a dragon could be killed in a few seconds. It took some time for us to even realize it was happening, because the dragons were supposed to be insanely tough and huge forces being wiped out was what we *expected* to happen.


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