Extra Punctuation

Extra Punctuation
Weapon-Crafting That Works

Ben "Yahtzee" Croshaw | 27 Sep 2011 16:00
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Videogame jargon term of the week is "Vendor trash." For the uninitiated, this term is used to describe random scraps, clutter and offal picked up from containers and slain foes whose only purpose is to be sold to merchants for spare change. Vendor trash can apply either to items that literally have no other use, such as the rusty tins or scorpion buttocks one's pockets inevitably fill with in World of Warcraft, or to items that have a use for a character build other than yours, such as scraps of ammo for a weapon you don't use or particularly like in Deus Ex.

I bring up vendor trash because Dead Island is absolutely up to the eyeballs in the stuff, and in many cases the vendor trash you find literally is trash, picked off the floor or out of bins. No other character in the entire storied sphere of videogaming acts more like a hobo. Not even Ethan Thomas from Condemned 2, and he literally was one. It's all part of Dead Island's weapon crafting system, which I'm not sure I like at all. It does allow you to upgrade your trusty sledgehammers into colourful playthings with nails on the end, but it brings with it the tedious necessity of hunting through every random container for every last spunky tissue and peanut shell on the off-chance that there'll be a recipe that calls for it.

The alternative was the Dead Rising 2 system in which inventory space was extremely limited and the recipes were extremely specific. You weren't supposed to carry around mountains of random garbage, just go to the appropriate shops to find the one or two specific objects needed to make the crafted weapon. The problem with that was it raised the question of why the game was happy to let you tape machetes to broom handles but not steak knives to curtain rods or meat cleavers to mic stands.

So in a nutshell I've been given cause to think about weapon crafting. I think it's a sound concept to experiment with. Variety is never a bad thing to have in a game, especially when you're talking about something that's used as often as weapons, and doubly especially in a first person game when they're usually being held right next to your face for 99% of the game experience. There's also an added pride and investment to a kill when you're using a really effective weapon you made yourself with your avatar's own pixelated hands, rather than something you prised from a dead bloke five minutes ago.

But it seems to me that there's no reason it couldn't be taken to its logical extreme. These systems in Dead Island and Dead Rising 2 have really only danced around the potential. Why waste effort on modeling and animating 50-odd specific predetermined crafted weapons when you could allow for infinite possibilities?

I refer you to that Banjo Kazooie game on the 360 whose name I don't quite care enough about to look up before I stop typing this sentence. Its gimmick was that the player constructed their own vehicles from small base components. There have been a few Lego games that do something similar. I also refer you with slight hesitation to Spore. All of these games gave the player crafting tools that were practically in-game art programs, and would then move and animate the creations procedurally.

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