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Brewing alcohol as an alchemy system


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Brewing alcohol is something that is planned for the game, specifically update 1.14, and without there being a hydration system, there would be very little gameplay reason for it. However the inclusion of alcohol brewing as a mechanic opens the game up a very interesting and fun idea:  An alchemy system, in other words a potion and poison brewing system. The goal of the system is not only to allow players to temporally buff oneself for certain tasks, but also reward players for exploration and experimentation, offering them an amount freedom. The alchemy system should therefore also act as a puzzle, to offer enough depth that experimentation and mastering the system is actually useful, rather than there being an easy way to always produce a perfect potion.

An alchemy system obviously starts at potion/poison effects with the status effect system. A status effect should have a variable duration and a variable magnitude. After the duration has expired, the status effect is removed from the player. The magnitude determines how big the impact of the effect is, what it actually does is dependent on the type of status effect,  for a healing effect it would improve the amount of health restored per second. Instant effects are possible by having a very low duration.

Some examples for status effects:

  • Healing:     The player regenerates X health every second for T seconds.
  • Harming:     The player loses X health every second for T seconds.
  • Exploding:    The player explodes with a strength of X after T seconds.
  • Haste:        The player breaks blocks X times faster for T seconds.

Status effects obviously aren't limited to the player, they work on any living entity. The same status effect can exist multiple times on one entity, meaning that the player can drink two potions to heal faster. There needs to be a menu players can access that lists all active status effects, with their description, magnitude and remaining duration. So what has this to do with alcohol brewing? Alcohol acts as a solvent and base for tinctures, which carry these effects. To create a tincture, an alcoholic beverage must be aged inside an aging barrel together with any number ingredients of ingredients.

Alcoholic beverages can be made in several ways, producing different types of wine, beer and booze. By oneself, they don't do much, they maybe provide some nutrients or saturation and certainly make you drunk. As the base for a tincture they have three stats that vary depending on the type of alcoholic beverage: Duration, magnitude modifier and base toxicity.

The duration determines the duration of the effects of tinctures made with this beverage as base. The magnitude modifier modifies the magnitude of the effects of tinctures. The base toxicity determines how drunk you'll get from drinking this beverage or tinctures made from it.

Toxicity is actually an important gameplay system rather than just a bit of fun. Consuming beverages and tinctures will raise the drunkenness of the player. A bit of drunkenness will just give the player a slightly blurred vision  (a depth of field effect, never the nausea effect Minecraft has, because only the player character should get nausea, not the actual player).  It will get more blurred as the drunkenness increases. Next thing would be slight camera movement without player input,  making the player character harder to control as drunkenness increases.  At some point player input will be delayed and then the player characters will move about a bit without player input. As vision gets so blurry that it's almost as if the player character was blind, at 100% drunkenness the player instantly dies.

Drunkenness thus acts as a limiter to tincture consumption, so players can't just drink ten healing potions at once and be invincible for a minute. (And I admit, it's probably a little funny too, looking at Deep Rock Galactic) Drunkenness on the player constantly decreases over time, so if you don't become addicted to tinctures, it should be easy to manage.

But how do you actually craft a tincture?

Well it starts with the ingredients. Ingredients are a type of item that doesn't carry effects, but contain alchemical elements. There can be multiple elements on any ingredient and multiple of any element too. So horsetail as an ingredient may contain 3 aqua, 2 terra and 5 umbra. You can see the elements represented by icons with numbers representing the quantity on the tooltip of the ingredient.

When you add ingredients to an aging barrel, they will be dissolved and the elements they contained get added to the beverage. You can dissolve as many ingredients as you want into a beverage, even dissolve multiple of the same ingredient, and all the elements get added up. So when dissolving two horsetail, the beverage will contain 6 aqua, 4 terra and 10 umbra. Adding sulfur (4 ignis, 1 umbra) to it, it will contain 6 aqua, 4 terra, 11 umbra and 4 ignis.

If a beverage in an aging barrel contains the same amount of different elements, like the 4 terra and 4 ignis here, the tincture created after aging the beverage will get the combinatory effect of that combination. Any combination of two elements will yield an effect, so as long as there are two elements of the same quantity in your aging barrel, the created tincture will have an effect. This allows the player to experiment and discover the effects different combinations. Some effects may appear in multiple combinations, meaning it is possible to get tinctures that apply the same effect twice, which would make for a tincture twice as powerful.

While you can add as many ingredients as you like to your beverage, the lower the amount of elements in a combination, the stronger that combination will be, or in other words, the higher the magnitude of the resulting effect will be. So a combination of 1 terra and 1 ignis will produce a more powerful effect than a combination of 4 terra and 4 ignis. Each effect on a tincture will also increase the toxicity it by 25% of the base toxicity. All elements that aren't included any combination also decrease the magnitude of the tincture by a small bit. This means that you want go get close to no unnecessary elements in your beverage for it to be most effective. Only when the aging barrel is sealed up the combinations are locked and after a set amount of time you will have your tincture.

The tincture can be filled into bottles, flasks or water skins and consumed by the player by simply drinking from those.   Alternatively the tincture can also be applied to weapons and will apply the effects of the tincture to enemies upon hitting them. Applying 10 portions of a tincture to a weapon will yield 10 hits applying it.

For the earlygame there should also be ways to utilize the alchemy system before brewing: Paste

Instead of an aging barrel a player can use a pestle and mortar and instead of alcoholic beverages he can use animal fat or honey as a base. Pastes are created with the same system as tinctures, but their big advantage is they don't possess any toxicity. However they can only be applied to wounds and are generally much weaker than tinctures, but last longer.

To apply a tincture you don't eat it, you apply it to a bandage and wear that bandage on an armor slot. While the wearer doesn't have full health, the effects of the bandage are applied. Bandages decay over time, like food. After it is decayed, the effects will no longer be applied. When toxicity is the trade off for tinctures, bandages using an armor slot is the trade off for pastes.

Good ingredients are hard to come by and they almost always have more than one type of element, however there is an endgame way of extracting certain elements in their purest form: The alembic.

The alembic operates very similar to an aging barrel, in the sense that you need to supply alcohol to it and can dissolve ingredient into it. Instead of sealing the barrel, you light a fire under the alembic and instead of being able to use any alcoholic beverage as base, it needs pure alcohol, which is only obtainable by repeated distillation of beverages in a small distillation tower.

The alembic, while similar to the aging barrel, turns the alchemy system on it's head. Upon lighting the fire, types of elements are of the same amount, and therefore would combine into effects, get evaporated with the alcohol. What remains is a fine powder only containing the remaining elements. This powder is an ingredient itself and can be used for creation of tinctures or further refinement in the alembic.

Encouraging experimentation and exploration

While the system would work, a quick look on the wiki could make finding the right combinations and ingredients trivial. To make this impossible, the effects that appear on combination of elements should be randomized per world, only the elements on the ingredients should not be randomized. Upon creating a tincture or paste, the discovered effects from used combinations should be added to a searchable list in the survival handbook, so players can easily look them up.

Alchemical recipes, outlining the effects of element combinations should also be able to be found in ruins as loot, which are also added directly into the handbook upon reading. Pure alcohol, alembics and powerful ingredients could also be ruin loot. Eating an ingredient containing two different elements of the same amount should also discover the combination of those elements.

Implementation discussion

While I think the system is quite elegant and easy to understand (only the less equals better aspect may be a bit counterintuitive), there is a problem regarding the implementation:

How many elements do there need to be?

The number of possible combinations and thus possible different effects can be very simply calculated with this formular:

nC = n! / (2 * (n - 2)!)

  • nC   ...      Number of possible Combinations
  • n     ...      Number of different Elements

As the number of combinations would probably not always exactly match the number of effects, there would need to be duplicate effects, which is a good thing, as it makes more useful and general effects like healing more accessible. I'd argue each effect should at least have two combinations that produce it, many effects may even have more.

16 elements would yield 120 possible combinations, which would allow for 60 effects, if every effect would have exactly two combinations. As there likely won't ever be more than 60 effects in the vanilla game, I think this number is fine. Effects would have a weight value assigned to them that determines how often they appear in combinations compared to other effects, so the randomization process can assign the effects to combinations properly. Each effect is however at least assigned to one combination.

This would make the effect system easily moddable, allowing the creation of new effects. However as there is the hard limit of 120 combinations with 16 elements, it should be possible to add new elements. Elements are assigned manually to ingredients, so this would also require new ingredients or edits to existing ones, which shouldn't be hard to do.

What do you think about this system after you got to the end of this wall of text? Any feedback is welcome!

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  • 1 month later...

I think the idea of brewing and distilling would very much fit the character of the game.  I am personally more interested in it as a way to preserve food with a longer shelf life (beer is bread), especially fruit (wine and such).  I'd like to be able to grow hops, grapes, and perhaps other fruits.  Beers, ales, and different wines could have different combinations/recipes of hops and fruits.  Perhaps yeast could be assumed (such as the wild yeast found on grapes), or could later be refined/cultivated/improved.

A distillery could be a late-game item, made with copper tubes and such that require higher level parts.  But even in the early game, the player could brew weak beer with some flour and water.

Beer/wine/spirits should also be trade goods. We could make bottles with our glass, or store it in barrels or small kegs

I like your idea to give it some healing qualities at the cost of some toxicity that dissipates over time (so it won't be overused).  Perhaps some different herbs could give it some different flavors, but I'm not personally into the alchemical aspects.

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