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A problem I'm currently having with a project of mine is deciding how to handle repetitive, but important, in-game tasks.

As an example (Though there will be many other instances of this), earlier in the game, the player must smelt and shape iron without modern tools. After iron ore has been smelted, it must be shaped into tools, this requires manual labor.

So how are some ways I could handle the shaping process (A repetitive, time consuming, task)?

Having the player sit in a GUI until the shaping process is complete is obviously not a great idea.

I don't want to make the process instant and simply rely on the speed of the smelting process to cull production, as the player could just utilize a huge number of furnaces to bypass that.

For other reasons, it would be incredibly difficult and time consuming to create a short mini-game for each of these situations.

Is there an easy way to solve this?

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Since you don't want to make a mini game I'll recommend a leveling system for blacksmith or similar skill.

Leveling is a great way to reward players for doing a tedious task over and over again. When a play levels you can upgrade their abilities. As in your case you could decrease the time the player has to shape the metal. This is similar to the real life counterpart where you are doing something new it would take you more time to accomplish something. Sooner or later you will progressively get better at it.

Here are some abilities I can think of currently:

  • Some percentage of faster speed
  • Increased chance of doubling ore
  • Increased chance of sharper tools / more durabilty
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Repetition and waiting are often by far the least fun game design choices you can make as a designer. If it's in any way possible, avoid mechanics which aren't fun. You as the designer decide what's "important" and what the player is "required" to do. There is nothing wrong with one-click instant crafting iron ore into ingots and ingots into equipment. No player ever complained about a game making them spend too little time looking at progress bars.

But I could think of two examples where mechanics like that are actually used in a smart way.

There are games which use repetition and waiting mechanics in an evil way: Freemium games which use them as a nagging mechanic to encourage the player to pay money to skip the waiting and repetition. This is an example of hostile design: You make parts of the game intentionally bad, so the player pays you money to get to the good parts. If you want to create such a skinnerbox game designed to extract microtransactions from your players, sure, go ahead. I'm not judging you. I am just not going to play it.

But I also know at least one game which usees such mechanics in a good way: Factorio. In the beginning it forces the player to craft things manually and wait for the crafting process to be completed. But it does so for solely one purpose: To encourage the player to automatize crafting. Automatizing things is the primary gameplay theme of Factorio. They are punishing the player for doing it the simple way (hand-crafting) instead of the smart way (building a factory to do the crafting for them). This is a pretty good way to push the player into the direction where they get the most fun out of the game. But this only works for one reason: The game gives the player the tools they need to automatize the tedious tasks away. If you want to use drudge work as a way to teach the player to explore more efficient ways to perform these tasks, make sure that these more efficient ways actually exist and are within the player's reach.

If you can pull that off well, then I am looking forward to playing your game.

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Let it take some time, but happen in the background

Some survival games allow the player to move around and do other things while crafting. The GUI is there and has all the usual inputs and progress bars, but it can be closed and will keep "working" in the background. This serves the purpose of limiting production (as long as only one item can be made at a time) without forcing the player to just sit around idly, which is especially important in these kinds of games since you usually need to craft a lot.

This approach might seem counterintuitive at first ("Why can my character pick berries and build a shovel at the same time?") but don't forget that the typical 10-minute day/night cycle represents an entire 24 hours in which the character probably does dozens of things not depicted in the game specifically because they are boring and repetitive.

Let's stick with the survival game example. Those games don't present the player with a cutscene or progress bar for every time they eat, poop, wash their hands, do the dishes. They let them worry about what to eat and how to procure it, and then imply that the rest is taken care of. The same can be done for shaping your iron. Let the player worry about where to get it from and planning what to craft, including how long it'll take and what tools they need in what order, then imply that the character will set apart a portion of their day to get the manual labour done.

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