Quests Quests Quests

I know lots of bloggers and wow fan sites have already discussed Jeff Kaplan’s GDC09 session about quests and quest design, but after reading several accounts I am compelled to make some comments of my own. First I strongly suggest you read some of the accounts; here are two WoWinsider , IGN

The first thing that jumped out at me:

Early quest goals for WoW: they wanted players to enter the world and explore with free will, but they weren’t standing by user-generated content (Warcraft III maps is an example) or randomized content. Blizzard would hand-place and create everything in the world.

This quote is from the wowinsider account of the talk, and the bolded (by me)words are what jumped out at me.  Sure the game,at launch and now, does for the most part allow you to go where you want but I don’t really believe the game encourages that. As soon as they took this stance, “Interface for quests had to be really obvious — big exclamation point over someone’s head” the game then encouraged players to follow the directed path and not explore on their own.

I suspect, based on the financial success of WoW, that the decision to direct players steps more than previous games was a “good” call, but I do long for a game that encourages free exploration.  Alas with the full knowledge of the world at our finger tips creating any sort of mystery and reward for solving such things is made mute. Or is it.

Surely there is some way to create quests dynamically so each character that picks the quest up will have some elements of the quest be different. For example, could something like this work in WoW.

  • At the core the quest is a bounty hunting quest for solo play.
  • At level 80 an NPC in dalaran will now have a quest for the players.
  • When you talk to the NPC for the first time the game in the background generates some key elements of the quest:
    • Type of target selected from a huge table of races, classes, or types.
    • Name of the target. I am not sure how names of NPCs are tied into the game DB, so variable names for an NPC may not be possible.
    • General location of the NPC; Zone and sub zone
    • Actual location of NPC and wander distance; spawn cords and wander distance.
    • This NPC would only be visible to the character with the quest, and would be spawned into the world when the character is within X distance of the spawn cords.
  • The quest text displayed would tell the player the name, rough description (Wolf, Blood elf mage, etc), and which sub zone the target was last seen in.
  • If this is a daily quest, then that quest text persists until the end of the day, upon which it is flushed, and the next interaction with the NPC will generate new text for that character.

I believe such a quest could be possible, could “lead” players to areas of the world rarely visited and would, given proper reward, be a popular quest.  Yet I doubt we ever see such dynamic (random) quests found in WoW because of, “or randomized content. Blizzard would hand-place and create everything in the world.” part of the quest above.  I believe in hand placed content, but also believe in using randomized and dynamic content as a tool, and even user generated content, though UGC in mmmo’s is a topic for another day.

The next part of the WoW Insider account that made me think was more about leading the player through various methods:

Level design is another way to direct gameplay — Kaplan showed off a shot from Half Life 2, where the only way for a player to move through a level was through a set of gates, and there are even two guards flanking the gates, which is a clear signal for players to go that way. Lighting also helps a lot as well — “Valve does a really good job” with directing gameplay.

I really hope the half-life example was an exaggeration or hyperbole, because as it stands I think that is a terrible example of directing gameplay; in D&D terms that would be called railroading.   You are presenting no alternate paths, or solutions the player has no choice to make, they have to go through the gate.

To me a better example, granted very simplified example, would be:

  • There is a room the player will enter from the south, there are halls to the east and west; we will call this room the Atrium.
  • The player’s is told they need to find a contact in the conservatory, the room beyond the atrium.
  • If players arrive in the atrium with no other information they can hear guards talking in the direction of the lighted hall, while their silence coming from the low light hall.
    • But at some point either before they enter or while they enter the atrium the player should have had the chance to find or be give some details (and background) about the atrium.
      • 1. The west hall has a gate with two armed guards, and is well lit.
      • 2. There is a dimly lit service hall to the east with no guards but some alarms that could be disarmed.

In this example the player is directed , railroaded, to the conservatory and directed via lighting, sound, or other methods as to the paths to the goal. Yet the player is left to make the final decision on which path to take.

To me, a game that is built on a string of interesting choices is much more fun than one where I led, like a pony, from place to place.  I wish MMORPGs, would offer more branching apart from the simple “side choosing” we see now. I know that the reality of branching story/quests means dev time spent on content not every player will see, but I believe if used properly providing players such options would lead to more memorable and discussed game events.   From what I have read we might see some of this in SWTOR, or at least I can hope.

*sigh* I am at a thousand words already, and am only a small bit into Kaplan’s talk. Oh well, maybe next time I will rant more on it.

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