Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Non-Linear Quests

One of the things that bothers me the most about quests in MMOs is that they are typically very linear. There are a set of steps you have to accomplish and every one of them is required to progress. A typical EverQuest II quest would go like this:

  • Analyze four ghostly images (click on four things)
  • Kill six foobars to collect some random organ (kill six things)
  • Put the organs in six bowls (click on six things)
  • Kill six foobars to collect some other random organ I should have been collecting the first time around (kill six more things)
  • Put those organs in the bowls (click on the same six things)
  • Summon some ghostly bad guy (click on something else)
  • Talk to the spooky creature (click on random dialogue entries until he goes away)

And then you get XP and loot and you're on your way to the next quest which has you run to seventeen locations on opposite sides of the map. You can't skip a step, and you have to do each step in order.

I'd like to see quests where you had alternatives that you could pick among: an "OR clause". We should occasionally be able to accomplish our goals in a number of different ways. For example, there might be a Evil Bandit Lord who is terrorizing the local populace. Obviously, I'm the man to stop him, so I set out to do so. But he's in an instance and is automatically set to be a million levels higher than me, no matter what. Basically he is unkillable. However, during the quest I might find some options:

  • I could discover his Achilles Heel and essentially get an item that automatically kills him.
  • I might move a candle under a rope which holds a chandelier up; when he paths to a specific spot the chandelier comes crashing down, killing him.
  • I might not kill him at all. Maybe I bribe one of his men to do it for me.
  • I could do a side quest to discover something important to the Bandit Lord and convince him to leave in exchange for that item. I give up the reward for the other quest in doing so. (If I kill him in one of the three previous manners, I can still do this side quest, and keep the item.)

The rewards or faction awarded should vary depending on the choice(s) I make.

A variation on this theme would be quests where there's a chance of partial failure. Perhaps I am given a quest and in one part of it I'm asked to protect someone. If they die, I might end up having to do an additional task (seeking revenge against the killers for instance) that I would have bypassed otherwise. Or if they die, I might be allowed to continue down the normal quest path, except with a lessened reward. (For the whiners out there who can't stand the idea that they might be forced to finish a quest that they partially failed, some indicator that the optimal reward is no longer achievable could be displayed in the quest journal so the player knows that they can delete the quest and start over if they have to.)

Many single players RPGs have quests that work in this manner. Fallout is perhaps one of the RPGs best known for having alternative solutions to quests. I'm not aware of any MMORPG to date that does so. (Maybe Tabula Rasa? I didn't play it long enough to find out.)

Yes, its more work for the quest designers. And it might seem like some of the content is wasted since not all players will see every possible outcome. I suppose, since I'm not one, its easy for me to say that's no big deal. :) I don't think every player SHOULD see every possible outcome. The world is more interesting if every player hasn't seen each quest in the exact same way. Rerolling an alt is also much less painful when I know that not every quest I do along the way (back) to 7080 will be experienced exactly like I saw it before.

I think partial failure, variable outcomes, and branching quests could add immensely to the enjoyability of these games. With the overly linear quest design MMOs have today, the only real choices I have are whether I bother to do a quest at all, and occasionally which reward I pick. I think most of us would prefer the illusion that we have real options.

Friday, November 16, 2007

Hold On a Moment...

I want a pause button in my MMORPGs. Yeah, I know that sounds crazy. Certainly, we can't pause the whole server. But games are different these days! Many MMOs are highly instanced. If I'm in a solo instance, why shouldn't I be able to pause the game if emergency strikes? If I'm gone for a short period, its not adding undue load on the servers. If I'm gone long enough, the servers could swap the server instance out to disk until I return. Chat channels and other shared world features would (of course) still continue normally, only the zone server for the instanced mission needs to pause.

While soloing an instance in Guild Wars or EverQuest II, I have to run and find some nice safe corner to stand in should I need to go AFK for a little while. Unfortunately, real life emergencies don't always strike neatly between encounters.

Many people with time constraints are attracted to MMORPGs for a number of reasons, even if we do find ourselves needing to solo much of the time. We like it because, unlike single player games like Oblivion or Morrowind, they allow us to group with others when we do have time to do so. We like MMORPGs because the content is constantly updated (most single player RPGs get a few patches and maybe an expansion pack and that's it.) Interacting with other players, even indirectly, through the auction house, also adds a lot to the game play, especially in MMORPGs with more player-driven market economies.

Obviously, this kind of feature wouldn't work in parts of the game world that are shared by multiple users, but I don't see the drawback to allowing this type of feature when players are in a part of the world where they can't adversely impact anyone else's play.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Pirates of the Burning Sea Stress Test #2

Pirates of the Burning Sea is having another stress test, available to everyone. Hopefully, I can find time to check it out this weekend. Unfortunately, with the recent release of Rise of Kunark that might be easier said than done...

Wednesday, November 7, 2007

NCSoft Buys City Of... Franchise

As has been reported elsewhere in the blogosphere already, NCSoft has acquired all rights to the City Of Heroes / City of Villains franchises. Hopefully this will soon result in an All-Access Pass type of deal, similar to the one Sony has. This acquisition means they now own all of the titles on their platform, except for Guild Wars (which is free to play already), so they should have no trouble extending this kind of offer.

A stable of AAA MMO titles that you can move between for a reasonable subscription fee would be a really good deal, assuming they don't overprice it like Sony did with the Station Access Pass.

Monday, November 5, 2007


Tipa, on West Karana, suggests that it would be a good idea to redo EverQuest as a single player game. I partly like the idea. I'm not sure how well EverQuest would hold up as a single player game, but I have often wished Final Fantasy XI could be redone as a single player game, using some form of the Final Fantasy XII gambit system. In fact, one of the reasons I loved Final Fantasy XII so much was that it basically played just like a single player MMORPG. But it had the added benefit of having a story that you progressed through, meaning your character progression wasn't simply limited to levels and loot. MMORPGs tend to lack that.

Redoing an MMORPG as a single player game might not be as feasible since without some form of story driven progression of missions, there is very little left to the game once you remove the other players.

But what about redoing an MMORPG as a more modern version of itself?

I would like to see a complete relaunch of Final Fantasy XI, or EverQuest, or Ultima Online, but with upgraded, modern UIs, modern high-res art assets, and tweaked game mechanics to be more amenable to "modern" (post-WoW) gamers (more BOA/BOE equipment to prevent twinking and reduce mudflation, less harsh death penalty, more soloability). Take that modernized engine and game mechanics but reuse the existing quests, mob placement, zones and factions and have a sort of "do over." (Of course, its not quite as easy as I make it out to be, since everything is interrelated, and changing one system, such as the combat system, to make the game more soloable, has profound effects on every other aspect of the game, such as appropriate mob placement.... but still, the point is, I'd love to see an updated release of what is mostly the same game, with most of the classic content, except better looking and more solo friendly, as any good modern MMORPG must be.)

Everyone would start over from level one on new servers. Maybe there would be a handful of new quests in the existing zones that imply the story has moved forward five or ten years. Maybe there would be a few changes to existing zones so veterans of the original game could discover something new. But, mostly, it would be the classic content, repackaged.

In some ways, I think that Ultima Online dropped the ball with their recent revamp because while they redid all the art assets in game, they kept the obsolete 3/4 perspective of old. Changing the perspective might alienate existing users, but having a relaunch of the game, reusing all the massive amounts of content it had, but from a full 3D perspective, might have been more successful at attracting new players, because it would have been like a brand new game. A brand new game with ten or more years worth of content from day one. But the same game on the same servers with the same players in the same perspective does not interest me.

Of course, all of this is a pipe dream. Certainly, game producers know better nowadays than to spring this type of change overnight like SOE did when they released the NGE (their Star Wars Galaxies do-over.) Existing players aren't likely to want to give up their existing characters, and they aren't likely to want to see the rules of their game server changed completely, even with advance warning. That leaves making new servers with the new engine/rules as the only option, and maintaining two versions of the same game is probably not feasible. Which is too bad.

A lot of people have never experienced these worlds, and are highly unlikely to, given all the newer games out there. There's a wealth of content in these older games, and I think its a shame to see so much of it go unused when it should be possible to dust them off and make them fresh again.

Friday, November 2, 2007


Episode 4 of the Guild is now available. Its a hilarious take on the lives of various guild members of a fantasy MMO.

In case you missed the earlier episodes, you can find them on Youtube or on the official site.