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.


Gdub said...

I totally agree that this would be an awesome feature, though it would take a lot more work, and it's not likely to happen. Though just to see a few quests like this every few levels would be a step in the right direction.

Ogrebears said...

You know i've love to see that. But there down side to it as well.

People would get really upset if they chose the wrong way in the quest and got an item they didn't want. People will get really upset because of this.

Second is time. It take a while to make a normal quest, the idea of how the quest is going to go, making sure the mobs are in there, writing the story for the quest, testing it to see it work, making the loot or reward for the quest. Pretty much we be adding a lot more time to designing each quest, and right now most dev teams are already pretty short on time.

Lars said...

I agree it would take more time, but its a matter of quantity vs. quality. I'd rather have 2000 quests where I feel like I have real choices over 5000 quests which are all cookie cutter multi-stage kill/fetch/escort quests. I'm speculating most players would too.

So while it would be more work, the devs are wasting a lot of their time (and ours) making us kill rats every ten levels anyway.

Hechicera said...

I agree it would be nice. Some, a few .. at least. TR didn't have anything significant here from beta iirc. I know one big complaint about the "moral" choice quests was that nothing significant changed, and the choice was - do the quest or ignore the quest.

This next more in response to ogrebears:

As far as different rewards, that can be managed two ways. One, UI options showing reward preview (most games have this feature). Whats the difference between multiple quest rewards (aka the 1HS vs 2HS vs 1HB weapon type choices) for the one solution vs. one reward per solution. Games will need to add a text string to label each choice. So, for UI the quest dev can punt and enter "Alternate reward" when its a linear reward variant, and "Persuasion Reward", "Forcible Solution Reward" when its a multiple solution reward. A minor tools change at worst. Of course, no idea how each dev house is set in the tools programmer area. So, maybe this is the "make sure the quest dev has the tools to do that job and present it to the user properly" choice, since doing it is a good idea.

Or two, alternatively do the story-writing one, think a few minutes and make sure the alternates end up with the same last step to generate the reward. Yes, you're manipulating the story to force the same reward. Paper DMs have done it for decades, we players are used to it. >.> So this is the "have the dev spend a few more minutes on some of the quests and kluge it into their toolset", choice.

It seems to me the gist of both your objections aren't that you are opposed, but you feel a quest dev doesn't have proper tools (in general) to do more than kill ten rats or fedex quests in a timely fashion. If so, I'd hope that changes as the industry matures. Both for the sake of the poor quest devs and this consumer. =P