7 Oct 2011

Time to Change Quest Mechanics

I’ve recently started playing Rift again after taking a break for about four months. It’s impressive to see how far the game has progressed – talents and abilities have been revamped, the artwork has been improved and a ton of new features have been added. The guys at Trion have been hard at work.

Then there’s the bits that are harder to improve. One of my gripes about Rift is that in the mid levels (about 20 to 40) fatigue starts to set in. The game simply becomes less fun to play, with questing becoming dull and boring. I’m finding it a struggle to motivate myself to log into the game and play. Why? Because every single quest hub is made of boomerang quests.

Almost anyone who’s played through an MMO knows what boomerang quests are, but I’ll explain with an example. You approach a small group of friendly NPCs on the coastline. One of them tells you that there’s a cave up ahead filled with smugglers, and would like your help to remove them. You agree to go off and kill ten Smuggler Pirates and ten Smuggler Pistoliers.

After wading through the cave you return to the NPC, who then asks you to head back out again. Only this time she wants you to kill Smuggler Corsairs and Smuggler Captains. You fight your way back into the cave, killing more Pirates and Pistoliers just to get to your Corsairs. Annoying, right?

On your return, the NPC sees you coated in the blood and bodily fluids of the best part of fifty pirates. Not satisfied she asks you for one last thing. Kill Smuggler Chief Spalding, who resides right at the back of the cave. At this point you swear at the screen and weigh up just telling her to get lost.

But no, being the dutiful soul you are you march back into the cave and trying to sneak your way through to the back, getting spotted, giving in and going on a genocidal rampage against anything Smuggler shaped. Finally you get to where Smuggler Chief Spalding should be, only to find his corpse lying on the floor and a stack of other players waiting for him to return to life.

At this point I either hit the hearthstone and go somewhere else or quit the game and play something more fun. Like Giant Lolcat Olympics In Space.

I have two problems. The first is that it’s really, really lousy quest design. It’s boring, it’s repetitive, it’s frustrating and Rift is jammed full of them. The second problem I have is that it’s a problem that’s already been solved in other games.

Going back and removing boomerang quests from a game is no easy thing. It took Blizzard the best part of a year to revamp the starting experience to coincide with the launch of Cataclysm. If an MMO is going to make questing a more enjoyable experience, they need to do it from the start. This means the developers and designers sitting round a table and saying the old method of dishing out quests has to change, and coming up with new ways to pull players into the game world.

So what would these new quest options look like? There’s already a ton of solutions available and used already in other games. These include things like item quest givers, phasing mobs so that only the ones you want to kill are visible and being able to accept and turn in quests remotely. Think of it as being able to speak to your quest giver over a radio and say “They’re all dead, now what?”.

Think also how we get quests in the real world. People come up to us and ask for our help. They send us letters or messages. Quests are pushed to us. I’m not saying that when you log in you should find a horde of quest givers at your feet like an army of yapping corgis, but if a guy needs help finding his missing daughter I’d expect him to run out of his house and ask us, not mention it in passing over tea and crumpets.

I know that this is hard work. I also know that it requires careful planning from very early on in the game’s development cycle so that world builders and quest teams have the chance to use these tools when creating content. But by the same token, every quest should be something we want to do because they’re fun, not because we have to in order to gain rewards and progress.

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12 Responses to Time to Change Quest Mechanics

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