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

  1. Bronte says:

    Reminds me of the the caves East of the Nesringway’s expedition base. You had to go in three times to kill enemies deeper and deeper in the cave.

    Don’t even get me started on the animal kill quests. All NINE of them!
    Bronte recently posted..“Deus Ex: Human Choices” or “Online Gaming Overload”My Profile

  2. stubborn says:

    First off, “army of yapping corgis” is probably the phrase of the week.
    Secondly, and more to the point, you’re dead on. I’ve taken to only playing stealth classes in RPGs precisely for that reason, despite the fact that I generally dislike dps. I’d rather save time by sneaking past the redundancies to get to the point than playing what I really want to play, and that’s actually really bad. A player should have to make “tough choices,” but sacrificing fun for the sake of convenience shouldn’t be what a game’s about.

    Quest givers coming to you – or with you – after all if you find his daughter doesn’t he want to be there? – makes a lot of sense. QG’s knowing what they want – all of what they want – from the start, too, makes sense. A surprise development you say? Sure, then pop up quests; like I can’t figure out that if a guy wants me to wipe out a smuggling operation then he’s going to want me to kill the hidden demon that’s running it. Duh.

    Great post, Gaz, and glad you’re back (though Bravetank’s post while you were off was excellent).
    stubborn recently posted..Myers-Briggs-Blizz, Part 4My Profile

  3. Oestrus says:

    Yeesh. There’s that word again.

    I get what you’re saying about the boomerange quests not necessarily being the most efficient thing out there, in terms of leveling and it may not require a lot of thought and it can seem kind of mindless. But, I hesitate to change something or want to change something, simply because it isn’t “fun.” Leveling does take work and I think that overall it should be a fun experience. But, if we stopped doing everything that a game tossed at us, based on how fun it was or not, we wouldn’t get much done.
    Oestrus recently posted..FlexibleMy Profile

    • Gazimoff says:

      I think this is the problem: should an MMO be a game where you work hard at something in order to get a big payoff at the end, or should they be more consistent/even? There are pros and cons to each, that’s for sure.

      All I can say is that I know what I like and what I don’t like. I like great questing, memorable questing, questing that makes me laugh out loud or snort coffee over my keyboard. I can handle bland, so-so questing. What I dislike is repetitive, infuriating questing that makes me hate the NPC quest giver almost as much as the people they’re sending me out to butcher.

  4. Liore says:

    Nice post! If you happen to be playing on Byriel, we should hang out. 🙂

    The funny think about “boomerang” quests for me is that I loathe them the first time through for the exact same reasons you mentioned, but I actually love them when trying to just powerlevel an alt. They have a lot of fairly quick and mindless XP from quests and mobs in one placel, and if you don’t care that much about story or scenery you can tear through them pretty quickly..
    Liore recently posted..Serve Blizzard a Slice of Humble PieMy Profile

    • Gazimoff says:

      That’s actually a good point. The first time through I want to explore the world, not go through the same small cave repeatedly. On replays, maybe I’ll feel differently about it.

  5. Pingback: RIFT: Is choice good, and can we improve quests? — MMO Melting Pot

  6. Greygamer says:

    Hi, I just found this site (via twitter).

    I recently purchased Rift but haven’t had time to pay it yet.

    I also feel MMOs should be so much better, so I am very interested in what’s up for discussion. Sadly MMOs seem to be into the follow the established model mindset for now.

    As you mentioned the boomerang quest method has already been resolved, in the same game that Rift is supposed to be an improvement on. I always feel this kind of mechanic is simply to slow the levelling process down. It doesn’t make the game harder, just longer. And longer is not necessarily better if the content is not engaging.

    How about some randomness with the questing, like the daily/weekly quests that you only get at level cap. Each quest hub could have a number of ‘flavour’ quest lines (maybe telling the story behoind the NPCs) which would not necessarily be experienced by every player.

    We already see players want to experience some uniqueness with these games, and the levelling process could be a more organic part of this. Also if the world was truly dynamic, the quests could ultimately change the zones they occur in. Not immediately but over many months.

    Such an approach could lead to the world truly seeming ‘alive’.

  7. Longasc says:

    The solution for boring bad quests is better not so boring quests. Sounds good but behind the blatantly obvious statement is a question. When will MMOs again dare to be more than K10R quest or story driven experiences again. I am not sure as I don’t play RIFT but those who got bored quested their way through while those who stayed had a much greater focus on the Rift invasions. I found them to become repetitive during the Beta as well but I often heard that the Rift quests get kinda generic after a while. So I wonder if not evolving away from the quest driven model would not be Rift’s way to go instead of going SWTOR with “the most coolest story quests ever, fully voiced” approach. Funnily modern MMOs focus so much on questing that they make the old EverQuest which had the “quest” in the name look very pale in comparison. What I want to see is actually… how GW2 does it. 🙂

  8. Jamin says:

    “Giant Lolcat Olympics In Space” – just ROFL.

    Now this topic is something which sat on my mind throughout my return to WoW in Cataclysm, and leveling from 1-85. The new quest designs are brilliant! However, I then hit Outland, where you are warped back in time. I think that is the best ‘real-time’ contrast you can get to compare how it is now, from the original design. Slightly improving in Northrend.

    Still a way to go I think, but it’s coming…

    – Jamin
    Jamin recently posted..Your Character and YouMy Profile

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  10. Raincrow says:

    I think there are two things you can add to a game from the get-go to help this.

    First, the “common sense” quest mechanic. IN this mechanic, your character is given a task (Save the mayors daughter from pirates). The Mayor tells you where the pirates are, and as you approach, your character ‘figures out’ how he needs to do it. So, you’d travel to the beachfront cave and see the pirates there, and say “Boom, I gotta kill me some pirates”, quest bubble pops, you accept. As you complete each stage of the quest, your character simply understands what the next logical part of the quest chain is, and it becomes available to them.

    Now, one positive aspect of this is the potential to introduce multiple quest options. Maybe your character wants to charge in and kill pirates, or maybe your character wants to obtain some items to convince the drunk pirate sitting on the beach to give him his clothes so you can walk in. Maybe you have 2 tiers of “kill things” quest before you fight the pirate captain, and maybe you have 2 quests of running around town and gathering some booze and bacon for the salty sea dog to get his pirate coat. Same XP, maybe slightly different rewards, etc.

    The second type of quest is the ‘chain’ quest. Instead of boomeraging back and forth, General Muckety says, “Look, first you’ll need to sneak your way into the fortress (1st quest), then you’ll need to fight the Warden to obtain the jail key (2nd quest). Once you have the key, free 10 prisoners from the dungeon (3rd quest). Finally, in the ensuing chaos and battle, make your way to the top floor of the keep and obtain the Wizard Dreyfuss’ ritual notes, so we can stop this unnatural storm assaulting our city.(4th quest)” You have 4 quests (counts as 1 chain quest in your quest journal/book/log), each part rewarding you with some xp and a relevant item. Maybe the warden has a nice club on him, you can pick that up while you’re getting the key. Maybe there is a ring in the Wizard’s room, nice little trinket.

    These kinds of mechanics make the game interesting and keep you immersed. Plus, there is a sense of epic realism. I mean, how many times can you assault the same keep OVER AND OVER before they post some more guards?