Monday, September 11, 2006

Quest Design in MMORPGs: Part Two

Alright, so I've covered why MMORPG developers need a new nomenclature and suggested a replacement possibility (which was meant as a starting point, by the way, and not as a complete list). Now, let's look at a different way to categorize them. And keep the previous blog in mind, because a common nomenclature for these would help us ultimately in the design process as well.

The categories in Part One are primarily about why the player might be attracted to particular story-related opportunities. I'll now try to categorize how a player might realize those opportunities. Some of these categorizations are admittedly arbitrary.

I'll briefly critique a few structures for their viability (fun factor) at the end.

1) Delivery. Deliver/retrieve [x].

2) Seek and destroy. Kill [x] number of [y].

3) Boss. Kill boss mob [x]. This mob might be accompanied by other mobs.

4) Tiered combat progression. Kill [x] to get to [y], kill [y] to get to [z], etc. This is slightly different than simply compounding #2 onto itself and saying kill so many [x], then kill so many [y]; the difference is the escalating difficulty within the same mission.

5) Spy. Scout/spy [x] and report.

6) Forced Acquisition. Steal/acquire [x]. The player might or might not kill something, but this differs from a Delivery mission in that opposition is involved. The player might face opposition while transporting an object or information as well. It can work both ways.

7) Demolition. Destroy non-living target.

8) Puzzle. An intellectual challenge. Get [x] working again, help NPCs figure something out, etc.

9) Research. Research [x] and return with the answer. In real life, people make careers as researchers, largely because it's an art. In a game, this could take any number of forms, from questioning NPCs for viewpoints, to reading books in a virtual library, to deciphering runes and hieroglyphs. There really is a significant number of players who enjoy this sort of thing for its own sake, and they'd enjoy it even more if they could achieve in-game fame or recognition for their research or affect gameworld events.

10) Resources. Survey/harvest [x].

11) Crafting. Craft [x].

12) Entertainer. Entertain [x]. Like entertainer performances in SW:G, only it could be designed so all players could be silly and make fools of themselves for fun.

13) Unit Support. The player is asked to support an NPC combat unit (one or more NPCs) in performing a scripted action, like evicting someone or ridding the East castle corridor of a rodent infestation. Any number of bonus/penalty systems could be designed for these missions (ex: the player's reward increases if all NPCs in the unit survive).

14) Apprenticeship. The player assists an NPC master of their class in performing a class-specific duty. A high priest might be swamped with plague victims and would like the newb cleric to take care of the lesser ills in the hospital tent, for example. This could probably be applied beyond classes (especially in a class-less game).

15) Michief/Misinformation. The player spreads misinformation or otherwise causes disruption.

16) Labyrinth. A puzzle that requires feats of action, in addition to feats of intellect.

Those are just examples of basic structures. They can all be complicated, combined and applied to many different scenarios. Here are some examples of that:

1) Direct Path. There is only one way to complete the mission. This represents the vast majority of missions in MMORPGs thus far.

2) Multi-Path.
For example, the player is ordered to acquire something. He can acquire it by sneaking in the shadows, by killing everyone, by distraction, by limited kills, by bribery, by deception, etc.

3) Redirect. Mid-mission, the situation changes and the player must decide whether to complete his orders, blatantly abandon his orders, only pretend to complete the orders, etc. Think Deus Ex, where the player doesn't know who is on his side and must choose between NPC factions.

4) Competition. Someone beats the player to the objective. The player must now adapt to complete the quest. For example, say you are asked to acquire something. While you are waiting for the NPCs to let down their guard, you see a thief (NPC?) take it. You must now follow the thief and take it from that character instead. Oblivion's Thieves Guild initiation quest was like this.

5) Success by Degree. For example: An NPC tells you his son was stolen. He spits and curses the kidnapper as he asks you to retrieve his son. You find his son in a cage and set him free. But the kidnapper is in the room next door. If you kill the kidnapper, maybe your employer will pay you extra for bringing the man to justice. Both positive and negative sanctions are possible.

6) Group Venture. The player meets other players with identical orders at a rally point. When x amount of players have reached the rally point, the group (only players with that mission) fulfills the orders. Players could be grouped in many other (and probably better) ways. This category could be further subdivided into:
a) All players in the group share a similiar purpose.
b) Players choose or are assigned to different roles (ex: the tank handles the mobs while the thief picks the lock and grabs what they came for).

7) Instanced Offer. Ex: The player or group is approached by a mysterious stranger, who offers player(s) a very difficult, but very lucrative job. If they refuse, the stranger sneaks away and disappears. If they take the mission and complete it (a one shot opportunity in [x] amount of time), the stranger rewards them and disappears. These quests are sporadic, not easy to find and offer very nice loot/monetary rewards. Players would rarely encounter these and always through luck (semi-random spawn locations at odd times). The timer would be long and exists so players don't accept the quest, never complete it, and a mysterious NPC who seems to ignore everybody isn't standing there forever. The NPC might simply wait there, ignoring all but the participating party until the timer is up or the mission is done. Or the NPC might only appear in that spot when participating party is within eyesight. This quest category would be more of a bonus than a regular mission type.

Sometimes, the most interesting things in a game are the things you only have a shot at seeing; or things you saw once and will likely never see again.


Scouting opportunities have traditionally been directed toward specific targets. It is possible, however, to allow open and on-the-fly spying. On-the-fly scouting is when the player happens to be in the right place at the right time (what Part One called an "impulse" opportunity). These needn't be related to heavily scripted events. For example: if the player is connected to a policing faction, he might run across the location of a pirate or smuggler hideout and report that finding for a reward. Open scouting is when the player has a concrete objective but must find his own clues to reach that objective. The player might be told that so-and-so is looking for [x], and the player can either rely on luck (treat the mission as peripheral) or investigate, by asking around (both players and NPCs) or following non-dialogue clues (like the symbols in the movie End of Days).

Also in regards to scouting, it's very easy to make these quests not fun. Oblivion's mission in which you have to follow different Skingrad citizens to satisfy the paranoid looney is a good example. The story was interesting, but the actual spying was tedious and uneventful. EQ2 had a similar mission at the Crossroads in the Commonlands (the cat-lady who heard ghosts). It was one of the most memorable missions I've encountered, but following that single NPC for even that relatively short distance was tedious. In that particular case, I think the main problem was that the NPC moved at a slower pace than the player, leaving the player waiting on the NPC to hurry up. Any mission involving following an NPC must have tension or something else to keep the player's attention off the mechanics and onto the gameworld.

Diablo 2 was onto something with their semi-random mob hero spawns. I particularly loved how the little imps seemed to be spouting off nonsense ("Rakanishu!") until I met that nonsense and he kicked my arse. Mob heroes are a good example of how the concept of boss mobs can be mixed up and applied to non-linear gameplay.

I may edit this later and add other reflections on how these structures can be applied and how they're poorly applied. Feel free to comment with your own thoughts though.

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