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  • 12/17/14 01:53 PM
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    Barebones of Quests

    Game Design and Theory

    GalvonicBond
    I'll go ahead and start with the obligatory "I've been gaming for as long as I can remember". Around 14-15 years ago, games evolved from being just fun and exciting challenges and finally something that players can use to escape from reality. You had great titles such as Morrowind that were rich in lore and story. Sometimes the history of the world you're in would explain itself through quests. And of course, it's very hard to pull off a progressive story without some variant of quests or missions. It's just one major question that a lot of designers ask themselves: What's the character's incentive for going on this quest? The overall structure of quest design is surprisingly simple. Let's take a look at what most quests in video games are made of.

    Don't worry about the story

    Well, not yet, anyway. After all, the #1 priority in the creative side of games should be the challenges players have to go through. Before we go any further, let's put ourselves in a position where a designer cares more about progressing his story in a scenario as opposed to making a fun quest. Jonas was a powerful Battlemage. He had unlocked all five sacred runes and was fully prepared to enter the Dark Wizard's lair. Except a Stone Guardian stood in front of the entrance. Jonas fought the Stone Guardian, who shattered to pieces. When he went inside the lair, the Dark Wizard decided to absorb the Stone Guardian's soul and grew stronger than ever. Okay, not my best work, but you get the idea. This sounds like it'd be really enjoyable to go through because the story's so deep. Hey, even from a gameplay perspective it's pretty neat. The Dark Wizard has new powers in the final boss battle! Except, there's one thing missing. The depth. Not the kind of depth you look for in a story, either. I'm talking about the sequence of actions the player must take in order to complete his mission. When you think about it, the final quest really just boils down to the player going to the lair and killing two people. He should have built his story off of the barebones of a fun quest.

    Barebones of quests

    I think you've seen them in games before, too. You've played enough mediocre and just plain awful RPG games to see that all quests have this skeletal structure of blandness that's added on to by story. These barebones often include basic quest structures such as:
    • Go find this item.
    • Go kill this mob.
    • Bring this mob to this location safely.
    • Go kill X amount of mobs and bring me their substance.
    The sad thing is that many games out there do not add "meat" to their structure. Instead, the quest-givers will often say something along the lines of "Go to this cave and find this because it's important to me. I will give you gold." . Sound familiar? How about, "Those thugs stole my stuff. Go to their camp and bring it back for me." ? Of course, a few "simple" side-quests here and there don't hurt, but it's when they outnumber the good stuff and sometimes even take place in the main plot that it gets out of hand. A good way to avoid "skinny" plots is to always ask, "Why?" when adding another part to the sequence. Like this: Go kill those spiders and bring me their venom Because they've been kidnapping children and it's too dangerous to step directly into their lair. We need to know whether or not this venom is instantly lethal. Sneak into that abandoned house and steal this journal Because that house isn't abandonded, these spiders are possessed by a witch living in there. We need her notes. Try not to startle her, will you? Go into their lair and bring this little boy to the Castle Because that's the Prince and we just found out that he might just still be alive. We went over the witch's notes, she wants to extract his youth and live for eternity. We also found out that the reason these spiders didn't eat her before she attempted magic on them was because she mixed their venom with Vampire Dust. This renders you invisible to these spiders, so drink this. So, now you have a somewhat interesting quest about this evil witch trying to possess nearby spiders to bring children to her lair so that she will be young forever. This was all from expanding the "Why's" of a pretty basic quest sequence.

    Conclusion

    Now we know how to give a quest both an interesting story and a fun sequence of action. Basic tasks can be expanded into something really deep with a bit of effort, and it's up to you to either conform your stories to your quests, or the other way around. This method can be used for those who aren't good at coming up with stories and need to create an incentive to play the game, or for those who are great with stories and need to create quests that can also stand as a fun and challenging experience.


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    When you asked "why" the final time, it actually changed the gameplay of the quest in a cool way. Now you're going into the lair with invisibility (or spider-warding to de-aggro them), creating an enjoyable and more unique experience... especially when it wears off mid-quest.

     

    Had you not asked "why", then that new gameplay twist wouldn't have been thought up and added. I find that interesting.

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    Even though this article is fairly short, I really like the message.  

     

    (1) Going off and doing another mindless quest just so that you can get some gold or even for bragging rights on finding the BFG 3000 can get old really fast.  

    (2) Engaging the player shouldn't be restricted to the main plot.  

     

    By adding "why" and a little more depth to your sidequests (perhaps even linking them into a complete set of side-stories), you add depth to the world the player is in and increase their engagement.

     

    Of course, this does not come for free.  You can obviously generate random quests (e.g. Dungeons of Dredmore) for random rewards, but making something with real depth and no loose-ends, while still trying to get your main plot off the ground...requires a little more work. But good things usually do, so no worries.

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    Reading the first paragraph I think it is the other way around. Not specifically quests but games overall got more main stream and thus boring for the existent gamer. I was already losing myself in games like x-com (1994) and Civilization(1992). TES:Morrowwind just builded upon TES: Arena which already had a good open questline, same goes for fallout (1997). What about the Ultima series? Ultima 1 (1982) although had a simple quest system it already had a big storyline.

     

    What did change after 2000? Graphics is the answer, graphics immersed so many more people then better questlines. Graphics changed the game industry to the booming industry it is today.

     

    As to the "why" thing, pretty much every MMORPG does this to the "Kill X or find X" quests but they still feel like a grind. A truly great quest system let's the player choose a path, or let the player think he has choices. Get rid of the "X" and replace it by "1" otherwise it will feel like grinding no matter how good the story behind it is. Of course it is almost impossible to create a unique experience for every quest but that actually is the key to making a enjoyable RPG experience.

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    Reading the first paragraph I think it is the other way around. Not specifically quests but games overall got more main stream and thus boring for the existent gamer. I was already losing myself in games like x-com (1994) and Civilization(1992). TES:Morrowwind just builded upon TES: Arena which already had a good open questline, same goes for fallout (1997). What about the Ultima series? Ultima 1 (1982) although had a simple quest system it already had a big storyline.

     

    What did change after 2000? Graphics is the answer, graphics immersed so many more people then better questlines. Graphics changed the game industry to the booming industry it is today.

     

    As to the "why" thing, pretty much every MMORPG does this to the "Kill X or find X" quests but they still feel like a grind. A truly great quest system let's the player choose a path, or let the player think he has choices. Get rid of the "X" and replace it by "1" otherwise it will feel like grinding no matter how good the story behind it is. Of course it is almost impossible to create a unique experience for every quest but that actually is the key to making a enjoyable RPG experience.

     

     

    Perhaps you're right in that I shouldn't have been too subjective and anecdotal in my first paragraph. I'm going to get instant hate for this, but I prefer modern games over the classics because of the level of immersion that I feel from them.

     

    Not only do better graphics and higher resolutions already give video games a small head start in realism, but I believe they also create demand for a more flexible system that you simply couldn't achieve with retro graphics. The world could visually explain itself through tiny details. The superior hardware also meant more room for more side-quests with even more complex sequences.

     

    Of course, this is not to say that earlier games were lacking in side-quests. Like you said, Arena and Daggerfall had plenty of "complex" side-quests, but despite their complex systems, they were definitely lacking in immersion for me.

     

    Most of that was subjective and relied on graphical fidelity, so I'm not going to argue about what makes video games immersive.

     

    Thanks for the feedback.

     

    - Gavyn

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