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Random quests in games that rely on them

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I've been playing Freelancer lately, and I'm suddenly reminded that games that use random missions SUCK when then end up relying on them to fill up the open ended portions of the games. Why do random missions end up sucking in these games? Its because they don't want to put alot of work into the system, which is really sorry because open ended games such as this and others that RELY on random missions need to put more work in them. I've made many posts on how to make decent random missions. But would like to hear ideas from you guys on what to do to make random missions better.

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One thing I'd like the game designer to do is create a wide variety of actions, and for the random mission designer to then really decompose the strategies that will arise from those actions in order to create a big portfolio of random mission options.

Privateer's open ended environment sucked royaly because space was too big for the variety of encounters and rewards you got. The palette of actions was pathetically small (shoot, pickup item, that's about it really).

I think the interlocking faction system, which changed the threatscape based on who you aligned with, was straightforward and absolutely brilliant. It's a stand alone dynamic that really should have breathed life into the missions. But what was there to do?

*Go To Location, Kill Target
*Go To Location, Kill Target, Collect Cargo
*Go To Location--oops, he's not there, kills some guys first--Go to New Location, Kill Target
*Wait for Backup, Kill Target

There was nothing wrong with these missions, but after awhile, they were dull and repeatitive. What, no smuggling? No complicated chain with reversals? No missions to explore new space, find the fastest route or race to find a lost derelict before your foes?

(Maybe it was the huge reliance on the story that made Roberts think he could get away with such anemic gameplay. Unfortunately, story was lost on me since I spent 2/3 of the game yelling, "Screw YOU, Juni!" and cheating my way through the end because I didn't want to follow the damn story.)

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Forgot to add: There's got to progress in something, for me anyway. Even nudging up the faction relation bars was fun because it felt like I was working toward something and leaving a mark on the world (and why I was so ticked that the story arbitrarily jinked them to different levels whenever it felt like it.)

I think it would have been awesome if the faction relation bars had opened new opportunities, gameplay and levels, btw.

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Yeah, I played freelancer too, and didn’t like the random missions or the fact that you couldn’t avoid the storyline, so I never finished the game.

If I were to ever design/program a similar game with random missions I would probably make several lists of different mission aspects and be able to combine them for extremely wide range of missions. First, a list of how missions can start.

Talk to guy at spaceport. (I think free lancer used this one exclusively)
Talk to guy at spaceport, only certain faction is required
Receive distress signal
Signal from military/private Company.
Follow other ship(s) (stealthily?) and see what they do
Detect derelict vessel.
Get randomly attacked, with some dialog from attacker starting mission
Something strange in computer archive.
...the list goes on

Next you can have mission types. For each way a mission starts, only certain types my be available, but if you have 8 mission starts and 8 mission types, you could have up to 64 unique missions already. Mission types:

Escort ship
Rescue survivors, take to ???
Kill ???
Investigate ???
Explore ???
Mine ???
Transport ???
.....on and on

Now, you can make a list of plot twists or side missions possible:

Randomly attacked...
Friend turns to enemy
Enemy turns to friend
(Either on of the above two could have text associated to make you decide what to do; either action would have consequences for mission, reputation, ECT)
Receive distress signal (trap? real?)
Minefield/asteroid belt encountered
Government wants to board you
Pirates offer reward for your cargo/ship you are escorting
...again, list goes on

You could even have multiple steps to each mission, and multiple plot twists possible, or no plot twists.

Next, a conclusion/reward list:

Get paid agreed upon wage/bounty
Maybe quest giver won’t have enough to pay you until you do this next mission for him
Get tricked out of reward (more likely if faction is lower), could start new mission
No reward (stupid poor refugees)
Extra big reward (yay for rich and powerful being among poor refugees)
Get technology
Get information/map.
Maybe you die during mission, and instead of loading them game, someone involved in the mission rescues you in your escape pod and the game continues. (After you seize control of their ship, buy our own, get offered a replacement, etc)

Now, you have the ability to make almost numerous unique missions.

Generally, the more complex the mission, the greater the reward could be. Maybe certain missions more generally give certain rewards (like mentioned earlier about refugees.) Also, certain missions are more likely to be available depending on the climate in the system (sticking with refugee example: if there is a war, there will be lots of refugee missions. Pirates in the system? Lots of kill missions and distress signals.)

Now, it seems easy making these lists and thinking how cool are your quests will be, but make no mistake, implementing something like this would be a nightmare. Although difficult, I can see that it is definitely possible. For each item on the lists, you would want no fewer than 5-10 different texts or dialogs if not a full blown, very cleverly programmed dialog generator. At the very least you want a random name generator (probably inserted from a list of several thousand)

Anyways, that’s how I would do it. I’m sure there are other ways, and better ways, but that way makes the most sense to me atm.

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I really liked being a merchant in Freelancer. To me, being a merchant felt truly open-ended. They weren't missions at all. I could pick up any material I wanted and fly anywhere with it. I didn't feel like I was confined at all.

Then combat missions were another story. You've done one, you've done them all.

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The meat of a random system is not so much the "start" or the "reward" of a random mission system.

What I believe what needs to be worked on most is the mission itself. Some of the misson starts such as follow/stalk, could in fact be missions in and of themselves.

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Original post by Wavinator

I think it would have been awesome if the faction relation bars had opened new opportunities, gameplay and levels, btw.

I agree with this.

I also think that the only way to do a 'random' mission system right is to give up on the random part and make the missions mostly 'dynamic'. Madlibs style mission generation will always end up generic and boring because it doesn't leave you much of a chance to really change things. The game may decide that completing a mission will raise your standing with one faction and lower it with another, but that's a fairly meaningless example of affecting the game world.

My current approach to this particular problem is to treat the game as a 4X-style strategy game viewed from the perspective of a single unit. Turn each faction into its own actor in the game world, with its own 'big picture' logic and its own set of assets. If Faction A has forty ships and you destroy one, Faction A only has thirty-nine ships left. Now Faction A has to spend more money (another example of a limited asset) to buy another ship to replace the one it lost. If Faction A is really causing problems for you, maybe you can convince Faction B to help you out. In the process, you might make Faction B stronger since they may be able to capture some ships or goods from Faction A.

I think this system can easily be extended as a mission generator if you treat the player as just another unit in the game world. Give each faction a set of possible orders that can be assigned to units and then allow the faction to either assign those orders to the player (if the player 'works' for them) or to post some sort of looking-for-mercenary message to the player. This way, the player can take part in a series of missions from the same faction and actually see the game world change as the faction he's fighting against gets smaller or weaker. A more robust logic system for individual units would help to keep the missions themselves somewhat varied.

Another nice feature to this is that it lets the player indirectly involve himself in the bigger picture. Let's say a pirate faction decides to send two ships to attack a particularly juicy freighter. The player has no idea this is happening and isn't involved at all, but he happens to be somewhere nearby (but not close to see what's happening). The freighter sends out a distress signal which the player receives. The player can ignore it or investigate. When he investigates he might decide to help the freighter, help the pirates, or maybe destroy the pirates and raid the freighter himself. Depending on how detailed you want to get (and how much of a bias towards the player you want to build in), maybe someone else will respond to the distress call as well and complicate things.

Going into even more detail, perhaps the freighter was generated as a response to some random event (like a famine). The freighter was carrying a load of food, so if you intercept and destroy the freighter the famine continues and food prices stay high on that particular planet. I'm really convinced a system like this could create some excellent gameplay, but of course it's much easier said than done. :)

Edit- For what it's worth, this is a brief overview of a system I'm actually working on for my current project. The actual system I'm describing here is slightly more robust, however, since I'm not really making a Freelancer-style game. For my project, the system only has to be good enough to generate dynamic events and objectives in the context of pre-scripted missions. However, it's my intent to eventually extend it so I can make an Elite-type game in the future reusing a lot of the code from my current project.

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I agree with what you say about wanting players to feel they have an effect on the world.

However, some game designs want/need to make players feel like bit players in a much much larger picture.

Dynamic is good. But some games just won't evolve fast enough for the dynamic missions to keep up.

However "random" missions don'y need to be completely random. There are many things that can be tweaked and poked and prodded.

For definition when I say "random missions" I mean the following. You go to someone/thing and say "I need a job/mission/quest/etc" and the computer spits out a job for you to do. Perhaps random is too strong a word to use, but the reality is that on some level down below the mission is going to get randomized.

The key to any randomized mission system is options. The more "REAL" options, and "REAL" variables, the more variety of missions. And when I say "REAL" I mean basically ones that truly affect the feel/layout of the mission. Bad guys (depending on the game) do not really change the feel of the missions. However different restrictions and objectives do. The person who gave you the mission, or the reward at the end does nothing to change the mission.

One thing I would like to see is faction standings become more robust, and tied into a random mission generator. Basically what I mean with more robust is to tie the different factions to eachother. Let one faction basically get "faction standing" with the others. Then change the world as the faction standings change around. The player helped change that, but didn't have a direct effect on the game changes (bit player)

Many things that can be tweaked to provide random missions a better sense of connection to the world.

Base available missions off of the Faction standings of the big Factions. WHo's going after who, why etc.

Base the mission location out of somehwere that makes sense.

Tweak the rewards systems (instead of getting a new item, give the player a 1 hour (of game play) %20 discount at all of that factions stores.)

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