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Kest

Open ended broken quests

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I've noticed this sort of thing happens a lot in open ended games. Games that have a main quest, or any multi-staged quests. While exploring, you accidentally wander into the second or third stage of said quest and, while trying to react the way you should (killing bad guys, freeing slaves, taking loot), you totally screw up the plot. Now you can't start that quest, have no idea which characters were supposed to be involved in it, have no clue what the back story of it was, and have no way to determine what it was supposed to lead to. These games always stab you the other way, too. If you choose to only interact with parts of the game that deal with quests, rather than just wander off and explore, you'll miss half of the game. And by the time you've finished questing, the world will be saved, or the final bad guy will be destroyed, and there will be little incentive to explore or better yourself anymore. As a gamer, what do you usually do in these situations? Any game design thoughts on the problem? Any ideas for solutions?

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Original post by Kest
As a gamer, what do you usually do in these situations?
I avoid open-ended video games. I've found that humans are a decidedly better alternative to computer-run simulators when it comes to responding to actions in an open-ended setting. So, I play role-playing games with my friends on pen-and-paper games (right now, Exalted and Fading Suns).

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Any game design thoughts on the problem? Any ideas for solutions?
This is the game design equivalent of the parallel programming problem: you have several things going on in parallel, and they might interact with each other at any point in time (except within atomic steps), so you have to handle all of them.

The designer should never think about the game story in terms of a quest sequence, because that breaks once you allow interacting with quest elements from outside the quest. Instead, allow distinct quest "paths" that lead to every possible ending, with at least one quest path that can be done regardless of what you do (for instance, involves killing and destroying things, which you can always do regardless of what you've already done). Then, based on the available quest paths (that is, those quests that are not yet prevented by player actions), place hints in dialogue with meaningful characters to direct people to these quests.

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Got this a lot in Morrowind, to the point that I started avoiding places if they looked significant. In Fallout 2, I even lost points with a character because I had killed his rival far earlier in the game.

I think the problem stems from this: Why are the quests free floating elements divorced from the rules and processes governing the game world?

Let's say that you have your hackneyed Kill Foozle and return the Ring of Zed quest.

Why? Why do you have to do this? What does it impact?

I think one reason you break quests is because you break context. You kill someone before they're supposed to be killed, and some AI or world script can't be triggered.

What if, instead, you used the same mentality for quests as for generation of monsters or anything else in the world? That is, let's say that the Ring of Zed stops zombies from spawning, but now that the game world has detected that the RoZ isn't in the hands of the King, the lands are being ravaged by the dead.

If the player is out exploring, accidentally kills Foozle and comes across the RoZ, the effect will be that they're not experiencing zombie spawns. Now if the game world has some mechanism (lore, rumors) for determining what things are, they will have a strategic choice to make. Do they want to save the King's lands, or do they want to reduce spawns for themselves.

In this example, context takes care of itself because the RoZ has an actual effect on the world. It's not just inventory trash you port from location to location like Ye Ole Fedex Knight.

I think this philosophy would take care of many breaks in context because the player, even if they stumble into a quest, still has something to do with the results that they've found.

The daunting task is that for every change, a designer will have to be willing to accept that the plot may not go in ways that are traditionally considered a plot. Absurd things may happen, such as plot seesaws where a world state changes back and forth several times. But as long as the player can impact that world, they'll always have meaning for what they do.

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I think there are a couple of issues

1) Poor scripting - This simply the fact that the developers don’t take them to always put in the necessary prerequisite checks into the scripts to ensure you can’t trigger an event before you should. Most common example is dialog in which you have options relating to subject that you shouldn’t know about yet because you have done the necessary events before hand.

2) Non Morphic quests- This an idea that I’ve always thought would make games more interesting and that is have aspects of quests procedurally generated and morph based on the players actions. For instance instead of breaking the quest to find a cheating spouse by killing a preset character before you get the quest, the character shouldn’t be determined until you actual get the quest and clues configured based on that character.

3) Key items - A big pet peeve of mine of Free form games is when key items don’t appear until you get the quest. If the lost ring of power is in a certain dungeon then I should be able to find it ay any time, not just when I get the quest to find it. Even better if the quest changes subtly because of this. What if instead of going into the dungeon to find the ring

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The problem is that most games seem to only have dialogue for what happens during a quest, instead of the aftermath. After you've killed a guy, there's never anything that happens, other than people standing around repeating the "I'm glad he's dead" or "You horrible person" lines.

I think a good example of how to fix this would be to actually use a classic film. In the Wizard of Oz, Dorothy manages to accidentally kill the witch, before she's even found out that she was terrorising the locals. The rest of the film follows what happens next. A normal quest would be to talk to the munkins, find out about the witch, slay her and get her slippers. It doesn't matter that Dorothy killed the witch first, because there was still content for her to go through and the story wasn't shortened because of it.

What I'm trying to say is that if the narrative can be changed so that an accidental outcome feels natural to the story, then a player won't notice that they've broken out of the intended path and the game won't feel disjointed.

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I think that this is a feature, not a bug. The point of an open ended game is that you are free to do what you want and that your choices have an impact on the game world. It just so happens that you want to kill bad guys on sight, ask questions later, and this had an impact on the game world. If you can and do kill them, it makes sense that you can no longer do the quest where you negotiate a truce with them. If you can't kill them, people will complain that they should "realistically" be able to kill them. If you can but don't kill them, that may have different consequences.

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My preference is when the game gives you the quest anyway, and allows the infamous "I already did that" line. It won't work for every situation, and how well it sells depends on how fast news travels in the game world, but I've never had a problem with it as a gamer.

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Way Walker -- heh Everyone said that alot in my QA dept... "Its not a bug its a game feature" oh and "janky" that was one we used alot.

I got this most memorably in Ultima 9 where I killed a wizard. And a whole bunch of ogres. I think there was a quest but I messed up story progression at that point and had to quit since i wasn't going to restart. =/

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