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sunandshadow

Designing quests to express a game's central theme

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I'm doing quest design this week, and I'll get into the specific theme I'm working with below. But I thought I'd give this thread a more general focus and invite you all to share any tips or theories you have about how to design quests that feel meaningful to the player within the context of the game's world or the character's (racial or class) personality. Also feel free to ask any question you have about quests, theme, or anything related.


So the particular theme I am working with is this (you may recognize it from a previous thread about MMO story design): The player character belongs to a race which has a magical affinity for nature/life. The two opposing forces are entropy and chaos. Activities within the game include killing monsters, capturing monsters, breeding monsters, growing plants, repairing and constructing buildings, and helping out NPCs. The first post-tutorial area of the game is an area of the game which has fallen into disrepair. Anyone who has played some Harvest Moon games may recognize the set-up. The player's task is to clean up the messes and restore the area to a fruitful order. So what sort of specific quests would make good steps of this overall task? I'll post what I came up with later.

You all may, if you like, propose quests for this theme, and/or you may describe a theme of your own and discuss how you went about brainstorming quests for that theme, and what sort of help you would like for further quests related to that theme. :)

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Hmm, I would say that you need to consider a lot in order to design the quests. From your example, I'd be curious what the rewards were for completing quests. That would probably have a big effect on it for me. So would the number of quests that you expect the players to complete.

If you're going for a somewhat traditional RPG style, then most quests reward you with one of three things: XP, gear, or unlocking content. I don't see why this wouldn't work for your game, even if it's not really an RPG. Players could complete quests for new equipment or abilities. This might unlock the ability to train / breed monsters after having captured one first, for example. Players might instead be forced to complete all of the quests in an area in order to advance to the next.

This may seem beside the point (you want to know what to make the quests about I presume), but I think it's a necessary part of designing the quests. If you want to force players to explore all of the aspects of the game at least once, then you might make required quests where the player kills a monster, then captures one, then kills a monster with their captured monster, then sets up a population of them for defense. Or something like that.

The Harvest Moon related aspects of the game are probably a little more clear cut. You could make a quest where the player spends X amount of resources (or time) repairing buildings, or maintains a certain value's worth of buildings (by repairing damaged ones and building new ones). What they get from doing this drives the in game explanation of it. If they're following orders, they might lose the game if they fail the quest. If they're doing it to survive, it could just be a means of giving them hints on how to survive in an area. If you get an optional quest to tame 10 pegasi for example, it might be in your best interest to do so...

So far I make sound more like level objectives from a game like Starcraft, but I suppose there's nothing wrong with rewarding the player with exp, money, new abilities, extra time, or just achievements for completing them.

(Oh, and what do you use to distinguish Chaos and Entropy?)

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[quote name='Telgin' timestamp='1313280887' post='4848815']
Hmm, I would say that you need to consider a lot in order to design the quests. From your example, I'd be curious what the rewards were for completing quests. That would probably have a big effect on it for me. So would the number of quests that you expect the players to complete.

\If you're going for a somewhat traditional RPG style, then most quests reward you with one of three things: XP, gear, or unlocking content. I don't see why this wouldn't work for your game, even if it's not really an RPG. Players could complete quests for new equipment or abilities. This might unlock the ability to train / breed monsters after having captured one first, for example. Players might instead be forced to complete all of the quests in an area in order to advance to the next.[/quote]

I'm not sure whether this game is going to have player XP and levels, but it will certainly reward gear (probably gear recipes to feed into the crafting side of the game rather than premade gear), crafting materials, new abilities (combat skills as well as crafting/monster breeding/farming skills), and access to new areas. How many quests? Well, I want to make some whole types of gameplay optional, including any quests related to that gameplay. And the game progression is based around tech trees with a quest for each advancement up the tree, so many quests would be mandatory prerequisites to others The result of that combination would be something like, if the player doesn't take the first farming-related quest they aren't offered any more farming-related quests. And if they don't complete the quest to craft a dyeing cauldron, they can't dye clothes. But, they should be able to unlock access to the next area by completing a central quest chain which probably does not involve farming or dyeing clothes or expanding their initially limited backpack space or upgrading their initially limited ability to gather resources... all those typical things players do as part of an MMO teaching the player about it's functionality one area at a time.

[quote]This may seem beside the point (you want to know what to make the quests about I presume), but I think it's a necessary part of designing the quests. If you want to force players to explore all of the aspects of the game at least once, then you might make required quests where the player kills a monster, then captures one, then kills a monster with their captured monster, then sets up a population of them for defense. Or something like that.[/quote]
I don't think that's irrelevant at all, it's a great point that if you know what rewards you want to give the player then you can use that starting point to brainstorm quests for which such rewards seem like a natural and logical outcome. This is particularly relevant to early areas of the game. For example I would tentatively like the player to gain their first "house" (more like an empty piece of land at the start) somewhere around this point in the game. The house would be where they would be able to store captured and bred pets, as well as plants they were in the process of growing. I'd also like the player to gain some very limited ability to dye clothes different colors at this point, because that's the most basic part of in-game character customization which is going to be a big chunk of the player rewards throughout the game. On the other hand I want to save things like the player's first mount for a later area.

[quote]The Harvest Moon related aspects of the game are probably a little more clear cut. You could make a quest where the player spends X amount of resources (or time) repairing buildings, or maintains a certain value's worth of buildings (by repairing damaged ones and building new ones). What they get from doing this drives the in game explanation of it. If they're following orders, they might lose the game if they fail the quest. If they're doing it to survive, it could just be a means of giving them hints on how to survive in an area. If you get an optional quest to tame 10 pegasi for example, it might be in your best interest to do so...

So far I make sound more like level objectives from a game like Starcraft, but I suppose there's nothing wrong with rewarding the player with exp, money, new abilities, extra time, or just achievements for completing them.[/quote]
This game can't be lost, but I think it's very relevant to draw inspiration from a game like Starcraft because of the similar aspect where the game is teaching the player to climb the tech tree and what are the benefits of each new advancement. It's particularly necessary to point out not-so-obvious cross-benefits, such as the fact that once you can make clothing dye you may be able to use it to paint your house, dye your hair, or trade it to an NPC tattoo artist as part of the price of a tattoo.

[quote](Oh, and what do you use to distinguish Chaos and Entropy?)
[/quote]
Entropy is basically decay, the natural tendency of everything to fall to a less complex, lower-energy state. Chaos is somewhat the opposite in that it can disrupt the complex order life builds up by introducing extra energy which pushes things in random directions. The clearest example of a chaos-related problem would be a plague of mutations which could totally disrupt an orderly and normally bountiful ecosystem. Another example might be a flood or hurricane which deposits random crap all over the ground - potentially useful but a disruptive mess. Chaos is allied with entropy because the disruptive boom of energy and complexity is typically followed by a crash to a lower level of energy and complexity.

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Floods, hurricanes and plagues are all parts of nature. So are forest fires. A lot of forests have developed to assume the occurrence of fires and depend on them in their life cycles.

One with an affinity for nature should embrace and appreciate these things and see them [url="http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/4/43/Cole_Thomas_The_Oxbow_%28The_Connecticut_River_near_Northampton_1836.jpg"]as in The Oxbow[/url], rich and green under the storm, rather than [url="http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/1/12/American_progress.JPG"]like in American Progress[/url], smokey and black and running from a fugly giant brandishing telephone poles.

Following in that thought...

"[color="#1C2837"][size="2"]killing monsters, capturing monsters, breeding monsters, growing plants, repairing and constructing buildings"[/size][/color]
[color="#1C2837"] [/color]
[color="#1C2837"][size="2"]These are very on-point and on-theme, except that their theme is that of American Progress; your character's activities are about [b]bending nature to her will[/b]. Especially breeding.[/size][/color]
[size="2"] [/size]
[size="2"][color="#1c2837"]To what extent do you control the gameplay in this project?[/color][/size]

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[quote name='JoeCooper' timestamp='1313310784' post='4848885']
Floods, hurricanes and plagues are all parts of nature. So are forest fires. A lot of forests have developed to assume the occurrence of fires and depend on them in their life cycles.

One with an affinity for nature should embrace and appreciate these things and see them [url="http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/4/43/Cole_Thomas_The_Oxbow_%28The_Connecticut_River_near_Northampton_1836.jpg"]as in The Oxbow[/url], rich and green under the storm, rather than [url="http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/1/12/American_progress.JPG"]like in American Progress[/url], smokey and black and running from a fugly giant brandishing telephone poles.

Following in that thought...

"[color="#1C2837"][size="2"]killing monsters, capturing monsters, breeding monsters, growing plants, repairing and constructing buildings"[/size][/color]

[color="#1C2837"][size="2"]These are very on-point and on-theme, except that their theme is that of American Progress; your character's activities are about [b]bending nature to her will[/b]. Especially breeding.[/size][/color]

[size="2"][color="#1c2837"]To what extent do you control the gameplay in this project?[/color][/size]
[/quote]
Well, in this game the playable race's philosophy is not about embracing chaotic nature, it's about micromanaging nature better than the world does when left on its own. Like the antique idea of faeries who go around every day making each little flower bloom, but on a larger scale and with a more strategic/competitive attitude. Extreme members of this race are like a bio-magic version of mad scientists, creating armies or mutant monsters and viral plagues. Less extreme members of this race are doing things like reviving extinct species to give them a second chance and terraforming areas which have little or no life to turn them into anything from a lush jungle to a formal garden.

The game is basically an RPG so the player directly controls gameplay via an avatar. Or did you mean me within a game development project? There isn't a team, it's just me, so I have 100% say over everything at this point.

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Yes, even though entropy and chaos are different things, they are somewhat difficult to separate for a layman. Also I agree with JoeCooper that a proponent of nature could possibly embrace chaos.

Another idea for an antagonistic force in addition to entropy and chaos could be order, in a totalitarian sense. Like there could be an enemy faction that likes planting flowers in straight rows. (Which would also increase the total entropy.)

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[quote name='artes' timestamp='1313314548' post='4848900']
Yes, even though entropy and chaos are different things, they are somewhat difficult to separate for a layman. Also I agree with JoeCooper that a proponent of nature could possibly embrace chaos.

Another idea for an antagonistic force in addition to entropy and chaos could be order, in a totalitarian sense. Like there could be an enemy faction that likes planting flowers in straight rows. (Which would also increase the total entropy.)
[/quote]

See, my take on this is that 1. Humans enjoy planting flowers in straight rows, at least some of the time, 2. Players are humans, 3. A game is fun when it encourages and rewards players for doing what they like to do. So I don't want to make it 'bad' within the context of the game to plant flowers in straight rows, or other more formal kinds of arrangements. In this game players and the evolving culture/technology of the playable race are pretty much replacing biological evolution, so the goal for a player's ecological creations isn't for them to develop on their own, it's for them to stably self-perpetuate until the player, or some other player, feels like changing them.

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This sounds like an interesting game that I'd like to play.

What if there are two extreme factions within the race that the player belongs to? One faction that is overly orderly and that would destroy nature to plant flowers in rows, and another, chaotic faction that would destroy civilization and exterminate all humanoids to save chaotic nature. The player would have to take a path between those extremes, fighting both factions. In the process they would learn that both chaos and order are needed for life, but that all actions increases entropy.

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Thanks, I'm glad it sounds interesting. :) What I want to do with the factions is have multiple NPC factions which the player can choose whether to align themselves with as interactive story gameplay. Earning reputation with a faction would make available to the player the uniform(s) the faction wears, higher level quests exploring that faction's philosophy, etc. There would probably be 6 or so of these factions, and at least one pair would hate each other and send the player to attack the other.

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That all makes enough sense. Sorry if I'm over-thinking it. Though some folks do like to, shall we say, embrace the chaos or else we wouldn't have the romanticists and all that. I'm very much in that zone myself; just load the seeds into a cannon and let 'em fall where they may, if you knowhatimean.

This also reminds me of the "simple living" folks like the Amish, even though that is something completely different.

Quests ... What if a monster is an invasive species? There's some nature god that gives you instructions about this as humans don't have the necessary perspective to take corrective action (not enough data). Like how even with all we know now scientists can only "speculate" that it's "probably OK" to delete the mosquito, even though we know it harms a lot of species and its consumers have other things to eat. Some sort of demigod in the story might have the understanding necessary to make judgments with certainty.

Or something. Just throwing that all out there.

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Thinking deeply into something is great, I think I just described it confusingly in the first place when I used the word nature. I couldn't think of a better term. Life magic sort of fits, but people usually think of healing for that. Bio-magic sort of fits, but that could also include lots of unrelated things.

You're probably familiar with the concept of "the invisible hand" in economics, but is there a word or phrase that means the opposite? The underlying concept is that it's the purpose of human existence to use their unique intelligence to exert control over various aspects of the world for the betterment of the world, with some experimentation thrown in to figure out new things that might improve the world. With the mosquito example, the culture in the game would believe the no-nonsense approach would be to save an example of mosquitoes or a micro-world including the whole ecological web mosquitoes are currently a part of, then experimentally eliminate them in another such micro world to see if it causes any problems, then experiment more to see if they could ameliorate these problems by adding something other than mosquitoes...

In my personal life I've played with lassies-faire gardening and the results are pretty unimpressive. If you put a big variety of seeds an bulbs in your yard in a few years you will have a yard filled with nothing but 3 or 4 kinds of weeds.

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I'm not talking about[color="#1C2837"][size="2"] lassies-faire [i]gardening[/i], I just mean storms and woods and hurricanes and such. But never mind, it's off-topic.[/size][/color]
[color="#1C2837"] [/color]
[color="#1C2837"][size="2"]"[/size][/color][color="#1C2837"][size="2"]underlying concept is that it's the purpose of human existence to use their unique intelligence to exert control over various aspects of the world for the betterment of the world"[/size][/color]
[color="#1C2837"] [/color]
[color="#1C2837"][size="2"]Crystal clear.[/size][/color]
[color="#1C2837"] [/color]
[color="#1C2837"][size="2"]But there would be actions taken, some intellectual force that works out the what and the player can be the how. Yes'm? This sounds like a scientificish approach. But no matter. Point is that the monsters aren't necessarily of the "el Chupacabre is eating our livestock, save us" vein but it could be just about anything.[/size][/color]
[color="#1C2837"] [/color]
[color="#1C2837"][size="2"]So there is a lot of creative freedom to make hand-crafted puzzles as quests. They can be as simple as find it and kill it or maybe killing something [i]else[/i] that is a critter's diet or support, etc.[/size][/color]

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When it comes quests I’m not a big fan of context less and errand boy quests. The type of thing were some random npc ask you if your not to busy saving the world to kill the 10 spiders in his basement or take a package to his aunt.



In my mind a well designed quest is as goal or objective that needs to be completed as part of some character development, on going story line, or larger task. Some real world examples of “quests” might be:

[list][*]I need to find a date for my mates 30[sup]th[/sup][*]If I want to a get promotion and pay rise this year I need to complete the personal development objectives my boss set.[*]If I want to take that 6 month round the world trip I’ll need to save up £30,000, and find someone to rent my flat.[/list]


In your game world what if you were spirit of nature helping various tribes thrive on world ravaged by natural disasters?

The game could that start with the tiny village of the pika being destroyed by a hurricane and so they pray to the goddess of nature who sends you to help guide them and rebuild their town.



The initial 3 quests the player has tackle in that case would be:

[list][*]Provide the pika with a new food sources. (either through farming, raising animals, or a combination of the 2)[*]Provide the pika with a new source of water. (either by digging a well, or unblocking the stream.)[*]Provide the pika with shelter. (By rebuilding the town hall, or building a refuge at your shrine.)[/list] Later quests would further help the pika tame their environment and expand the village. Eventually you’ll start working with the different tribes each with different environments, challenges, and traits and further expanding the villages through trade and between the tribes.



Think how much fun it could be set the fashion and architectural style of an entire village of tiny creatures.




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I think it might be interesting to incorporate the monsters you capture and breed into the quests. Perhaps you could have a mole-type critter that is good at digging up fields and getting them ready to be seeded (i.e. Harvest Moon...but with a twist). Or a flying creature that could help repair damaged roofs (how cool would it be to have a dragon...that fixes houses?). I think it would be a lot of fun if the player could take control of the critters and do the work (or for lazier players, just send the monsters to complete the quests and reap the rewards).

Just my two cents.

This game does sound like a lot of fun though. I'd definitely play it too.

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Something I might like to see that expresses your theme (in my interpretation of it, at least) is Chaotic interaction between seemingly unconnected things.

For example, a certain faction may be carefully cultivating an area of land to produce a certain thing that they need, whether that's material for some other endeavor or a suitable habitat to re-establish a population of creatures which has fallen near or into extinction. But somehow another faction's efforts towards its own, separate goals interfere with that process. This can be more mundane, like reducing or stopping output, or more interesting, like altering the output in some way. The first faction can then experiment with the altered output, adjust their goals to meet the new condition, or even explore and investigate to see who or what is affecting their efforts and how, in order to stop the interference.

It sets up opportunities for interaction between factions and players in ways meaningful to them (as it's tied up with their own already-established goals), requires inquisitiveness and experimentation in responses, and exemplifies the spirit of refusing to accept the decay that comes from processes beyond oneself.

I guess these aren't "quests" in the traditional sense like WoW. But they are things for players to do which shift the game's equilibria in dynamic ways, there are probably a lot of different approaches and scales that could incorporate the basic idea. But the biggest story benefit is that it is experiential, rather than spawned instance quests bordered with text that few read.

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