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Dakota Day

Quests

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So I am working on a set of rpgs that take place in the same world. As I have progressed through different paths and thought processes I found myself looking at past games I have played. This left me with a question that I feel others may run into themselves. When it comes to quest based storylines, how long should the questline be compared to the freeroam quests that a player may encounter? For example, Skyrim in my opinion had a short storyline when compared to how much more there was to do in the rest of the world. So what do you think is a good ratio to give an in depth experience of the world you have built?

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I think you have to take into consideration how large the setting is relative to the player.  For example, the game Harvest Moon: Save The Homeland.  I'd describe this game as a freeroam RPsim (no combat) with a small setting (one village which will soon cease to exist unless the player puts work into preventing this.  But there are actually about 9 different ways to save the village, which are more or less separate quest lines that run in parallel for the duration of the story.  Almost all of the freeroam quest content in the game advances one or more of these village-saving quest lines.  It produces a really pleasing feeling that everything in the world is connected, and there isn't one artificial main quest plus many tacked-on side-quests.

 

Whether that could be done in a setting as big as Skyrim's, well it depends what sort of goal the game has.  If the main goal of the game was something like mastery of one career or type of skill, that would be relatively easy to distribute so the player has to go to every location in the game once to collect all the subskills or training opportunities.  If the goal is even more basic, like amassing a target large amount of money for some goal presented in the starting area, that's very freeroam-friendly, if not very strong narrative.  Or perhaps a game has a central location, perhaps a school or military base, which is defined in the story as the player's home base, and the player is expected to return there each time they want to advance the main plot (presumably after racking up enough freeroam play outside this location to earn/unlock that next advance in the main plot.

 

One alternate game structure I've looked at personally is a game split into days or chapters, where the player can choose one of the locations within the game to spend each day/chapter at, then travel to a different one next.  The main plot proceeds for N days/chapters, regardless of where the player is, but the location affects which options the player has to influence what happens in the main plot for that day.  Additionally, all locations have something that can be achieved once before the end of the game, so the player is encouraged to visit each location at least once.

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If the quests are story-focused, make them as long as they need to be to tell the story. If they are side quest just there for fun, make them as long as you think the player will still be engaged in them. If side quest aren't engaging then they are more of a hassle than they're worth.

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Overall I just want to provide a new and memorable experience to enjoy. The world I have been creating for some time now involves 3 seperate storys that show the world from different points of view.

Each story has a sort of general result of the main character in each making a choice to change the world fir their own personal reasons. I don't want to go into too much detail but I have 5 games planned in the series and they all trace back to the three stories at the beginning.

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I don't think there's a single, best Main Quest : Free Roam ratio; I don't think I even have a favorite. It just comes down to what you want to do with your game.

 

The Elder Scrolls and Harvest Moon games tend to have very low ratios as a natural consequence of their emphasis. TES is about exploring an expansive open-world, and so the questlines direct the player to a wide variety of locales, before letting go of the leash and letting them discover things on their own. HM derives a lot of its fun from the player losing themselves in the daily routine of farming and fostering relationships. For this reason, quests can often be completed without even doing anything differently.

 

Deus Ex has a much higher ratio, because it emphasizes the ability of the player to express themself through play. This requires a more linear path through the game so that the designers can ensure that being a diplomat is always feasible, and so is being a thief, and so is being a killing machine.

 

If each of your games is to be about the consequences of a single, pivotal action, then you want to make those consequences palpable in as many ways as you can. Many (though perhaps not all) side quests should deal with the far reaching effects, and if you can make it work, the entire game-world should change over time to reflect the unfolding results. You might want the main quests to punctuate the change that the player has brought about, highlight certain things, and encourage the player to think about their action in new ways.

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If the story is a core element of the experience, then why worry about players who don't want to experience the story? Isn't that roughly analogous to building an RPG and attempting to please players who don't want to level up?


The idea is to make the game as enjoyable as possible without letting things get too muttled or sacrificing what i want the world to be

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The idea is to make the game as enjoyable as possible

 

Enjoyable to whom? There are players who like linear games, players who like sandbox games, and players like me who don't care one way or the other as long as the level of openness contributes to the game as a whole. When designing a game, every decision removes possibilities; the final product is the one you leave behind.

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If each of your games is to be about the consequences of a single, pivotal action, then you want to make those consequences palpable in as many ways as you can. Many (though perhaps not all) side quests should deal with the far reaching effects, and if you can make it work, the entire game-world should change over time to reflect the unfolding results. You might want the main quests to punctuate the change that the player has brought about, highlight certain things, and encourage the player to think about their action in new ways.

I wonder if those pivotal actions shouldn't be put into NPCs' personal stories, rather than the player's.

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The idea is to make the game as enjoyable as possible

 
Enjoyable to whom? There are players who like linear games, players who like sandbox games, and players like me who don't care one way or the other as long as the level of openness contributes to the game as a whole. When designing a game, every decision removes possibilities; the final product is the one you leave behind.

I want to make something that, regardless of what games you normally play the most, you can find something in it that keeps you playing and having fun. I understand that there is a difference between fun and being simply entertained. I would like to recreate the childhood experience of running into friends and being excited about what you found in the game or see if they made it to your favorite part

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W.r.t. catering to "I just want to play, not be bothered by the main quest" players, I think the main thing is just to ensure that ignoring the major quest-lines doesn't hinder progression in other areas.  Say, in game A, the reward for completing main quest milestones is the unlocking of new continents, the availability of new crafting materials, new spells, new party characters, and experience points.  In game B, the only main quest rewards are new party characters and experience points.  If you want to cater to the "anti-mainers", then tend towards game B, so that they can pursue their own quest (say, become the greatest blacksmith) without ever having to say "Damn, I need some obsidian, and it's only on the other continent; I guess I have to go fetch six dragon eggs for that idiot king after all."

 

I'd put myself in the "anti-mainer" camp, actually.  Not because I don't like stories, just because at this point I'm tired of "fantasy main quest" stories.  I wouldn't say there's a ratio I'm looking for, though.  It's more a structural question, of whether I can genuinely pursue my own "quest" independently of the main quest.

 

Actually, what I really want isn't sidequests, but progression that isn't tied to a quest structure at all.  While playing Skyrim, one of the things that took the depth out of the world for me is that there were few details that weren't eventually part of your big list of quests.  I kind of wished for... to use a school metaphor, "self-study" rather than "taking courses".  I might have liked learning the "shout language", or collecting the singing plants, or doing "archaeology", except that in each case I couldn't quite feel like it was *my* goal.  It all feels like it's just there to support some quest... and there's a feeling that if I'm not on that quest, I shouldn't do *anything* lest I mess up a future quest and not get fully rewarded.  (Like, I shouldn't kill that particular monster, because killing it is almost certainly a future quest, because there's little non-quest-related material in the game, and so if I kill it too early I might miss out on an important reward.)  In other words, making activities into formal quests and adding external rewards to them can lead to perverse incentives, inhibiting the player from pursuing that activity unless specifically instructed to.

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See I have thought about the problem of finding things or killing monsters too soon. I think the easy way to do it is to have a quest item for the monster kills and just have the area marked on the map.

If a player discovers something before they are meant to, I don't want them feeling penalized. I also would make certain quest items removable from your inventory or have a separate inventory for quest items, perhaps even using quest completion to add more space.

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But I do see the the point in simple neat things scattered throughout the world just for explorationn. I have also always liked the idea of just stumbling onto a quest or small side story out in the middle of no where.

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See I have thought about the problem of finding things or killing monsters too soon. I think the easy way to do it is to have a quest item for the monster kills and just have the area marked on the map.

If a player discovers something before they are meant to, I don't want them feeling penalized. I also would make certain quest items removable from your inventory or have a separate inventory for quest items, perhaps even using quest completion to add more space.

 

Yeah, being reasonable about quest fulfillment mitigates a lot of those problems.  It's not really quests that are the culprit, it's complicated and arbitrary quest flags and the possibility of accidentally making the world such that the quest flags can't be flipped.  And yeah, I don't think it requires being super-clever about quest flags.  Being "dumb" is better than being smart, I think: having quest success being defined solely by end state ("Giant spider is dead", "Goodman Smyth has a dragon tooth in his possession") rather than making quest success depend on certain events happening in an expected order.

Edited by valrus

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I really like a perfectly balanced, 50-50 ratio, kind of like Golden Sun, where you could play the plot, or save Ivan's master, or collect Djinn.

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I really like a perfectly balanced, 50-50 ratio, kind of like Golden Sun, where you could play the plot, or save Ivan's master, or collect Djinn.


Its funny that you mentioned Golden Sun. It was one of the series I was looking over when I began formulating my designs. The games have had a lot of what I feel were fantastic elements.

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Along those lines, I thought Legend of Mana had an interesting structure.  There were nothing but side-quests, but three different chains of them could lead you to the end of the game.  If you ended up not liking the plot or characters of one quest, nothing prevented you from pursuing the others.  (Not that you know this -- you don't know in advance which quests are going to lead to the endgame.  You just pursue the plots that you find interesting.)  

 

As quests, they were often the epitome of "JRPG-arbitrary", consisting of wandering around trying to figure out what arbitrary actions would start the next critical cutscene.  So it's not the quests themselves that caught me, it was that I felt like I got to choose which quest arc was the "main" one and which arcs were optional.

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I have played a bit of Legend of Mana myself and I agree with what you are saying. It was a nice way to go about doing things. My main problem with it however is how they limited you to one mission, or whatever they were called, at a time. It made me feel like I was being held back from what I could have been accomplishing.

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I like the sound of Legend of Mana. I think it would be cool if there were many optional quests which can fulfil the requirements of the end-game. For example, to fight the big boss you need either a legendary weapon, a mighty army or mystical powers. To get a legendary weapon you need to research the legends that lead you to the weapon, travel long distances through dangerous lands, steal/fix/win the weapon, and strengthen yourself enough to use it. To get a mighty army you need to build charisma and inspire warriors with mighty deeds/beat them in battle/win their friendship. To get mystical powers you need to strengthen your mana, find masters to train you, collect artefacts/runes to strengthen your magic and test your magical strength against arcane enemies. Each of those steps could be broken down into a similar web of optional sub-quests, some of which would be common between the major three optional quests.

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I like the sound of Legend of Mana. I think it would be cool if there were many optional quests which can fulfil the requirements of the end-game. For example, to fight the big boss you need either a legendary weapon, a mighty army or mystical powers. To get a legendary weapon you need to research the legends that lead you to the weapon, travel long distances through dangerous lands, steal/fix/win the weapon, and strengthen yourself enough to use it. To get a mighty army you need to build charisma and inspire warriors with mighty deeds/beat them in battle/win their friendship. To get mystical powers you need to strengthen your mana, find masters to train you, collect artefacts/runes to strengthen your magic and test your magical strength against arcane enemies. Each of those steps could be broken down into a similar web of optional sub-quests, some of which would be common between the major three optional quests.

This method I believe is one of the open ended ways that games like skyrim and oblivion and any of the like allow you to choose a path of your own making. It works for a lot of situations and I personally am throwing some form of this into my current projects, just on a smaller scale.

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On another similar note, how does everyone feel about bounty quests that require you to explore and return to previous areas?

 

They're a valuable tool in your toolbox, because returning to a place you've been before lets you see how much more powerful/skillful you've become.  (That monster that you used to have trouble with?  Two hits now.  That monster you had to flee every time?  Entirely manageable.)  BUT, change things up a bit.  Make the area easier to traverse (with shortcuts, faster means of travel, etc.), drop the encounter rate with low-level baddies (the player should only be encountering them once or twice; it's an illustration of the player's increased power, not a game challenge), things like that.  Bonus points if the changes to the area are due to the player's past actions (say, defeating the bandits meant that ranchers can use the area again, but now wolves have moved back in and are threatening the livestock.)  

 

Basically, empowerment fantasy is at the heart of RPGs, and "formerly hard things are now easy" and "my actions made an impact on the world" are two important empowering feelings.  Sending the player back to previous areas is a straightforward way to elicit both feelings, so long as you don't make it a slog.

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