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so quest generator #25 in caveman is the dreaded "escort NPC" quest.

escort missions - all games have them - we all hate them.

so what does it take to do an escort mission right?

things that jump out at me:

the player should be able to control the pace and direction of travel.

the player should be able to tell the NPC to do things (like flee from danger).

the player should not be able to simply have the NPC follow them forever like just another follower.

are there other things required?    or other things to be avoided?

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Everything you're talking about there are minor mechanical tweaks. They can help (especially as some of them imply broader gameplay choices that can be re-used elsewhere), but you might instead want to think about something more broad and more outside the box. For example, what if the players are being escorted (and NPCs are defending them from significantly higher-level foes) for some reason? Depending on the context and the method of storytelling you're using, this can offer a significantly different perspective on the quest to the player while still fundamentally being the same thing, code-wise.

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For tactical-style games when I'm the one doing the protecting, I prefer to give some direction to the NPC even if I cannot control them directly.  "Run to location", "stay by me", "wait", and similar.  It stinks when I need to keep a character nearby but they keep running off, or when they stick to me like glue and I need to get in close to the enemy.

Those options might also be disabled or even ignored in certain situations where it makes sense for the game flow or story. A procession might continue on their path at a steady rate even if you request they wait or reroute, and requesting those things might even harm the mission. Animals or non-speaking creatures may not understand but the shouting may trigger fear-based behaviors.  Defending someone who is panicking might not obey, or may only have a small chance of obeying the instruction.

I think these types of features should be implemented as broader mechanics, not just for a specific quest or mission.  I feel like players should always be able to shout to an NPC for them to do something, although the consequences for doing so may not be what is expected. It can even allow for misdirection of enemies (shout to your well-armored paladin to keep the goods safe when they're really being protected by the weak mage in the corner.)

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NPCs escort player is an interesting new type of quest - i should add it to the list. might be hard to come up with a fitting backstory though, as to why the player is being escorted. its not the kind of thing that usually happens in games, unless you're being escorted to jail. <g>.

but right now i'm just trying to idenitfy the no-no's for the basic "player escorts NPC to location" type quest.

stuff like:

NPC only moves at walk speed.

NPC engages in suicidal combat at the drop of a hat.

NPC insists on going through badguys, not around them.

and so on.

are there any others?

giving the player control of the pace and direction of travel, and the ability to give the NPC orders should take care of all that, right? and all you'd really need in the way of orders would be "wait here" and "follow me".     "avoid / don't avoid combat" might be nice too. but technically speaking, wait/follow could do it all.  the downside of wait/follow is having to go back and get them once you've cleared the danger ahead. then having them wait while you clear the next threat, then having to going back and get them yet again and having them follow you yet again. "follow me" combined with "avoid combat" might prevent having to stop and start them up again all the time.

what would be a good rule or condition check for "player is just using the NPC as a follower, not taking them to the destination - IE not trying to complete the quest in goof faith". a (long) time limit? travelling ridiculously far from the destination? both?

Edited by Norman Barrows

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I played Guild Wars 2 yesterday (for the first time in years) and one of the things I noticed about the escort quests there than I immediately liked was the NPC does not die completely. It can still go down but people could revive them just like they can revive other players. The only issue with that is the lack of failure so that would be more a design choice.

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Maybe the ability to arm and armour your escort to some degree and otherwise have them be able to use other items you might equip them with. And also the ability to get your stuff back at the end of the mission.

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Strongly suggest flipping the question around before you implement a gameplay feature. Asking "What could make X fun or better" is kind of an awkward way to go about designing a feature.

"Why would doing this be fun?" If you can't answer this, then maybe the feature doesn't belong in your game?

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[b]@[member='Nanoha'][/b], makes a great point Guild Wars 2 made a lot of changes to the basic WoW formula and had very good results. Reviewing some of the games that made improvements to the standard setup would help a ton.

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An early prototype of goblinson crusoe was "Goblin Wizard: The Escort Quest". In fact, my original vision for GC was as a game centered fully around escort quests. GC was to be an apprentice wizard whose master is suffering from rapidly advancing dementia, charging from adventure to adventure while his hapless student frantically tries to keep him out of danger.

Something I have noticed about escort quests as a result of this experiment is that, in the context of a different game they kinda suck. If I'm raiding a bandit camp, thrashing dudes and looting corpses, then I spring a captive from a cage and have to follow her at snail's pace through a string of scripted ambushes, it's a change of context that is actually kinda painful. But I don't think that really speaks to the escort quest itself being bad, just the juxtaposition of a slower-paced string of ambushes against the gore-splattered free-for-all that preceded it. It's jarring.

What I found in that early prototype of GC is that when approached with the right assumptions and frame of mind, an escort quest (even one of the traditionally 'bad' ones like a slow walker) isn't as bad as you might think. Certainly, my test audience (consisting of friends and family) found it enjoyable. The things such as slow pace and tendency to careen crazily into obvious ambushes were part of the core gameplay rather than a distraction from the core gameplay.

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I played Guild Wars 2 yesterday (for the first time in years) and one of the things I noticed about the escort quests there than I immediately liked was the NPC does not die completely. It can still go down but people could revive them just like they can revive other players. The only issue with that is the lack of failure so that would be more a design choice.

hmm....   un-fail-able quests aren't much of a challenge...

if i implement the NPC as some sort of temporary follower, the player would gain all the follower interactions such as giving them medicinal herbs, and staunching their wounds. along with all kinds of orders like wait, goto, follow, use missile/melee weapons, attack, target selection, use/don't use sneak mode, flee, maintain distance, etc.

Maybe the ability to arm and armour your escort to some degree and otherwise have them be able to use other items you might equip them with. And also the ability to get your stuff back at the end of the mission.

all that would come for free if they are a temporary follower, just have to get your stuff back before the quest ends, that's all.

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"Why would doing this be fun?" If you can't answer this, then maybe the feature doesn't belong in your game?

has any escort mission ever been "fun"? <g>.

sometimes they are challenging. often they are frustrating or simply boring.  it seems the reward is usually the prime motivating factor. whether it be treasure or simply being able to continue the quest line.

in this case its a one off, stand alone, "side quest". so the reward treasure is the motivation.  i'm leaving it up to the normal operation of the game world simulation to make it challenging (random encounters and such).   accelerated time should take care of the dull parts. which leaves avoiding frustrating behavior - such as slow suicidal NPCs you can't control.

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I played Guild Wars 2 yesterday (for the first time in years) and one of the things I noticed about the escort quests there than I immediately liked was the NPC does not die completely. It can still go down but people could revive them just like they can revive other players. The only issue with that is the lack of failure so that would be more a design choice.

hmm....   un-fail-able quests aren't much of a challenge...

To be clear, many escort quests in Gw2 can be failed. For instance, if the NPC is not ressed within some timespan then the quest can fail.

If i implement the NPC as some sort of temporary follower, the player would gain all the follower interactions such as giving them medicinal hers, and staunching their wounds. along with all kinds of orders like wait, goto, follow, use missile/melee weapons, attack, target selection, use/don't use sneak mode, flee, maintain distance, etc.

Yes, and if you're escotring a trade caravan that has to remain on the roads, what then? Making the NPCs simply follow the player has always been one of those things that irritated me about some escort quests. Sometimes you just need to bite the bullet and realize that some escorts must run on a rail. Others can be a bit more freeform, but there still needs to be some sort of a gating concern to prevent the player from simply escorting the NPC to Timbuktu and back again, I.e. if I'm going from Divinity's Reach to Lion's arch, going via the Black Citadel is taking the long way round, and might not be the method most appreciated by the NPC. On the other hand, emergent gameplay can result when you allow arbitrary escort paths, such as assassin's on the way never being encountered, which can trigger other quest dialog (or future quest entries... such as lowing their guard because they weren't ambushed and thus thinking they're safer on the pot.)

Edited by Washu

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Reviewing some of the games that made improvements to the standard setup would help a ton.

such as?

guild wars 2 has been mentioned. any others come to mind?

guess there's no way i can find out what they do without actually playing them, huh? unless i luck across a post-mortem or some other article

GC was to be an apprentice wizard whose master is suffering from rapidly advancing dementia, charging from adventure to adventure while his hapless student frantically tries to keep him out of danger.

sounds like crazy whacky fun! <g>

If I'm raiding a bandit camp, thrashing dudes and looting corpses, then I spring a captive from a cage and have to follow her at snail's pace through a string of scripted ambushes, it's a change of context that is actually kinda painful. But I don't think that really speaks to the escort quest itself being bad, just the juxtaposition of a slower-paced string of ambushes against the gore-splattered free-for-all that preceded it. It's jarring.

and often a disappointment to the player, who typically wants to "just kill stuff". - you know how players are - even me sometimes! <g>.

sometimes its funny how different my perspective can be on something from a gamedev vs a purely player point of view.

Edited by Norman Barrows

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>> For instance, if the NPC is not ressed within some timespan then the quest can fail.

so its a time limited quest with an un-killable NPC. i assume the NPC is vital to the storyline eh? that seems to be the #1 reason for un-killable quest characters.

so far i've been able to avoid un-killable charaters.  but you have to trap out (handle) more cases (IE characters getting killed - moving away, or otherwise "disappearing".).

i dont have any long storyline based quest campaigns (yet), so i haven't had to worry about storyline critical characters dieing at the wrong time.

>> Sometimes you just need to bite the bullet and realize that some escorts must run on a rail. Others can be a bit more freeform, but there still needs to be some sort of a gating concern to prevent the player from simply escorting the NPC to Timbuktu and back again

in this particular case, non-rails is acceptable. seems like the only things to trap out are "going to timbuktu", and "taking a million years".

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hmm....   un-fail-able quests aren't much of a challenge...

Yes, but keep in mind that Guild Wars 2 is an MMO and the things in questions are in-world events, not "quests" in the traditional sense. They were design to be things you do as you wander the world, but not things you actively engage in the way you might a quest that was specifically given to you. Also they have to contend with anti-griefing, which is not a problem in a single-player game, and also some events do "fail" and chain into follow-ups. Also keep in mind that winning is not the same as not-failing. You can, for example, scale rewards accordingly in order to incentivize players to actually try, or to create a reason for there to be a challenge.

If your game is single-player, I'm not sure it's particularly worthwhile to look at the details of the gameplay ramifications of a massively-multiplayer game. Sure, look at the broad strokes, but be careful of the nitty-gritty details because the considerations are quite different once you have hundreds and hundreds of players with potentially competing interests.

Edited by Josh Petrie

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Maybe the ability to arm and armour your escort to some degree and otherwise have them be able to use other items you might equip them with. And also the ability to get your stuff back at the end of the mission.

all that would come for free if they are a temporary follower, just have to get your stuff back before the quest ends, that's all.

Yeah, I know. "Just" get your stuff back before the quest ends. I often forget that sort of thing.

Escort: Thanks for the protection. Here's your $100 payment. See ya around. Me: Yeah, no problem. Happy to help. Hey how about that$3000 worth of armour and weaponry I lent to you? Excuse me... Dude... Hello? [draw weapon to take back equipment by force and then reload from save point either on failure or other undesirable effect].

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On the other hand, emergent gameplay can result when you allow arbitrary escort paths

My favorite is when they join the party temporarily and you are under no obligation to finish immediately, yet the character has a high level or specialized skill.  I've played several games where you can leverage the temporary member to go back and resolve some side quests.  Eventually when you've exhausted all the possibilities of having them with you, exploited all their skills and profit-generating potential, you return to the story line and they leave the party.

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Think about good coop (2 player) games, and what's fun about having that second person playing with you... besides the human/social aspect, of course.

Perhaps your combat mechanics work better with two people - one on overwatch and one in the open / one defender and one attacker / etc...

Maybe you've got different abilities, or new abilities combined -- e.g. can boost each other over walls, or cast joint spells, etc...

i.e. are there new experiences that you can have with this temporary tag-along player that will mix up your existing gameplay and add flavor?

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Yeah, I know. "Just" get your stuff back before the quest ends. I often forget that sort of thing.   Escort: Thanks for the protection. Here's your $100 payment. See ya around. Me: Yeah, no problem. Happy to help. Hey how about that$3000 worth of armour and weaponry I lent to you? Excuse me... Dude... Hello? [draw weapon to take back equipment by force and then reload from save point either on failure or other undesirable effect].

BG!

yeah, definitely have to explicitly give the player their stuff back.

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My favorite is when they join the party temporarily and you are under no obligation to finish immediately, yet the character has a high level or specialized skill.  I've played several games where you can leverage the temporary member to go back and resolve some side quests.  Eventually when you've exhausted all the possibilities of having them with you, exploited all their skills and profit-generating potential, you return to the story line and they leave the party.

i too enjoy that, but technically it falls under the category of completing the quest "not quite in good faith".  maybe not a million years going to timbuktu - but definitely taking advantage of the situation.

from a gamedev point of view, as long as they don't take too much advantage of it, i don't see anything wrong with it.

but now think of it from the NPC's point of view:

" i'm paying this shmuck to take me to lalaland, not go traipsing across the world to some dungeon so i can help him kill some boss he can't take out alone!

2-3 hours of hiking the wrong way and i'm outta there! "

that's how it really ought to work. every few hours do a check, if the payer is not continuing on the quest, have the NPC call them on it - and bail if they're full of s--t.

Edited by Norman Barrows

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i.e. are there new experiences that you can have with this temporary tag-along player that will mix up your existing gameplay and add flavor?

well, its another spear at your back. if they have special skills (warrior, trader etc), you can learn from them. and of course its a "mule" to carry treasure back from the dungeon. IE the usual advantages you get from an additional party member. being able to learn skills is about the only special thing. but in skyrim you can get members of the companions as followers, and thus have a follower who can train you.

as i said, the reward is the prime motivator. a temporary follower is nice, but the reward is the real benefit to the player. and the quest rewards are quite generous. i seem to have found that happy spot where the treasure is quite big, but not monty haul. makes quest treasures in skyrim and fallout look like a joke. i save whiterun from a dragon and you give me an axe not even worth 1000 gold?

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and now i have a new problem -

what if there is no friendly shelter within 100 miles to escort the NPC to?  (procedurally generated world. 2500x2500 miles. 60,000 caves - avg 25% friendly, 5000 rock shelters - avg 25% friendly, and 18,000 huts - avg 90% friendly).

just kick it up to 200 miles? or 500?  what if that ends up across the ocean or something?

if nothing within 100 miles, don't assign the quest at all, and their quest encounter is "no quest encounter"?

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If an escort quest doesn't have a start point and an end point, then why is there a quest?

If you have a living world, then there's no reason why you could not simply encounter an NPC who is going from A to B at some point between A and B and get "hired" to escort them.

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Could the destination be another person or group that will take over from some agreed upon landmark?

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Escorting an NPC through an area where you can choose multiple paths (i.e. a canyon splits in two directions) might add more interest.

Least favorite escort quest: Spyro 2: Alchemist Escort

• Reason: The NPC walks straight into the enemies. That's the key mechanic there: the person being escorted literally is on a fixed path walking from enemy to enemy in the most circuitous route possible (instead of just taking the first left and reaching the destination, where no walls are blocking).
• Suggestion: Make whoever you are escorting be competent. Either A) competent at fighting, to help defend himself, and even aggressively fight alongside you. Or B) competant at withdrawing from danger until you have dealt with the threat.
Imagine how great it would be (in a fantasy world with magic) to be escorting someone in tattered robes, and you get ambushed by alot of enemies, the guy in tattered robes suddenly whips out a sword and doing impressive anime-esqe backflipping sword attacks, or else starts drawing magic runic circles around himself and blasting away enemies.

Favorite escort quest: Caldera escort quest - Morrowind

• Reason: The NPC being escorted has some really good unique boots, and the only way to ever get them is to kill the NPC and steal them. So you escort the NPC until you come to an area where no guards are watching, and then you "escort" them into the afterlife.  :P
• Suggestion: Think about giving NPCs items that you can only get from killing them. Think about giving other NPCs items, by giving them items that you can only get by safely escorting them. Think about NPCs that hire you to kill the person you are escorting. Think about bandits ambushing you, and offering to pay you to let them kill your VIP.
And then think of the consequences when the relatives of that person find out what occurred.

Another idea: You are escorting someone, following them, and they lead you into a deserted area and turn around and attack you with a couple of their buddies hiding in the underbrush. You are the target the bandits want to rob.

Edited by Servant of the Lord

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