As I have returned to World of Warcraft, I have become taken by the daily quest. To many, this is an old mechanic, but when I quit the game these were just called “repeatable quests” because you could do the exact same quest over and over again. But the daily quest mechanic has evolved and now, for example, the fishing guy in Stormwind actually has several quests which rotate. You get to do one per day, and the one available changes from day to day.
Imagine if we took that design a step further. What if, instead of entering a town and finding the same five quests every player finds every day, you were to just find five quests? If you entered town on Monday, the baker, the weapon smith, the bartender, the fisherman and the captain of the guard would have quests. But if you came in on Tuesday, the baker and the captain of the guard would have the same quests, but now the other three available quests would be the potion master, the stable boy and the inn keeper. And by “quests” I mean “tasks” because that’s what they are anyway. The majority of quests in a game aren’t the type they expect you to hold on to and work on for months, weeks, or even just days. They expect you to take the quest and then finish it within a single play session, maybe two.
And not just quests for single players. Quests for duos and groups, even daily raid content. Call it a midway point between current quest design and Rift’s “abandon quests to fight random events” design. I think it is worth further thought.
Ahh, life on the road.
I knew this is what life would be like when I started down this path, but the reality of it smacks you in the face sometimes. I crawled all over Westfall, uncovering the entire map, and managed to only find maybe four or five quests I could complete. Redridge Mountains proved to be better with nearly a dozen quests. And then it’s off to Darkshore, where there were a few quests to do and then the majority of the zone is locked behind kill tasks.
The daily quests help, of course, being able to earn 2k exp every day keeps my spirits up. And then there is the Valentine’s Day event… which unfortunately includes killing, so I can’t participate fully. *sigh* Time to head back to dwarf-land and goat-town, I suppose.
However, my decision not to kill for cash leaves me plenty of time to study the markets, buying goods from people who just want quick cash and reselling them to people willing to pay more. I can sell copper bars for 7 gold a stack, but people will put them up for anywhere from 3 to 5 gold. When you add in the market manipulation with my own mining and herbing, it totals out to over a hundred gold in my pocket – and that’s after I bought myself one of those engineered tackle boxes and a couple other nice bags.
I also managed to fish up one of those books that taught me how to find schools of fish, so that will be a lot easier from here on out. Level 16 and moving…
Tobold has a great series of posts up called “Why Do We Play?” (that link goes to the summary, which links to the earlier parts because Tobold didn’t go back and put links in his introduction post) wherein he examines several aspects of gaming and how those aspect are realized. Of course, its mostly great if you aren’t a big gaming blog reader. Nothing in there is revolutionary, and most of it has been talked before in many places, but its not a bad read. Here is my rebuttal, of sorts…
I’m there for the social. I want to play with other people, and if I’m not going to play with other people, then I want a strong narrative which I am unlikely to find in an MMO and will more easily find in a single player game. One of the things I loved about EverQuest, and I’ve talked about it before, is that the game wasn’t quest driven. Yes, there were quests, and yes, I’ve said before that there was not a single day of playing EQ where I was not working on a quest of some sort. However, quests are personal. It is in their design to be so. A quest is started by you, it is on your quest tracker, and you will complete it. Someone can help you kill raptors and collect hides, but in the end, even if you both have the quest, you both need your own hides (whether the item is shared or not) and you will both talk to the NPC separately to complete the quest. The reason EverQuest worked so much better as a social game than WoW or other modern games is that while a player could always be questing, the bulk of the game was in fighting monsters, and fighting monsters is something you actually do together. When the monster dies, it may drop an item that is lootable by all group members, but still each of them loots the item for their own quest, they don’t complete the quest together, but they do kill the monster as a team. Especially in games like WoW, when you’ve collected all your items, you are best off running back to the NPC and doing the turn in as soon as possible because the next quest he gives may very well be in the same area you are already fighting in to kill monsters you are already killing but are getting no credit for since you don’t yet have the quest. And quests reward the player better than the killing.
To that end, I was very excited about Warhammer Online’s public quest system, where a quest wasn’t assigned to you but just happened in a specific area and to be a part of it you only needed to be there. Of course, that game also had a ton of traditional quests and the heavy PvE and quest focus of the game, plus it being level based like most every other MMO, lead pretty quickly to people not socializing, racing through content on the traditional quests. The saving grace of the game was supposed to be the PvP aspects, but with so much focus on PvE, and trying a bunch of PvP elements to PvE sieges, it didn’t really work too well. Honestly, I hope they keep plugging away at the game and don’t close it down any time soon. If they just accept that they are not going to defeat WoW at the PvE game and work on making the PvP game fun and rewarding, they might manage to carve themselves out a very nice niche, and I might go back to the game.
Despite my distaste for the gameplay of EVE Online, I am repeatedly drawn to the game because the social aspects of the game carry so much weight. And by “social” I don’t just mean hanging around chatting with people, though I do mean that too, but in how the player economy involves interaction with other players, even when done through an auction/buy/sell interface there are still other players on the other side of those transactions. Similarly, its why I am drawn toward Fallen Earth and why I’m so disappointed that I experience so much lag in towns. Hopefully they’ll resolve that, or I’ll be able to buy a super PC (when I win the lottery), and I can join in.
But that’s it in a nutshell. Of all the reasons to play an MMO, the reason I’m there is for the social interactions, and not just between me and my friends from previous games talking on our private chat server while playing in guild groups, but for the random happenstance of playing with and around other people, whoever they may be.
I decided this past weekend to grind my first town in Free Realms. I happened to be standing in Seaside so that is the one I picked.
By grinding a town, what I mean is to do whatever I can to remain in town and work on quests. First off, I completed the collection quests of Seaside, then I visited every quest giver and completed every quest that is available to a person who is playing for free. Quite often the game tried to encourage me not to do this by having quests that would lead me off to another town, but I would always run do that quest and teleport back, rather than the expected behavior of seeing quests in the new town and sticking around to work them.
When I logged out on Sunday morning, the only quests that remained in Seaside were the ones I can’t do. That doesn’t mean there are not more quests, but there might be some that just are not unlocked (because of level or because I haven’t done the lead in quest from another town or random world NPC). At this point, unless I get a quest that sends me to Seaside, I don’t expect to go back there until I get bored and start looking for things I missed (or things that have since unlocked).
Sanctuary is next.
Cuppy’s post about going back to EverQuest got me to thinking… One thing that has always bugged me is when people say that the title of the game EverQuest is ironic because the game had so few quests and was mostly a grind. “NeverQuest” they often call it. I heartily disagree… now, on to the tangent…
When I wake up in the morning there are things I do. I shower, I sometimes shave, I eat breakfast, I check emails, I watch a TV show, maybe I write something for this blog, I go to work. Work itself is a list of things to do. Write some code to fix a bug, check on the performance of the servers, flowchart the processes of a new program, and more. The one thing that all of those have in common is that not a single one of them would I ever, for any reason, consider a “quest”.
My quest in life is to be a writer, or perhaps a game designer. The things I do on a daily basis are, in some form or another, tasks I perform in pursuit of those larger goals, either directly or indirectly. And now we return to the point…
In my years of playing EverQuest, there was not a single day in that game where I was not on a quest. Whether it be a small task performed to gain reputation, or the pursuit of some larger aspect of something else, but it was always moving toward the completion of some quest somewhere. Headband and Sash quests, Ro Armor, Shackles, Epic weapons, Manuals from Knowledge, Rings in Velious, and much much more.
In my years of playing World of Warcraft, I can’t say I’ve actually done very many quests at all. Every day, every session, I was completing tasks. Busy work. Dozens of little things to do, none of which took very long, and none of which mattered. The rewards I gained from doing WoW’s “quests” would be replaced in days, sometimes less. The only rewards that were even close to permanent and mattering to my character were ones gotten at the level cap, through raiding.
To me, a quest should be a long hard road through hell, something that directs more of you life than fifteen minutes. When I think of “Quest” I think of The Holy Grail, I think of the search for Solomon’s Mines, I think of the search for intelligent life on other planets, I think of goals that consume you. Quests in EverQuest in the “old days” had this. Quests in today’s games don’t. Today’s quests are nothing more than “To Do” lists. Today’s quests are bullet points on the agenda. Today’s quests are eating breakfast, checking my email, and reviewing code.
And that, I’m fairly certain, describes exactly why most modern MMOs, and even what EverQuest has become, just don’t seem to hold my interest. I want to quest again… Do any games have this? or have they all gone the way of WoW? I had hoped Lord of the Rings Online would deliver, and perhaps it did later, but I only got up to level 17 and it was “quest hubs” and tasks, sometimes with a dash of story but really nothing more.
As previously mentioned, I’m back in the world of Norrath. In addition to picking up the reins on Ishiro, I decided to also start up a new character so I could run through the new tutorial and see some of the changes to the game. So Jhaer the Drakken cleric was born. At the same time, since I did sign up for the Station Access, I started up EverQuest II to see how the game had changed since I later played.
In EQ, the new tutorial is fairly fantastic. It does a great job of introducing you to the features of the game, even grouping. EQ2 is pretty much the same… in fact after going into game I realized how much Sony cribbed the new EQ design off EQ2. The default UI layout, the quest logs featuring step by step goals. They are very similar.
After playing both for a couple of days, I came face to face with one of the reasons I tired of World of Warcraft but had not noticed until now: Breadcrumbs.
In game design, this is the idea of quests, tasks and objects that slowly lead a character through content. In WoW as a human you start in the newbie area and after a few quests you get one to take a note to Goldshire, where you find your next few quests, which eventually lead you to the lumber mill, and then you get lead to Westfall, and so on. In WoW though, quests are some of the best source of experience and loot in the game. The quests are the game. EQ, being that at its core it is still the same game that came out in 1999, is based largely on killing monsters with quests being secondary. The two don’t always mix together well.
For World of Warcraft and even EverQuest II, since the game was made for these sorts of quests and the quest log design, if you need to collect gnoll scalps, gnolls scalps don’t drop unless you have the quest. In EverQuest, gnoll scalps drop even if you don’t have the quest, but while under the old style quest system (no quest log, no stage tracker) if you got 10 scalps before being given the quest, you could turn them in anyway, however, under the new system it only counts the scalps if you loot them AFTER getting the quest, so if you have 10 scalps and get a quest to collect 10 scalps, you have to get 10 more.
Over in EverQuest II, I ran into a different problem. One of my quests asked me to find evidence of the missing soldiers. After getting fed up looking for this evidence, I went to a spoiler site and they explained I just needed to go to one spot and find the dead soldier body, which would then spawn a defiled soldier that I would have to kill. So I went back into game and went to the spot, but there was no dead soldier. I ran around the area for a couple hours killing everything, but no dead soldier. The problem here is that this quest is the second quest in a series of six or so breadcrumb quests that are supposed to lead me around the island. This tutorial area is built with two lines of quests, and if you complete both sets before leaving you end up with a basic set of armor and weapons to carry you into the game. I fully completed one line, but the second is halted because of this dead soldier who doesn’t seem to exist. To make things worse, there are usually eight or more of us waiting around for this dead soldier.
In addition to a single broken quest halting an entire line, breadcrumbs quest lines also funnel the players through areas without exploration, and in fact since quests are where the real rewards are in newer games, you are often passively penalized for getting off the path and looking around as progression of your character virtually halts if you don’t play the game the way they want you to play.
I don’t know if there is any solution to this, or if it even needs a solution, its just something I felt like rambling about.