Quests – design solutions

Yesterday I talked about the current problems with quest design in both MMO and single player games, but mostly in the online games. I identified the different types of quests and the elements that made questing boring recently. Today I show you some solutions to the problem. Most of the time the solutions are easy; they just require a bit more effort and work from the game developer.

Guild Wars 1 and some other older games (for example Ultima Online, Asheron’s Call 1 and 2) have designed quests a little better by hiding the quests. Certain games used NPC chatter (chatbox NPC chat, or windows with text with certain clickable links) in which they secretly told the objectives to the player. Others (Guild Wars 1 at least) put out objects in the game that required attention from the player. It doesn’t only make you wonder why the item has been left there for anyone to pickup, but it also make you wonder what to do with it and whether anyone would be missing it. For the player the choice to pick it up and do something with it or to leave it behind and move on.

I have no clue how far games like these have taken the options here, but just imagine that you would be able to pick up this particular item. Let’s say for this example that it is an old rusty sword. Now the player has several options with this object. It might have a story.. the player could ask other NPC’s in the nearby city if anyone can tell something about the item.. or whether the item belongs to anyone. But the player could perhaps also just equip the item and use it as a weapon. You don’t need to give the player rewards if they choose to use the item as that is already a reward (don’t you think?) but if they choose to return the item to the rightful owner, the owner will reward the player well (or not).

With this way of designing quests and game play, you make the user think strategically about their next move, about where to go and find answers to their own questions. They will be more immersed with your game and game story.

Unique quests could be simply created by the event of NPC’s running around doing similar things every day and losing items (different though) from time to time.

And items don’t always need to be returned to an NPC. They could unlock a passage way into a dungeon. Quests or objectives don’t even need to be picked up all the time. Objects in the game could also yield instructions or clues for possible hidden quests or small rewards elsewhere. Books could even hold temporary skills, spells and the like (Guild Wars 2 does this a bit with certain objects that give the player an extra one-time spell, as if it was a scroll of a certain magical bolt), or could be (a part of) the next crafting recipe (or improvement thereof).

Progress quests such as war efforts or building a house would make it so that players could participate in the bigger quest of that world. They did this a bit in World of Warcraft by letting players collect items to deliver to special NPC’s that were counting towards a total that unlocked the next stage of the war efforts against the undead or a server wide mission to get to a certain area in the game.
The only thing that I missed in that design was a real time change. Totals were merely displayed and weekly winning servers were rewarded with an unlock to the next stage (patch). I wish that this was more of a continuously updating effort and dynamically creating the next step for the players and the game world. In this I’d like to see the game transforming and changing on the fly. Permanently! A more simple way towards this would be to build a city up or to build defenses against an upcoming attack of a certain enemy, providing the NPC with the building material etc. The quests would continuously change and be different for every player that runs into the area.

I could go on and on, but I should finish this article off by saying that hopefully current (indie) game designers will go back to the old classic and more retro game designs or at least use more time on game design and game depth, to create a more unique game play experience where players can choose their game play, rather than to get it presented on a silver plate.

Game On!


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