Quests, goals, and mechanical horses

rifthorse

Finally hit level 40 on my character in Rift (yes, I know most of the blogosphere is off in tier 2 expert dungeons, which is sort of equivalent to hard mode heroics), and was able to buy one of the coolest mounts in any game ever. This is why you roll Defiant. It’s all about the mechanical horse. This is a copper one, although you can’t really see that in the screenie, I call it Rusty. I always pick boring brown horses when I have the choice, there’s probably something Freudian in that.

Now the mechanical horse and my great desire to virtually own a copy of same has really made me think about how I feel about quests in games. Because even as a low level noob, you will get to see NPCs with mechanical horses, you will see the mechanical horse vendor when you first head into Meridian. And you will KNOW that one day, if you want one, it will be yours. You can browse the available mechanical horses and decide which one you prefer. And you also can easily find the requirements –- you will need to be level 40 and have 35 plat to spend. It’s not like having a quest pop up in your quest journal, but no less of a quest all the same.

WoW pretty much went the same route with their mounts. As your lowbie character travels out of the starting zones, you will encounter the mount vendor with all their ‘wares’ out on display. It’s just that none of them are as cool as a mechanical horse.

Wolfshead posts a thinly veiled screed against WoW and all it’s scions, specifically focussing on the evils of quests this week. I can’t really agree with him; whatever the downsides are to quests, I rather enjoy having a variety of short and longterm goals in game. Quests serve a useful storytelling purpose in many CRPGs. And if they didn’t exist in MMOs then all that would happen is that people would find the most efficient way to level via grinding and just do that – we know this because it’s how levelling used to work.

And yet, they can be improved. Quests like the unofficial ‘where’s my mechanical horse?!’ aren’t official quests, they’re more like game-specific goals which I make for my character. And they always feel more personal than a coded quest, even if every other player on my faction shares the exact same goals. (And if you don’t want a mechanical horse, then I do not know you.)

Sims Medieval has a good modern take on questing – you’ll have some immediate goals to be getting on with, and your characters will also have more longterm ambitions. Plus you as the player may also have some goals which aren’t codified, but will influence how you play.

I’m looking forwards at some point (ie. when I have more free time) to picking up LA Noir, which looks to mark a point where even Rockstar Games abandon the full sandbox in favour of more questing, to see how they handle giving the PC some goals and direction.

But speaking of WoW, the main issue I had with Cataclysm questing is best described as sugar rush. I liked the zones well enough (Vash’jir and Deepholme in particular are brilliant), but everything was so fast, so quickly consumed. My character was travelling quickly, killing quickly, finding things quickly – with no downtime it’s just a lot to take in.

I think the questing layout in Rift is better in general than WoW. Not because they’re more streamlined, because they aren’t. Not because the storylines or writing are better, because they probably aren’t. But because they seem to preserve a better balance between exploring a zone and zipping through it so quickly that you can’t really remember it a few days later. And also because there is a better mix of linear quests, hidden stuff to explore and dynamic events. The pacing seems to work better, for me. Plus it has mechanical horses.

So my view on quests as gameplay is that they’re a useful way to project linear storytelling into a virtual world, but that we’re not done with them yet. I hope to see more devs experiment with ways to encourage players to set and celebrate their own goals, formed through interacting personally with the game world and NPCs. Or in other words, it doesn’t start and end with the gold exclamation mark.

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16 thoughts on “Quests, goals, and mechanical horses

  1. Well, I certainly don’t want a mechanical horse.
    Otherwise, Blogger doesn’t work right now, so my response to Wolfshead’s quest rant is offline. mmh.

    Quests are great. Mindless tasks are not. Since most quests in MMORGs = mindless taskes…

    At least most players don’t like the 100% streamlined version.

    • The thing about quests, whether you want to boil them down to mindless tasks or not, is that they can be very immersive. There’s nothing more immersive in a virtual world than having people ask you to do mindless tasks – it happens to me in real life all the time. (I can see my cat watching me right now, it probably wants me to do something mindless!)

      • In that case, please spare me the immersion, for once. Because, going for the bathroom is also “immersive” …

        In the still offline post (*rant*), I suggest to look into the option of having mutually exclusive quests to make players care more about the quests they accept.

        Right now, I need to go extraordinary length as a player to even remember the quests while I do them. I started read them out loud to myself and repeat why I kill the mobs everytime before I start to kill them. It works, but shouldn’t be necessary.

      • Nah, mutually exclusive quests would just make players paranoid about looking everything up online to make sure they hadn’t made a suboptimal choice. You’d need to actually get people to care about the story they were telling rather than the rewards for that to work.

        Also, blogger is pants, isn’t it? :)

        But it still remains that I like that NPCs in game talk to me and ask me to do stuff. Obv would be better if I could set them quests too …

      • You can give the same “rewards” ..
        The player could chose the style route he wants to use to achieve the goal.

        Anyway, I agree that to simply remove quests would be a bad idea. I don’t want to return to the days where you would slaughter mobs not for an immersive reason, but to get “stronger”. That was viable gameplay, but bad simulation.

  2. Something I’ve enjoyed greatly in RIFT and in WoW recently have been what I call incidental quests. RIFT does a great job of labelling ‘story’ quests clearly, but every now and then you get to do something silly just because it’s there.

    One of my fav moments in WoW recently was in the Blasted Lands. I was killing naga when I found 3 murloc tadpoles that needed to be taken to the ocean. They were deep in naga controlled territory, it but was a delight to haul them through the area. It allowed me to kill mobs without endangering my ‘escorts’, and it didn’t even show up as a quest, I just happened to mouse over this box and noticed it had the dialogue icon.

    I still find the new questing in WoW a bit too restrictive, but man is the old world FUN these days. The 80+ zones don’t have a thing on exploring Andorhal, for example.

  3. I have a pretentious, pretty and puissant golden unicorn as my mount. It’s one of the few times I have looked at the standard issue mount and thought “no way” then gone rep grinding for a cosmetic issue. I do really like it, although I’ll grant you that Robohorse is also highly cool.

    As for Wolfshead’s post and even more so the Muckbeast post he linked to I thought there was a lot of sense. I’ve very uninterested in MMO quests although I absolutely loved the quests in Planescape: Torment and Daggerfall/Morrowwind.

    Like you I find they fly by too fast, as Wolfshead and Muckbeast argued when you have done thousands and most are Kill Ten Rats or Collect Ten Rat-tails you stop seeing any interesting ones. For me every quest in Rift past about level 9 was follow the golden pointer, kill/click the things, follow the golden pointer back, talk to the blue tick.

    It’s not that they’re poorly written, in fact when I specifically made a read-every-quest alt I thought the story quite good. However even with that alt I stopped reading them after a while. A lot of the quests simply aren’t anything other than fedex: collect X (you may have to hit it a bit first), deliver to Y. And there’s just too many.

    I did love the deep one village though – I’d love to see that developed into a story quest rather than the stories they picked.

    • The thing with ‘kill ten rats’ is that if I have a choice between killing 100 rats or taking a ‘kill 10 rats’ quest which makes up the difference with quest xp, I think I prefer the quest. To be fair, WoW in particular does try to give you a variety of things to do, vehicles to drive, etc, which breaks up the killing somewhat.

      But it is interesting to compare with questing in single player games, as you say. I know one of the reasons I’ve stalled a bit on ME2 is quest overload – maybe MMO questing has ruined my ability to enjoy quests in single player games …

      • Quests were a definite step forward at the time. Amazing as the view is through Wolfshead’s rose tinted glasses, I have a very different memory of pre-quest gameplay – levelling up in DAoC consisting of having find a group which would then go and grind the same mobs over and over until people had gained a level or two. Then it was time to go and grind a different set of mobs. Honestly, kids these days complain about how some dungeons are boring because there are too many trash mobs. That’s nothing. Try having to pull the SAME trash pack over and over again for five straight evenings to gain a level…

        Quests were great. Quests gave you variety, a reason to move around without gimping your advancement, quests let you progress your character solo if you couldn’t get a group (again, for most characters in the pre-WoW days it was find a group to join or else log off and watch a DVD). But now we’re somewhat jaded. We’ve noticed how static quests are, and we’ve noticed how mundane a lot of the tasks are, and how pedestrian the writing is on so many of them (well, given how many of these things have to be churned out to make a current-gen MMO… hello, Sturgeon’s Law!)

        What we want now is something more involving. Maybe it’s better story-telling (the SW:TOR route) or it’s something more dynamic (Rift has taken baby steps in this direction; GW2 is promising a lot more if it can actually live up to its own hype). Either way, we want our gaming to be entertaining again.

  4. I don’t think the question of quests can be answered with a simple yes or no. There are too many types of quest, some of which to me aren’t quests at all. If someone said “quest” to me 10 years ago, I’d think “epic adventure”. Today, “dig through felhound excrement” or “pick my nose”. The disambiguation, at least to me, significantly detracts from immersion and suspension of disbelief. If a game is to have menial tasks, at least come up with some term other than quest, and save the magic q-word for something a bit more significant.

    The special case that is WoW (actually, any theme park with a story I guess) has its own issues when it comes to questing. Uniformly spaced out mobs in every bleeding area are a massive, massive turn off. Knowing all the potential variations of buildings and caves before ever setting foot into most of them, the same thing. Leveling quests are so many, that not only is it impossible for them to be unique, but the player is swamped in them in such a way that it’s difficult to care for any particular one. There is very little reason to ever *want* to pay more attention to a quest other than “oh I think it said 10 of these in this area, what’s the fastest route to the next q”.

    Quests and some more mundane tasks are a part of RPGs though, it’s my view that the approach to presenting them to the player is very limited. There has to be more to it than arrive at quest hub, collect quests, follow optimal route, cash in, sell loot, next hub. FTR, incidental/escort quests in WoW aren’t a step up to me, escort quests involve a starting location, a bee-line and a completion location. Invariably, through a mob infestated path, and typically done in one go from start to finish. How exciting. Is it unreasonable for escort quests to span over a longer time-frame and area? Sam escorted Frodo to Mordor and back again, but there was a helluva lot more to it than a bunch of 4-mobs spawning every couple of hundred yards.

    • That’s such a good point. In literature the iconic quest was the quest for the Grail, the Cup of Christ. It was a quest demanding such perfection of martial skills and character that only one Knight was pure enough to succeed.

      Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings borrowed from and diluted the gravitas of that original literary prototype. He may have been the first to borrow the majesty of the word quest, but he certainly wasn’t the last.

  5. You just convinced me to get Sims Medieval.

    I do agree with Wolfshead though about some aspect of questing rant. Even in EQ2, there were NPC’s that if you chat with them a bit, you will get a quest, unless they don’t like your answers. It forces you to interact with the NPC’s and maybe even learn a bit about them. Isn’t (or wasn’t) that part of the point of RPG’s?

    It would be nice if there were more than one way to accomplish quests. Even if it meant striking a deal with another npc to kill the 10 rats for you. I understand why having multiple paths of completion may be a pain programming-wise though.

    And the focus on end-game is also part of the problem. Whether it is via grinding or questing, people want to get that over with as soon as possible so they can get their leet purplez. If they don’t have their leet purplez then they are fail and nobody wants to be the suxxors.

  6. You make a great point about RIFT quests while them may not be as creative as WoW quests (see I don’t hate Blizzard 100% of the time) at least they allow players to spend some serious time in a zone. In Cataclysm I felt I was barely in a zone when it was time to leave to get the next quest.

    I think it’s time to go beyond the limitation of quests as they are currently defined in most MMOs. Every NPC should matter in a vibrant fantasy world; not just the ones with exclamation marks over their head.

    By the way I have some more “screeds” planned. I’m gearing up my screed machine for a few more articles. Thanks for the mention :)

    • I’ll look forwards to reading them, I always enjoy your posts (even when I don’t agree). And I also agree that having played a few different MMOs (and single player games) and seen how they evolved does give a different perspective on things.

  7. I admit, I’m fine with MMO quests(though I do think there should be different types), however, I’m more against these quests appearing in my single-player games.

    THAT’S when I just want to putz around and do anything I want. Now, granted…even then it depends on the game. It’s strange. Like, one of my pleasures are the Phantasy Star Online/Universe/PS Portable/God Eater type games; ie, make a character, go on missions, make/get/collect stuff. They’re great, mindless fun for me. The ‘extra’, optional missions are where all the fun is in those games for me. You CAN beat those games without messing with the optional missions. It’s possible, and I’ve even done it in a speed run test(Phantasy Star Online.) But I love going on the random missions. I’m pretty sure I’m not the only one out of the fifteen people who still play them. ;)

    Maybe though it’s more ‘exclamation point’ styles of quests in my non MMO RPGs i’m not into. The games i mentioned above do it in a more ‘mission counter’ style. Somehow this doesn’t bug me(and it’s actually somewhat worked into the game; you’re part of a team/company/unit etc, and it makes sense you’d pick up quests.) I was also fine with say, Quest for Glory style where sure, old lady, I’ll go get you this stuff. I was running around doing my own thing in that game anyway, I felt the quests made sense.

    I do know one thing. I’m fine with no death penalty in my MMOs. if I want masochistic gaming I go back to my 8 bit collection/super-hardmodes of my console games(which I do enjoy at times.) My MMOs I like for other things, and that’s not one of them.

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