Tigole on The Art of Herding Cats

Jeffrey Kaplan aka Tigole, gave a talk at the recent GDC (game developers’ conference) on Directed Gameplay within Warcraft. He’s talking about quest design,  where it went wrong, and how he thinks it could be better.

Now I’m not saying that shock headlines get readers, but most of the  posts I’ve read about this have led with something like “Warcraft is crap, says lead developer.”

But what he’s  talking about is Blizzard’s philosophy of quest design and what kind of experience they want their game to give the player. The WoW Insider article has the most extensive coverage of what was actually said (because they had people send back audio to their editorial team, rather than relying on notes).

Directed Gameplay

The goal of directed gameplay is for every player to have roughly the same experience in game. It doesn’t stop people from getting lost, not figuring out how to play their class, not being able to find a suitable guild or being mocked on the trade channel, but people will  probably end up doing the same quests in the same order.

If Blizzard put a Wrathgate in the middle of their game, by gum you WILL find it.

I read this, and even though I can see why it’s a good thing, it makes me a little sad. Part of the fun of exploring was the hope of finding things that others hadn’t seen yet. I liked quirky out of the way quests, especially if they weren’t essential. They were rewards for exploring.

But it does play to one of the big strengths that video games have over pen and paper RPGs. You can offer a guaranteed experience to the player. I think having a good directed form of gameplay is essential to breaking into the mainstream. After all, we all have the same experience when we watch a film or TV show. Yes, they’re broadcast and not interactive. But you can talk to your friend about a show and know that they saw the same thing.

And the other reason that it makes me sad is because it’s not very interactive. It might feel interactive. You may occasionally touch base with other players. But the interactivity is a trick. It’s a clever trick, designed to make you feel as though you just happened to be exploring some remote area when you run into an exciting adventure … but if you looked into it more deeply, you’d find that you were there because the game sent you there.

There are lots of quirky quests in vanilla WoW that made the experience memorable. I guess a really well designed directed play experience would be memorable too, but would it feel so personal?

And the third reason that it makes me sad is that Tigole is working on Blizzard’s next generation MMO. If it’s quest based, this is the philosophy he will be using. And it is very consistent with how quest based games currently work.

Anyhow, back to herding cats.

Telling Interactive Stories

“Shakespeare couldn’t 3D model his way out of a paper bag, Scorcese couldn’t program ragdoll physics, and The Beatles are pretty lousy at balancing three unique races on an RTS battlefield.”

He does also talk about how videogames should tell stories. And particularly that they should stop trying to be mediums that they’re not. A videogame is not a film or a book. Graphical MMOs are not text based games like MUDs.

So we don’t really need long boxes of quest text to tell stories. What players want are living breathing worlds with which to interact, and in which the game’s story becomes THEIR story.

I don’t know how possible this will be in MMOs. But in single player games, we can look at classics like Planescape: Torment or Fable II to see how things can roll out. For me, an important part of this is NPCs who become part of the story and react to me in ways other than using the same canned soundbite just after I saved the world (again). Because let’s face it, other players won’t care and won’t respond in character. Unless their interests are also involved.

It’s a definite challenge and if Tigole and his team can come up with some good solutions, I may even forgive them the extremely directed gameplay.

And is The Green Hills of Stranglethorn really the worst quest in WoW

Tigole also takes responsibility for designing the Green Hills quest. If you have never done it, this quest needs you to collect lots and lots of pages of a book which you can turn in as chapters. The pages can drop from any mob in Stranglethorn (which is a large and quest heavy zone).

He describes this as the worst quest in game. He is totally and utterly wrong. The worst quest is “Deep Ocean, Vast Sea” which is the best reason ever to go Horde.

The only bad things about the Green Hills are:

  1. Takes way way way too much bag space. If they’d given you a special pages bag, it would have been much more pleasant.
  2. Should have been accompanied by a breadcrumb quest to lead you to the auction house to make sure people knew how to buy and sell excess/ missing pages OR have made sure you got the pages in order.

Good things about it are that it is a metaquest for the zone. If you are there anyway doing quests, you will end up killing lots of mobs. You can be working on the Green Hills while doing other things. I rather like that side of things.

Minor points of interest about the Green Hills: My husband is such a hoarder that he still has 3 WHOLE COPIES of the green hills pages on one of his alts. He says, “You never know when it might be useful.” I know when it might be useful. How about never?

It must be love.