Quest Text

I feel like writing right now, so why stop after that last novel, let's write another one.

Lead Blizzard Dev Outlines 9 WoW Quest Problems, Admits to Designing Stranglethorn Quest via Cuppytalk

I think Kaplan hit the nail on the head with point two. The effects of this one point radiate out into the entire rest of the talk, whether he means it to or not. Point nine is another example of actually being one way of looking at the very core of the issue. Personally I like good understandable examples, and I'm kind of sad I don't have a workable prop here for this.

Imagine if you will that I'm standing in front of a white board with ten big A3 (8.5"x11" for Americans) buttons on it. Behind each of those buttons is one page of Coraline by Neil Gaiman. To the left is a scoreboard with a bunch of zeroes showing on it. So here are the rules, I can press the buttons in any order and get one point per press, per button. Once I press all ten, I get ten bonus points and all the pages move forward so that I have the next ten pages. However, I can't get back to talking to you, or take any breaks until I reach 100 points. Additionally, if I can't get back to it tonight, this post never gets written.

Now, I'm kind of tired already, it's been a long night and any more delays and I'm just going to fall asleep. But I really care about this post. I've never gotten to read Coraline so those pages are looking interesting, but I've got this point just banging around inside my head waiting to get out. Take a moment, and given all the information, just try to imagine me pressing those buttons as fast as you think I would press them.

Personally, I imagined myself tearing through them with the occasional pause to read something that caught my eye. Why? Because it's not a book, it's a button pressing machine and I have something really important to me get to. I don't think there are many people who view quest text skippers in this light, not ADD thirteen year olds, just someone who's friends need them at a higher level to play with them, or whose guild needs them at max level, or who can't wait for the raiding game play that they really like. Just because the button has text does not make the button game a novel.

Fixing this requires us to look at something more basic about quest text, it's purpose. When I walk up to someone in a starting zone and they ask me to reduce the overpopulation of the bears in the zone, the text is giving me the reason why I'm doing it. To reduce the overpopulation of bears. I kill eight bears, eight more spawn, the population is the same, I walk back to the quest vendor and find out something funny. They lied to me. I did not kill the bears to fix the overpopulation, I killed the bears so they could give me stuff. If I had done it to repair their ecological situation, it would not have been considered complete until the implied task, thinning their actual numbers, was completed. That is not the case, instead it is simply asking me to push a button a certain way, in this case kill x bears, and collect my prize. It is soon discovered that the faster you push buttons, the more reward you get, and the closer you get to whatever goal you yourself have actually set. And so it is never actually explained why you bothered killing x bears, except in the meta sense of "to advance".

Now imagine that the buttons have been replaced with an adlib sentence. _____(Proper noun) is _____(adverb) _____(verb - present tense) because _____(proper_noun) _____(verb - past tense) the _____(adjective) _____(noun). I press button one, a list of 10 names come up I choose one. I press is and ten choices of possible replacement words come up. And this continues until in short order I've formed the sentence, 'Jay was pretty pissed after Milley lost the good sword.' The points rack up, it rolls over to a new sentence.

Before anyone even suggests it, I'm not saying we need to make them choose your own adventure. I'm saying you need them to be one word. One big bold visible word that the player interacts with as they play. Rather than sending the player to kill the bear overpopulation, set a trigger the first time they enter the woods for a group of bears to spawn in and attack them. A guard runs over, thanks them for helping with the bears that have been overpopulated lately and gives you the quest reward. What you'll see here is what isn't written. No ecological survey in your quest log, no long quest intro. The player instantly understands that the bears are hostile and wonders why, the guard answers why, the player sees the problem is solved, but has a viable reasoning for other people to be having a similar problem in front of him. And they know why they did it, to protect themselves and luckily to assist with the bear population.

Text cannot be your hook. Any number of people will sit down and read the text once they are hooked into a story. However, there is little chance of catching them the first time around if they have to read text to enter the story. On top of that, you want people to enjoy their time spent questing as a non-grind and to get a story with it, if you can encapsulate the story into actions, into showing them what is going on, you will have succeeded. If you try to keep it to telling them, you will fail. I think a truly great novelist or writer-director, if tasked with designing the quest layout for an MMO will probably tell you the same thing. Show your audience, don't just tell them. Don't lean on them to write their next great novel in your game, or to fill your game with their brilliant cinematics, work with the strengths of our own medium to not just tell the player the story they've helped with, but to show it to them.

The move has largely been made in single player games. There isn't that much stopping us now from adding this in MMOs other than getting people trained to do it. I firmly believe that TOR will succeed or fail almost solely on how well they grok this principle.

I'm pretty sure if you noticed a massive jump in quest quality with phasing, it's because they can now show, not just tell the outcome of your actions. It's amazing how powerful this particular jump really is.


  1. I think one of your very important points to remember is your last point. Having a bit of a movie direction background, I've always tried to remain true to the tenet of "Don't tell me the story, show me."

    I believe literary work has its place in MMOs and can work as an introductory mechanism for quests (i.e. needing to read the quest text instead of looking for some damned arrow to point me in the right direction), but I agree ... have dynamic things happen during the quest.

    Even the initiated quests you spoke of would be awesome if there was follow up. I'd love to run into a forest have a quest pop up with the heading "You sense something is deathly wrong here..." and that's it. It prompts you to explore the area, to look around and go off the beaten path. Most people will probably look for enemies to kill right off the bat, but meh.

  2. Well it always can work, it's just that right now it's overused. Also I've actually been playing around with the idea of no mini-map. Partially because of the push it makes for everything else to be more intuitive, and also because as it so happens it's actually something very difficult for non long time gamers to understand at first.

    The biggest thing with dynamics in your quests is that they can involve players who would not have gotten involved. If you connect that to something like one character per account, it may turn out pretty powerful in terms of connecting players to characters. Also it alleviates the problem of everyone seeing everything ten million times. Even if you don't though, it's an opportunity to tell your story better and more often.