Something Wolfshead said in a recent post sparked a huge brainspark for me:
The problem here is not that there is too much text to read, it’s the fact that a typical MMO interaction with NPCs is a very boring and uninteresting one way conversation. Think about it. You aren’t allowed to speak or reply. You have no input. All you can do is press either accept or decline. NPCs have the emotional depth of a vending machine.
Boring quests and the limitation of quest storytelling to chunks of text at the beginning and end (with little but a chore “in between”) have long been a bone of contention with me. Wolfhead nails a great point — we simply aren’t given a choice when faced with a quest. I’ve often wondered why quests can’t have branching points in MMOs, where you make a choice during a quest that effects the outcome. Once in a rare while, you see this, but it’s obviously too time-intensive — like making two quests in one, and that’s one less quest number to quote on the back of the box statistics.
You might even remember a month or two back when Richard Bartle took WoW to task for not giving him a choice during a torture quest — a discussion that unfortunately got derailed over the subject of whether torture was a good plot device or not. It missed what I considered his biggest point: that quest was prime for a choice in the middle, a branching path, and instead the designers treated it like any other mandatory chore list and forced players down a specific path to completion. It’s a real shame that the community ganged up on Bartle instead of saying, “Hey, YEAH. We want CHOICES in our quests!” and put the pressure on game devs.
But I never thought about choice at the beginning of your quest, and the more I mull over it, the more it strikes me as a wonderful idea. What if your discussion with the quest-giver NPC wasn’t just an “accept or decline” ordeal, but an interactive conversation that would serve as a way to design your mission — if you feel that rescuing innocents is more important, then maybe that will be a new mission objective; if you feel that retrieving an item that could potentially help many more people but you’d leave the innocents to their doom, then the mission would change to reflect that. Maybe you’d want to be more stealthy, or fight many small mobs vs. a few big ones, whatever. Your choices would craft the mission to your liking, all through a conversation.
In a way, this is sort of how Anarchy Online once touted its mission editor, which was a barebones “choose your own adventure” that stocked an instance according to your desires. That didn’t work out so hot in the end — it was pretty generic because it had to be so modular — but maybe it could work in a more subtle fashion.
…Okay, maybe it’s a dumb idea, but I’m thinking here, people! And that’s a lot more than I can say for a majority of current quest designers in MMOs.
In any case, what I want most in quests are: great stories, great choices and great rewards. I’ll lend my voice to the growing crowd of folks who say, if that means fewer quests in MMOs — but the ones that are in there are of superior quality (and perhaps repeatable) — then go for it.