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Sanya Weathers's MMO Underbelly: Take This Column To NPC X

Sanya looks at the truth behind low level quest design in this week's edition of the MMO Underbelly.


Krebs continues: “It’s hard to create a hundred different 'stories' around why you are collecting wolf pelts but everyone tries. We had you get cures for diseased NPCs. We made an entire town sick from plagued rats. We had love stories, war stories, stories of betrayal. But what we found was the majority of players were interested in the quest steps, which is why we started adding the steps in with less narration. The writers love adding narration and story, but all the feedback indicates less talk, more quest steps. Less story, more 'jobs.'

“And let’s face it. From a development standpoint, it's less time consuming to do those types of quests, and less expensive, because you don't need to hire content devs that can write or narrate.”


Most of the writers I spoke to said the same thing, and furthermore, mentioned a growing trend in the industry of hiring a writer on a consulting basis to do the story bible and the backstory for the website. That material informs the quests, but spares the company the time and expense of having a professional writer in house for the actual gameplay elements.

So, what should you keep in mind as a brand new, inexperienced quest developer?


One lead with experience on three different MMO titles and who is working on an upcoming game said, “The art department is not your bitch. They will not make whatever you want. You cannot scale their art [author’s note - this means that unless the art director is a complete wimp, he or she will not allow you to take a monster designed to be very small, like a mouse, and blow it up to dragon proportions just because you’ve written a quest that needs a very large mouse] or use it in places they don't find appropriate. Be nice to them or you will regret it. [Also], your ideas will be shot down, repeatedly. Not because you suck, but because you have no idea what you're talking about and the impact/cost vs reward/return. Don't keep trying to argue and sell me on the idea. I understand, I'm just not going to do it. [Finally], you will have to implement. You will not get to just sit in a corner office and write brilliant works that others will figure out how to make work. You will have to implement not just your own quests, but encounters, and also make items and build some terrain.”


Ellisa Barr, an experienced content lead with EA Mythic with two shipped titles, one unshipped title, and multiple expansions under her belt, said, “In my opinion, all new quest writers see themselves as artists, trying to sculpt the perfect creation. They don't yet understand the limitations. Unfortunately they aren't given a nice sharp chisel and beautiful piece of marble. Sometimes you just get poo and a stick to poke it with. Yes, there will be times when a writer can fall in love with his characters and the story. When there are artists available to make the art you want, and coders there to program the tools and functionality you envision.

Ten. Ding!

“To be a good quest writer, you have to accept your limitations, take what you're given and make it great. It's useless and counterproductive to get overly attached to your ideas, or to be over-sensitive to criticism. Sometimes, maybe even a lot of times, you will have to re-write. You've got to be flexible and make your quest fit - whether it's got to fit the art, the IP, or some higher up's vision. Quest writers are artists at times, and sometimes they're more like assembly line workers. What will determine your ultimate success, more than anything, is your attitude.”

Finally, if I may interject one last piece of advice from my own observations and experiences – if you really want to get the full experience as a new quest writer, go to work at a startup. You’ll write everything from simple quests to epic fiction. You’ll write backstory, site fiction, and the game blurb on the back of the box. You’ll do it all, and you’ll do it without a whole lot of supervision because everyone’s wearing three hats and working eighty hours a week. It’s about the most fun you can have as a writer. And when you finally burn out, you can go to work at a big studio as a senior writer, and not do a single kill ten rats quest again as long as you live.

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Sanya Weathers / I''ve been complaining about video games for fifteen years. Fifteen years, people. In internet years, I''m not just old, I''m DEAD.

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