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MMO rants

I like to blog about things that I've found bothersome in current MMOs. So expect a lot posts about things I dislike and about how I feel they should be changed.

Author: beregar

Quest Design (Part II): Storytelling tools

Posted by beregar Monday December 20 2010 at 11:20AM
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This is the second part of my quest system related blog posts and here we are actually getting to the core of what is my issue with quests. The first part was a general overview of the quest types but this is all about how I feel the storytelling in quests could be greatly improved.

Onwards with the storytelling tools...

I feel one of the major downfalls of MMOs is how the world around you is completelly static. If you bother to read the text provided by an NPC quest giver there's often a sense of urgency that doesn't manifest in the surrounding world. NPCs cry for player's help but they seem content to loiter around even as enemies are assaulting another player a few meters from them. They ask you to perform actions that have no influence whatsoever to anything, such as killing x amount of enemies, and then hail you as a savior even as more enemies keep popping all around you.

What I feel is that MMOs should look more into movies and single player games in terms on how to give proper feel to quests. If you read my previous entry you know I support two types of persistent content: events and instanced storyline quests. Both of these types allow developers to set a pacing, and when you can set a pacing, you control the flow of entire quest.

Cutscenes are the first major storytelling tool. These allow dramatic appearances, dramatic defeats, and cinematic overviews on quest's or event's progression. It's very easy to trigger these as each phase of public quest/event is completed. They are also completelly wasted and annoying when overly long or lack any connection to what actually happens around you. These are probably the most common storytelling tools in some of the modern MMOs.

Music is the second major storytelling tool. If you think any epic movie (i.e. Lord of the Rings) you probably realise how vital part music is to set the mood. You may not notice its presence, but you would certainly notice its absence.

Weather and lighting are the third major storytelling tool. Cutscenes and music you occassionally see in games, but very few MMOs use changing weather and light to set mood. Something they are perfectly suited for.

Scripted events are the fourth major storytelling tool. This is also the first one that puts stress on the server. Mobs appearing from thin air and then standing around picking their nose is a huge immersion killer. Scripted events are one tool to fight this: the easiest one is to use terrain to cover their spawns. Have them run in from dark cave entrance, have them spawn within bushes, heck even use teleport GFX where appropriate, or simply don't spawn them when there's a player within sight range. When given ”Defend the Fort” quest I'm expecting enemies to actually assault the fort while allied NPCs are defending it. Uusually enmies are just loitering on the other side of walls while allied NPCs are more concerned with their own navels than fighting them.

Utilizing abovementioned tools is all part of what I mean when I say ”immersive storytelling” or ”immersive quest”. For example imagine a situation where you are in the Gnarlwoods slaying Gnolls as part of a hunt type quest, and the ”Haunting” event triggers. Light starts very gradually dim over minutes and glowing fog spills from the ground. Music gradually takes eerie tone, and ambient sound turns from bird song and chitter of woodland animals to bursts of manic high pitched laughter. Sparks of light can be seen filling the air while shadowy figures flicker through the mist. Some of these are just figments but others coalesce into wraith-like figures that assault the players within area. As the event progresses all these storytelling tools react to it.

Events and instanced areas would be excellent targets for these tools. Still they are not exactly what I meant with ”mechnically interesting instances” I have mentioned in some of the comments. More about that in the area design articles.

What do you all think. Should MMOs improve the use of these tools as part of their quest system, especially in creation of events and storyline quests, or are they completelly pointless waste of resources in your opinion?

- B