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The Lunch Break Blog

For those of us who would rather be leveling right now.

Author: cmagoun

Dynamic Quest System (or Life Without !?!?!?!?)

Posted by cmagoun Friday June 5 2009 at 12:16PM
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So last post I basically griped about MMO quest systems and outlined problems I think turn questing into a horrible grind in almost all modern MMOs. I think MMO developers are in a rut because they see quests as part of their game's progression system -- something a player does to level and get gear. I think if you have the mindset that the reason to have quests is to provide an alternative to repetitive hunting, you are pretty much bound to the idea of repetitive, easy questing.

"Hmm... what do I do today? Fight 10 boars for a reward, or collect 10 pies for a reward? I know, I'll do both!!!"  Ugh...

So what's the goal here? The rest of the article will outline a questing system where quests are more than a proxy for spawn camping. Our system will provide excitement by giving the player a fresh experience each time he logs into the game. We will tie the character's actions to events in the game world and he will see the results of his actions as it affects NPCs, game locations and even his fellow players (albeit only temporarily). Instead of dryly telling the game's backstory in flavor text, our quests will give the player a story to tell each session of play.

Sounds great, but where do we find this awesome questing system?

Well, for our basic inspiration, we are going to look to Warhammer Online and its public quests. In short, a public quest is an event that spawns regularly at a certain location. Anyone can join in and contribute to the quest, which usually has players killing monster spawns so that more powerful monster spawns show up. Once the big baddie is killed, players are rewarded based on their calculated contribution (modified by random roll).

Public quests are great, but I think we can take the idea one step further. Let's call our new concept Dynamic Quests. Here are the guiding ideas behind Dynamic Quests:

Doing Instead of Getting: A friend of mine once said "RPGs are about doing cool things and getting cool stuff."  I agree. I also think that MMOs have the "getting cool stuff" part down pat. We're here to work on the "doing cool things" part. For that reason, I am not focusing on the reward aspects of the system just yet. Of course quests will have rewards, but the focus is on what the players do as opposed to what they get.

Dynamic Quests Occur Out In The World: Just like WAR's public quests, DQs appear out in the world. They are game world events that are shared among the players in the region.

Everyone Can Play (Together): Again, like WAR's PQs, DQs will be available to all players who are nearby when the event occurs. Players might come in late, or be involved from the beginning, but they can all contribute. DQs should encourage interaction, cooperation and possibly competition.

Locations and Spawn Times are Randomized: This is a big departure from WAR. PQs are static and spawn on a pretty short timer. This leads to people grinding PQs and feels very artificial. DQs are meant to feel more like events happening in the game world as opposed to a themepark attraction. For that reason, DQs will have longer spawn timers and will appear more randomly throughout the world. The goal is to get players working a little to find their next quest... not so much that they have to wander for an hour with nothing to do, but just enough so they are encouraged to explore the world, talk to NPCs in towns, or ask their fellow players what is currently going on.

Quest Flow Is Not Set: Another departure from PQs. With Dynamic Quests we should have the option to change the results based on the actions of the players. A quest designer could base the flow of the DQ on the success or failure of the players involved, or he might have the progression based on what levels of characters participate, or even change the quest flow randomly so that players who experience the quest more than once don't know what to expect.

Quests Have Natural Mechanisms For Getting People Involved: So, instead of quest icons and arrows leading players by the nose, DQs will have to find ways in the game world of getting players to the action. Alarm bells might sound because of an impending goblin invasion. Players might be stopped by a crying street urchin. A gigantic fire and plume of smoke might alert players of something amiss in a nearby village. Players that talk to town NPCs will be rewarded with rumors about nearby DQs. Heck, we could even go as far as to have conversation skills players could train (much like gathering and crafting skills found in other games) that made this process easier.

Quests Have an Impact on the Game World (for a while anyways): Based on the results of the DQ, the game world will change. If a village is razed because players could not stop the dragon... the village is razed for an hour or so. If the players save the village, they are lauded as heroes and can expect gifts from the villagers, or lower shop prices for a similar period of time.

So, if you've read to this point, you are either thinking that this idea sounds awesome, or that I am full of crap... or both. In any case, we have laid the groundwork for the next step. Hopefully, I have you thinking a little bit. Next article, we will apply these principles and create a set of example DQs.