Home > MMO Games > Rats, another kill ten quests mission

Rats, another kill ten quests mission

January 13, 2008

When discussing games in blogs, game forums, podcasts and various other location there is one aspect of the game that most of stresses as vital – that the game is fun to play. Do we actually mean fun? Perhaps what we rather look for is stimulating? With books, movies, theather, art and other forms of cultural stimulation we are not restricting ourselves to expressions in these areas that are just fun. They can scare us, tease us, annoy us, make us see things in a different light.

When the discussions arise about the lack of engaging storylines in MMOGs, the problem is that they often do not engage us, they do not stimulate us enough.

In the VirginWorlds podcast #99 one of the discussions was why we still had the same type of “kill 10 rats” missions/quests so prevalent in each MMOG. The conclusion was that mostly the designer was to blame. Which designer is that then? The mission designer who creates the mission content? The designer of the toolset that the mission designers use or the mission tracking game system designer? Or the lead designer(s) with the overall responsibility for the game content and direction?

Is the fault with the current mission/quest mechanisms? Are the tools good enough with a system which boils down to multiple steps with an NPC in between each step and for each step a couple of events may need happen:

  • A certain number of enemies/mobs must be defeated
  • A certain mumber of items must be collected
  • A certain number of items must be interacted with, or trigger a state change
  • Must go to one or more locations

These activities can cover many different scenarios, although it would be interesting to see any approaches expanding on this list, perhaps including emotes and reactions, a bit more dialog between players and NPCs. This will not be as easy to track as the above tasks though. And even with the simple events above, this is something that the game needs to constantly evaluate these events from thousands of players and test conditions for all of the different missions each player has active – keeping them relatively simple may be a necessity.

Many games nowadays have some kind of mission tracking system for the players that allows us to keep track of all the tasks necessary for each mission step. We can keep track of 20, 30 maybe even 75 missions, depending of the game. But who can keep track of 20 stories or even 75 stories at a time?!

These tasks become the main goal of each step in a mission and we forget about the actual story, if there is one to remember. It becomes more of an exercise in task management and the mission tracking becomes more like a shopping list – “I need to kill some rats, boars and collect some rat tails and a wolf paw. Shire valley supermarket should be good for that, not camped at this time of day. If I take the left route I can get to the rat isle and pick up the tails and kill the rats at the same time. The boar isle will be next to it. I think the wolf paws are in the back though, but they have an offer on extra weak wolfs with frequent spawns, so it should still be easy to get. And I got enough space in my cart for all of this. Let’s go!”

So why was it necessary to kill the rats, boars and collect the wolf paw in the first place? Who remembers? Some games give reasonably good summaries in the mission descriptions what the mission was all about, some have little more than the task list. Unless I play though a story to the end in one session, chances are pretty good I have forgotten what it was all about in the next session.

So how did this text get into discussing flaws of mission tracking systems? Just look back a few paragraphs and the point about the types of tasks that are in missions now and what is easy to track. At least for a long text and if the text was interesting, perhaps some people would have made some notes along the way – an easy way to remember what was important for you at the time.

A problem with missions/quests with less interesting storylines is really that they are not really missions or quests, they are just tasks. I go to the supermarket to pick up some food – that is a task. The reason may be that we need something more for dinner tinight, we might have some friends invited or whatever. That are tasks. Perhaps on the way to the supermarket run into an old friend who asks if I want to join to help search for his brother, who was travelling in Laos, but has not been heard from in a while – that is a mission/quest.

The missions/quests that are actually tasks in the games are there for a good reason. They are good fillers and give some direction to people and gives an alternative means of character progression in a leveling/experience point model as opposed to just straight monster bashing. But they are not heroic missions or quests and I think it would make sense to set a distinction here. Separate the more mundane tasks from the real heroic stories in a clear way. Use different mechanisms and tools for handling the real missions/quests and leave the current tracking model for the tasks.

The number of real missions/quests would probably be a lot less than the 100s or 1000s that some games boost about. But I do not see that as a problem; with much real missions/quests, the tools and mechanisms involved could hopefully be more versatile and the way players track them could be made different – no need to for game system to keep track of every detail or what needs to be done in every step. Paint a only broader overview picture automatically and give players tools to enter and share notes and info, for example.

For those that are more interested in maximizing their progression the tasks and its tracking system is fine and they do not need to bother with any story bits and vague clues slowing them down. For those that are interested in following a good story it gets more clear what might be worthwhile content in that regard.

Of course, calling tasks for what they are and not missions/quests may sound a bit less heroic and everybody wants to be a hero, right? But who feels heroic about running errands for all sorts of NPCs who cannot bother to move a couple of meters themselves? At least if the real missions/quests are clearly separated they do have a greater chance of inducing a heroic feeling than when they might get lost in a whole stack of more mundane tasks.

Make the real missions and quests separate, special and distinct and the overall impression will be better, I think.

Categories: MMO Games
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