Sunday, August 7, 2011

Quests That Make You Care

I've been playing a bit of Fallout: New Vegas lately. I blame Gilded for reminding me that Bethesda exists. Regardless, it's got quests like any RPG and the design is one I'm particularly fond of. There is one overarching quest name, though it can easily have multiple parts, and some of them have only one solution while others have multiple solutions. There is always a brute force path, but there are some parts that can be made simpler just by having the right skill or being a smooth talker. Most famously, the final and most difficult fight in the game can be averted with a 100 speech check.

Quests like this make me curious for SWTOR's quest design. Their fanfare about the focus on story is interesting, but quite a few have seen problems with what they plan to offer. Questions like "What about the people who don't want to hear the story?" and "What about leveling up with someone who isn't an NPC?" and the ever famous "Why can't I play as a wookie, damnit?".

...seriously, I want to play as a wookie, damnit.

This kind of quest design, though interesting, is a single-player focus. They make you care by involving you directly in the story: It's your story! You are the super cool Bounty Hunter. I'm concerned at the sense of entitlement this will give players at endgame when finally dealing with real people instead of NPC's who worship them, but let's gloss over that for now. Will I care so much about the story when I hit endgame? I'm curious if this style of gameplay will make players more invested in the game world because of a story-line connection.

WoW has been taking this approach lately as well, with higher level NPC's treating you like a hero who accomplished all that stuff that you did that I don't feel like listing. They haven't necessarily made people care more about the game world though. So I suppose we can surmise that what really makes players care about the quests is the rewards: Experience and Items. There is a niche group who care about the story, but they are not the majority by any means.

I suppose this should be an obvious conclusion here, but it's a concern I've been having lately when it comes to MMORPG's. EVE Online has a playerbase that is extremely involved in the game world and most definitely cares what happens to it. Other games, not so much. It would be easy for me to once again try and connect the sandbox nature of EVE to this, given my history of championing that style, but it's more of a correlation than a direct connection. Not much evidence given the lack of EVE style titles on the market.

So that would be the question I want to pose today. Can quests make you care about the game world? Have they in some way done so already? Or do the people and social connections that you make create that care?


  1. I've wondered about this quite often myself. I really think it comes down to the players themselves and what they expect to gain from their playing experience. I'll use myself as an example. There have been some mmo's where I read all the quest text and intentionally try to immerse myself in the game world. There have been other mmo's where I skip all of that and just try to get to end game as quickly as possible. In Rift, I wasn't interested at all in learning about the game world through quests. I did the quests, but without regard as to what I was doing them for. On the other end of the spectrum, I really got into the quests in LotRO. End game wasn't as a big a draw, so I decided to enjoy journey more than the destination.

  2. See, that's an issue for me too. I've been playing WoW lately, and I don't even look at the quest text anymore. Most of the time I've got my eye on a blog or another that I read while smacking quest mobs. Yet, here I am, playing Fallout and suddenly listening to what people have to say and learning about the game world. I just can't really pin down what makes a player care. The social interactions is a theory, but given that Fallout is a single player game...

  3. Perhaps it is how information is given to the player. I notice in WoW I pay more attention if there is a little skit that occurs with the quest. If the plot or idea is interesting enough it should then start getting players to pay attention to the next quests in the chain.

    I've been thinking the solution is more multipart quests. Much like how you describe them in Fallout. The idea is that each interaction is a step in the same quest. Giving players more time to interact with the quest.

    Other things would be like giving specific directions in the quest text, so that even if they reach their destination they would still have to read the quest text to figure out what to do next.