Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Non-Fiction

Introducing “Daily Quests”

Just when you thought it couldn’t get any more repetitive; just when you thought grinding the same mobs and dungeons over and over in search of those elusive purple pixels couldn’t get any worse, some genius at Blizzard realized the one thing missing from the equation: Daily quests! Of course! The missing cornerstone in the holy Triforce of grinding!

I can imagine the whole scenario unfolding in my mind’s eye…

The scene: A dimly lit room in the basement of Blizzard Company Industries (Incorporated). There are no windows, and a single fluorescent bulb flickers overhead. A lone figure sits hunched over a typewriter, utterly broken. Crumpled papers are strewn all over the floor, collecting in the corners of the room like small snowdrifts.

This is Daniel Mackerty, the ‘Quest Development Dev’ at BCI(I). His superiors took away his Computron 1200xt after searching his hard drive, and finding it stuffed to overflowing with JPEGs and animated GIFs of naked Tauren. He has been isolated in this broom closet for six days now, subsisting only on the leftover mop water in a bucket under his desk. He foolishly relieved himself in said bucket on the first day when he realized the door was locked from the outside, and no one was going to come and get him after the office had long since closed for the weekend. Early Monday morning, a curt woman’s voice from other side of the door awoke Daniel by asking him if he had had any ‘ideas’ yet. Daniel jumped for the doorknob, twisting furiously, screaming and crying. The voice asked once more, and when it became apparent Daniel had no such thing to offer, it left. Daniel pleaded with the door, beating on it with clenched fists, but the woman was gone.

She would return once each morning to ask for ideas, and if Daniel had nothing, she would leave. She would not respond to cries for mercy, and eventually Daniel had given up begging for food or water, and had only answered a simple ‘no’ yesterday morning. It came out as little less than a croak. His throat was dry and rough, and it was no use wasting what little strength he had left in him. After draining every last drop of water in the bucket, he began to suck the moisture out of the mop head itself. He ate a sponge he found that had fallen behind a shelf yesterday; the situation was getting bad.

He understood now that he was being punished. He needed to find a way to prove himself to his superiors again, and he needed to do it quickly. He flashed back to the meeting when he unveiled his crowning achievement, the Hyjal Attunement. An attunement quest line that would require a run through every single instance in the Outlands, not once, but multiple times. Exalted reputation with pretty much every faction. Downing of every single raid boss from Gruul to Illidan himself. It had been a bit of a joke when he had written it, a dare put upon him by “Thunderfury Dave”, the creator of the legendary sword Thunderfury’s quest line. Dave and Daniel shared a cubicle up on the 74th floor. That cubicle had always seemed so sparse, so … barren before. What a fool he had been, back then. He chewed absently on a piece of scrap paper and racked his brain.

He needed something good, something even better than the Hyjal Attunement. Oh yes, the presentation of that particular quest line had gone over well. He had made it so ridiculously long and convoluted that he assumed no one would ever set foot inside Hyjal in the entire lifespan of the game, and quipped thusly during the PowerPoint portion of the meeting. The instance devs nodded vigorously and grunted in agreement. They were thereby shifted to more pressing matters for the game: a dance animation for the Druid’s tree form, the required implementation of Bloodelf and Draeni orphans for Children’s Week. Everyone left the meeting content that no one was that fucking crazy, and went about their lives in ignorant bliss.

Slide 3A from the Hyjal Update Meeting. Click for full size image.
Then, on the Public Test Realms for the unreleased patch, the unthinkable occurred. Some crazy fucking European guild had not only finished the Hyjal Attunement, they had tried to fucking zone in, and were unceremoniously dropped on their desktops. Twenty five unwashed heathens from the far side of the Atlantic, in a perfectly formed raid; flask buffs ticking, rip roaring to go. The red emergency siren in the ‘raid room’ on the 50th floor of BCI(I) had gone off, and GMs began invisibly porting themselves to the Hyjal instance entrance to see what the fuck was going on. Within minutes, the European Realm Forums had caught fire, and they were demanding the immediate release of ‘New End Game Content’. The instance team was furious. They had been in the middle of tweaking the Trogg spawn locations in Ragefire Chasm when Tseric, the Forum Troll Department Head, burst in the door screaming bloody hell.

Tseric was immediately sedated to silence his raving (not having been seen since, rumors abound), and Daniel was dragged to the elevator by armed security guards kicking and screaming. His Computron 1200xt was seized from his cubicle, its hard drive immediately scoured for any other undocumented ‘solution’ he may have had to the problem now facing mother Blizzard.

That’s when the “Pauren” folder was discovered. His superiors were not pleased.

He needed something… anything to get back in their good graces again! Those sissies in the Reputation Grinding department had it so fucking easy. They just added some new faction (the Dinglewharfs!), and assigned some crap mob to divvy out three points of faction reputation per kill. If they were being especially hateful, they could abstain entirely from the raw “rep per kill” formula and instead offer up the tried and true “ridiculously low drop rate of some random doodad that gets turned in ten at a time”.

Thunderfury Dave had even suggested the current in-game scheme that works for the conflicting Mag’Har and Consortium rep turn-ins. The War Beads certain ogres drop can be turned in for EITHER faction. At first, Dave’s superior had threatened to curtail Dave’s rationing for the week ‘just out of principle’; until Dave had hesitantly explained that it would actually be more repetitive this way for the end user. In order to gain reputation with each faction, players would need to kill a million ogres; not once, but twice.

Dave dined on fresh, hot, ham that day during the Allocated 600 Second Break Period.

The instance teams had gotten fat in their complacence. They had already colluded with the Reputation Department to include rep grinds within the dungeons. Since the expansion, they had been sitting pretty just doing minor tweaks here and there. The architecture of the zones didn’t change, the mobs just needed tuning. Cleaves and Glancing Blows… changes for melee DPS. Seriously. Daniel rolled his eyes in the gloomy darkness. How he would kill for such a ‘work week’. This, of course, was all after Greta in Human Resources had had the epiphany regarding ‘Heroic Mode’ dungeons.

The entire staff at BCI(I) loved to print out and hang forum posts in their cubicles about the ridiculous ‘Hero Class’ that subscribers seemed to seize upon once every few months, when it suddenly occurred to Greta that we could give them their silly ‘Heroics’ by just giving the mobs in the instances more hit points, and upping the damage they did. New purple pixels would need to be implemented, of course, but think of it… twice the content! Running the exact same dungeons AGAIN…! To have finished Shattered Halls, only to turn around and run Sethyyk Halls on ‘Heroic Mode’?! Greta got a fucking plaque and moved eight stories up in the building for that one.

Daniel began to despair. The voice would be asking him again today for ideas, and Daniel had nothing. There was nothing left to do in the quest department. They had taken the concept of a quest chain to the absolute epitome of ridiculousness, and the demons in Europe had consumed it whole, expecting an after dinner mint to boot! They had done the silly “bombing runs” concept that those 12 year old twits in the focus groups had wet their pants over about 12 times over. Fed Ex quests were out. Asking for 16 Warp Chaser tails, and having only one in thirty Warp Chasers actually drop a tail was out. He needed something new! He needed something fresh! Something like an instance, that could be run over and over every day, with no visible end in sight. Even if all the loot was attained, there was still reputation to squeeze out of it. Heroic Badges (damn you, Greta). Stupid cave moss that only grew inside an instance. It was all already there…

And then it hit him.

Hit him in the face like that stupid Alterac Valley Unstoppable Force. He actually dropped to his knees, his fingers working around mindlessly inside his dry, sore ridden mouth. He half-realized he was gnawing on them as thoughts raced thru his head.

It was already there… of course! Like an instance… but outside! There would need to be an NPC, there always was, but why not have quests that you do Every Fucking Day Like A God Damned Instance Run? It was ridiculous, yes… but it could just wor—

Daniel was startled by the woman’s voice on the other side of the door.

“Any ideas today, Daniel? Or should I come back again tomorrow?”

“NO! I mean YES! I mean WAIT! I HAVE AN IDEA!” His voice cracked on the last word.

The voice on the other side of the door paused every so slightly. “Well…? Out with it then.”

“DAILY QUESTS! IT’S PERFECT! IT’S LIKE REP GRINDING AND INSTANCING AND QUESTING ALL IN ONE!” Daniel bit his lower lip, and closed his eyes.

A pause. “Go on,” the voice prodded.

Daniel tried to calm down; he took a deep breath, his heart racing. He was aware that he was hyperventilating, and had to steady himself with a hand on the table to keep from fainting. If he could just get this thought unraveled and out of his mouth, he might be let out of this cage. He might be able to go home. Yess… home…

“It’s like at home,” he began. “The kids that play... our subscribers… what do they do?” he asked. “They do the dishes. They take out the garbage, they clean their room. These are things they do everyday because they have to. They do them because they know if they do, they—“

“—they get their allowance. Yes, Daniel. I was at the Quarterly Earnings Analysis meeting before the expansion was released, as well. We all were, Daniel. I’m familiar with the analogy the Instance Team used. I know it well. Back to these ‘Daily Quests’…”

“Well, imagine that same scenario, but without an instance to zone into! Just plop an NPC on some god forsaken rock somewhere. Maybe that empty area just east of Shattrath that we aren’t using! Give that zone a name, put a fucking exclamation mark over some NPC’s fucking head, and make it some ridiculously long quest chain to earn some useless crap no one will ever need!”

Another pause. It stretched out for an eternity. Daniel had a horrifying thought that she had just waked away, his ridiculous idea just not good enough to waste her time with. Then, “The Europeans will eat that up, Daniel. You know they don’t sleep.”

He stood before the door, hunched over, his head resting on the door itself, hands clenching, unclenching. “But that’s just it! You can’t take ALL the garbage out in one day, because it takes TIME for the garbage in the kitchen to accumulate! You can’t clean your room every day on Monday! If you could, every kid would have their allowance on Monday afternoon! There would be nothing left to do all week long. Nothing to wait for on Friday when the payoff happens! We could portion it out, so that they can only do one tiny sliver of the total quest line per day… thereby FORCING the Europeans to take just as long as Trailer Park Sally playing the game on dialup in Kansas.”

“And the reward for these…. Daily Quests?”

He stepped back. “Uhh… that .. I… don’t know. I hadn’t thought of that yet… I mean… oh! Just give them another mount! People are still running Zul’Gurub for that stupid tiger, and it doesn’t even fly!”

The voice behind the door let out a soft chuckle, “So they are, Daniel… so they are.”

Another thought occurred to Daniel. “And sir! I mean, Ma’am…! Productivity…!” He licked his lips at the P word, savoring its taste on his lips. He was in the final stretch here. “In the gutter, ma’am!”

“Oh?” The voice sounded closer to the door now. Daniel could feel it. “How do you figure, my boy?”

“Well, think about it, ma’am. People are already split between all aspects of the game. Grinding reputation outside of instances, grinding reputation inside of instances, running arenas, running battlegrounds… There are those who are running heroics, and those who can’t, because they aren’t keyed yet. The implementation of the Looking for Group tool proposed by Walter in the Time Sink department was brilliant, but people are learning ways around it already… staying in major cities and using that blasted Trade Channel to form parties. If we introduce a whole new sink into the system…”

“Yesss… ‘Looking for group Heroic Durnholde’…” The voice behind the door began. He could hear the smile forming on her lips

“…can’t go now, I have my daily quests to do first,” Daniel finished, a smile forming on his own cracked lips as well.

There was an audible clack as a deadbolt was turned. The door swung open, and there was Greta. She looked older than Daniel remembered her… harder somehow. Her hair was pulled back into an impossibly tight bun, dead center of the back of her head. Not a single strand of hair flew free. Her maroon business suit was immaculately pressed, and she bore a single pin above her left breast. There was a simple symbol in the middle of the pin, but Daniel couldn’t quite make it out. He was on the verge of collapse, but he took a moment and squinted closer at the flair she wore. It was purple and black, and looked like… a helmet. Oh, of course. Daniel made a strained, grunting laugh noise as he realized what it was. Greta, previously of Human Resources, wore a fucking Heroic Badge on her chest. Better to remind those around her of her contribution to The Game, no doubt.

“Well!” Greta said, a little too abruptly, and Daniel cringed despite himself. “I guess you’ll want to be getting home for a shower and meal!”

Daniel studied Greta’s face for a moment, and hesitated. His mouth opened quickly, and then stopped. “I think… I should… get up to the 74th floor first,” he offered. “I should probably get some of this down while it’s still fresh in my head…” The last part of the sentence rose up at the end like a question, and Daniel was horrified to see a smile forming on Greta’s lips.

She nodded curtly, and wrapped her arm around Daniel’s cowering form as she led him from the cell. “Don’t strain yourself, now, my boy” she cooed gently in his ear. “There might still be something wonderful in the future for you yet, little one.”

2 comments:

smithwicks said...

Got bored today and started going through your old NA posts when I stumbled upon this one. I have to say this is my favorite story from any of the writers back in the NA days :)

Ixobelle said...

thanks, I think it was my favorite to write too... i actually wrote it all in one morning after kindergarten classes and before lunch :/ I just opened Word and started banging it out, going back to change a few details... making the person behind the door a woman; after coming up with Greta, I realized it should be her back there asking Daniel for ideas.

One of the very first ideas i had was that after he finally made it out of the room, on the verge of collapse, that he would be led down a hallway and collapse through a door that just led to "outside". like a door on the 80th floor that just opened out to the side of the building, and that he would wind up falling to his death... kinda sailing through the air on the way down with a smile on his face that it was finally all over, but ended up letting him live and go back upstairs "to get it all down". I kinda liked the character, and thought I could use him again maybe?

I wrote another one about 10 months later, but it was shorter.

http://www.ixobelle.com/2008/03/non-fiction-ii.html

I liked this one too, but it felt forced. the first one just kinda fell out of my hands onto the keyboard, where this next one I sat down with the intention of writing another fiction piece. I really should force myself to do more stuff like this, it works those muscles in your brain that too much spoonfed entertainment atrophies ;)