Sunday, February 1, 2009

Writing Quests

Last night, about 5 min before I was heading to bed, I got caught up in the blue post tracker thing at mmo-champion, and followed a link to a link to find myself streaming the 7th Blizzcast thing, which kept me up an extra 30 min. Podcasts are weird, because unless I'm totally focused on them, I never actually hear what's being said. I'm sure there are people that can sing a song aloud, lead a raid on vent, cook an omelette, and listen to 8 simultaneous podcasts at once, but for me, I need to actually stop what I'm doing and listen to it for it to soak in. This doesn't mean I can't multitask, but listening to something and reading at the same time gets me. I tend to try and stream them, then read a webpage at the same time, and the first thing I do is tune out the podcast so I can focus on what I'm reading, and then it's over and I didn't hear any of it.

This one actually contained a few choice nuggets, though, if you read between a few of the lines. Tigole and J. Allen Brack are interviewed, regarding Lich King, and later Chris Metzen regarding a bit of the lore. The mmo-champion transcript of the pod cast is pretty funny to read along while you listen to the stream (that I can do!), because whoever was transcribing it seems to switch Brack and Tigole's names at random. They obviously have two distinct voices, but are relabeled as each other at whim, it seems.

Anyway, a question comes up about the team writing the quests for WoW:

Nethaera: In extension to that, how many work just on the lore and the quests? With the increase in specifically story driven quests this seems to have been a monumental task all in its own.

Jeffrey Kaplan (Tigole): Yeah well the quest and lore group did an amazing job. Obviously the vision is spearheaded by Chris Metzen, who’s our VP of Creative Development here and the Creative Director on the project. Then you have Alex Afrasiabi, who’s our Lead World Designer, really pushing the design group forward that’s responsible for the story and lore. We have a group of 5 quest designers who are absolutely amazing. They all worked on Burning Crusade so they all, you know, really know what they are doing at this point or worked on the original game. Then we’ve also, in our Creative Development group, have writers there as well who help us further flesh out the lore. So all told it’s a group of less than 10 people who are driving that story line, but they’re just so good at it they’ve been doing it for so long and they work well with each other so I think that’s why it all kind of came together.
Having only 5 guys writing all the quests seems pretty crazy, but of course it all makes sense. Taking the number of people playing the game out of the equation, you only do each quest once (except dailies, which are the same every time). Each little quest hub starts with maybe 5 availale, and through scripting you determine that once quests Q, R, and F are completed, NPC 458 offers quests J and W. That these few guys know the system inside out is like "duh", and they obviously are a well oiled machine after having written so many questlines together. One other quote stands out to me:
They all worked on Burning Crusade so they all, you know, really know what they are doing at this point or worked on the original game.
... he doesn't just come out and say "they've been writing WoW quests for 4 years". He mentions specifically BC, "or worked on the original game". This, to me, is the smoking gun that people are shifting around in the company to work on Super Secret Blizzard MMO #2.

Again: DUH.

But it seems like they've got their core group of guys that build the world of an MMO from scratch, and then the guys who take over once it's set up. The "Initial" and "Expansion" teams, you could say.

If you notice the title of this post, though, you'll see I really wanted to talk about writing quests, but just kind of threw this little nugget out there... it was interesting to see that the WoW quest team is so small, but it makes sense. I think with the size and scope of WoW, you tend to think that at any one pont, there's like 800 people sitting in some huge boardroom somewhere in a heated debate regarding where Mankirk's wife will be located, when the truth is actually that:

J. Allen Brack: We’ve got about 140 people that are on the development team proper, but that is kind of a small number of people that contribute to the overall kind of the success of WoW and success of Lich King. There’s 140 developers and that’s just producers, artists, designers and programmers who are working on actual Lich King stuff. But, of course there’s a huge QA team, community team, customer service, shared technology teams, web team...
As I've been playing WoW recently, I've really tried to slow down and soak the game up. In BT pugs that blast through the place in a span of two hours, I'm the lone 72 priest trailing behind the group, panning my camera around to LOOK at everything, and tryign to take a look at trash pull composition, pacing, etc. There's a huge amount that you just don't notice plowing through the game. One thing that we all take for granted, for example, is how fucking high the ceiling is, like EVERYWHERE. Have you actally gone into Saph's Room in Naxx and looked UP? That shit goes up there for like 5 or 6 stories. There's skulls and spikes and ooze flowing around. It's friggin awesome. This makes sense, as we need room to pan our cameras out and swing around during a fight. It's just something you don't think about, until you stop and... well... think about it. Also, while it's obvious Naxx doesn't 'fit' into that thing you zone into to start the run, I'm curious how structurally sound somewhere like Kara is. Viewed from the outside, it doesn't look THAT big. I need to get a copy of wowmodelviewer working, which requires a separate install of wow, patched to an old version (unless they're back up to speed again).

Anyway. Writing quests.

One of the things I'm aiming to do here with my dungeon and raid encounters, is to flesh it out as completely as possible, theory-wise. This means that while my castle walls probably won't have the most mind blowing textures ever seen, the layout and scale of the place will be intact. I also want to try my hand at writing some quests for 'the nearby village'. While many of WoW's quests actually have cool dialogs, I can imagine that a large populaton just hits the accept button as fast as they can, and then use something like MoneyQuest to track what's needed to complete the quest. Often, QuestHelper even puts a big arrow on the screen to show you where to walk. I hinted at some changes I'd like to see for group quests, and some sort of dynamic based on what trade skills you have, etc, but before I sis down to hammer these out, I want to ask you guys: what quests do you find to be genuinely interesting or especially fun?

A lot of people were really excited over BC's "bombing run" mechanic, which was a natural extension of getting flying mounts. I personally was really into the stuff in Wrath where you rode the storm giant around smashing things. Even though I'm on the record of not being a huge fan of phasing, I think in certain situations (especially DURING quests) it can be awesome. My one big beef with phasing is the alteration of the world permanently for just you. Changing it briefly during a quest is fine, and adds to the immersion of that particular event. I really like quests or events that change what you are for a short time. Getting on an airplane in Icecrown, and having new buttons on your bar to push... what does this one do? what about this one? That's fun. By the time you get to Icecrown, you're so tired of pushing the same 6 buttons in the same order over and over again (priest questing: check innerfire, bubble, holy fire, SW pain, smite smite smite, SW death, repeat 3000x) that anything to mix that up is fun. There was that whole questchain in Ogri'la where you needed to posess a demon to defeat the next one, where you'd do it again until the final showdown. I never was able to defeat that event, and even going back at 80 won't make it any easier... things like that are awesome.

Things like the Simon Says thing in Ogri'la... not so awesome.

What are some of your favorite quests, and why? Throw me a bone here... you guys are my only access to a focus group of any sort : /


Anonymous said...

Any quest where you got to cause untold amounts of havoc was good in my books, like the one you mentioned.

Going back I also liked the quests that actually had an effect on the game before phasing. The AQ chain and turn ins, as well as the Sunwell stuff let me feel like I was helping out those bastards who would clear it in a few hours.

Krunchy said...

I remember you mentioning you didn't like the phasing quests because standing next to someone else on your map and not being able to see them was silly.


I think the spirit of those quests really did a good job of grabbing me. What I'm trying to say is that in an mmo, the thing that, at least in my opinion, destroys immersion the most (aside from other players) is the sense that NOTHING HAPPENS. When you kill Onyxia, hooray! You put her head on a stick and Thrall gives you a firm, manly handshake, but she's back next week. The phasing quests at least made it feel as if my actions as a player actually MEAN something in the world. Yes, they fuck with you when you can't see someone, but there have to be other ways to make the world seem alive and changing instead of resetting every few days and everyone acting as if it's normal for a dragon to resurrect every week.

I know most players won't care. Shit, it's like you said about noticing the scenery. The first time I went into SSC with my graphics turned up, it was visually impressive with all the steam and canisters and floating walkways. Then again, quest writing isn't for them. They'll stick around as long as new loot and bosses are put in. Unfortunately, to placate them, the people who play to also get a fantasy experience get the shaft. So Iso, if you do manage to get into Blizzard, remember two things: my name if they ever hire programmers, and quests that make the player feel as if they're actually impacting the world and making changes are good.

What can I say, game immersion is one of the things that will keep me playing a bad game and lack of it will make me shelf one immediately. I can't be the only one like this, can I?

Rich said...

yeah but krunch, i've said it once, and will say it a billion times again until everyone gets it:

phasing is **faking** it.

if you want the world to change, then blow up ogrimmar. that's all there is to it. some people were online, and some people missed it, but eventually everyone is on the same page. those who were online when it happened will never forget it, and it'll eventually show up on youtube or some shit for those that missed it. PLUS YOU CAN TRAVEL TO DUROTAR AND LOOK AT THE FUCKING CRATER, plus talk to the NPCs to get new quests to rebuild ogrimmar from scratch, which is a long process, but changes each tuesday maintenance. it doesn't have to be huge, like for two weeks, there's no AH in ogr, and everyone has to use the UC (thunderbluff? lol as if)... then over the course of a month, ogr slowly gets a mailbox or a bank again. the place is still a burnt out husk of it's former glory, but SOMETHING HAPPENED to the world, and EVERYONE can see it.

Cronoo said...

Call me weird, but I've always liked strait up kill quests.
Not the quests where you grind the same mob for ever just waiting for a drop or killing X Shaman Murlocs, X Warrior Murlocs and X Priest Murlocs...
I mean like have an end boss-ish mob at the end of a castle or fort or something, and a bunch of guys in the middle that you have to fight through or sneak around to get his head or someshit.
The Dragon cave in Blades Edge, the orc fortress thing in Red Ridge, or the pirate ships in STV. I always thought quests like that were the most fun.

Anonymous said...

Call me old fashioned, buy I like nsesingwarry style beat-the-shit out of a million tightly packed mobs type quest. Reason being that you're doing hardcore grinding and questing at the same time.

Brian W. Smith said...

Ixo the newest version of WoW Model Viewer is out you can find it at, I used it recently when figuring out what the sex change for my warrior would look like.

As far as quests that I really enjoyed, I'd have to say that most of them are the phasing quests, or the ones which are ridiculously long chains, but mean something in regards to the lore, like that Wrathgate quest.

The quests that I felt were interesting are the ones where you have a companion of some sort, such as the ones you do in the Basin, or the quests Chrommie gives you in Wyrmrest Temple, where you drop and orb on the ground and it portals a past and future version of your character to fight along side of you, albeit they are wearing the same gear as you, I'd have preferred when doing it on my Warrior that the gear be all Dreadnaught on the future version, or a past version would come out with like Tier 6 or something.

Anything outside the normal kill x of this, or collect 20 of this, unless the challenge is high. Mindless grinding is okay sometimes, but having more interactivity in the kill quests like riding on giants, or having a sidekick that you can interact with really add to the immersion of the game, and could potentially allow for more challenge of the game.

I really thing that MMO makers drop the ball when it comes to quests in the regards that they don't treat them as mini-games. There is a lot of potential to have quests that may take longer to complete, but offer more to do, similar to the old Final Fantasy III (I think) where you had to do certain things in the casino to get experience. Having them become mini-games though would offer more challenge, and allow players to be humbled.

I think that there is a huge disconnect between the fact that you can go plow through a field of Kobolds without thinking twice, then come back in 15 minutes to fight their leader, and then kick his ass as a gang of one. Wouldn't it be prudent for those respawning kobolds to just hook up with you, since their leader is a pussy with a glass jaw?

Sorry to ramble here, but you got me thinking here.

Anonymous said...

Honestly, I think just about every quest line in WoTLK. I can't tell you how awesome it was to go to Westfall Brigade Encampment and running into NPC's that "knew" you. There's such a sense of "life" on this continent, as well as the over-arching war. For the first time, since I can remember, this entire continent gave you a sense of real struggle going on, as well as tension. No matter where you go, you just know something bigger, more insidious is going on just beyond your view.

Back from my tangent: for some reason, just the quest hubs in Grizzly Hills, as well as Wintergarde Keep; there was just something about NPC’s acknowledging you as more than your average adventurer. “Finally, sending the big guns”, “Rennard, wow, we’ve heard of your experiences”, etc, etc. You feel so much more a part of the game, as opposed to, “this is the field we’re playing on today”.

Did I mention, I really like this expansion?...

Krunchy said...

Ah, I think I did a poor job of phrasing my point. I meant that I like the "spirit" of phasing quests in the sense that it tries to make it seem as if the world is changing and that the player's actions have meaning. Having it so that you can't see someone standing next to you because you're on different parts of a phasing quest definitely puts a crimp on the game sucking you in, and as I've said, that goes against what I like in a game just as much as a static, unchanging world.

Something like a world event (even one that isn't announced such as blowing up Org) or a sudden quest that appears one random Tuesday for a group that involves something permanent like destroying a landmark or killing an important NPC, while something that won't be witnessed by everyone, is still something that will be on youtube and will be in stories people tell their friends. The world has changed and even those who missed the event know it. Granted, a game like this may never produce a market share as massive as WoW's, but to those who like the idea of a changing, "living" world where actions really mean something, this would definitely be a breath of fresh air in the mmo scene. Hell, I'd play it.