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Old 03-28-2010, 07:25 PM   #1
Estarra
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Quest Design

I wrote an article for Anvil on Quest Design - Part I. I plan on doing a series to discuss advanced quest design. Please share your thoughts!
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Old 03-28-2010, 08:32 PM   #2
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Re: Quest Design

Good article. It's important to take story structure into account, even for small quests.

It's more interesting for the NPC to say "I need five fish for a feast I'm catering tonight" rather than just "I need five fish."

When considering story structure, there are two important concepts for MUDs that I hope you'll address in the future articles.

- world believability
- multiple players

For world believability, what I mean is... if the NPC is always asking for five fish for a feast tonight, then... it's hard to believe. Why is he always catering feasts? For some plots, it's easy. Maybe in that case, it's the royal chef, so he's always needing fish (amongst other things.) In other cases, it's harder to believe. The crying boy who's lost his dog? How often is he going to loose his dog? It could happen a few times, but really... how long until the players go "Find your own dog! Or keep him fenced in!"
Obviously, this is more an issue for an ongoing world. In a single-player world, the dog only needs to loose his pup once. And that ties into...

Multiple players. How many players will get a chance to find the crying boy's dog? If it's an easy (but time consuming) quest, how often will multiple players leave to find the dog, one returns, and the others either waste their time looking for a dog that isn't there, or return with multiple dogs?
There are plenty of solutions. Maybe there's a way to gather the searchers into one group. Or let them each return with a dog (and make it look to each of them like they found the dog, and hope they don't talk to each other about it) or only give the quest to one person, but have multiple similar quests for the different players (another girl has lost her kitten, a young man has lost his horse, a farmer has lost his cow, etc.) - that way, at any given time, only one player is searching for a dog, only one is searching for a cow...

But the easiest solution is to just not care. Many games are perfectly healthy without making the quests believable. They are activities that the player does to have fun. They are not part of the "story of the world" - in World of Warcraft, when I'm told to gather five bearskins and I can have a magic sword, I don't wonder why the trapper has magic swords to give away. I don't wonder why my adventurer is going around gathering bearskins. I don't wonder why only some bears "drop" bearskins. I see it as an activity for me-the-player to do. If I wrote a novel about my WoW character I wouldn't talk about how he started his career early, killing bears, before he traded bearskins for a better sword. It's not a story for the character. It's an activity for the player.

On that topic, I'm constantly musing over "quest activities". The list of activities we get players to do seems very small. Find something. Kill something. Go somewhere specific. Craft a specific item. Surely we can think of more activities that can be done. Except... I can't. So even if there is a story of a village under attack from undead, it really comes down to just "kill something" or the dog is just "find something" - it's great that we can spice these standard quests up, but is it possible to create more standard quest "types"? I don't have an answer for that.

What I do try to do, over my way, is to involve other players in quests. I can't code something that will be different every time, but other players can. So I might code the "lost puppy" quest, but instead of the puppy sitting somewhere in the forest waiting to be found, I might have it come up to some *other* player's character, and sniff or be nice. Then maybe be wary of the quester and unwilling to follow them. Does the quester grab the dog and drag it to the boy (and how does the other character who the dog liked react?) - or does the quester ask the other character to lead the dog back? It's still a very simple quest, but now the relationship between the two characters might have an impact. And even if 99% of the quests are just "walk out and drag the dog back" that 1% might spiral into a large, dramatic story that builds personality and character, and leads to intense roleplay.
Of course, designing quests to involve multiple players is more work. So you end up with many fewer quests, and the quests tend to be less well defined. (Or, in some cases, game culture is built up around the quest. Players may see it as totally normal for questers to drag dogs away, and get very grumpy at someone who would object.)

Last edited by silvarilon : 03-28-2010 at 09:12 PM.
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Old 03-28-2010, 08:57 PM   #3
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Re: Quest Design

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Originally Posted by silvarilon View Post
But the easiest solution is to just not care. Many games are perfectly healthy without making the quests believable. They are activities that the player does to have fun.
It's nice to create memorable experiences for the players though. Engaging and well written quests inspire players to create well written quests themselves.

It's a form of evolution where each generation of builders pushes the boundaries further.
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Old 03-30-2010, 10:22 AM   #4
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Re: Quest Design

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On that topic, I'm constantly musing over "quest activities". The list of activities we get players to do seems very small. Find something. Kill something. Go somewhere specific. Craft a specific item. Surely we can think of more activities that can be done. Except... I can't. So even if there is a story of a village under attack from undead, it really comes down to just "kill something" or the dog is just "find something" - it's great that we can spice these standard quests up, but is it possible to create more standard quest "types"? I don't have an answer for that.
As far as coding quests goes, you are limited to the behaviors that can actually be coded into your MUD, which are basically circumscribed by "go somewhere", "kill something", and "find something". There's some cleverness you can do with that- maybe a riddle you can solve by talking to someone, and there's lots of variety to be created by mixing and matching.

If you're willing to put in a bit more work and supervise things closely, the limits instantly disappear. I've seen characters asked to do things as diverse as writing poetry or learning a new language; the only caveat is that a moderator will probably have to be personally involved.
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Old 03-30-2010, 02:29 PM   #5
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Re: Quest Design

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For world believability, what I mean is... if the NPC is always asking for five fish for a feast tonight, then... it's hard to believe. Why is he always catering feasts? For some plots, it's easy. Maybe in that case, it's the royal chef, so he's always needing fish (amongst other things.) In other cases, it's harder to believe. The crying boy who's lost his dog? How often is he going to loose his dog? It could happen a few times, but really... how long until the players go "Find your own dog! Or keep him fenced in!"
I agree that, where possible, you should try to tweak your story to make it as believable as possible when it comes to resetting. For example, one of my favorite quests in Lusternia is the Stewartsville Murder Mystery, which is basically a play on Clue. However, at the end of the quest, it is revealed that the murdered victim is - dum dum DUM! - not really dead but actually survived and is in hiding until the murder suspect is apprehended. Of course, it begs the question why her friends keep attempting to murder her!

On the other hand, I wouldn't forgo developing a good quest even if it doesn't make perfect sense that it keeps repeating. For example, how many quests involve killing the Big Baddie? Is everyone in the world undead so that they keep coming back? (Heh, maybe!) There is some satisfaction for killing the Goblin King or the Mad Scientist, so those are quests I'd still develop even if it doesn't make sense that it resets. Players generally will suspend their disbelief in that department.

But, again, where possible, I'll try to tweak it so when a quest recurs, its somewhat logical. Another example would be: A quest to free a village unknowingly enslaved by an evil cult recurs as the evil cult has in its possession the ability to cast a spell of amnesia which is also part of the enslavement process.

Along those lines, there's also persistent quests, or a quest where the result is permanent until players undo it. Freeing the Evil Undead Priestess unleashes a permanent plague of undead in the mountains until she is slain. Or repairing the machine that opens a rift that lets loose the monsters from another dimension is permanent until said machine is destroyed.
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Old 03-30-2010, 10:10 PM   #6
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Re: Quest Design

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As far as coding quests goes, you are limited to the behaviors that can actually be coded into your MUD, which are basically circumscribed by "go somewhere", "kill something", and "find something".
Exactly. I'm a programmer, so I can certainly code in more behaviours. But I need to think of them, first. (Hey! I'm a "logic first, creativity second" kind of guy!)

I'm sure we can come up with more behaviours. Something I'm planning is "fashion" - each item of clothing would have three stats. What rank it's intended for, how fashionable it is, and what colour it is. Then each month the "fashions change" to make different garments more or less fashionable, different colours, etc. - so the "quest" would be for the players to figure out how the fashions changed. Maybe doublets are still in vogue, but red is totally out, and blue is in.
Then there would be clues. The NPCs might react when someone enters the room if they are wearing something particularly fashionable or unfashionable. John walks in wearing a blue scarf "Oh dah-ling! I lurve your scarf!" - you turn up with your red doublet "My my my, that doublet is just *so* last month."

Essentially I suppose that would be a "gather item" quest with a puzzle to find what item to gather.

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I've seen characters asked to do things as diverse as writing poetry or learning a new language; the only caveat is that a moderator will probably have to be personally involved.
Oh yes. We certainly do human-overseen quests all the time (fully 1/3 of our staff is dedicated to that. And players can submit their own story ideas that they want to play through and staff try to support those.)

I tend to think in terms of "stories vs quests" - in my mind, a story is an event that happens to a character. That event might be "I found the boy's lost dog" or it might be "I met this woman, we talked long into the night, and I fell in love" or even just "I got in an argument with someone in the street today"

To me, a quest is something coded (or prepared by a human) to give players an activity to do. That activity could then lead to the story. So the quest would be "a boy asks you to find his lost dog" or "the crazy drunkard tells you to run through the streets naked" - hopefully the players then take those quests and turn them into stories.

A quest with good story structure will, of course, make for a more satisfying story for the player.

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I agree that, where possible, you should try to tweak your story to make it as believable as possible when it comes to resetting.
Oh, of course. Depending on how your game is set up, you want to focus on the core gameplay. Quests resetting is very much a minor topic in comparison.

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For example, one of my favorite quests in Lusternia is the Stewartsville Murder Mystery, which is basically a play on Clue. However, at the end of the quest, it is revealed that the murdered victim is - dum dum DUM! - not really dead but actually survived and is in hiding until the murder suspect is apprehended. Of course, it begs the question why her friends keep attempting to murder her!
Heh! Sounds totally awesome.
At the risk of derailing the conversation, could you go into some detail about what the players do to solve the mystery? Do they have to collect certain items (clues) - or are there actual clues hidden around that the player has to figure out themselves? How does the system know when the quest is completed?

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On the other hand, I wouldn't forgo developing a good quest even if it doesn't make perfect sense that it keeps repeating. For example, how many quests involve killing the Big Baddie? Is everyone in the world undead so that they keep coming back? (Heh, maybe!) There is some satisfaction for killing the Goblin King or the Mad Scientist, so those are quests I'd still develop even if it doesn't make sense that it resets. Players generally will suspend their disbelief in that department.
Yes, but that's also because of the type of game. If you're playing WoW, your "core gameplay mechanic" is to go out there and kill monsters. NOTHING should get in the way of the players ability to go out, find monsters, and attempt to kill them.
A lot of MUDs are set up similarly, your core activity is to kill things. Fight your way to the boss, and kill the boss.
But not all. My mud is extremely social. The activity of killing the boss isn't nearly as important as the impact that will have on the rest of the city. Does your character get lauded by all the other characters for their bravery? Was the boss truly evil? If you kill the Goblin King does that help the city or hurt it? (Are a whole lot of goblins fighting for leadership worse than one coordinated group? Maybe the goblin king kept the goblins into the forest, and now with all the fighting amongst goblins they're running low on food and raiding farms?) - so in my MUD players would mind very much if the goblin king returned.

That doesn't mean the quest can't reset, though. It just means I'd plan it to have consequences, and I'd make the quest a more long-term thing.
For example, you do the "kill goblin king" quest (large fight). You win. Dead goblin king.
The "kill goblin king" quest doesn't reset automatically. Instead it starts the "save farmer's daughter from goblins" quest (simple fight), the "hungry woodsman because goblins fighting are chasing off all the game" quest (gather food), the "defend the city" quest (simple fight, PCs sent out to drive the goblins back), and the "help goblin gain power" quest (the goblin might ask for you to give him weapons and food, so he can gather a goblin army and become the next goblin king. difficult gather items quest)
The more players complete the "defend the city" quest, the less goblins there will be hanging around, until goblins stop attacking the farmer's daughter (and that quest vanishes) - but if someone completes the "help goblin gain power" quest, a new goblin king will rise (and that player will be richly rewarded by the new king) - and the quest chain starts again. We can randomly generate "goblin names" so "Grozzold the Goblin King" might be dead, but now "Ziggit the Goblin King" is in power. Silly, short-lived goblins! More importantly, to me, we've given the possibility for social stories. How do other characters react to the PC that helped a new goblin king rise? Do they flock to him (with his newfound NPC ally, he might be the only character that can provide goblin poison arrows, or something...) Or do they despise him? How will he react if Ziggit the Goblin King, who provides him with poison arrows, is killed by another PC? If he tries to raise the next goblin king to power, will the blacksmith's refuse to sell him the weapons he needs?

But... you can see the difference in emphasis. In my example, the emphasis isn't on killing the monster, it's on creating social impacts from player actions. Because I'm running a social game.
In a fighting-oriented game, you could just have the quest reset, with a new goblin name, and say "A new goblin has fought his way to the top of the pack"

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Along those lines, there's also persistent quests, or a quest where the result is permanent until players undo it. Freeing the Evil Undead Priestess unleashes a permanent plague of undead in the mountains until she is slain. Or repairing the machine that opens a rift that lets loose the monsters from another dimension is permanent until said machine is destroyed.
Yup. I'm quite a fan of persistent quests. When I play a game, I like feeling that I had an impact on the game world.
It frustrates me if I'm playing a standard game where my fighter goes out, kills *every single goblin* in the forest, and tomorrow the forest is still equally full of goblins. Makes me feel like my fighter may as well have just stayed home. On the other hand, if my fighter goes out, kills goblins, and recaptures the lookout tower from the goblins... and tomorrow when I go out, there's a human sentry in the tower instead of a goblin sentry? That's satisfying to me. It feels like I made a difference. And if I stop killing goblins, and they take back the lookout tower? That's also fun. It makes me feel like I was useful and needed, and the world is worse off without me helping.

So a plague of undead that stops when the priestess is slain? Awesome! A new priestess might turn up at some point, sure. But until that happens, the game world is different.

Hard to do in huge games like WoW but fortunately (unfortunately) most MUDs have significantly smaller player bases.

Two questions:

1) When you guys make quests, do you expect that each character will do each quest once? I.e. arrive in town, find lost dog, fight off undead, save farm, go into forest, kill goblin king? - or do you assume that there is only one "quest" of each type at any given moment? So if two people arrive in town, the boy wants his dog back, but only one of those two people can complete the quest?

2) How do you handle puzzles? For example, say I have a puzzle that requires me crossing the river by borrowing a boat from a farmer, but the farmer will only give me the boat if he's in a good mood, and I need to bring him a beer to get him in a good mood (with the pile of empty beer mugs outside his house being my clue) - What stops players just telling each other what to do? Is that even a problem, or do we just assume the player misses out on the fun of the puzzle, so it's their own loss? Do you use any code or randomization to try to make the puzzles different to stop players knowing the answers without figuring it out? (such as my above example of fashion where they can know what the puzzle is, but still need to figure out what the current fashion is.)
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Old 04-01-2010, 01:02 AM   #7
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Re: Quest Design

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At the risk of derailing the conversation, could you go into some detail about what the players do to solve the mystery? Do they have to collect certain items (clues) - or are there actual clues hidden around that the player has to figure out themselves? How does the system know when the quest is completed?
As I said, the Stewartsville Murder Mystery mimics the game of Clue, which is basically a logic puzzle. Every time the quest resets, the murderer, murder weapon, motive and murder room is generated. Thus, even if you've done the quest before, you can redo the quest with completely different results.

Find the murder weapon. The murder weapon is randomly hidden and associated with 3 suspects. It is important to remember which room the murder weapon was found. To find the suspects, give the murder weapon to each mansion residents. Three of the residents (at random) will reveal a suspect.

Find the three motives. Three random motive clues are randomly hidden. Each motive clue is associated with a mansion resident. Each resident has something to say about the motives (if they are given to a resident) but this is a red herring as it won’t help solve the case.

Find the three witnesses. Three of the residents will have seen three suspects who were acting suspiciously in the room where the murder weapon was found. Go to each mansion resident and say the names of the other mansion residents and three (random) residents will reveal if they saw a suspect acting suspiciously in the room where the weapon was hidden.

Once you have all the clues, there will only be one possible solution. If you think you have all the clues and know the murderer, the inspector mob will require you to provide all the evidence and then name the murderer. If any evidence is wrong or you name the wrong person, a mysterious assassin will attempt to kill you (to prevent guessing). Remember, all elements of the quest reset so there could be different suspects, motives, witnesses, etc., each time!

An example: Sherlock finds WEAPON in KITCHEN. He asks around and finds out BUTLER had WEAPON (told by FRIEND), SISTER had WEAPON (told by COOK), and CAPTAIN had WEAPON (told by SISTER). Three clues are found: a LETTER that implicates COOK, a WILL that implicates CAPTAIN, and a CONTRACT that implicates SISTER. Hmm, it could be either SISTER or CAPTAIN. Asking around some more, he finds out SISTER was in the KITCHEN (told by CAPTAIN), BROTHER was in KITCHEN (told by COOK), and COOK was in KITCHEN (told by SISTER).

Summarize the clues:

Weapon suspects: BUTLER, SISTER, CAPTAIN
Motive suspects: COOK, CAPTAIN, SISTER
Witness suspects: SISTER, BROTHER, COOK

Eureka! There's only one suspect who comes up in all 3 instances--SISTER is the MURDERER!
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Old 04-01-2010, 06:55 AM   #8
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Re: Quest Design

Heh, awesome.
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Old 09-21-2010, 02:04 PM   #9
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Re: Quest Design

I find it curious that all the posts in this topic seem to either take for granted that quests should be repeatable, or attempt to find excuses to make them repeatable. In my mud (The Unoffical Squaresoft MUD) all the quests are one-time-only. They play out like quests in singleplayer games (or like non-repeatable World of Warcraft quests, if you prefer). Every player can do all of them once.

Actually, UOSSMUD has two types of questish things - called quests and missions.

Quests are riddles that the player has to solve or hidden goals they have to find, and it's illegal to discuss them with other players at all. They might be told that they need to find the hidden Couch of Mana, and the clue in the quest's help file would be something like "Behind Aberdast Falls, a furniture salesman who once sat on this legendary couch might know more about its current location." Then in some area somewhere would be a room where the salesman, and he'd tell you he needed you to find a bottle of ochu ink so he could draw you a map. The ink might be a random drop in a different area. And then the map would probably lead you to a boss fight. (Note: This is not a real quest in UOSSMUD. But it's how they work.)

Missions are partyable combat tasks. They usually involve killing a bunch of mobs, protecting an NPC, killing mobs until certain items drop, or killing a boss (or several of the above). They are also cutscene heavy, and feel like a mission from a console RPG. In an early mission, a pair of NPC adventurers are looking for a magical artifact, and ask you to kill 30 monsters in a certain area. When you're done with that, they move forward to the second to last room, and ask you to kill the boss. After you kill the boss, they automatically enter and tell you that the artifact has been taken by someone else already. This is a prerequisite to another mission some 30 levels later where you find more info about that artifact. We don't actually move the NPCs, we use conditional invisiblity to make it appear as if they're in different rooms to different players.
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Old 09-21-2010, 03:12 PM   #10
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Re: Quest Design

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I find it curious that all the posts in this topic seem to either take for granted that quests should be repeatable, or attempt to find excuses to make them repeatable. In my mud (The Unoffical Squaresoft MUD) all the quests are one-time-only. They play out like quests in singleplayer games (or like non-repeatable World of Warcraft quests, if you prefer). Every player can do all of them once.

Actually, UOSSMUD has two types of questish things - called quests and missions.

Quests are riddles that the player has to solve or hidden goals they have to find, and it's illegal to discuss them with other players at all. They might be told that they need to find the hidden Couch of Mana, and the clue in the quest's help file would be something like "Behind Aberdast Falls, a furniture salesman who once sat on this legendary couch might know more about its current location." Then in some area somewhere would be a room where the salesman, and he'd tell you he needed you to find a bottle of ochu ink so he could draw you a map. The ink might be a random drop in a different area. And then the map would probably lead you to a boss fight. (Note: This is not a real quest in UOSSMUD. But it's how they work.)

Missions are partyable combat tasks. They usually involve killing a bunch of mobs, protecting an NPC, killing mobs until certain items drop, or killing a boss (or several of the above). They are also cutscene heavy, and feel like a mission from a console RPG. In an early mission, a pair of NPC adventurers are looking for a magical artifact, and ask you to kill 30 monsters in a certain area. When you're done with that, they move forward to the second to last room, and ask you to kill the boss. After you kill the boss, they automatically enter and tell you that the artifact has been taken by someone else already. This is a prerequisite to another mission some 30 levels later where you find more info about that artifact. We don't actually move the NPCs, we use conditional invisiblity to make it appear as if they're in different rooms to different players.
This actually sounds like a pretty fun approach.

I've worked on designing a few quests before and I've found that, as both a player and a writer, I don't generally like repeatable quests. My reasons for it is that it breaks immersion as much as it kills any replay value for a game, and the only good I've ever seen come of it is to create easy "money generator" quests.

Designing single-use quests comes with their own challenges. You can forbid players from discussing the secrets for finding the Couch of Mana, but somewhere along the way someone a-hole is gonna post a Quest Guide somewhere on the internet, or pass it around through messengers. I would also find it very difficult to say "no" to players that wanted to organically guide each other through these quests (i.e, through roleplay -- which would likely come up far more often on a roleplaying type game as opposed to a strategy or H&S one), but that opens up a whole can of worms for easily bypassing the rules.

An approach that I tried (but never implemented, due to time constraints) was to design a system that would present context-sensitive quests to players. In this way, the order of quests, and potentially the end objectives, would never be totally predictable. The rewards would also be unpredictable (with each quest drawing from a pool of acceptable rewards). The "quest giver" should be able to remember what each CHARACTER has already done in the past, to allow for the quest chain to take on a meaningful path.
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Old 09-22-2010, 02:29 AM   #11
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Re: Quest Design

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I've worked on designing a few quests before and I've found that, as both a player and a writer, I don't generally like repeatable quests. My reasons for it is that it breaks immersion as much as it kills any replay value for a game, and the only good I've ever seen come of it is to create easy "money generator" quests.
As a designer & programmer, I love repeatable quests.

Or, maybe I should say, reusable quests.

As a player, I may or may not like repeatable quests.

What I mean by reusable is that I can save on most of the coding. If I have a quest where you're asked to collect five dinosaur eggs for the dinosaur farmer, well, I can use that same underlying code to have a guard captain ask you to collect ten bandit heads. The activity the players do (sneaking into the dinosaur cave vs fighting bandits) might be very different, but the "quest code" is identical.

This ties into your comments about randomizing the quests. If I can reuse the same underlying quest code, I can put in additions that flow through the whole game. Maybe initially the quests always give the same rewards, but then I add code to give a random reward of a certain "category" - so the dinosaurs might give you a "crafting level 3" reward, while the guard captain might give you a "combat level 4 reward" - the nice thing with this, as well as some randomization where I might not get the same item as someone else, is that it provides "easy additions" - a staff member could now add an additional combat level 4 reward, which is a tangible addition to the game, without needing to design a whole quest to go with it. Or they might design a quest without needing to worry about what reward is given.

But that's also why I like the idea of repeatable quests. Not all quests should be repeatable, but maybe some should - depending on your situation. Having random quests allows some interesting chaining of quests. Imagine a boss that can only be killed with a magical sword made from ice. Now, imagine if a magical sword made from ice was one of the level 4 combat rewards. There's an obvious interaction between your quests, without needing any extra staff word - the "go kill the bad guy" has now been expanded to "To kill the bad guy, you need to bring in the bounty on these bandits, get the magic sword, and then go kill him."

But that leaves you with a problem. What if you get the bounty reward, and they give a suit of armor, or a flaming sword, instead of the ice sword. You're screwed.

Well, you could trade with another player to get their ice sword (SOMEONE must have gotten an ice sword, right?) - that's pretty cool. It makes the quest dynamic since it involves other players. But let's assume that players typically don't want to trade, due to the swords being so rare. What else can you do?
Not much. You can look for other quests that give a level 4 combat reward. That's where game knowledge comes in, and where other players can help you out. You could find out (through roleplaying) that you might get an ice sword from the guard captain OR from the cave of treasure. So you've got two chances. Or more, depending on how many quests give that type of reward. But what happens if you do all the quests, and still don't get the sword? You're stuck. If that happens rarely, then not a problem (just trade for a sword) but if it happens regularly... bad game design. And if you regularly "chain" quest rewards into other quests, it may well happen regularly.

That's where a repeatable quest is useful. If there's a repeatable quest that gives a specific type of reward, you're always able to grind it. I'm not really in favor of grinds, but they do provide a useful backup if all else goes wrong. Perhaps the guard captain asks you to do the bounty on those 15 bandits to give the level 4 reward. Then he'll give that same quest, but ask for 20 bandits. Then 25, and so on. You CAN just keep doing that quest until you get what you want, but you've got motivation to seek out a new quest that gives similar rewards.

There are other options, of course. If there are three quests giving the rewards, and three rewards, maybe the system just never gives you the same reward twice. So by the time you've done all the quests, you've got all the items. Even then, there's still problems. What if you got the ice sword, traded it to someone who needed to kill that boss, and then take up the "kill the boss with an ice sword" quest. You've lost your chance to use the sword. Ugh.

Repeatable quests are also good for the regular players to give them something to "fill time" - I can add in once-off content (and I do!) but I cannot possibly keep up with some of our regularly players. They've got more time online in the game than I have available to code, and often they can experience content faster than I can add it. They'll happily devour the unique content I add, but giving them repeatable content allows them something to do while waiting (or searching) for new content.

I'm certainly not against single-use quests. I'm just saying that both types have their uses.

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Designing single-use quests comes with their own challenges. You can forbid players from discussing the secrets for finding the Couch of Mana, but somewhere along the way someone a-hole is gonna post a Quest Guide somewhere on the internet, or pass it around through messengers. I would also find it very difficult to say "no" to players that wanted to organically guide each other through these quests (i.e, through roleplay -- which would likely come up far more often on a roleplaying type game as opposed to a strategy or H&S one), but that opens up a whole can of worms for easily bypassing the rules.
Certainly.
Which is why I tend to avoid "puzzle" style quests. Or if I do have puzzles, it'll be a once-off wider game-involving puzzle (e.g. "there's a new plague, and everyone can search for clues about the cure") - there will be repeats, the plague might reoccur, but the clues from before will remain, but the often game changes from "discover a cure" to "find someone who was around last time and remembers the cure."

With that sort of setup, there's no "puzzle spoiling" since the players are all solving it together. But... there's no puzzle awaiting new players.

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An approach that I tried (but never implemented, due to time constraints) was to design a system that would present context-sensitive quests to players. In this way, the order of quests, and potentially the end objectives, would never be totally predictable.
We haven't finished yet, but plan to do something similar. Only someone who's been in trouble with the law would be asked to do the assassination quest, only someone who's in good with the law would be asked to do the patrolling the docks quest, and so on. Most of the time, those quests would be pretty predictable, though.

I also like the idea of "hidden" quests. Imagine a quest that's only given if you are on the top of a fairy hillock at night. The average player would stumble on the quest, happening to walk up a hill when it happens to be night, so they can't really tell the other players anything more than just where it happened.
If they research in the library, they might be told what requirements they need (but still have to find the hill) - I like that players can still share knowledge, without destroying the story. Someone asking where a fairy hill is, after researching, will be pointed to the right hill by someone who stumbled onto it. Someone who stumbled onto it and tells his friends might put together the clues based on which friends found the quest and which didn't... or they might not realize until a researcher in the library tells them. Either way, it's hard to "ruin" this for another player, the worst you can do is tell them where to search for an extra quest, and players love to find out secret information like that. Yet if you don't tell them anything, then the clues are available for them to discover it organically.

Hidden quests could potentially be tied into repeating quests - what if the fairy king is going to be at a specific hillock at midnight, based on the day of year? If it's an odd day, he's on the small hillock, if it's a day divisible by 4 he's on the tall hillock, if it's...
That way even if the quest repeats, it's still a challenge to find the king, to work out the rules for the puzzle, and all that jazz. And it's easy for staff to change the rules on a monthly basis, allowing reuse of the puzzle as well as the quest that the puzzle leads to.

Or, heck, what if the fairy king follows a formula that's unique for each player. So Bob might find him on the tall hillock at midnight, while Frank finds him on the small one. Then players can let each other know that there *is* a formula, but they would still have to work it out for each individual. Now, even if the king's quest is the same repeatable boring thing, the real victory is finding him and getting given the quest.

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The "quest giver" should be able to remember what each CHARACTER has already done in the past, to allow for the quest chain to take on a meaningful path.
100% agree.
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Old 09-22-2010, 06:33 AM   #12
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Re: Quest Design

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Designing single-use quests comes with their own challenges. You can forbid players from discussing the secrets for finding the Couch of Mana, but somewhere along the way someone a-hole is gonna post a Quest Guide somewhere on the internet, or pass it around through messengers.
That doesn't bother me too much - I just make sure the quests aren't things you can walk through by mindlessly following a guide. Sure, players still give each other advice and suggestions, but that alone won't ensure success...they still have to think and pay attention.

The biggest issue I have with one-shot quests is that they only keep players entertained for a very short amount of time relative to the amount of effort required to create them. So you spend a few days designing a cool quest, then within an hour or two of releasing it the players have finished it and then they're bored again. Unless you've got a lot of staff (or the quests are player generated content) there's just no way you can produce the content fast enough to keep the players entertained.

I do have a number of one-shot quests, but generally I find my time is better spent working on things that provide long-term entertainment - repeatable activities, or tools for the players to create their own activities.
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Old 09-22-2010, 07:06 PM   #13
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Re: Quest Design

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I do have a number of one-shot quests, but generally I find my time is better spent working on things that provide long-term entertainment - repeatable activities, or tools for the players to create their own activities.
Really, I think that's the key. One-shot quests certainly have a place, in my opinion; that place is for rewards that oughtn't to be "farmable." If you're handing out the Supreme Sword of Destrobliterationocaust as a quest reward-- yeah, maybe no repeats. But in general, I think quests should be designed not just to be repeatable, but should provide what KaVir mentioned: long-term entertainment.

For a nice example: if you are playing WoW, you could view the entire game as a metaquest. The ultimate goal is to level up, perfect skills, whatever.

But every time you level up a character on WoW, it (can) be a different experience. You can choose a new class; you can start in another realm; you can choose to do different quests to collect the sweet xps.

Also I never leveled a character in WoW past 20 because I thought it was horrendously boring, but my point is still valid: you can have quests that evolve and change with each replay, and an ideal system makes repeating the same quest in the same exact way every time impossible.
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Old 09-23-2010, 06:53 PM   #14
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Re: Quest Design

I think these are all good and valid points.

My personal preference is for one-shot quests, but I do recognize the value in repeatables, as the point is often to extend the life of the game without resulting to adding "better" content in the game that makes older content obsolete (such as is the case with modern MMOs).

I often approach this from the viewpoint that I'm developing for one of the roleplaying games -- so "quests" aren't really a driving factor of gameplay. My one-off's may very well provide just the amount of entertainment needed. However, in other games, where the point is to play against (or with) the Machine, it's an entirely different issue.

Something that I'd like to hear some input on is how do you balance quests?
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Old 09-24-2010, 05:02 AM   #15
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Re: Quest Design

With our particular theme in 4D, time-travelling, we actually have a somewhat logical explanation for the repetivity of most Mud activities. When the player returns to an area, the time will have reverted to some period before he last visited, which accounts for the fact that all the baddies he killed are now very much alive again and don't even seem to remember him. This also gives me an excuse to make my quests repeatable - not that I really need one.

As a Builder I dislike one-time quests, since so much work gets into designing and scripting a good multistep quest that it seems a waste of time, if the players only can do it once.
And our players also hate one-time quests - we do have a few of those, but they keep complaining and asking that we make them repeatable.

My solution is threefold - (and this also to some extent hampers the blabbering about quest solutions, which will inevitable occur):
1. Make the mobs respond differently at different stages of the quest, and make sure the players cannot take any shortcuts. (For instance, if you talk to MobA without first talking to MobB, you'll get a totally different response).
2. Add some random elements that send the players onto different paths. (You can use the player's class, race, level, and stats like intelligence, charisma, alignment etc. You can also make some mob or item that they need to find load in a number of different places.)
3. Make the rewards get increasingly smaller when you redo the quest, to discourage the "pharmers" that prefer repetitivy to exploring. (They should always get something, but eventually it will get to a point where it pays more to move on to another quest).

The more Quests I make, the more complex they tend to be. Lately I've got into twists that cater to the players who think and act differently than the mainstream.

The classical example is the "errand-boy" quest, where a mob sends you to deliver a letter or an item to another mob. You faithfully carry out the assignment, and get a new task, this time a bit more delicate. After repeating this a few times and gaining increasing trust from sender and receiver, you are finally sent with a letter that reveals a plan to overthrow the King. Now there are a number of persons in the kingdom apart from the intended receiver, (including the King himself), who'd be interested in that plan. Depending on who you actually give the letter to, several totally different scenarios will develop. Also, if you stray off the straight path, your original employer will sooner or later learn about your betrayal, and set out to get even.

Another example: You find a crumpled love letter in the drawer of a young man, who apparently never got along to sending it to his beloved. The normal action would be to bring it to the girl, and hope for a reward from her.
But what if the match is totally unsuitable and the families hate each other? What happens if you instead bring the letter to the girl's brother? Or the boy's father? Any of these actions will trigger a chain of totally different events.

Some players will never even realise that there are multiple opportunities in each of those quests. Others will gleefully explore all the possibilities, once they got a hang of the idea. It gives the same player the opportunity to do the same quest over and over, without actually repeating it, i.e. it becomes a bit more interesting.

To me this is an economical use of my time and ideas. It's also a lot more fun to design complex quests like that, than the usual simple ones.
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Old 09-26-2010, 09:07 PM   #16
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Re: Quest Design

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To me this is an economical use of my time and ideas. It's also a lot more fun to design complex quests like that, than the usual simple ones.
It also rewards player creativity.

I'm entirely uninterested in the "take this letter to the boys beloved" quest. I am, however, very interested in the "decide who you're going to give this letter to" quest, that gives me (the player) an interesting choice, and gives my character the ability to behave differently depending on their personality (an option to actually play a role, rather than just complete objectives? Say it ain't so!)

It's even better if it doesn't tell me that the quest is "decide who you're going to give this letter to" - if I think it's "deliver it to the girl" but try something different, that's very rewarding to see a sensible response to my choices. That gives a wonderful sense of freedom.

Also, you've now given me a new "quest activity" - and I love you for that.
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Old 09-27-2010, 05:14 PM   #17
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Re: Quest Design

How about using quests as way to run game economy and/or create quest to solve problem in game.

start from something simple first.

Carry several waterbuckets to bakery, as well as flour sacks, and firewood. Then player gets some coin, or perhaps some bakery products.
After completing the quest, make some items appear to bakerys inventory, what are normally there.
If there is too many of quest generated items in bakery, then don't open the bakery helper quest.

Or weaponsmith gives job to get iron ingots, and coal to him. Then he makes certain weapons.
If there is too many weapons around in shop, then trader takes few boxes full of weapons to his caravan.
When there is enough boxes of goods in caravan, then trader hires some guards for travel to another city.

If deers become too numerous in certain area, then wolves might appear, and have feast - and those are also natural danger to travelers.

Perfect quests with logical results, and wery well repeatable.
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Old 09-27-2010, 07:54 PM   #18
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Re: Quest Design

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How about using quests as way to run game economy and/or create quest to solve problem in game.

start from something simple first.

Carry several waterbuckets to bakery, as well as flour sacks, and firewood. Then player gets some coin, or perhaps some bakery products.
After completing the quest, make some items appear to bakerys inventory, what are normally there.
If there is too many of quest generated items in bakery, then don't open the bakery helper quest.

Or weaponsmith gives job to get iron ingots, and coal to him. Then he makes certain weapons.
If there is too many weapons around in shop, then trader takes few boxes full of weapons to his caravan.
When there is enough boxes of goods in caravan, then trader hires some guards for travel to another city.

If deers become too numerous in certain area, then wolves might appear, and have feast - and those are also natural danger to travelers.

Perfect quests with logical results, and wery well repeatable.
I like

My problem with this (as with most quests) is how I make it fun. How do I make the quest to bring water and flour to the baker different to the quest to bring iron and coal to the blacksmith? Essentially they both come down to just walking to the item and bringing it.

There are tricks, such as making you go out into combat areas and explore/fight until you find the right things. Or making you solve a puzzle, buy the item, etc.
Ideally, the best trick would be to make you interact with other players. Perhaps you can just walk down and collect the flour from the mill, but on the way there will be bandits to fight, you'll need a noble to grant you passage, and a merchant to buy the flour. The quest itself, then, doesn't have to be so challenging, but finding the right collection of skills would be.

I've written up (but not implemented) a way of using quests to control the outcome of a war in the PCs home city. Politically, there are four noble houses (populated by players characters), with one ruling the city, and the others serving as ambassadors of sorts (more like vultures, circling, to take the city) - the problem is, none of the other three can take the city, it would throw the game out of alignment too much. The players know this, so it doesn't really lead to frustration, but wouldn't it be really cool if they were able to?

So, in my musings, I'm imagining that one of those houses decides to invade. NPC soldiers from their house start turning up outside the city. At first, just as random NPCs that you can bump into, but later they'd start attacking anyone not wearing their house's cloak, and quests to fight them would start appearing. New quests would also appear for PCs supporting the invaders, quests like "Sneak into the map room and steal the battle plans" - after either a short amount of time has passed, or a set number of those quests have been completed, the system would look at how many of each type were completed, and decide if the invasion continues, or withdraws. If it continues, next they might lay siege to the city itself, blockade the harbor, and so on. Quests to sneak messages out of the city, or quests to lower rope ladders for the invaders would appear. As the invasion continues, "basic services" of the city would vanish, but the invaders would gain new abilities. If the invasion is going well, invading soldiers would patrol the streets, protecting the PCs from their house, and attacking any "known loyalists" - specific quests like "capture the jail" would also appear.
Because of the loss of services (when the jail is captured, criminals can no longer be imprisoned, for example...) there is incentive for the players to muster a defence. Because of the soldiers targeting loyalists, there is incentive for players to avoid taking a side (or to help in ways other than drawing a sword... hopefully that would encourage a social underground movement) - and we would, of course, need incentives for the members of the invading political house, to give them a reason to want to organize an invasion. Ideally, this would be self-regulating. Players love to be the hero, and it gives the chance for the city to band together against a threat, while still having a non-coded social element that should create unique roleplay each time.

By having enough successful players follow the "right quests" they can put things right again, but it'd be up to player actions, if they side with the invaders, the game would be able to continue, with a new group in charge, and a loss of services to the city.
Individuals would be able to get to do the once-off events of invading or defending a city (setting dynamite before the city gates... fighting along ramparts)

To leave the game playable for the loyalists, there would always be somewhere to retreat to. The city is built, ultimately, around the original fortress of the (currently) ruling house, so as the invaders take more and more of the city, the loyalists would retreat until they end up in the castle. We'd then stop giving quests allowing more of the city to be lost, so the loyalists have somewhere they can be until they (if they ever do) take back the rest.

I guess why I'm rambling about this is because it's a setup that would have very simple quests ("go here" "fight that") but would hopefully lead to a much more fun story, and the decisions ("Do I really want to take a side" "I'm on the invaders side, but my friend is a loyalist...") should be where the real fun is.
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Old 09-27-2010, 07:56 PM   #19
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Re: Quest Design

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I'm entirely uninterested in the "take this letter to the boys beloved" quest. I am, however, very interested in the "decide who you're going to give this letter to" quest, that gives me (the player) an interesting choice, and gives my character the ability to behave differently depending on their personality (an option to actually play a role, rather than just complete objectives? Say it ain't so!)

It's even better if it doesn't tell me that the quest is "decide who you're going to give this letter to" - if I think it's "deliver it to the girl" but try something different, that's very rewarding to see a sensible response to my choices. That gives a wonderful sense of freedom.
From the viewpoint of implementing a scalable advanced quest system (which is what I'm doing atm), I see at least three separate concepts here:

1. It is easy to provide clues instead of specific instructions and let the quest doer do some thinking or trial and error or carry the letter around until he/she bumps into the right person.

2. It is somewhat more difficult to provide multiple resolutions to the same quest plot. It may seem trivial to add 2-3 potential goals instead of one on an individual basis, but if you're chaining quests, this represents a fork in the quest path, and then choices rise exponentially. All great RPG's have such quests but they require top-notch story-telling and the awareness that after putting in many hours of work, some forks in the path may never be traveled. Coding support for these "multiple choices" is somewhat difficult, but not impossible if you limit the number of forks and the number of times one quest plot can fork. That said, in my own experience as a gamer, multiple choice resolutions don't add up to a sense of freedom, even if I'm left to guess which of several people I can bring the letter to.

3. What does create a sense of freedom for me is accidents. It is incredibly difficult, in my view, to have a scalable quest engine that supports believable "detours" or "complications". What I mean by a detour is, e. g., some NPC sees you're carrying the letter and offers to trade you a pair of diamond boots for it, but only if you go and tell the boy's beloved that her lover died in such and such battle. If you forget what the battle's name was, the girl catches you in a lie and you fail the quest! Such detours are not only difficult to come up with, but to be believable they have to be more or less unique.

Now, I love #3 when I see it (rarely) in open-ended adventures and I appreciate #2 if done well. But as I'm working on my engine, I have to wonder how many players out there appreciate even #1 (simple puzzles). The sad reality is that the vast majority of people are perfectly happy with clear, simple, endlessly repetitive "quests" and that any "sense of freedom" I'd spend spend many hours coding and plotting is likely to translate into massive confusion for over 95% of my players. As I build my engine, I bookmark all "advanced" concepts, for now, maybe forever.
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Old 09-27-2010, 11:37 PM   #20
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Re: Quest Design

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1. It is easy to provide clues instead of specific instructions and let the quest doer do some thinking or trial and error or carry the letter around until he/she bumps into the right person.
Yep, although those clues need to be specific to the quest, and that allows players to tell each other the solutions. Which is problematic if the quest is significant, but not really an issue if there are plenty of small quests.

A nice middle ground is to provide obvious clues to the obvious solution, but have more subtle clues for the other options.

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2. It is somewhat more difficult to provide multiple resolutions to the same quest plot. It may seem trivial to add 2-3 potential goals instead of one on an individual basis, but if you're chaining quests, this represents a fork in the quest path, and then choices rise exponentially.
Possibly, but not necessarily.
Imagine I'm playing a musketeer. I have a quest where I may side with the queen or the bishop. After that's done, I can continue my next quest like normal, regardless of which choice I made. Later, there is a quest where someone is framing me... whenever I'm out on the street the city guards try to arrest me. If I can make it to the queen, she might call off the guards temporarily (for a week, say) while I prove my innocence. But only if I sided with her earlier. If I make it to the bishop, he may give me the choice of taking on the cloth rather than being a musketeer (which completes the current quest, and I'm now no longer a musketeer, and instead I'm a middlingly ranked priest, and instead of continuing the musketter quests, I'll start doing the priest quests) or the bishop would give me some clues as to who might be framing me. Yes, there's more work to be done when setting this up, but certainly not exponentially more work. So the outcomes can be remembered and used to provide or block off options in future quests, or even add complications, without forcing you to branch to an entirely different quest tree.

In a simplified setup for this, you might just have variables. Complete the quest, siding with the queen, and you might end up with a value of king +0, queen +2, bishop -1. Then future quests where you support the bishop rather than the king might leave you with king -1, queen +2, bishop +1. I'd be able to choose to appease individuals before they become my enemies, or focus on really supporting one. That could have social consequences, or lead to extra quests. If I get my support from the queen high enough, as well as the normal quests I might get repeatable quests from her where she asks me to deliver confidential letters. If I get too much negative support from the bishop, there might be additional complications. For example, if the bishop has -5 favor for me, then whenever the city guards are trying to arrest me, the church guards also try to arrest me. But if the bishop has -5 favor for me, maybe new quests appear, either quests where I can torment him (everyone loves an arch-nemesis!) or ones where I can appease him.

It's also possible to have multiple resolutions that lead to the same end goal. For example, if you have the letter to deliver...
... you deliver it to the girl. The letter professes love, so she runs off with the boy to get married, both leaving town.
... you deliver it to the brother. He approaches the lover, and runs the lover out of town.
... you deliver it to the father. In a fit of rage he throws his daughter out of the house, forcing her to leave town.

The end result is that the plot is resolved, one way or the other, and the characters are gone. Multiple endings, the same game result, but a different emotional result.

That emotional result might not matter much to an achiever player, but it could be very important to a roleplaying player.

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some forks in the path may never be traveled.
That's something we need to expect. But, as long as there are clues, that just makes those forks all the more valuable for the few players that do discover them.

Plus, in a text environment, it can be pretty simple to add those options. maybe it's just a few minutes extra typing. I'm certainly not advocating spending significant amount on time on content that nobody is going to see.

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Coding support for these "multiple choices" is somewhat difficult, but not impossible if you limit the number of forks and the number of times one quest plot can fork.
Yep. Or if you standardize the possible outcomes. Using the example above, we standardize the outcomes to gaining or loosing support from the king, queen, or bishop. We then have other quests or systems that check your support when deciding what to do. It means we don't have to remember what decisions the player made in any specific previous quest, while still allowing those decisions to have an impact.

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That said, in my own experience as a gamer, multiple choice resolutions don't add up to a sense of freedom, even if I'm left to guess which of several people I can bring the letter to.
It depends how you're playing the game. Personally, I feel that sense of freedom if one of the choices is exactly what I want my character to do. And if none of the choices are what I'm after, I don't get that sense of freedom, no matter how many choices are available. So it depends on how well the quest designer guessed the possible options the player will want to follow.

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3. What does create a sense of freedom for me is accidents. It is incredibly difficult, in my view, to have a scalable quest engine that supports believable "detours" or "complications". What I mean by a detour is, e. g., some NPC sees you're carrying the letter and offers to trade you a pair of diamond boots for it, but only if you go and tell the boy's beloved that her lover died in such and such battle. If you forget what the battle's name was, the girl catches you in a lie and you fail the quest! Such detours are not only difficult to come up with, but to be believable they have to be more or less unique.
Agreed. But there can be believable complications.
For example, there could be a "complication" that some NPC sees you're carrying a letter (so it can happen with any item-delivery quest) and offers to trade you <insert possible reward> for it. That could believably be repeatable, and there could just be a % chance that it'll happen during a quest.

Now, you can arrange "accidents" in a setup like that. Imagine if someone offers to trade you for the letter. You make the trade, fail to deliver the letter, same as usual. You don't get the letter-delivery reward, but don't expect something else. Except... you had a -10 rating from the bishop. So, unknown to you, there was a % chance that the guy offering the trade was a spy working for the bishop. He delivers the letter, along with the story of your betrayal, to the queen. She's angry at you, you loose points with her. But it's still a believable, expected, repeatable complication. And it is a direct result of player choices.

Imagine if you got assigned rooms based on your favor. You were highly favored by the queen, so you had a room right near her room. You upset the bishop, then sell her letter to someone on the street. Oh no, that person was a spy for the bishop. You get caught out, and your room is moved away from the queen's room, and she stops asking you to deliver letters. That looks like a very organic, natural response (it looks like the queen is cross at you) - even though there's no real "thought" that went into the quest, and even though every event was a "once off" that didn't chain into anything else.

Heck, maybe you don't even get told that the Bishop is setting you up. You just start noticing that you get asked to sell the letters more and more often. And you start noticing that you are getting moved away from the queen. The player might figure out that the queen is angry about something. Or they might not.

I guess this is the MUD equivalent of "cellular automation" where you put in some very simple underlying rules for how the game functions, but those rules can interact with each other in very complicated ways.

Quote:
Originally Posted by plamzi View Post
The sad reality is that the vast majority of people are perfectly happy with clear, simple, endlessly repetitive "quests" and that any "sense of freedom" I'd spend spend many hours coding and plotting is likely to translate into massive confusion for over 95% of my players. As I build my engine, I bookmark all "advanced" concepts, for now, maybe forever.
You'll have to decide who you're aiming your game/quests at. Or decide to have a mix of both.
Most players are achievers, and they'll be happy with a quest that points them in a direction and rewards them at the end. If you're making an achievement game, then that's all you want.

You can still add complexity, the king/queen/bishop example still allows achievement, and will channel them into achievement along certain paths, even if the quests are still otherwise all the same. But it's still more work than just having quests with one outcome, and if that's all the players want, you shouldn't waste your time.

There will be a subset of players that want more, and if you're after that niche, you'll need to consider the advanced concepts. I actively want to discourage players that just want the simple quest and reward, as I feel that encourages players away from roleplaying and towards mob-bashing. My quests are aimed to provide some sort of in-game decision that helps define their character, or are designed to have some impact on the larger game world (economy, city strength, guild wealth, etc.)
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