Moo Tang Clan: quests with alternative objectives?

Saturday, September 27, 2008

quests with alternative objectives?

The typical quest mechanic I've seen is (1) get the quest which states the objective, (2) do some activity resulting in (3) completing the objective, and (4) hand in the quest.

As a thought experiment, imagine an MMOG with a quest engine which allows for multiple alternative objectives. For example, the quest set up might be "The red hill ogres keep raiding our vineyard and stealing our wine. Do something", where "something" is (a) kill the ogres, (b) kill the dragon camping their beer stash, (c) open trade with the ogres, offering wine in exchange for furs, (d) help the dragon find its mate, thus scaring the ogres out of the red hills for good, (e) help the ogres raid the dwarven brewery instead (they prefer beer, y’see), or (e) simply steal the wine back again.

The typical MMOG quest engine system would offer just one of those as the quest objective (although the RP crowd might do something with the rest). You could implement the alternatives as additional separate quests, but that would just be a hack (and confusing when doing one quest invalidates the others, and irritating if you pick one objective and then find out on the way there it would be easier to do one of the others because [eg] you just found help). Much more interesting would be you pick the one quest, and then head off to confront the ogres ... and whichever objective you manage to accomplish first marks the quest as complete.

In the quest UI I don't believe I'd list the specific objectives necessary to complete the quest, certainly not in the TL:DR bullet point summary. I'd like to think that clever players would figure out what some of the options could be, knowing full well most players aren't that clever.

I know that traditional quests with an ambiguous unstated objective are usually regarded as a content development bug by players ... but mostly arising from the frustration of trying to guess just what exactly is the One True Objective to complete the quest. However, offering multiple alternative objections might ameliorate that, especially if the players are re-trained to expect the possibility of alternative objectives (instead of giving up at first glance).

Naturally, in a static content game the various approaches will all soon be discovered and documented in some online wiki, and the wisdom of the crowd will be applied to determine the optimal solution. The next step in this thought experiment is to consider what basic game mechanics and plumbing would be necessary for such a quest with alternative objectives to arise dynamically.


Crimson Starfire said...

Great article. I too would like to see quest objectives in MMORPGs be less linear. Did you ever play Knights of the Old Republic? It experimented with a quest system like you described.

There is always more than one solution to a problem. Games should reward players for being creative in their solutions to a quest objective. Rewarding the player for thinking outside the square is something that is rarely seen. Truly a shame.

Arrow said...

I've thought of this idea, too. It would definitely help take the grind out of lvling up. Players would actually get involved in their quests and maybe even enjoy they. It would also add a large amount of replay.

One could easily factor in a morality system using this method, kill everything = Evil, Help the most people = Good. That would also help prevent people form choosing just one path. It would also be amusing to see what people would do it if one branch is easier or more rewarding but is in conflict with their morality.