Moo Tang Clan: Dread Pirate Roberts

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Dread Pirate Roberts

Humble Hobo describes continual content and the comment replies point out the “extinction problem”. This is where if quests get consumed by players, then you will rapidly run out of content for the players, and faster than you can replace that content too. A single quest might take 10-15 minutes to play through, but it would likely take much more than that to set up in the first place.

There’s a related problem too – what happens if the quest you picked up in town gets completed by someone else before you even get to where the villain is hiding? Does the quest get marked as “complete” because the villain has been brought to justice (just not by you), does the quest get disabled in your quest log, or does it remain there, active, but impossible to complete unbeknown to you. Maybe WAR’s public quest system has something to enlighten us here.

Consider this variation on the continuous content idea though: a nasty villain has a bounty placed on his head – you kill him, unmask him, and find he’s just some pretender .. not the real villain. Later, rumours of the villain re-surface in the next borough over and the story continues. The same quest can be used and re-used over and over, with only slight variations in the quest details each time.

This is similar in ways to randomising the spawn location of a quest objective — if the villain is knocked off on a regular basis by adventurers then it will seem to be random. It’s different though, in that the NPCs will give differing reports, and the starting quest text will be different each time. So, while there is some chance of players breaking immersion because they think the content is buggy, it will also add character and depth to the game since the world would now be more dynamic.

You’d still have problems arising from other players completing your quest though.

Maybe WoW’s new “phasing” design mechanic could come into play - this is where the world you see is dependent on what you’ve done, and the world I see is dependent on what I’ve done. Thus your villain and quest remain active and located where you were told and the NPCs you talk to point you in the appropriate direction, but the next player to come along would be given an entirely new version of the quest, with different clues and a different location. Well, that could work but it would really break the game world in horrible ways, changing the MMORPG into an MSORPG. Bleh.

No, the trick would be in pacing the re-spawns. If this particular quest is so easy that it gets knocked over on an hourly basis then it would all seem very unrealistic - first the villain is to the north, and then 30 mins later he’s reported to be to the south, then an hour later he’s apparently been terrorising the prospectors and shepherds in the Red Hills ... how the heck does he travel about so damn quick, and how does he even find the time to carry out his villianry with all that rushing about?

One way to pace this some more is to make it a chain of intermediate steps - the usual plot tricks of “report for duty”, “scout for intel”, “fedex the report up the chain of command”, “search the woods/hills/ruins”, “take out some minions”, “gather some tools”, and finally “kill the boss”. Whew ... that should slow most players down for a bit. Add to that a significant delay (eg. a day or two or more) to the respawn, including the re-appearance of the quest givers, and the illusion of a dynamic world would be complete.

This could only work in a world which is acknowledged by players to have dynamic content though – if you slipped this quest design into WoW as it exists today you’d immediately see reports of the quest being bugged because player’s can’t find it in the same place, and many complaints about the slow re-spawn cycle.

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