Take the 2-minute tour ×
Game Development Stack Exchange is a question and answer site for professional and independent game developers. It's 100% free, no registration required.
  • Kill X number of monsters.
  • Gather Y number of items (usually by killing X number of monsters).
  • Deliver this NPC's package to this other NPC who is far far away.
  • etc.

Yeah. These quests are easy to implement, easy to complete, but also very boring after the first few times. It's kind of disingenuous to call them quests really; they're more like chores or errands.

What ideas for quests have people seen that were well designed, immersive, and rewarding? What specific things did the developers do that made it so?

What are some ideas you would use (or have used) to make quests more interesting?

share|improve this question

13 Answers 13

Edit: You know what, we're gonna do this again. It's two years later and I now have a different opinion. Read this segment first, then go to the next segment.

Which of these questlines is more fun:

  • "Please deliver this BOX to the DEMOLITIONS AGENT."
  • "Thank you for the BOX. Please kill twenty DEMON COMMANDOS within five minutes."
  • "Good job. I found this CRYSTAL. Please bring it to your COMMANDING OFFICER."

Alternatively:

  • "We've gotten an infiltrator inside the demon base. Unfortunately the team sent to bring him explosives has failed. We need for you to get in there and deliver this BOX to him - he can blow the core sky-high and end this menace once and for all."
  • "Thank God you're here! They've been assaulting me for the last hour, and I couldn't hold out much longer. It's going to take me five minutes to rig up these explosives, and before they go off, we need to clear out the area so they can't defuse the bomb. Get to it!"
  • "I can't believe it. It didn't work. The core's shattered but the demons keep coming. And there's . . . what are these? Crystals? Look, we need to get this to command. You take it - you're a better fighter than I am. I'll . . . guard your back. Just get back safely, you hear me?"

They're the same quests, but one is far more exciting. A lot of it comes down to writing - don't tell them "go kill thirty rams", tell them "we need warm ramhide clothing for our army, and you're the only one we can spare to get it". It's a lot more motivating.

If you look at recent WoW quests, the vast majority are still "kill X", "acquire Y", or "speak to Z", but they're couched in terms and plotlines that make them more enjoyable.

As of September 2012, here's my new thoughts:

Everything I said above? It's correct. I still agree with it. But it's a surface issue, and it's not the deeper issue.

The deeper issue is that MMO quests are often not built around showing a story, they're built around telling a story. I sort of accidentally stumbled into an example of that above, to be honest, but imagine this instead:

  • "Sir, we're cold, and we need clothes. Please go kill twenty rams and bring us their fleece."

  • "Thank you, sir! We've discovered a cave of ice demons that have been freezing the land. Go kill them too."

  • "Sweet, they're dead now? Okay, we found their leader. He's off in this cave instead. Go kill him now. Chop chop, get to it man."

Many MMO questlines behave like that. You're never given the illusion of free choice. Now, free choice itself is horribly expensive - I'm not going to say that every quest needs to be a branching quest, or anything. But even something as contrived as "stumbling across footprints in the snow", when in reality those footprints are either so common as to be unavoidable or literally spawning next to you every fifteen seconds, can give the player a sense of exploration and plot advancement that is sometimes sorely lacking.

If the player doesn't know why they're doing what they're doing, then the player won't be engaged with the quest. And maybe that's cool, maybe that's okay, but eventually it gets very, very old.

Unfortunately, players have been trained out of reading quest descriptions. What you've got to do now is to build it into the quest. One line: "It's freezing cold here. Please find us some warm clothes, and if you can, figure out what's causing this." Then send the player out to explore, and they shouldn't need to come back to town until they've got a backpack full of wool and a spear capped with an ice demon leader head.

All carefully constructed so that the player's guaranteed to meet all the important creatures, without, of course, realizing that they're being funneled down that path.

share|improve this answer
6  
This is just the same mission with some different text, which any sensible player will just skip anyway ;) –  Iain Jul 21 '10 at 14:09
7  
And those "sensible" players are perfectly content with cookie cutter quests because that's what they are purposely boiling it down to by skipping the text. –  Ricket Jul 21 '10 at 15:51
2  
My point was that well thought out games don't require lengthy text sections because they tell the story through gameplay. –  Iain Jul 21 '10 at 19:15

How about quests that are more than just a success or fail? Give the player options. Maybe they can betray their allies because they were tempted by the "power" of the dark side. Maybe add real time sensitive decisions. Sure you can do the quest later, but the town might be razed by then.

Let every decision, even indecision, have small impacts on the quest and its reward.

share|improve this answer
1  
+1, this is the sort of thing I'm thinking about. Giving players options, alternative ways to finish quests, allows the quest to be replayed. If a player's actions actually has an effect on how the rest of his game progresses, the player should be more interested in how he handles the quest. There are ways to enhance the gameplay of a quest, that doesn't boil down wrapping simple tasks in fancy words. It's supposed to be a video game after all, not a movie. –  user384918 Jul 21 '10 at 15:55
    
Yeah Fable had some good quests where you could escort a trader through the woods for a reward, or just kill him on the way and take his money. –  Iain Jul 21 '10 at 19:16
4  
In my experience, there's a few problems with this. First, you're talking about a horrifying amount of content that most players will never see. Second, it's hard to make sensible consequences that aren't trivially minmaxable. Third, most players don't want for every quest to be a moral dilemma, they just want to kill some bad guys and save the girl. I think you can make great games with this philosophy, but I can count the number of times it's worked for me on the fingers of one hand. –  ZorbaTHut Jul 21 '10 at 23:03
    
I think that even just two options (where you start a quest and you either succeed or fail, with different outcomes) is both more interesting and yet still manageable. –  Kzqai Aug 24 '10 at 0:35
    
The problem with letting users choose is that the majority of users are pretty unimaginative. Everybody likes to think that they think outside of the box but most of the time the player will just do the most obvious thing possible first. I think the trick with these games is to just appear like you are giving them choices while not giving them many at all; like Bioshock. Players of Bioshock felt like they were making real world changing choices in the game but ultimately the only thing you could truly change was the game ending. –  Robert Massaioli Mar 7 '11 at 3:15

A key factor to making quests involving is to have a clear and logical motivation for the actions of a quest. Collecting 10 pieces of loot is pretty dang boring, but if it's for a very specific reason it's interesting. For example, I found grinding for cloth for the server-wide Gates of Ahn'Qiraj event in World of Warcraft way more engaging than similar quests, because there was a very specific game-wide goal that I was concretely helping to advance. Another good example I can remember from WoW is in the dwarven area where you have to collect some potion ingredients. But, when you hand them to the goblin you actually saw him use that potion to extract information from an enemy agent. All that work you did have a real narrative payoff in the form of a in-world skit.

Now, every quest does NOT need to be a "world changing event", and in fact that strategy can completely backfire on you. Many games go for a false sense of urgency in an attempt to make things engaging (You have to do this RIGHT NOW! unless you want to go sidequest for 20 hours... we'll wait...), and if a player notices the discrepancies it can shatter the suspension of disbelief. Nothing kills engagement more than directly lying to a player, because that leads to them to doubting the honesty of the game and it's designers.

share|improve this answer

In order to design meaningful quests, the player must be able to do meaningful things. You must make the most of the design blocks that are available to you and give them meaning inside the context of your quests. Say, if the player only has access to (moving around), (inflicting damage) and (giving objects), try ascribing additional meaning to these actions. Of course, it all depends on the level of control you have over the creatures' behaviors in your game, but here are a few variation on a herding quest:

  • Damage as behavioral trigger: In this quest, damage = pain. Herd some mobs toward a goal using pain as a motivator, but you must be careful to deal the right amount. Too little and the mobs will not fear/flee you, too much and you might kill them, diminish their value or turn them against you.
  • Moving as a behavioral trigger: Mobs follow you when you're in front of them and above them. Find vantage points along the path from which to guide the mobs. Unfortunately, they're occupied by viciously territorial predators.
  • Objects as a behavioral trigger: Mobs only follow you for a little while after you've fed them redsilk plums. Collect plums along the way from poisonous and animated redsilk trees.

However, there's not much more you can do with such primitives. If you have this opportunity, ask your team for more meaningful behavioral primitives that can be exploited in many ways. For instance:

  • Creatures that react to what you're wearing or wielding.
  • Creatures that react to existing spells - maybe an ailing salamander wants to be engulfed in flames to heal itself.
  • Creatures that react to the type of terrain they're on.
  • Creatures with medium-term memories that can combine several of the above stimuli.
  • Etc.

Once you have more primitives, you'll find it much easier to create meaningful quests - by following the great pieces of advice on this page - since you'll have access to many more potentially meaningful actions.

Finally, if you're designing a game, think about these action primitives from the start. That's how you can create a synergy between the game story, the game content and the player's experience. It's much easier to design a meaningful world when you know in advance the kind of (meaningful) things the players will be able to do in it.

share|improve this answer

Give every NPC an agenda. Whatever that NPC wants out of life: to bring in the crops so her family will eat during the winter or to beat down the agents of a particular megacorp, give the NPC the ability to create quests that further that agenda. And then make it actually further that agenda.

If she doesn't get enough crops brought in, the family can starve and disappear. After a time, a new family might move in, but make it matter that they're gone. Maybe when the farm is unoccupied, the players can't rest there to heal up or use the well or buy whatever they need from a farm, etc. The world will come alive as these things overlap.

If you're using a faction standing system, make it matter. Make NPCs react based on faction standings. Make it hard (but not impossible, usually) to gain standing in certain combinations of factions. Make faction standing valuable. NPCs will react with hostility to some and with affection to others. Even if they like you, they'll only give certain important quests to people they trust.

If you have crafting quests like make x units of y and take them to z, set up some kind of demand schedule and if z has received more units of y than they know what to do with, stop issuing that quest for a while. Even during a planetary siege, you only need so many warp-core-transducing-hydrospanners at the shipyard.

Do everything you can to make sure that if I start the same kind of character in the same location, and befriend the same group of NPCs, that I will still not get an identical set of quests.

Also, at every turn, try to imagine interesting content that does not involve fighting. Fighting is cool, but it's a crutch. It's too easy.

The world needs to seem alive and no amount of fancy writing is going to do it. Since you can't possibly author enough quests to make what I'm advising work, you need to develop a system that generates the quests for you and then sprinkle the developer-built quests in among them.

share|improve this answer

One of the fan favorites are Quests which involve a temporary companion. You either care or tend for them not to get hurt, or you fight your way through with them.

Somewhere in between the situation changes and calls for a different strategy or a different course of action. The helpless companion may turn out to lock himself away because he was greedy and careless. Or he may turn out to be an evil person, once posessing the sword of dark powers he turns on you. And the hardened fighter may find himself to be locked away in a cast of magic, slowly dying as you try to fight your way through to him.

These are the kind of setups that RPG fans enjoy the most in RPGs. Of course, it's 90% in the writing and if you have voice acting, you need top-notch writing AND top-notch voice-acting.

However, those kinds of quests tend to be a PITA to implement and debug and tend to have the most exploits. This is why most, and especially MMO RPGs, tend to go with the "fetch x items" quests.

share|improve this answer

Treat quests as challenges to overcome rather than a job to complete. Have them require skill, thought, or some feat. For instance:

  • A certain dungeon in the far east mountains is filled with a poisonous fume. Retrieve the rare flower from within for the sake of a medicinal potion within 30 minutes or risk certain doom.
  • An evil king guards a powerful ring that he stole from a village elder. Find some way to steal it back whether by brute force, stealth, bribery, or...
  • A pesky troll is blocking one of the exits out of town, demanding riddles be answered. Be a dear and go play his game until he's satisfied enough to leave.

Truly a quest can be a mini-game and a completely different genre at that. It can require stealth, puzzle solving, skillful playing, etc. I think the best quests are like that and not just busy work for the player to do to fill in content gaps. Some of Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion's quests get creative like that, though there are the typical "kill X number of Y" or "Go clear X dungeon" quests.

share|improve this answer

The things I've seen that have made quests more engaging are not necessarily about the quests themselves, but more that you're doing multiple steps to achieve some big-picture goal. Or more specifically, that they are part of a longer quest chain that ends with some kind of payoff.

So the typical "engaging quest line" template looks something like this

  • (optional) person in a highly visible area tells you a brief synopsis of something that you can do, and to talk to the quest giver who's probably off in some hard to get to area
  • quest giver starts talking about something "big" that needs happening
  • (repeat X times) small quests that are somehow related to the big something that needs happening, i.e. collecting parts for some machine/incantation/spell/potion, or collecting "signatures" from various other NPCs that also have some say in the story line, etc.
  • major payoff for the player

The last quest can take many forms. If you can, give the player something permanent that's not just loot, like a new spell/ability, or access to a new area. Otherwise, try to make the quest result in something that happens specifically in the world for that quest. Some common examples from WoW are things like giving you the ability to see spirits in the world, or doing some kind of arena-style battle, or maybe even a world boss (who usually announces themselves across the entire zone).

That way the individual quests are mostly the simple ones that you outlined, but it's wrapped in some kind of fiction that makes sense, and is hopefully topped off with some kind of reward to make the effort feel worth it.

share|improve this answer
    
+1 very widely used in Gothic: The quests themselves are rather simple but they're all part of a greater goal. Unfortunately this is not applicable to every game like MMOs (because your actions can't just change your surrounding since there are other players too - phasing tries to counter this issue) –  Dave O. Jul 21 '10 at 10:46

In most action/adventure games there are a few basic goals.

  • Collect items (like PACman)
  • Reach Location (like Mario)
  • kill enemies (like space invaders)

even a game like Gears of War is basically made up of just these goals - get to the extraction point while picking up weapons and ammo and killing locusts. But that's not what makes GoW exciting or fun - it's the obstacles that get in your way - environmental puzzles to solve, enemy behaviour to study and overcome, and the twitch skill you need to survive.

The problem with RPG quests, is that they often remove all the obstacles, puzzle solving and skill that GoW requires, so that all that's left is repetative grind. If the quest designer has the tools to make an interesting journey for the player, they can make something rewarding - if they are only able to define basic kill 10 rats scenarios, then the experience will be a chore.

share|improve this answer
    
I won't argue about obstacles or skills, as different genres define these differently. However, puzzle solving is a good point. I think certains games could benefit from quests that are in some form a puzzle. Single player RPGs use puzzles all the time, but it probably doesn't fit in with MMORPGs in general. And repetitive grind is exactly what brought up this question; what sorts of quests have people seen that weren't just a grind? –  user384918 Jul 21 '10 at 16:05

The goal of the quests themselves isn't as important as:

  • The quality of your core gameplay - if killing demons is viscerally fun, you won't mind a kinda stupid quests. If killing monsters is tedious, who cares how clever the quest is.
  • Whether they require you do non-fun things like walk across the map and back, or whack a lot of trees until one drops a Job-Job fruit
  • How clear and understandable they are - players don't like having to read through paragraphs of badly-written prose to understand what they have to do
share|improve this answer

While it doesn't survive multiplayer that well, riddle-answering quests are often fun.

Similarly, quests that require game-knowledge ("What word is carved on the top of the highest sandshoal mountain?") to answer can encourage exploration.

share|improve this answer

My favorite quest was the shawl quest in everquest. It was a series of quests and each step completed result in a better item. It was a lot of gather so many of this from killing monster x. Get your skill in jewelcrafting so high. It was a very long and tedious quest series but the reward was different than what could be gotten other ways. The quest could be done solo and that was a great part. I hate quests that I have to go begging for others to waste a lot of their time on the quest.

share|improve this answer

The Mud Dragonrealms occasionally has events that occur in the world. These are much more elaborate then generic quests and generally one shot(although they can span days), but are generally a big hit with the players. It gives players an opportunity to take part in something that won't happen again, and possibly gain some sort of items in the process that are rare or possibly even Unique. They occasionally have Events like this that are paid as well.

I see no reason why you couldn't do something similar in an MMO. You'd require more work in the art-asset department but it could still be done. Political plots, assassination and intrigue, invasions. There are lots of possibilities if you are willing to have a little bit of human supervision instead of having things run off automatically on their own.

Of course if you are feeling ambitious you could try to implement AI that would occasionally start Events on their own. There has been academic research in story manager AI(my game AI professor in school was crazy about the subject), and if you are interested in that approach let me know and I will try and dig up some of the articles he gave us on the subject.

share|improve this answer
    
I would be interested into those articles = )... –  Bjoern Nov 10 '10 at 13:45
    
have an e-mail you can be reached at? –  lathomas64 Nov 10 '10 at 16:03

Your Answer

 
discard

By posting your answer, you agree to the privacy policy and terms of service.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.