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First of all, I know how difficult it is to design and build MMORPG game. I do not plan to do it anytime soon, this is more of an exercise to stretch my design muscles. Just a thought experiment exploring how this game mechanic could be implemented. It's not about why it's good/bad idea or why it can't work, but about how to go about implementing it.

Imagine your run of the mill MMO a'la WoW. They have a ton of quests and even more guides on how to find them, how to finish them, what's the loot and all the stuff. I would like to introduce secret quests that function pretty much in same way as normal quests do, with the exception that you can't see them highlighted in any way and you need to do specific action/talk to specific NPC at specific place/time or something along those lines to to trigger them. Let's forgo for a moment if this is good idea from gameplay point of view, I am more interested in knowing if it is possible to keep them secret so that first few people who find them won't run to internet and tell everybody and their grandpa and ruin the experience for everybody else.

I came up with only two solutions so far and neither is good or feasible.

First, the bad one, is to randomly disable/enable them so even if somebody hears about them, they won't be likely to find it doing same steps. This has a huge downside of frustrating players and doesn't really fulfil secret-ness requirement.

Second, complicated one. Generate tons of one-time quests (or limit how many people can get it to some very small number (dozens, perhaps)), with reasonably random triggers. This has boatload of difficulties (making sure they are interesting, completable, and rewards are intriguing) and probably impossible to do in a way that wouldn't look broken very quickly. On the other hand, it would do exactly what I want it to do.

I have my experience with designing games, so I have an idea about how things work, what players want and what makes them come back and have fun. The idea might be bad from this point of view, but I find it very intriguing and worth investigating bit further. What I am looking for is some out of the box ideas how to deliver sense of great reward when finding such secret quest but not make it frustrating to people that don't find them

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  • \$\begingroup\$ If it's random, it's not a secret. It's a gimmick. A dumb one. Why would only a few players be able to have a gameplay feature? If it's for the sole purpose of A/B testing, fine, but if not it's the most non sense thing I ever saw here. \$\endgroup\$ – DH. Oct 28 '16 at 11:26
  • \$\begingroup\$ Keeping secrets in an MMO game is hopeless. When your game is reasonably successful, your community will reverse-engineer all your game's secret mechanics, build a wiki and spoil them all. Don't fight it - embrace it. But besides that, it is not clear what exactly you are asking here. Please try to phrase what you want as a question. \$\endgroup\$ – Philipp Oct 28 '16 at 11:39
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Philipp I am aware of what you are saying and I agree with you that if designing a real game, embracing it would be good idea. As mentioned at the beginning, this is just thought experiment tackling a new game mechanic and how it could be implemented. I think there might be a market for something like this, albeit small one. I will try to edit the question to make it more clear \$\endgroup\$ – Lope Oct 28 '16 at 11:45
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    \$\begingroup\$ Also, please don't just ask for "some ideas", because Q&A sites like Stackexchange are not a suitable medium for idea brainstorming. Try to find a question which can be answered in a way one could judge as "right" or "wrong". \$\endgroup\$ – Philipp Oct 28 '16 at 12:03
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    \$\begingroup\$ Reminds me of the old chicken quest in World of Warcraft where you had to type /chicken while targeting a chicken in a particular area a random amount of times before it'd give you a quest and reward you a chicken pet. I have no clue for how long it stayed secret. \$\endgroup\$ – William Mariager Oct 29 '16 at 9:22
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I'd propose a very easy solution.

Hierarchical Quest Requirements

Basically, your quest prerequisites are:

  • A state/states the player has to be in ( 10000 reputation with PotatoCows + 10 quests finished for Banshees )
  • A set of actions the player has to finish ( Kill Goblin Queen, Save Evil Brother and baptize him )

Let's classify actions using tags. The approach is dead simple:

  • Kill Goblin Queen -> KilledGoblinQueen
  • SavePrincess -> SavedPrincess

The tags approach will be very useful to visualize the idea but is by no means necessary to implement it.

So tags are basically the state of the player and very importantly - they're hidden information.

Now comes the fun part:

Quests can have tag prerequisites.

So to get a high-profile quest - you would have several tag prerequisites in addition to your previous set of requirements.

This is actually the lowest level. To further add depth to the system - you can have those high-profile quests give you tags.

Once you have several layers of tags ( again - hidden information ) - it will be very hard for players to backtrack what precise set of actions lead to the epic quest.

To further make the quests harder to actually get - you can use an unorthodox combination of tags ( it can very much still make sense ).

An example of that would be:

  • You help a girl collect flowers, then save a from a wolf
  • You help the king find a scholar to help tutor his son
  • Hidden information: the scholar helps the king identify the girl as his daughter

Those actually unlock a quest to save the princess from the dragon.

Now once you have the model for such a quest you have two things to do:

  • Create a multitude of those quests
  • Create many scattered relationships in-between
  • Layer the quests into several layers of requirements

The more layers you add - the more hidden information for the players that find the quest to reverse-engineer.

The good thing is that if players start finding the way to your best quests - you can easily add an extra layer or two to the whole hierarchy for your new secret quests and exponentially increase the difficulty by doing so.

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    \$\begingroup\$ This sort of thing is what allowed/allows a lot of the mysteries in the game, "Destiny" to remain so (to some extent). It also creates an exhilarating sub-culture of people trying to discover what those secret triggers are. \$\endgroup\$ – Ethan The Brave Nov 3 '16 at 14:50
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You could make a AI that starts events based on their surroundings. Maybe two npc's that meet at a point and start figthing and the player can choose to help one. The npc species could then increase/decrease their trust in the player and unlock hidden quests.

This way players also get an unique expiriance.

I wouldn't trigger quests just random, but let the decisions of AI's add a more dynamic game play.

You could do that also with oter states like weather to trigger events.

Example: A little girl goes out to play with a boy around 12.00 - 16.00 if it's parrents allow it and the boy is outside. If its raining a beast spawns in the region and sees the girl and kidnap her. The player could help the parrents to find the girl.

In this example we have 4 states that have to be true for this event to happen.

And the player has multiple ways to approach this event but the outcome will mostly be the same and the player has to figure the solution at his own/with friends out.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ This was my first idea as well, but creating system like this seemed to be too complex. On the second thought, it might be simplified a bit, but it still looks like a lot of work \$\endgroup\$ – Lope Oct 28 '16 at 13:49
  • \$\begingroup\$ Almost everyone could make a game but making it unique and interesing for the market is hard work. There are many MMORPG's with the same concept but different stories. But if ur different and show this off your game will be much more successful. \$\endgroup\$ – Dario Kowalski Oct 28 '16 at 13:57
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If it's not random, and there are no prerequisites, then it's going to be found and posted on a wiki.

The only other option I can think of it is to make it a one-time occurrence per account, and make the prerequisites complex enough that you don't necessarily know how you caused it to happen, but easy enough that once the full requirements are discovered everyone can participate. I have seen this approach work well with other games to keep something a secret for awhile (enough to build up hype about the quest) without frustrating people with RNG or some other type of artificial difficulty that prevents them from participating.

For example: A certain NPC, at a certain time of day, with a certain combination of items in your inventory (maybe weird or useless items that people would normally sell, but are easy to acquire), or while wearing a certain piece of low-level equipment that most people wouldn't wear all the time.

This will make it fairly difficult for one person to determine exactly what caused it, but the community can work together to figure it out. Once the do, everyone who reads that wiki/forum will have easy access, and can excitedly share the "secret" with their friends.

Example There is a game I used to play that had a crafting system where the recipes were unknown. Because of the server-client nature of the game, it wasn't possible to decompile anything to retrieve them, a la Minecraft. Instead, the developers would elude to a new recipe, and often tell the players what could be crafted, but not which ingredients were required, or how many of each ingredient (e.g. 3 A, 15 B, 1000 C, 1 D). Sometimes they would give hints, or ingredients and counts could be deduced based on previously discovered recipes. Crafting weapons might always require 1 D, but different weapons required 500-2000 C.

Usually the community would brute force and find the recipe fairly quickly, within a few days. They would work together to create spreadsheets of what was tried, so that the brute forcing could be distributing among players who wished to contribute. If the community struggled for too long, the developers would offer hints (e.g. "you need a few A, 15 B, and whole lot of C"). Once a recipe was discovered, it would be shared on the wiki and everyone in the game would have access to craft the new item (assuming they had the ingredients). This was a great way to get people who were interested to work together for a few hours or few days every time a new recipe was released, without frustrating anyone who wasn't interested in this aspect of the game in the long term.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ That's good idea, it doesn't go as far as I would like, but it is definitely step in right direction. If we start taking feasibility into an account, this might be very good solution that will keep both parties happy. You mentioned some games that do that, can you update the answer with an example or two? \$\endgroup\$ – Lope Oct 28 '16 at 13:33
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Lope Updated answer to include one such system that I quite enjoyed. \$\endgroup\$ – Dan Oct 28 '16 at 13:43
  • \$\begingroup\$ A side-effect of this method is that it becomes very difficult to be successful in the game without consulting out-of-game resources. This actually is the exact opposite of what seemed to be the intention of this question. \$\endgroup\$ – Philipp Oct 28 '16 at 14:15
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Philipp That's the point of a "secret". Making it something hard to find, unless you know exactly where to look. But not so hard that a few people won't stumble into it accidentally, after which we assume they'll tell their friends, who will tell theirs friends, etc. \$\endgroup\$ – Dan Oct 28 '16 at 14:27
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I would approach this question with the following thought processes.

  • Objective
  • Restrictions
  • Ingredients

tl;dr, Scroll all the way to the bottom for my idea


Objective

What is your primary objective in implemeting this feature? I can think of a couple.

  1. To provide a difficult puzzle that induce a collaborative effort by the community to solve.
  2. To create an experience that forces the player to figure it out by themselves
  3. To create a sense of achievement for the player that completed this mission

There are probably many other reasons for creating this feature (You can give me them and I will elaborate on them). Addressing these 3, I shall give some reference titles.

Difficult puzzle to be solved by the community

There are many games you can reference for this.

  • Fez - Red Cube puzzles
  • Mu Complex - Website Puzzle
  • Call of Duty - Zombie survival easter eggs
  • In general, any game's easter eggs

This motivation would be to create a puzzle that is very difficult for the individual to solve. It would give the creator a feeling of amazement as you watch the community as a whole, work together at a common goal.

Forcing the player to figure out on his own

This might be a bad idea. Not everyone like solving difficult puzzles and some may get stuck. Knowledge of this might deter players from starting the game, knowing they may not get the full experience as one will have to figure it out on his own. To that end, I cannot give any titles that has fully implemented this feature.

The only way to force the player to figure out on his own without ANY possibility of tutorials would only be to randomize the quest. This would be equivalent to gambling where one may have the chance to get an easy success where others may have a hard time figuring it out. Writing narrative for such quests would also be dreadful.

Giving the player a sense of achievement

This is very well established motivation for creating such a feature. In order to encourage players to obscure the contents of this quest, the full glory of finishing this quest must be felt by the player. (Note this is only Encouraging the player to not reveal it. Some players will reveal it anyways)

One VERY good example I can give is NotPron. This game clearly states on its front page the following information

enter image description here

The clear motivation here is that if you are able to finish the full game, you are part of the 0.0001% that persevered till the very end. This motivation is a strong one in a psychological standpoint. To be exclusive, the only few to hold this glory. Sharing on the solutions will negate this glory.

You can most definitely find tutorials on the game online. But never full tutorials. The level changes minutely periodically but the core concept of each level never change. This means that if you understand the puzzle, a changed solution will never stop you.


Restrictions

This is your limitations. This means that any solutions you think of must still fit the game genre's intended objective. In the case of MMORPGs, that would be teamwork and fairness as well as not alienating the game community that comprises the "Life" of your game.

  • You cannot randomize the quest fully as some may get an easier quest than others.
  • You cannot make it that solution is unique to everyone story dependent as that would make narrative writing for the game setting extremely difficult.
  • You have to balance the reward of the quest such that any that finishes it is satisfied without making those that are not able to finish it feel cheated or inferior.
  • You still have to encourage teamwork as this is an "MMORPG"

Ingredients

This would be what you can do. Fun fact: I actually had some of these ideas while writing this post. Compile a list of what you can work with and then work from there

  • Randomization
  • Team effort
  • Faction based objective
  • Manual Alterations
  • Quest Ingredients - (Go to, speak to, kill, binary decisions, etc)

My take at this issue

How I would implement this would be as follows.

  • Divide my players into factions
  • Create a monthly/quaterly bonus that serves as the motivation
  • Segregate the community into their individual factions - Make them unable to talk to each other ingame
  • Make them understand that allowing the other faction to achieve this objective would serve them no good.
  • Write a unique narrative monthly/quaterly for this unique Grand Quest

Other ideas (May not be feasable)

  • Each faction can region quests that would give a small piece of the puzzle (Quest item perhaps?).
  • Every player can contribute to the faction results.
  • Create the tools for accomplishing this feature (This can be an out of game website where players can work together to solve the puzzle and unlock something ingame)

This quest would then be collaboratively solved by the community of each faction. By doing a faction quest, you encourage collaboration while still maintain a sense of competition. By changing the quest only when its completed, you cut down on the strain on your writers.


Additional Info

Addressing the further info in the comments, you might want to refer to the implmentation of quests in Dark Souls.

A summary:

  • Quest can be completely Narrative Driven. This means no quest objective markers, no quest tracker, no guidance whatsoever. The quest can start without the player knowing, and end without the player knowing.
  • Quest can have a failure state. This would be the default state for reaching the quest "End" without completing the preqrequisites. This might not be as good for an MMORPG.
  • Rewards can be integrated into the narrative like as it is supposed to be given the player. Make the player not realise its part of a quest.

If the player doesnt know its a quest, there there will be no tutorial to speak of. Though guides may still cover it and someone will realise that not everyone gets it.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ That is excellent answer to a different question :) I like your ideas and you gave me some more stuff to think about, but you unfortunately missed the idea (it might be my fault, I know my ramblings can be confusing even if I try really hard to explain myself clearly). Idea wasn't to make quests hard to finish, but hard to find. Primary motivation is add bit of uniqueness to player's experience and reward certain combination of luck/preparedness and thinking \$\endgroup\$ – Lope Oct 28 '16 at 14:57
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Lope Would you expect everyone to finish this quest or only the select few that put in the effort? \$\endgroup\$ – DarkDestry Oct 28 '16 at 15:03
  • \$\begingroup\$ Finishing the quest shouldn't be too difficult, perhaps more so than usual ones, but not to the point where it becomes real challenge. Main reward should be stumbling upon it and seeing you can do something others can't \$\endgroup\$ – Lope Oct 28 '16 at 16:44
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Lope Added an additional info section that should address your question. \$\endgroup\$ – DarkDestry Oct 28 '16 at 16:53
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If your goal is to make them very well hidden, not just something at the end of a long chain, make them not appear in a quest log and require solving some obscure puzzle. For added difficulty, spread out the objectives around the world so that they are unlikely to be completed by accident.

For example, enemies in a certain zone could drop a piece of paper with a riddle on it. It's classified as junk so most players will just vendor it, but if one takes the time to puzzle it out, they find that it leads to a chest behind some ruins in the corner of another zone. This then kicks of the rest of the quest, etc.

This also reminds me of a recent hidden quest in WoW that still only took players about two weeks. So I suppose your success at keeping it hidden depends on how many players you have and how dedicated they are, in addition to how obscure you make it.

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