How to save the Story: Kill ten thousand foozles

| Wednesday, May 18, 2011
Why do we have quests?

Quests tell stories. They can do this well, or poorly. Most do it poorly. So we skip some text and load addons to tell us where to go. Having those, we can skip even more text. Next thing we're missing the truly good stories.

It isn't entirely the fault of the quests. They are little bits of literature, but are not in a literary context. It reminds me of how I have trouble finding the poetry in music because it's not in a poetic context. On the other hand, I'm not much of a fan of poetry anyway, so maybe that's my fault.

Where do I go?
In a game, such as WoW, where level and power are tightly linked, we can't just go wandering off to find something to kill. Well, we can, but trial and error involving lots of death is usually reserved for raiding, rather than getting past level one. Quests are all breadcrumbs and pointers. They say "that over there is something you can be reasonably expected to kill." And so off we go to kill zhevras, wondering where the hooves went.

Before Cataclysm, quests were pretty good at this. Talk to the first exclamation point in the Valley of Honor and keep following those until you're 60, 70, or 80, and you're going to mostly do yellow, maybe some green. It was tuned. Quite an impressive feat, I think.

Cataclysm ruined everything
Cataclysm is my new scapegoat for everything, replacing Lich King, which of course replaced Burning Crusade. Before that I blamed raiders, the Alliance, and EQ.

In cataclysm leveling changed, a lot. It sped up a lot. Too much. This created the problem that quests didn't breadcrumb properly. You might get halfway in and they go all green rather than yellow, like backward bananas, and then where do you go? It also seemed as if the devs really got into the story aspect. Fourth pillar! Screw that, fifth pillar! That's two added pillars to hold up all the story. Or gaming. I'm not really remembering the analogy, but the point is that story became important.

So what?
Wow head suggests something short of ten thousand quests in WoW, 9884 to be exact (what's something short of 120 between friends?), and the first page is dominated by non-quest quests: candy buckets and desecrating fires. Hm. Trying to tell us something?

It's hard to write ten thousand interesting stories. Or five thousand. Or even a few hundred. So we end up with very short bits. Fragments. In theory they can be put together to create an overall narrative or at least a sense of place and history. Or, we skim it for what to kill and move on. Part of this is because we're just trying to level up and part of it is because after five hundred quests that add up to "kill twenty foozles", with barely a story to go with it, who cares anymore?

Embrace your hate
It's time for devs to turn to the dark side. Embrace the foozles. Admit it, quests tell us to kill foozles and that's about it, so don't even bother. In fact, don't waste our time with multiple quests or NPCs. Just give us a wide field of foozles and tell us to kill ten thousand of them. All the grinding with none of the wasted writing talent. There could be a hundreth as many quests

But wait, there's more!
With so many fewer quests, each one becomes individually more important. It's like how diamonds are really just really hard to burn coal, but with enough marketing and artificial rarity, we start to think they're pretty. Pretty ugly, imo. If a game only had a hundred quests, and we knew that three-quarters of those would be "go here" and "kill ten thousand foozles", that only leaves twenty-five ques for real writing. Can a game have twenty five good stories? Or five good stories in five parts each? I think so.

So there it is, separate the grind and the story, purify each, and I think we might even enjoy each one a bit more. After all, I like mindless grinds, and in theory we like good stories, if we had them.


Kring said...

But people die mining for diamonds. That should make them special, shouldn't it?

What you're saying is that quests would be more special if they had a lot of trash to fight until you reach the quest objective? Like a dungeon boss is only special because you have to kill a lot of trash to reach it?

Klepsacovic said...

Diamonds aren't special because people die trying to get them. People die trying to get all kinds of stuff. With that there are two factors at work: first, they are valuable before they are extracted and that value is what drives the extraction, second, that labor conditions are generally unsafe due to no one with with the ability to caring enough to change it

Michael said...

I'm always interested by the discussion that quests receive now, I'm not sure what it is that's changed that makes us not enjoy them as much. Is it the boredom? The fact we've seen the same thing over & over? I don't know if that's it.

Cata came through with a lot more interesting and varied quests that there were before so I can't say that the quest 'type' is any worse.

Is it really the feeling of being lead along by a string? You can't just go through and pick and choose your zones like you did before...but I don't think it's that either.

I think it's the natural progression of how we 'view' achievement and advancement in an MMO. If you look historically, EQ had an awfully bad questing system...and it wasn't used much. Gamers and critics alike heralded the changes that WoW made, making questing an integral part of gameplay, and I think that is what drew the masses in.

We've evolved as a gaming population and I don't think that even something like Cata (somewhat) and potentially The Old Republic can offer by just putting a pretty wrapper around a Kill 50 floozles quest. I don't care more because Jabba told me to do it, and I don't think others do either.

Some revolutionary feature needs to come back to MMOs to bring back the fun...remember we saw this in the past when Doom clones became so so stale and needed story based and scripted moments in FPSs to bring us back in. I just wish I could pinpoint what it's going to be.

Caramael said...

Diablo 2 has five good stories in six parts each. That's thirty quests in one game including its expansion, and some of them were even side-quests. It also offered a HUGE mindless grind. It was amazing. Until people started boosting/rushing/maphacking and eventually more bots were playing than actual people.

Hyperian said...

Leveling has definatly sped up, due mainly to heirlooms and guild perks but as far as story goes im liking it much more than pre cata. Zones are tied together lore wise which i like, and its WW4 out there, finally we stopped pussy footing around the topic and opened up full auto. Ive actually taken alts out of the guild and forgone heirlooms to enjoy lvling. Ive even stayed in a zone regardless of whether the quests are greyed out. In Wrath, id have to be tortured to even do dailys, let alone more quests than was needed to level.

Aracos said...

Is the purpose of questing to advance a story? Or is it simply a mechanism to move from level to level? The fact is that a significant portion of people who play MMO's are only concerned with gaining levels, gaining gear, and increasing the power of their characters. To this end, killing ten thousand foozles would accomplish that goal. No need for storytelling at all. In fact I would go so far as to say the storytelling annoys people like this, as Klep implied. They will download a mod to further simplify the process just to get it over with.

From what I am hearing, SW:TOR may significantly challenge this paradigm by making the storyline key to character progression. We'll see if the players agree that it is worth the effort.

Klepsacovic said...

@Michael: I think what's at play is that we've gotten used to optimization, speeding up, efficiency of leveling, and for that, quests don't work very well. There's a lot of back and forth travel, talking to NPCs, sometimes objectives aren't very clear. It's grinding without being mindless.

I should have mentioned that I still like questing. Usually. But the widespread use of quest addons that help us to ignore the quest indicates that people in general are not so enthralled.

@Caramael: I just started playing Diablo 2, so I can't make much comparison yet. But it sounds like it has potential.

bjr said...

I like the idea behind the new story quests but I agree they go green far too quickly.

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