Player: Hail, Bronto Thudfoot.
Bronto: Back off bud. I’ve got more [important things] to deal with.
Player: What important things?
Bronto: I don’t have time to chat. I have to plot a course to the Sword Mound in Halfling country. Now beat it before I smash you.
That is a small example of how I hoped to design questing in the original EverQuest: speak to people in cities to get HINTS of where to find your adventures. This was after entering a city and hailing many NPC’s to see if they had anything important to say. Not every quest was offered that way, but allusion and investigation were key components of my quest vision. For the most part, the original EQ was setup to promote the exploration of the world and discover content rather than guide caravans of players from quest hub to quest hub. There was refuge out in the wilds, but you had to find it. Emergent gameplay often created player hubs for safety, trade, and even languages. It was not perfect, but we EQ devs were treading new ground and learning as we go in some cases. With Norrath, the world of EQ, we had a geography that was crafted for exploration. It was also a social game where we wanted the players to interact with one another. For me, I hoped to reinforce those two aspects of the MMO genre by providing quests that promoted them. By doing so, players would then begin to share information and try to reveal the answers together. At times it was frustrating for a player, but that was usually when they were trying to go it alone. Finding quest starters required players to search the world and speak to other players. We had no NPC’s crowned with “!” or “?” and the absence of a map marking your next step helped to promote exploration of not only adventure zones, but cities as well. In the end EQ helped establish many of the standards for the modern MMORPG genre. But as mass appeal grew, quest mechanics designed to ease frustrations and attract greater numbers would actually take away from exploration and social interaction.
The Age of quest hubs and exclamation points was upon us. No longer did a player have to seek out an NPC and “hail” him for clues. No longer did they have to exchange information with fellow players to divulge the location of the super secret treasure. It was all there in the UI. I still believe in Social Hubs, but I began to find that when it came to quests, it turned MMO adventures into MMO tasks. NPC’s became job boards you quickly interact with then rush off to the next quest stage. I understand the need for this and I even fell prey to it as both gamer and developer, but I also began to notice I was less of an explorer and more of a member of a tour group. The exploration was lost for me. I don’t mean to say that I abandoned such pursuits. I admit I spent many hours in MMO’s on many tasks and had much fun. The bad side of this was that there began to be no alternative in the MMO genre. Questing in every MMO I tried became a matter of “X” marks the spot, or rather, “!” and “?” did. This became a new questing standard. It was not until I looked around the MMO playing field for true exploration that I noticed modern quest systems where part of the problem. Don’t get me wrong, they work perfectly well and are welcome in almost every game, but there should be some evolution in the MMO quest system and from my perspective, it was not happening. Thankfully there are some MMO’s out there that are treading new grounds. Independent games that are not afraid to claim themselves “niche” are exploring new designs. I even continue to participate in the questing pursuit, aiding others as well as working on my own projects that hope to change the way we play MMO’s. Those of us that want more out of MMO quest systems as gamers and as developers are on the brink of a new age. Hopefully we will see a return to exploration and guided tours will be replaced with expeditions into the unknown. Until then, I urge all you explorers out there to look around and support those small projects that are trying to lead us there. Become part of the community because in a sense, you already are. Till Yonder!
Tony “Vhalen” Garcia