Tobold's Blog
Thursday, October 18, 2007
 
Quests and decisions

Overlord, Fable, Knights of the Old Republic, and a few other games are offering you a choice between good and evil. In various ways you can either be helpful and nice, or cruel and self-serving. And the game keeps track of your decisions, so that you being good or evil finally has some consequence: you might get access to different spells and abilities, or your look changes. Compare that to the choice you get in a MMORPG like World of Warcraft. When Edward Castronova stated that only evil people play Horde in WoW, the idea was ridiculed. The actual activities of a Horde character are exactly the same as those of an Alliance character. You get a "kill ten foozles" quest, you go out to kill ten foozles, you come back and get your reward. The only difference is that Alliance is more likely to have to kill a mob who carries the name "bandit", while Horde might have to kill mobs called "farmer". But it isn't as if either player actually has the choice between killing bandits or farmers, once you have choosen a race you have choosen a fixed set of quests. And as the farmer reacts as aggressively to the presence of a Horde character as the bandit reacts to the presence of an Alliance character, players don't consider them to be different. There are no moral choices to be made in World of Warcraft. Many people played both Horde and Alliance, just to get access to more different zones and quests.

Much later in World of Warcraft players get the choice of Aldor vs. Scryer. But neither side is clearly good or evil, and there are very few quests for either side. Aldor vs. Scryer ends up as farming reputation for one side or the other, with the decision taken based on the rewards. If you are in a hurry, you can even buy the items for the repeatable quests in the auction house. Again no moral choice is made.

I would hope that future MMORPGs offer more choice. Instead of choosing a "good" or "evil" race at the start and then forgetting about the concept of good and evil, you could well have all races being initially neutral. And then you could have every quest carry a clear identification of giving reputation either towards good or towards evil. There would have to be more quests around, so people could level up either doing only good quests or only evil quests. Or they could remain neutral, and do both types. Choosing an alignment would have the advantage of getting access to quests only available to the good guys, or only available to the bad guys, or even only available to neutrals. And the decision could also have an influence on what spells, abilities, recipes, or even zones you'd get access to.

We talked this week about how it would be nice for a guild to have something in common besides going on raids. If you have good and evil quests, you could have part of the reputation gathered go to the reputation of the guild, so there would be good, neutral, and evil guilds. Guild members could get additional rewards for contributing to the reputation of the guild. And the older guild members would have an interest in looking after what the newer members were doing, to make sure they didn't do the wrong kind of quests.

Whether somebody has to be real world evil to play an evil character in such a system is a discussion I'll leave to the guys at Terra Nova. :)
Comments:
The warlock class has many elements to it that should make it an 'evil' class in the traditional sense(summoning demons, curses & good in PvP!) but although it's a fun class to play it could have been done better.

There are no real permanent penalties for the class which I think should have been placed in at the start. Sure each race gets a buff of sorts or +/- on their stats but surely each CLASS choice should again effect the character in some permanent way. Warlocks for example could have - effect on a stat not yet introduced in WoW, Charisma. This could then effect how NPCs relate to the class. This brings me to the point below...

Blizzard made a point of suggesting that Warlocks are usually shunned by society but there is no evidence of that from any npc in the game.
 
The idea that the Horde is evil and that Alliance is good is, to be frank, laughable. Both sides have their villains, their heroes, the times when they did horrible things, and the times when they rose above everything to do what was right and good. Each race has a past, usually a rather scarred and flawed one, but when you look at what and how they are as a whole -- you can't tell me that a certain race is wholly good or wholly evil. Yes, a race such as the Forsaken lean more towards the dark side, but do you really think that after going through everything they did that they would be all fluffy and light? To balance the Forsaken, we have the Tauren -- who are for me more 'good' than any race in the Alliance could ever be.

Things aren't black and white in World of Warcraft, which is why I like that aspect so much more than the stereotypical 'Choose if you're good or evil!' in EQ2. The whole 'Oh yes, we are TEH EVIL and we will take over the world' is so simplistic and childish that it gets to be tiresome after a while.
 
Oh, and the 'you' in the above comment is a general you and not directed solely at Tobold. ;)
 
Wow has mild notions of good and evil. Scryers is more evil than Aldor but still not horribly so.

But in many ways there is no real point in the distinction. Players actions can decide good and evil.

On my server there is a horde guild that distinctly goes by a "gank for RP reasons" rule. If you are pvp flagged, you will be ganked if they spot you. They may or may not corpse camp you, depending on their mood. Evil enough as far as I am concerned.

Other grieving also comes to play, like intentionally training mobs on someone else.

In the end though WoW is disney, i.e. cute and friendly, and I'd argue that's a big part of the broad appeal and success.

The good/evil choices of solo player games usually mean replayability. BioShock and KotoR give you a second way to experience the game. WoW's horde vs alliance isn't all that different because truth be told, while lots of quests are kill 10 foozles, some are not. If you want to see the Thrall story in Nagrand, you gotta roll and play horde. Alliance just get the hear the yell and that's it.

This is as separate a story line as BioShock will give you. I'd argue that WoW actually gives more separate content, because in BioShock you basically do exactly the same thing both story lines. Kill mobs.

There is a fair share of the game only one faction can see sensibly.
 
And the older guild members would have an interest in looking after what the newer members were doing, to make sure they didn't do the wrong kind of quests.

Oh no, a Big Brother guild. One big reason why raiding end game has caused resentment is due some guilds forcing players to spec a sertain way, forcing them to play at sertain hours at sertain number of days per week. I short, taking the character away from the individual player, and putting it under colloctivist guild control.

No fun. Guild efforts should never have feel of indenture service.

As for good and evil choises, I'm all for them as alternative ways of solving quests, but I don't think there should be a differences in rewards and such. After all, what is the player to do if he finds out the other path would have provided better rewards for his character. Grind faction?
 
We already got the meaning of choice with value within an MMORPG. When EQ introduced faction based content with Velious, they delivered probably the best use of faction and choice. The problem with choice in MMORPGs is that it doubles the needs for content. Think about the current speed of content updates for WoW and imagine if they needed to introduce every tier of content twice, we would see a two patches a year.

Such a design would cause an uproar today. Players would scream about suddenly getting excluded from content, just cause they made their choice. Content today on it's own is way more valueable, especially in WoW, where new content has a very limited lifespan. Content takes so much time to produce, that a diversity via choice is out of the question. When studios reached a pace for content updates, that exceeds players consumption, we can think about adding choice again. Till then your moral choices are reduced to the decision wich low-level player to gank on a PvP server.
 
One thing EQ did right was faction. Though, it had it's share of unnecessary grinding, as well.

And there will never be a truly evil race in mmorpgs, as the media outcry would be too severe. Imagine how politicians would react to a game that rewarded players for killing children, or rounding up slaves, or maiming innocent villages.
 
Just wanted to point out that Horde vs. Alliance quest targets are even more watered down than Farmers vs. Bandits. Its usually Evil Humanoids (quillboars, tainted orcs, etc.) vs. Bandits. I have 2 level 70 horde characters and have killed only a handful of clearly alliance aligned NPCs, EVER. Since so much content is shared between the sides (same dungeons, same zones) most of the opponents are the same.

From a lore standpoint this is not unreasonable. The Scourge and Burning Legion ar WoW's "Evil" sides, not Horde or Alliance. I suspect the next xpac is going to make the difference between sides even more dilute as both factions continue to strive towards the same goals.

Hopefully Warhammer Online should have truly distinct 'good vs evil', since Chaos, Orcs, and Dark Elves are decidedly evil in Warhammer Lore. There's no grey area, no misunderstandings.

An MMO where you decisions determined your side, good or evil, would be great. How about the first 20 levels of questing are used to determine your character's alignment, and your alignment at level 20 determines where you progress from then on. An imperfect system, but it would be simple to implement and allow your choices to actually be meaningful.
 
Point of information regarding Horde v. Alliance, I can remember a few quests along those lines (excluding the obvious Battle Ground quest lines and PvP quests).

There is an Alliance traitor to be killed in an early BE two-step quest (http://thottbot.com/q8482).
The Battle of Hillsbrad (http://thottbot.com/q527) seven-quest line is your Horde toon fighting against Alliance-aligned forces in a long chain - this is the most notable that I remember, with steps 1, 5, 6, and 7 clearly referencing the fight with the Alliance.
Another is the running fight with the Alliance-aligned Theramore humans south of Ratchet and in Duskwallow Marsh.
There is a BE toon in The Bulwark that gives a quest that ends with killing an Alliance NPC who will mark you as PvP.

Others are less pointed; Gann's series is against dwarves (their keep's layout is identical to that of the Hillsbrad dwarves), but they are not specifically tied to the Alliance. In contrast, factions and enemies like the Timbermaw or the bugs of Silithus have common relationships with Alliance or Horde. The Argent Dawn is, to me, a faction that had promise - I have an unrealized wish that a toon could do an epic quest to leave the Horde or Alliance and join the ranks of the Argent Dawn.

All-in-all, though, I would agree that the overwhelming majority of quests have nothing specifically to do with Alliance v. Horde faction wars (some are even inter-factional, such as the Tauren v. the Grimtotem). The thing that struck me as odd my first time through were enemies like the Venture Company, who had NPCs of every type (Alliance, Horde, Neutral) in their ranks. And when I played a Druid I found that Tauren / Night Elf combination to be weird.

Bottom line, though is that there is no good or evil faction; the Forsaken are the 'most' evil (not even completely trusted by their Horde allies, even with a quest line that is not open to Forsaken), and the most 'evil' class is Warlock.

But WoW is not constructed down Ultima-4-style good / evil moral lines.
These days, in a worldwide cultural environment, I don't think that a major MMO would pigeonhole itself under an identifiable moral / ethical system. Frankly, a game that followed "traditional Christian values" might come under considerable fire politically and legally in areas such as homosexuality. It's just not worth it for a business who is concerned about profit and shareholders rather than morals and ethics.
 
The problem with good, neutral and evil views on things are that they don't really provide much more than flavor, unless you specifically include alignment-related rewards, in which case most people wouldn't pay attention to doing good or evil or whatever anymore. The biggest setback with this is that developers would have to purposely exclude players from content created. There's a huge reason why aldor and scryer in wow lack a large number of quests - the quests they give are effectively mirrors of each other (go to the same area, kill similar mobs, etc.).

Creating multiple versions of the same quest takes almost as much time as creating multiple quests. It doesn't seem efficient to spend development time (the only really important currency in a MMOG) creating the similar quests for different factions than creating more quests that everyone can use. We started seeing this toward the end of wow 1.0 with the argent dawn, cenarion circle, raid factions, and the like. It was further brought out in the Burning Crusade, since many of the factions are independent of horde or alliance. Only two factions in the Burning Crusade are really horde/alliance dependent (Honor Hold + Kurenai vs Thrallmar + Mag'har). Every other rep (Sha'tar, Lower City, Keepers of Time, Cenarion Expedition, Consortium, Netherwing, etc.) is faction-blind. And it's done because doubling up on quests would have meant a significantly lower number of quests for the player base to enjoy.

--Rawr
 
I'm not sure why WoW even really bothered having two factions other than to maintain flow from the RTS games into the MMO. The End Game has basically turned the game into a single faction where half the people can't speak to the other half.
 
Whatever the bible, Star Wars or Bush try to tell you, there's no "good" and "evil" in the real world. I never understand why fantasy worlds should have it.
 
Of course good and evil exist in the real world! It's not as easy as saying "orcs are evil" in a fantasy world, but at least on the level of individual acts good and evil clearly exist. People don't count points for all the evil or good acts they commit (unless they are Catholic), but that doesn't make flying a plane into the World Trade Center not an evil act.
 
I feel a little naive (and more than a little trite) for saying this, but pure good and evil might not exist in the real world but the degrees in-between certainly do. Tolkien-ish elves = good, orcs = evil polarises things and just makes morally difficult thing less difficult and, in many cases, more fun.

Nuyan, Bush never has and hopefully never will feature in my fantasy world. If he does, I want a merciful death.

What would be awesome would be if Warcraft paladins couldn't level up if they went around killing unnecessarily (à la NWN). Or maybe something adverse on warlocks for holy stuff, since they make a point about being unholy. That could get messy considering horde holy priests can buff them. I've always found it amusing to have holy prayers cast on someone who uses corruption and drain life as a matter of course.

There just isn't the depth to the gameplay to introduce something like good and evil decision-making. I don't remember many alternative ways to complete quests with diplomacy instead of bringing the chieftain ten scalps, or hitting up the bears for protection money from those damn farmers who keep getting random adventurers to collect their hearts.

Some classes shouldn't progress without the proper alignment (good paladins and druids, evil warlocks and rogues) but it would make the game more flexible. For one thing if it was balanced right, you wouldn't end up with the cookie-cutter level 60's, err...70's, that you have now.
 
Really in many ways WoW's lore is just richer than your Superman vs Mr. Evil matchup. Or if we stay with the marvel comic, there is more Hulk to this than Batman.

Really horde are pretty evil if you are alliance. And alliance is pretty evil if you are horde, but the burning legion or Kel'Thuzad's scourge or Kael'Thas' blood elfs.

Your evilness defines itself with respect to how you engage with factions. You can certainly choose to be great friends with bloodsail buccaneers and be mortal enemy of the goblin settlements.

You can choose to abuse both centauren clans in Desolace, or neither or just one of them. Which one you gank is your "moral" decision. You can even choose if it's a "good/evil" dichotomy, or just pure machiavellian utilitarianism or any other motivation why something is or isn't done.

You can choose to gank a lowbie or you can choose to help them.

Really this is in my mind a good design. Choices are more complex than just "good" and "evil". And in fact the whole story of alliance and horde gives ample explanation why thrall and his orcs aren't just evil and why friendly allegiances happen and why hostility errupts again.

On being truly evil though, I haven't seen a game that I'd consider really promoting evil. Overlord is a comic take on the evil master thing, it's not serious about being evil and it goes out on a limb to make that blatantly obvious at every turn. Even CoH/CoV gives ground for sides to work together, and in some way the supervillains are sorts of heroes in their own definition.

If the game mechanism should keep and manage the old DnD categories of good/neutral/evil (or maybe Warhammer will have the chaotic-good and lawful-evil) I don't know. If it's player driven, you choose your evilness in the moment the decision is up, not based on your history or game mechanism.

I think it's a matter of taste if a game should confine player choices along this specific category more than WoW does. I'm sceptical. In an extreme case, suddenly a priest cannot go shadow form anymore because he has healed too many people. Unless the game design is to have people manage their balance of standing, this can make people not play the game as much as worry about their actions.
 
First off, Castronova made the following claim: "The human race is the only one with children, and charitable giving, for example." He discredited himself right there, as anyone who has ever played the game to any real extent would know. (Those cute little orc kidlets in Orgrimmar...)

Yes, the Forsaken are creepy ghouls. But Castronova focuses too much on their appearance and the fact that they scare his three-year-old kid. If the majority of Forsaken were just trying to become truly alive again (as some of them actually are) would he be making the same assertions so long as they still looked like creepy ghouls? I wouldn't be surprised. Even so, I'd like to see him keep arguing that the Horde is evil after playing a tauren.

IMHO, the only "good" races in WoW are the aforementioned tauren and the draenei. And even they have their bad seeds. (Can you say "eredar," boys and girls? Good. How about "Grimtotem"?) The Horde has the Forsaken and the unpleasant, bigoted blood elves...but the Alliance seems to have somewhat more corruption across the board.

As for ganking, and the warlock class? Neither is particularly relevant, as neither is exclusive to one faction or the other.
 
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