Wednesday, August 18, 2010
MMO vocabulary inflation
The Oxford dictionary defines a quest as "a long or arduous search for something; (in medieval romance) an expedition made by a knight to accomplish a prescribed task". They define heroic as "admirably brave or determined; grand or grandiose in scale or intention" and epic as "heroic or grand in scale or character". Somehow all these definitions don't really fit with a typical description of a World of Warcraft play session like
"I first did some daily quests, then ran a couple of heroics, but only found epics to vendor".
If we'd use a less inflated vocabulary for the same actions, it would become
"I first did some daily errands, then ran a couple of instances, but only found vendor trash".
Ferrel from Epic Slant is complaining about quests, and also remarks that they are just "chores". So he suggests to get rid of quest hubs and "stop making it inefficient to level by slaughtering monsters", going back to how it was in the original Everquest. Been there, done that, doesn't work.
Whatever you call them, quests, errands, or chores, they do fulfill one fundamental function in a MMORPG: They distribute players. If you can level just as fast by killing any monster without a quest, there will *always* be optimal spots to level. Whether those are monsters that are relatively easy to kill for the xp they give, or whether the spawn is just conveniently timed, or whether the monster camp is just closest to the next village, there will be *some* reason why it is better to kill a specific group monsters over and over and over and over and over and over and well you get the idea.
That doesn't mean that quests are "necessary", or that they are the only way to achieve that goal. It just means you can't simply go back to the time before quest hubs, because it would mean going back to the time where people entered the Commonlands zone and would shout out "Camp check", and get shouts back which of the most favored monster spawn locations were already camped.
So how do we design a game without quests? That is incredibly easy: Use diminishing returns. As we already call them "experience points", it makes perfect sense that the experience you gain from killing your hundreth orc is less than that you gain from killing your first orc. Then people can roam the virtual world freely to kill monsters, without the game turning back into Evercamp. Thus we get rid of stupid NPCs with golden symbols floating over their head giving us stupid errands to kill ten foozles with a stupid justification in a quest text nobody reads.
Afterwards we just need to rename the current "heroics" as "group content", and the current "epics" as "gear", and then we can think about how to add content in which player *really* go on a long and arduous quest full of heroic deeds and with an epic reward. I hear Blizzard is already thinking of making epics less common in Cataclysm.