Tobold's Blog
Wednesday, November 13, 2013
Degree of guidance

Syl has a brilliant history of the kill ten rats quest. While I am not quite sure that achievements are to blame, I do very much agree that the degree of guidance players receive for quests has very much increased over the years. I still remember getting a quest in Everquest that just told me to find a dwarf, and didn't mention that said dwarf was on the other side of the next continent, over 1 hour of travel away. Now to some extent the players basically asked for more hand-holding, because at the time there were sites like Allakhazam which mainly served to provide quest solutions for players. If the quest itself doesn't give you enough hints to be able to solve it, the internet will. But I agree with Syl that by now questing is bordering on the ridiculously trivial. I've even already played games where you can auto-run to the quest location!

For those of us who have been playing these games for a while, this clearly goes in the wrong direction. The better we get at these games, the more guidance we receive. Clearly that should be the other way around. So I was wondering whether one could make a MMORPG in which questing becomes more difficult with level, because the degree of guidance is decreased. When you start out as a new character you'd get a glowing path leading you to the sparkling rats, in mid-level you only get the location of the rats indicated on your maps, and at high level you only get general directions towards your quest target. Shouldn't a "level 90" quest be actually harder to solve than a "level 1" quest?

Is that hard, or just obscure?

Ultimately finding that dwarf isn't 'hard', because either you'll blunder around till you find him or you'll ask someone. That's not really anything hard in either case. Just obscure. Hard isn't blundering around until eventually (not even a time limit on it) by random chance you run across something. Hard is especially not asking someone.
I'd prefer that we'd keep the UI improvements.. but link the amount of information available to what the character knows. For example, in Mass Effect 3 some of the side missions only pop up on your log after you've overheard the NPC complaining how much trouble those proverbial ten rats are causing. Or in Saints Row 3, the in-car GPS only uses shortcuts after you've found them.
How has someone's quest learning skills changed over that time. Presumably it is just as hard to find a quest mob in a starter zone as it is in an end zone. Unless the challenge is specifically to explore, the difficulty should be in killing the target and not discovering their location. Getting lost is frustrating, not fun.

Personally, one of the things I like most about WoW's Timelost Isle is how they treat the experience. The challenge is two-fold in completing challenging encounters and discovering them in the first place. Running from one location to another is trivial.
I'm afraid I'm with Callan. Do you really feel like you have improved your dwarf finding skill? Or are you just going to look up his location?

Don't get me wrong, I do wish content would get harder. And harder in a way that is actually more difficult, not just higher numbers next to the mob levels. I just don't think it should be in the form of artificial hassles like not knowing where to go for the quest. Test my skill, not my patience.
I sure have improved my exploration skills in virtual 3D worlds over the years. I would be better equipped now to cross a dangerous territory to find a remote location to which I have general directions to than before.

For example I traveled with one level 1 character to Northrend once for fishing, as there was a spot where you could fish safely and earn a lot of gold because success rate in pools didn't depend on your level or fishing skill. Such things are fun.

When Wildstar comes out, I'll definitively play an Explorer. And I find it sad that other games seem to have totally removed exploration from their possible activities. We have gone from games which cater to all four Bartle types to games that are nearly exclusively for achievers.
Well, LotRO does even better than auto-run, you can (for a price) teleport to the location of the destination NPC.....

The problem with quests is that in order to be "challenging" you need an excellent quest text, which provides enough information to point you to the right direction, but not enough as to be immediately evident. This is very hard to do, and I think that the "flag on the map" is just a cheap solution to the problem: why write a good text with explanations (as it would happen IRL if someone asks you to go somewhere) when you can just provide the information with a dot on the map? (which, BTW, is now also happening IRL... I've "explained" building locations to friends by mailing them the coordinates for google maps...).

"I just don't think it should be in the form of artificial hassles like not knowing where to go for the quest. Test my skill, not my patience"

Ah but some would argue that "skill" is needed to know the location of the monster or items etc.

In many of the fantasy stories I read, the search for the monster,items etc are far more important than actually killing the monster and or finding the said item. More "skill" is needed for the search than the actually kill.

But I know what you are getting at, in games like WoW you can't really "search" in the way people search in fantasy stories but you see where people come from when they complain about GPS meters in modern games...
Makes sense to me.

Remember in Old WoW there was a dwarf in the back of the hills in Westshire who gave you an obscure riddle to find four items. Even with internet help, that had you traipsing all over the world, looking for items that were hard to see without sparkles, and sneaking into areas that were dangerous at your level. In return you got a really nice item - a flask that did great damage for your level AND had a nice fire-breathing animation.

Now THAT was a quest...
If your game doesn't auto-run characters to the quest location, there is always competitor's game that does. And you need to eat.
Damn blogger still not sending pingbacks :) - I missed this post last week, alas!

Now I just have to ask: what MMO lets you auto-run to the quest location? that is the worst thing I have ever heard! utterly bizarre.

I like the suggestion you make here, that questing should increase in difficulty rather than the other way around which clearly makes no sense. that would also adress the issue of newcomer friendliness on low level. alternatively, as has also been suggested by others, let MMO veterans and explorer types turn off all the UI extras, markers, highlights, achis?

PS: it appears that for Wildstar, the Explorer type = Achiever. when I blogged about this issue, I received comments telling me that my type of gameplay may be better suited for Wildstar's Scientist...hrm.
I don't agree that level 90 quests should be more difficult or less guided than level 1 quests. That just sets up another vertical progression flow which slowly locks you out of content as you level up and content becomes trivial.

Like in Guild Wars 2, as a max level character I can go and find challenging/fun content in a level 80 zone, or a level 50, or a level 20, or where ever, and even get similar rewards, because of all the dynamic scaling. And because it all just works, the developers can place their newest bleeding edge of content down in that level 20 zone and everyone still wants to do it. And in the middle of that new level 20 content they can add a new max level tower, and any of the level 20's that wander in simply scale up to max level.

Contrast this with like in The Secret World, once you get to Transylvania there's pretty much not reason to ever bother going to do the Kingsmouth questlines again. Everything dies in a couple hits, all the loot is vendor trash, crap experience. And it's a shame because that's some of the best questing in the game, and it gets obsoleted after just 2-3 hours of play.

I played WoW for years and years, and in all that time there are still areas that I have never bothered going to, because by the time I get directed there I'm already way over leveled for it. (Swamp of Sorrows?) I don't see the value.
I am slightly on both sides. I think the "meta question" is can/should exploration and questing be intertwined and IMO the answer is definitely not.

I really thought the Rift way of having non-progression shinies be out in the world but especially under bridges/lakes/mountain tops to be quite fun; I like exploring. Yet when questing I want maximum convenience at least in an MMO with levels. I am doing a quest to accomplish something. I want to be efficient. XP per hour matters.

If I am in an exploring mood, then looking around a castle can be interesting. If I am trying to do Quest 836 then trying to find which of the doors leads to boss 2417 is irritating and not at all fun. Wandering can be quite fun for me; wandering when you are trying to do five more quests then level and go to sleep is most definitely not fun for me.

I want payout (not necessarily loot; interesting things/views work) when exploring. But when I am questing I have fixed objectives that suppress my usual desires for crafting and exploration. Bigger arrows please.


Looking up on the internet is far preferable than being forced to endure general chat channel.


I was quite excited for Wildstar, until I did action combat. Another disappointment was that "Explorer" really seems to be "jumping puzzler" - ugh!

I, too, am disapointed in how questing works now. I much prefer the NPCs actually give directions on where to go. I guess the new questing helps people speed level alts, but for people that actually enjoy leveling instead of endgame, it is worse now. I hated when they did this to Oblivion (and Skyrim later), was much more realistic asking for directions.
I think if folk would read a work of fiction where various characters, via dialog, give detailed directions to places - if folk enjoy reading that, then okay, you enjoy that stuff and fair enough you'd like it in a game too. Different strokes and all that.

But if you'd find it boring to read in a book, then there is no point - unless you are eight years old, there is no skill in following such directions, and nor do you even see it as a viable work of fiction yourselves. It's an utter dead end.
People have fun solving Sudoku puzzles in spite of the fact that there are Sudoku solver programs available on the internet. The fun is figuring out the solution by yourself with just limited information. That is an intrinsic reward, and some people prefer those to the extrinsic rewards of xp, loot, and "achievements" you get for achieving nothing.
That's pretty inspired.

The 'difficulty' of finding quest items and so forth is actually one of the reasons why I think The Secret World is so popular with the people who love it, and confusing/unfriendly to those who prefer having their hands held. They have degrees of difficulty. Lower-difficulty (and less-rewarding) missions give you map markers and other indicators. The unique 'investigation' missions ONLY give you in-game reference points. Like using the in-game web-browser to look up the ID tag of a dead employee to try and get clues about their password recovery option to access an encrypted laptop.

It's one of the things I see praised about the game and one of my personal favourite things about the game - an MMO which IS actually susceptible to 'spoilers'.

It's a shame you found it too MMO'ish, Tobold, it teaches some valuable lessons.
I just wanted to add my support for that idea. =) I'd play it.
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