[MUD-Dev] Story Implementation

Lee Sheldon linearno at gte.net
Mon Dec 3 12:14:22 New Zealand Daylight Time 2001

I'm going to try and refocus one part of the story discussion, since
it has veered from my original intention in replying to Dave's post.
I'm not so much interested in whether anyone thinks stories should
or should not be told in MMOs.  The fact remains that each MMO to
date has attempted to do so, and more are on the way.  I don't know
if JC will allow this, but I want to quote part of one of my posts
that has NOT been responded to:

Lee Sheldon wrote:

> Again using DAoC as an example.  They had/have (?) at least six
> quest builders.  The game was in development for a remarkably
> short period time (kudos to Mythic).  What was it?  18 months?
> Two years?  Yet you can go for levels without a single quest.  I
> would estimate there are less than 200 total quests in all the
> realms in DAoC.  These appear to all be linear FedEx-style solo
> game-style quests that if just the text were typed out on paper
> would take up no more than one or two pages at best.  There are
> some "epic" quests (uncompleted as yet) that will probably run 4
> or even 6 pages before they're done.  This works out to at the
> outside 1200 pages of writing for the total development period.
> Two or three big binders worth.  Seems like quite a lot, doesn't
> it?  Let's see...

> That is 50 pages per month.  Divide it by 4 let's say, since I
> believe half of the quest builders were only part time.  That's 12
> 1/2 pages per quest builder per month!  An average hour soap on TV
> chews through 1000 times (that's not a typo) that much material in
> a month, if you count only pages.  It is not a direct one-to-one
> page-by-page correlation of course.  But ask Raph Koster how long
> it takes him to write a short story.  My weekly breakdowns
> (outlines) for a soap had to be at least as densely packed as a
> quest however.  Each ran 20 pages or so, and as the name implies,
> each took a week.  (As head writer I also wrote 2 to 3 scripts and
> worked on ongoing story as well every week.) I can gladly go into
> more detail about why these more closely resemble quest building
> docs, but I want to move on. Simply because I'm probably the only
> person in our industry to have done both should suggest that there
> is some basis for my claim.  Maybe not.

> As far as I'm concerned any quest builder that can't turn out
> multiple quests per day in whatever script language a game
> requires is either stealing his or her money, or not suited to
> games in the first place.  Maybe they should try linear media.

> I am going to have some nice things to say however about the
> quests in DAoC below...  But the bottom line is that because our
> industry often slips milestones, and because our industry really
> doesn't know how long it takes to write something, these
> projections of how long it takes to generate ongoing content get
> pulled like taffy, getting longer, impossibly longer, yet never
> breaking.  And because our industry has never seen it work any
> other way, we want to assume that it can't.  If there's a third
> definition of economically feasible (other than money or time),
> let me know.  I'll try to address that too.

And I'd like to retract one part of the above.  I've just finished
the level 25 part of my epic ranger quest.  It was as nicely written
as anything I've seen in an MMO, and better than most.  I really
think the fault in the content creation of DAoC may lie not in the
writers themselves, since for the most part they appear to have
talent.  Rather it appears to stem from the fact that this area
seems to have had little overall vision applied to the style,
consistency and mechanics.  The writing styles are different.  The
quest mechanics vary.  The quests rarely reference each other or the
backstory.  The text is presented in huge expository blocks, and you
must rely on a one line synopsis the journal supplies to refer back
to them.  Plus the hundreds of aforementioned anachronisms, spelling
and grammar errors, and finally the scarcity of content after all
that development time.  This indicates a closed culture that doesn't
have a particularly high regard for writing, or an understanding of
its craft, and it must be hard in turn on the writers themselves.

Are my estimates of the number of quests, and the time it took
accurate?  Did the lead designer think that only these few quests
would be sufficient, so no more were created?  Or were there
actually thousands?  Or did the quests back up because of the time
needed to code and test them?  Could the quest builders write them
in a form easily translatable into code? Were sufficient
implementation structures in place?  Were databases and flow charts
used to integrate them?  Answers to these and other questions would
help those interested in telling stories at least have a better shot
at succeeding.  With that time and that staff I would have expected
to see 10 times as many quest and story items in place at launch.
With a different corporate emphasis (more story, less preparing
lower levels for RvR) in two years I would have shot for AT LEAST
5000.  Sound like a lot?  With a staff of 6 that's less than 2
quests per person per day.

These are issues that are really ONLY relevent to those who WANT to
include story in their MMOs or MUDs, and I'd really like to hear
some other opinions and real life experiences in general, not
necessarily aimed at DAoC.


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