[MUD-Dev] Congratulations Horizons...

Lee Sheldon lsheldo2 at tampabay.rr.com
Fri Jan 9 12:35:45 New Zealand Daylight Time 2004


>From Brad McQuaid:
> From Lee Sheldon:

>>   2) Here's one for Brad McQuaid to chew on. His quote: "All
>>   quests are FedEx." In fact out of several steps (5?) in Trials
>>   of the Gifted only one step requires you to go obtain items and
>>   return to the questgiver and that is if you solve a simple
>>   riddle. The rest are not.

> In fairness, I'm trying to think back to the exact context of that
> paraphrase, yet I do recall saying something similar.

Here's your quote, and I apologize because I thought I was quoting
exactly, not paraphrasing, although I think you'd agree, given your
responses then and now, that the paraphrase is accurate:

  "Interesting that you point out that we might not know how do make
  a quest more sophisticated than 'FedEx'... has ANYONE figured this
  out yet?  Has any game, multiplayer or single player, employed a
  quest system that, when broken down, doesn't involve taking tokens
  from point a to point b?  Now sure, the token can be an item, or
  it can be some other triggered event (you kill somebody, you
  depress a button, you say a key phrase to the right NPC, etc.),
  but it's all the same thing, isn't it?  A certain sequence yields
  a rewarding outcome.  I often read RPG designers' essays or
  statements on how THEY will break through to the next paradigm,
  but to my knowledge it hasn't happened yet.  If I'm wrong, please
  do point me in the right direction :)"

I responded by with:

  "Everything in the games we make can be reduced to the passing of
  tokens, or the tracking of variables based on a player's actions,
  but they don't have to be -literally- the receipt and delivery of
  items, phrases, or anything else.  What we're looking for in this
  case is structural relief from monotony of action.  Quests are
  problems to be solved, challenges to be overcome, or a series of
  challenges.

A Fed Ex quest to me is simply, "Give this item, message, or
password to Larry."  Or a string of such assignments.  I'm not
against FedEx quests per se, particularly at low levels, or even as
pieces of larger quests.  I use them all the time.  But only FedEx
quests?  Anyway, I started to make one up, but finally decided it
would be easier to illustrate by using a quest already in the game
[EQ]..."

This -was- all a long time ago: December 2000 to be exact (this has
obviously stuck with me for a looong time, lol). You can search the
archives if you'd like to for the examples I gave in response
then. We've both moved forward a bit it seems, although maybe we
haven't. Let's see. Back to the present...

FedEx quests by traditional definition are of the two kinds you
outline below: the carrying of items (hence the name!) and/or the
killing of mobs for rewards. They have been reduced to this explicit
game mechanic in the random Chinese menu task lists of games like
DAoC and SWG. They are an important and useful mechanism when well
crafted, the equivalent to me of mob spawns in the quest hierarchy:
an easy way to add content in the world.  But for me to reduce all
quests to the same simple mechanism is to follow a postmodern
reductionist path where there is no reward at the end but empty
canvas: not art, not life.

> I believe my point was you are ALWAYS taking something from one
> place/NPC to another place/NPC, hence it is like 'bringing a piece
> of mail'.  Whether that 'mail' is in the form of an item or
> something else (generically, a 'flag' on your character) was
> simply my point that all quests can be boiled down to that --
> regardless of all the cool story and setting you can place on top
> of it, you still need that fundamental mechanism.

> In other words, you encounter an NPC; you kill the NPC or say or
> do the right thing; the NPC gives you an item; you take that item
> to another NPC; you get a reward

> EQUALS

> You encounter an NPC and kill the NPC or say or do the right
> thing; the NPC 'flags' you somehow; you go meet and talk to
> another NPC; you say something or just walk in vicinity; the flag
> is checked, it's true, you get a reward.

The first quest I did as a Scout character in Horizons was to
receive a series of directives from my scoutmaster (scoutmaster?
That doesn't sound quite right, lol) to search for signs of enemy
activity. I had to make my way to several locations and scout around
using my Sense Enemies ability (similar to EQ's tracking) until I
found the spot where I had "seen enough of the area" to report
back. There were no NPCs involved other than the ones who assigned
the various areas to scout. I didn't deliver anything or kill
anything. There were no NPCs on the other end.

In the Trials of the Gifted quest suite there are 5 thematically
connected quests. The first I did, the Test of Endurance, required
me to walk a certain distance, weighted down so I could barely
move. I didn't deliver anything or kill anything.

Another, the Test of Swiftness, required me to reach a second NPC as
fast as I could. It's necessary to use the "sprint" ability to
satisfactorily complete that trial. I reached the NPC who was my
"finish line" and that NPC started me on the next quest. I never
returned to the one who gave me that quest.

This new quest, the Test of Soul, required that I recall to a
certain bind point to prove I could do so when I had died, and was
indeed one of the Gifted who can be resurrected. This is the first
time in any MMORPG I've played where that particular game mechanic
was actually fit into the fiction of the world -in- the world,
instead of just explained in a manual.

Another, the Test of Knowledge, asked me to seek out several wise
NPCs and learn about the land.

Another, The Test of Wit, DID choose to use a traditional FedEx
mechanism to answer a series of riddles, obtaining the answers
explicitly as items, but it needn't have.

Finally we have the quest to free several "enslaved races" that
players will then be able to play. At the moment this requires
crafters to rebuild certain mines while adventurers stand guard and
slay the mobs trying to stop them. As you said in your earlier
quote, "A certain sequence yields a rewarding outcome." Is it unfair
of me to quote from opinions that may have changed in the past three
years? It feels sort of like it. Sorry! I'm going to do it anyway
though! We'll come back to it in a second...

> You are Fed'Ex'ing an item or a flag or some sort of marker that
> triggers a reward (finishing the quest), and then that marker
> typically (but not always) is used up (item gone, flag turned off,
> etc.)  Also, it doesn't have to be an NPC... You could make it
> some other sort of event (arriving in a certain spot, for example,
> or saying something, that triggers the flag and or reacts to the
> flag).

One key I guess is that you've replaced the word "token" with
"flag." Yes, of course we use flags. We set flags to track much of
what a player does in our worlds. And here is where you -have-
broadened your definition (or at least examples) since you've added
arriving at a certain spot or saying something, and the scout quest
above is clearly the former.

> I don't believe I ever meant to imply that a quest flag had to be
> an ITEM

I never thought you meant that. Didn't mean to imply I did although
the shorthanded version ended up sounding something like that.

> ; rather an item is a type of flag.

Again, this sweeps the definition of FedEx into the realm of
postmodern reductionism for me.  We could reduce all activity
players engage in to "A certain sequence yields a rewarding
outcome." We could reduce all aspiration in life to this
phrase. It's like saying there is only one type of puzzle in
adventure games: lock and key. Or there is only one type of story:
Boy meets girl (or some other flagged item), Boy loses flagged item,
Boy gets flagged item. There's never any defense against that, other
than it leeches out all meaning and context; gets us nowhere in
finding new ways of doing things; and makes it look like there are
none.

> The context that I recall was me responding to an assertion that
> all EQ quests were 'merely' fed-ex and replying that all quests
> were, when simplified mechanically, indeed fed-ex, and that it was
> the cool story line and setting that made them seem more than
> simple and boring.

FedEx quests by traditional definition are of the two kinds you
outlined above: the carrying of items (hence the name!) and the
killing of mobs for rewards. It wouldn't be so important to remember
this if people didn't continually repeat ONLY these two activities!
Which is of course the point of that section of the original post,
and this one.

> I think I also said that EQ could be doing a better job at
> layering context, story, lore, and setting over that fundamental
> mechanism too.

Well, I've evolved. I'm not doing any EQ bashing here. Horizons is
the first MMORPG since those early days of EQ that I'm actually
having fun, even though it is no great revolutionary leap in any
direction by any means!

> That said, if my quote you are paraphrasing from several years
> back implied otherwise, consider it revised and/or clarified.

> Likewise, if Horizons has achieved some sort of paradigm shift
> beyond the flag mechanism, do tell.

If we can raise our sights one level above "A certain sequence
yields a rewarding outcome." as a definition of FedEx quests, how
does the freeing of the enslaved races for example fit into it? If
we can't, then I guess we're still at the same impasse three years
later.

I don't agree with your reductionist definition of "FedEx" which is
why I disputed your assertion based on it. Fundamentally we seem to
agree on much except that. I believe we need to look beyond the
base-level of mechanics to the next layer up: forget the machine
code for a moment and focus on C. It's not just a matter of wrapping
quests in "cool story and setting." It's looking at them with a more
enlightened eye than just deconstructing them to their essential
elements. We need to do it for variety, if nothing else, and to
approach something more than "cool story and setting," something
more than an empty canvas.

Lee
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