[MUD-Dev] Congratulations Horizons...

Brad McQuaid bmcquaid at cox.net
Sat Jan 10 10:55:38 New Zealand Daylight Time 2004

From: Marian Griffith [gryphon at iaehv.nl]
> From: Brad McQuaid [bmcquaid at cox.net]

>> 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.

> While you are not exactly wrong, you do come periliously close to
> saying that 'All stories are the same, they always have a begin, a
> middle and an end'

Yes, hence my attempt to describe the context of the quote Lee
Sheldon attributed to me.  The problem is, he was trying to 'snipe'
me with a quote fragment years old and in the midst of a discussion
on another board regarding quests in EQ, and why they couldn't be
'cooler'.  To my recollection, an assertion was made that EQ only
had 'fed-ex' quests.  I recall trying to explain how all quests are
really that, and what we need to do is not necessarily question
their fundamental mechanism, but try to make them more interesting
and involved.  I guess Lee felt bothered by that in some strange
way, hence the snipe...???

> In my opinion you are generalising beyond the point where it is
> useful, or at least to how a designer may look at it, and not how
> a player would. To many (!) players the story and setting ARE all
> that the quest is about. Or at least part of its appeal.

I respect your opinion, but an analysis of the mechanics behind what
really makes a 'quest' tick is what game designers should be doing.
I'm unclear why you feel such analysis of MUD/MMOG game mechanics
somehow threatens the awesome story and setting and ideas that can
then be built on top of that foundation.

> From a literary point of view a quest is a journey into the
> unknown to achieve a goal of great value or importance and one
> that will cause the quester to grow or transcend.  E.g. the
> knights of the round table's quest to find the holy grail, or
> Frodo's quest to destroy the one ring.

Yes.  And then our job is to figure out how to map what is
interesting and compelling in literature to game systems that can
entertain hundreds or thousands of people in a virtual and dynamic
(e.g. non-linear and pre-determined, unlike literature) world.

So, we come up with combat formulae, quest mechanics, character
attributes, etc., that are not necessarily important when writing

> In games this is not so easily captured. The travel itself is not
> effectively possible, given that game worlds generally are very
> small and instant travel is widely available.

A generalization of where we've seen some games fail.  I've played
MUDs and MMOGs where travel still takes time, is interesting, and
doesn't require egregious teleportation.  The current trend to
trivialize travel to make a game more 'accessible' is both
unnecessary and damaging to the genre; but, I suppose, that's a
different topic.

> Also the sense of urgency is very difficult to achieve, unless the
> player wishes to suspend disbelief and submerges in the game world
> (and even then) Finally, the 'unknown' is currently next to
> impossible given the proliferation of 'quest guides' as soon as
> the first players solves the 'puzzle'.

Call me a nutty idealist, but I also refuse to retreat in this case
too -- even given the proliferation of 'quest guides' or spoiler
sites or whatever, I think we MUD/MMOG designers just have to accept
that as an 'evil' we cannot avoid and work around it.  This calls
for innovation such that we can recapture the 'unknown' many of us
experienced either early in an MMOG before such proliferation or way
back in MUDs with smaller populations and before 'spoilers' could be
so easily disseminated.

> So, the fed-ex that you seem to despise so are really one of the
> few ways the game designer has to partition the quest, give it a
> certain sense of travel and allows him or her to actually advance
> the storyline.  If you want to treat the quest as a checklist of
> actions to do to finally obtain the reward, then yes, everything
> is a fed-ex, and big quests are just strings of them.

Exactly my point, except the assertion that I 'despise' questing.
The opposite is actually the case; rather, I think it was Lee who
seemed to have an issue with recognizing fundamental quest
mechanisms, and perhaps some emotional need to 'snipe' me with an
out-of-context quote-fragment.

For the record, I love quests, always have, but I also think they
need to be better and better.  And one of the ways to make them
better is to understand what really makes them tick and then design
a flexible quest system around those core mechanics so we can make
the compelling story that surrounds them.

> But then, almost everything you and I do in reality is also just
> another form of fed-exing.  (e.g.  you fed-ex food from the shop
> to your kitchen to craft-skill a meal... if you want to reduce it
> that far)

And, again, when working on MUD/MMOG game mechanics, you often do
want to 'reduce' that far.

> What would be welcome is a way to preserve the 'unknown' part of
> the quest between various takers. And perhaps rather than relying
> on persistence make it quite possible to actually fail.

Yes, putting in a random factor and/or decisions that can lead to
failure or some other event is interesting, as long as some caution
is applied such that the player doesn't feel 'screwed' when he
'fails' the quest he thought he'd earned the right to succeed at.

> The first would make it impossible to hand out a checklist of
> actions once the first player finishes it.  The second would make
> taking the quest, and completing it, really meaningful.  You can
> have time to prepare for each stage, but you get only one shot at
> it.

'One shot' content is generally something used rarely in MUDs/MMOGs
because of the challenge of building enough content into the game.
This doesn't mean I'm against 'do it once' content; rather, it
should be used sparingly.  A greater challenge than merely adding
randomization (which, if there's too much, disempowers the player
because he feels his fate is too much a 'roll of the dice') and/or
'do it once' content (which belongs more in a single player style
game that is meant to only be played 'through' once or a few times,
and for weeks as opposed to years) would be to work on ways to make
replayability more interesting.  I think the problems with 'ground
hog day' shouldn't be addressed by trying to stop people from doing
the same content again and again, but by making sure we have enough
content that they don't have to, and to make sure that content is
interesting and compelling.

> And of course once you completed the quest the game should
> recognise that fact and treat your character differently from
> others.  If you have become the champion of the gods, you should
> not then (have to) return to exterminating mice.

Again, what you describe is very 'low content'.  One can't have many
of these quests, and then, with what you described, you not only
couldn't have many of them, but you'd have to limit how many people
could become the champion of the gods, lest everyone is eventually a
god, leading to godhood becoming trivial.  Putting a lot of effort
into this kind of content is simply a poor use of your designer's


Brad McQuaid
President & CEO
Sigil Games Online, Inc.
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