[MUD-Dev] Congratulations Horizons...

Lee Sheldon lsheldo2 at tampabay.rr.com
Mon Jan 19 14:48:21 New Zealand Daylight Time 2004

Brad McQuaid wrote:
> Marian Griffith wrote:

>> 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'.

How dare you! I didn't try to snipe you you with a quote fragment
years old... on another board! I was trying to snipe you with a
quote fragment years old from THIS board! The nerve! <removing
tongue from cheek and mopping up the resulting drool>

> 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.

Far too much analysis is going on, and not enough actual creativity.
Analysis is easy. Creativity is hard. And creativity is what creates
entertainment. With all the books on the subject, and all the
readers and story analyzers hired by studios, movies still get it
right so rarely that when a truly entertaining film is actually
produced it's still a miracle!

Syd Field never sold a movie script by reducing the structure of
films to three acts and a reversal. And all the great movies made by
people who read his books and McKee's and everybody else's are a
minute percentage, if there -are- any, of the great movies. There is
a way to study how stories are constructed, but it -isn't- by
deconstructing Romeo & Juliet to Boy meets Flag, Boy Gets Flag, Boy
Loses Flag.

You are doing the same injustice to quests. Maybe the reductionism
is what you need to track them, but if you base art on zero, the sum
is still zero.

> 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
> literature.

And you are doing it backwards. Quest mechanics -can- actually be
important when writing literature (although literature is the wrong
place to be, you want to be noodling around in drama). We who dip
our toes in linear media call quest mechanics story structure. We
call character attributes... um...  character attributes. They need
to be interpreted with code certainly, but they shouldn't be mapped
on to code directly and then celebrated simply because there is no
error message.

I'm not advocating new code for every quest either. That's
nonsense. We need the shortcuts repetition can provide. But to focus
simply on the A to B to C nature of action first, is to limit the
thinking on what that action can express. Start with the dream and
then attempt to interpret it. Don't get led astray by trying it the
other way round.

> 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.

You nutty idealist, you. Actually I am too. Horizons is playing out
an ongoing mystery right now that no spoiler sites can help
with. You know the minute you click on the frozen mine what
requirements are necessary. But until Sunday we didn't know what lay
beyond. The mystery can be maintained on the grand scale as
here. But to try and do it with the simplest Chinese menu quest
system is pointless. The solution is to write and design these where
mystery isn't the central entertainment value. I could even do an
formula. You'll like this...  X is the entertainment value in all
quests in an MMORPG, but X is variable and mystery is only one
number that can be dropped in there.

>> 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.

My emotional need has been satisfied, thank you! I still strongly
disagree with you because I think that kind of deconstructing has
led to a number of designers loping confidently down a blind
alley. The words written on the alley wall are these: DECONSTRUCTION

> For the record, I love quests, always have, but I also think they
> need to be better and better.

I couldn't agree more.

> 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.

And of course I couldn't disagree more.

> '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.

On the large stage, yes, so as many players as possible can
experience it.

> 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')

Agreed. It can be done much more gracefully than we've seen to date.

> 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.

Agreed. And by removing or disguising those elements that make it
all seem so damn repetitious.

>> 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.

Such recognition rewards are vital, but need not be confined to the
grand stage. Smaller rewards like a reduction in the price of goods
at a merchant you've FedEx'd for, or even simply a thank you from a
gratful NPC to acknowledge your speedy delivery.

> 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 time.

Ooops, and I was agreeing so well. You're limiting yourself
again. As in my paragraph above, small rewards are always
acceptable, even the gratefulness of an NPC.

Okay, and as for sniping... I apologize. I didn't really see it as
that, but the receiver of the bullet may have a different opinion
about the act than the one who pulled the trigger. What you said
remained with me because you are not alone in how you feel, but it
was an idea that has stuck with me as I've tried to enjoy quests in
MMORPGs for the past 2 years. I singled you out because I could
track down the quote in -this- forum. If I'd taken the trouble I
could have sniped a whole lot of people.

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