Don’t Tell Me What To Do!

Don’t tell me to kill 10 orcs. Build me a world where I will want to.

That’s the overall theme for this morning’s blog entry. I started thinking about this yesterday while reading the great replies I received in my discussion of ‘How much story is too much?‘ One reply in particular resonated with me.

Early EQ had perfect story pieces and lore scattered about without hitting you over the head with it in text boxes and shiny quest markers. You knew that the elves in the Faydark were at war with the orcs in their own backyard and those orcs were bold enough to venture into elven territory just by what was going on in the zone. – Gringar

That got me thinking about why I went out and killed monsters in EverQuest, and the type of ‘hunting’ I like(d) to do in MMORPGs. Orcs in Faydark are a great example. As Gringar pointed out, it felt like the orcs were at war with the elves as there was the general feel of conflict. Since monsters, particular orcs in the Crushbone area, could be quite difficult for newer players, they were always ‘training’ or running them back to the guards for protection. This created a general overall sense of there being orcs in the zone to kill, but it wasn’t my personal reason.

I killed orcs because they were a great source of experience. Killing orcs was incredibly efficient. They spawned in camps regularly, dropped decent loot, and had a great modifier if you managed to kill them inside of Crushbone. Finding a group to kill orcs was usually reliable, and as a result I always felt like I could see the progress I made while playing when I killed orcs.

No one had to tell me to go kill orcs. I didn’t receive a quest (though later I did find a question to turn in their belts for increased experience) and no one had to tell me the story about why the orcs hate the elves (to this day I still do not know). All I knew was there were orcs, they were a good challenge and yielded lots of experience.

It’s really that simple. I killed orcs because I wanted to. I had the choice of killing any number of things. I could have gone to several other zones and killed other kinds of monsters but these were located close to a  city and provided the experience I was looking for while leveling up from levels 5-12.

Opportunity and means are huge in MMORPGs. We so often rely on quest dialog to say, “go kill me some orcs and bring back 10 of their axes.” When completed we move on. What if we wanted to keep killing orcs? What if the process of hunting orcs was something more enjoyable — a process increased over multiple days or even weeks if we so choose. What if people could form groups to continually hunt orcs? That kind of free thinking puts us right back in 1999 — and it worked.

So I return to my original statement. Build me a world where I will want to go kill orcs and spiders and skeletons. Don’t build me a world where I have to be told every second of every day what to do and where or how to do it. Let me explore and find a graveyard with skeletons, start killing them, and realize the experience is amazing and their bone chips can be traded to other players. Let me have the freedom to come back tomorrow and pick up where I left off. Give me the opportunity to do so by setting me free instead of pigeonholing me into following an arrow to the quest objective.

  • You’re more than free to just grind mobs all day in the vast majority of MMOs out there today. If you have Rested XP (or the equivalent), it might actually be competitive with questing. I’ve done it a few times, especially if a certain group of mobs dropped mats I needed for crafting. Or for Reputation purposes.

    That being said, 1999 is sixteen years ago. EQ is still around, but that doesn’t really say anything about grindy sandboxes “working” in the general sense today. Indeed, I’m extremely skeptical that anyone with such nostalgic feelings would actually play a “modern” version of these games. Darkfall didn’t exactly tear up the charts, for example.

  • It’s really not the same in modern MMOs. In Wow you CAN grind camps all day, but you won’t earn the cash or the rewards of questing. Questing is the way the game is meant to be played. When you add a ‘the way its meant to be played’ to the equation then suddenly everything changes.

    I associate the term “Grinding” with the word “Tedious” these days. Killing orcs all day doesn’t have to be “tedious.” In fact, it can be quite fun. And the key to all of this was my stipulation from the beginning: Build a world where I will want to do these things. Rewarding, fun, challenging, my choice, etc.

  • Darkfall suffered from extremely poor execution. Preplaced City, village, and hamlet nodes made everything feel force fed just like quests. I think they wanted to manufacture a reason for people to fight each other but as soon as you do that you’ve given up on your players. Again, Keen said it just right. “Don’t tell me” where to build the city… Shadowbane let you build wherever you wanted and if you didn’t like the land you could terraform it to a certain degree. People still had no trouble waging war with each other even though there was plenty of land to go around for all.

    And Darkfall’s UI. Oh man. Just to look in your bags or at a particular recipe was like being handed a mountain of big clunky objects.

  • This is something I think WoW is trying to bring back. I first noticed it in Mists of Pandaria. They had the Isle of Giants with just a lot of dinosaurs and saurok running around. The only quest was several rewards for collecting bones including a mount and pet for collecting a TON of bones. My guildies spent weeks here just killing stuff. The bigger the group, the bigger and tougher dinosaurs they tackled. With only a few people, they stuck to the easier stuff.

    Then, while just wandering around mainland Pandaria I had killed an elite mob because well, it was an elite mob out of place. “Oh look, there is an elite mob sitting out in the middle of nowhere… I’m gonna kill it!” It dropped a map and an item and I went and found several other elite mobs to kill each with their own item. When combined them I could summon a tougher boss (which with my spec and gear couldn’t solo, so I brought a friend). Once I killed it, it dropped a BoP item I couldn’t use. But instead of being pissed, I was like “Meh. I wasn’t here for the loot anyway.” No question mark. No exclamation point. Just a random map which was itself its own quest (but again not one of those maps with an exclamation point on it).

    Then came the Timeless Isle. Lots of random mobs of varying difficulty. A few dailies, a rep grind and lots of elites and rares to kill solo or in a group, a bunch of one time, and weekly treasures to find. A few which required making a giant bird pick you up and bring you somewhere. The loot was good (the place was a catch up mechanism but without the dozens of dailies that marred the beginning of the expansion). At one point I noticed one of the really tough elite mobs that would 2 shot me had a pattern. I was thinking “I could totally solo that.” And I couldn’t. For like 10 tries. Until I could. He rarely dropped loot. For the time it took to solo him it was totally not worth it. Except it was. Because I could SOLO it!

    In Warlords of Draenor they used what they learned and incorporated it into the beginning of the expansion. Sure, lots of quests and cut scenes and daily quests and garrison missions and tons and tons of stuff telling you to play the game. But also they made all but a handful of quests optional and added other content. Like bonus objectives (an area specific quest where you kill stuff that doesn’t have an exclamation point. At 100 there are repeatable ones), a couple of rep grinds (kill something because something else hates them), lots of rares (some which are also elite) to find and kill. Lots of hidden treasure to find. A few jumping and gliding puzzles (if you like that sort of thing).

    Its all still WoW. It will never be Everquest. But its intriguing they are trying not to require you to hop on the rails and chug away.

  • “Don’t tell me to kill 10 orcs. Build me a world where I will want to.”

    On the other hand today gamers are asking for even more structure gameplay in …guess,.. World of Warcraft!

    And I must say that there are threads in both MMO-C and Official forums that agree with this article. Keen, unless you find a time machine and travel back, stop dreaming.

  • @Rohirrim: Stop dreaming of MMOs returning the days when they were virtual worlds with communities where players want to stay and play for years instead of weeks? NEVER! I’ll make it happen. 😉

  • I am not against your goal but the opposite 🙂 But when the current playerbase request more “structure gameplay from a game like World of Warcraft which is the most successful MMO and unavoidable the most copied one, then the future does not seem bright. Especially when the very few quality sandboxes that have been released or are about to be release are all heavily focused on forced ffa pvp.

  • I personally think that UO did it better than EQ. With UO you didn’t have to sit on mob spawns and kill the same monster over and over again for days just so that you could get a new spell that would suck up all your mana so that you could sit down and meditate for minutes so that you can get to the new zone and start the cycle over again.

    UO is the only MMO I’ve played where I enjoyed playing a character that had no ability to fight. I cut down trees, and made bows and furniture.

  • @JJ Robinson: Yep, I log in occasionally. Damage (Urso in the ss) plays. Yotor doesn’t.

    @Yotor: UO was awesome. No doubt. Two different styles of game. Both awesome, both waaaay before their time.

  • @Yotor I def prefer UO to EQ, but I understand the appeal of EQ. I wish there would have been a true successor to UO, like EQ had with WoW.

    Some will say UO to SWG was the successor, but the launch of SWG was so horrific it scared me from playing it much past the first couple of months. That and I couldn’t understand how a game would launch then significantly nerf and change a class within the first few weeks… I played an animal tamer and basically quit after its nerf. Anyone at the helm with that lack of foresight lost my trust and patience. First of many failed MMO launches which never truly recovered.

  • I’m on your side, but It’s largely because the orcs were the most efficient xp. There were no shiny quest rings to grab, and even the rare quest you stumbled upon was fairly bad xp for time invested.

    I also find it amazing we all clearly remember killing the orcs in faydark – 20 years later – but I couldn’t begin to tell you what mobs I killed in the slog of mmos that followed.

  • I’m glad you brought this up, Keen. Your previous article about the necessity of story in MMOs set me off on a train of thought that quickly arrived at the same destination. If “any story is too much”, as I now believe, then what of quests? They are, after all, the main vehicle used to move the story forward.

    When WoW first came out (and even during the pre-lauch hype) I was really impressed with they way they were handling quests. Although I liked how EQ used dialog to hand out quests combined with juicy bits of lore, the frequent bugs were driving me a bit crazy, and I didn’t like having to use Allakhazam all the time to find out whether the quest reward was going to be worth my while.

    WoW seemed to have the right answer. You get all the info in one dialog box. It tells you right away whether you really want to do the quest, and (most importantly) it seemed like a relatively bug resistant approach. Unfortunately, Blizzard created this fine tool and used it to dish out relatively bland content. If the quest is merely another variation on “kill ten rats” then it stands to reason that the accompanying text is going to be not juicy bits of lore, but lackluster filler.

    I mean, you gotta put some dialog in the dialog box, right?

    But worse still was the decision to give out lots of XP as quest rewards. At first, I thought that sounded like a great idea. Get people doing quests instead of grinding mobs! Get people to engage with the world and its lore! Yeah, baby! But I was sorta assuming that the quests would be, you know, authentic “find the Holy Grail” kind of adventures. The sort of thing that would deserve to be called a quest, and justify the faster character advancement.

    Well, there were a few of those, but for the most part it was more “kill ten rats” and more Fedex. All in all, just one more way to get people rushing to the All Important Endgame. I believe they call this “incentivizing” but you’re right: it’s just the game telling us what to do.

    These days, I’d rather find myself playing a game that never awards quest XP, or does so only for very rare and special quests. Advancement should come as a result of participating in the world, whether that means killing mobs, or healing other players, or crafting gear, or whatever. Ideally, quests should be nothing more than: (1) a way of explaining how these activities are significant in the game setting, and (2) a way of pointing players toward those activities; basically what I called “lore” and “things to do” in a previous comment.

    This doesn’t mean quests can be simplistic, badly designed, or badly written. “Hey you, we’re fighting orcs, go kill a bunch of them!” isn’t a quest, it’s a chore. A true quest (using the definition from medieval romances) is a long series of chores, or trials, that lead to some momentous conclusion. EQ had some quests that fit this description; WoW had a few too. I’d love to play a game with nothing but quests of this type.

  • I have experienced this recently playing Dark age of Camelot.

    Stuck between MMO (while waiting for next PAT for Unchained) I agreed with a mate to give DAoC another go. We played on a free server with some of the rules set back to S I times.

    I got right back into it and the freedom to explore and try and find spots to level. After about a week I though “hey this is great, lets try the official server” its more up to date so has to be better right?

    After paying a sub etc etc I found out I was wrong. Its covered in quests these days and just seems to feel a different game. No longer do I go out and explore the world I do what the quests tell me to do as the EXP is just better :/

  • I miss the City of Heroes system. Fighting villains outside of missions was still fun because you still wanted to stop gang members from stealing from the innocent and stop mob assassinations. As a bonus, even the open world scaled to parties in the area. You knew there was a team of 8 out and about when enemies wandered around in groups of 15-20.

    Some days I didn’t want missions. Some days I just turned on some music and toured around town dispensing justice.

  • Early City of Heroes was pretty entertaining. They ruined everything with Architect I think… It was fun to run/jump/fly/teleport around when suddenly you spot thieves trying to steal a woman’s purse or a group of cultists sacrificing some helpless citizen and you got to jump in and save the day.

    But even those scenes got stale after awhile. It could have been a nice touch if the thieves eventually got the purse or the citizen turned into a wraith or something. Once you knew there was no progression to those stories they lost their charm.

  • I think the main complaint the OP made was unless games are made to be played without quests, it’s very hard for them to produce something which is fun enough. Sure, it might be “playable”, but it’s not as fun as it should be.

  • I think it’s possible to have a game which can be equally played with or without quests, but I think more often than not it’s one or the other. I also think most players prefer quest-driven games over other offerings, no matter how well made they’re. And because quest-driven games are more popular, they’ll recieve more of hte talent and money.

  • Agree with you 100%, Keen.

    I remember playing DAoC back in 2001, without quests. Well, they had a class quest every 7 levels or so to equip you will good gear, but otherwise, you went out and hunted, spawn-camped, or dungeon-crawled for experience and loot. It was a great time, experiencing the world as you found it, not running from point A to point B and back like you were doing a job, not enjoying a world.

    Why is it that everyone seems to want a structured experience 24/7? No wonder people get tired of games so quickly these days. There’s nothing about exploration or finding your own way in today’s typical game. No sense of wonder or discovery.

  • …to add to what I said above, the Typical Fantasy Theme Park of a Thousand Solo Quests has me seriously bored. I’m to the point that I’m hoping for a good sandbox and avoiding theme parks almost entirely now.