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Quest Text: RIP?

October 23, 2008

It’s always there. It lurks behind every green circle, a giant “Click Me For A Chore” icon floating above the heads of sinister NPCs. It’s been present in computer RPGs since the olden days of Zork, Wasteland, and Ultima. Without it, we feel clueless and lost for purpose; with it, we sigh and shrug and dutifully fulfill its requirements. It is the quest box, a sinister creation of RPG makers dating back to Dungeons & Dragons:

“Hey, there’s a dragon,” the GM helpfully supplies. “It’s in a dungeon. Go kill it.”

“Uh, why?” the player responds. “I mean, it’s a big honkin’ beast that shoots fire from its nasal passages and I’m a level 2 bard with spells like ‘Athlete’s Foot’ and ‘Tooting Horn’. Why should I care?”

The GM rustles through a few pages and then wings it. “The dragon killed your mom, kid. And your dad. And your dog Sparky. It needs to be on the end of some sharp vengeance, and you’re the guy for the job.”

“Hm.” The player mulls this over. Revenge IS a good motivator, but even bigger is greed. “So what’s in it for me?”

“A giant sword of magical doom. +5,” the GM plucks out of thin air. “And your pick of vestal virgins for a companion. And this Hot Pocket.”

“Deal!” And thus, a bard tromps off on a merry quest.

All quest text gives us those three motivating factors: (1) What’s the story behind this quest, (2) why should my character bother, and (3) what’s in it for me? MMOs are not populated by charity organizations that receive generous donations of time with only goodwill in return; players need a carrot — XP, money, items — to prompt them to do the job. Without quests, your character is aimless and falls back on the imagination (gasp) of the player to provide a made-up motivation.

Yet here we are in the great Year of Our Lord 2008, and we’re still reading quest text boxes. Still. It’s not just a staple, it’s a cliché. It’s not just a cliché, it’s passé. In a time where we have full-motion video and animated cut scenes and illustrations and voice-overs and scripted events, the bulk of the MMO quests come from those dull, tired text boxes. As Stylish Corpse pointed out in his excellent article, it’s an uphill battle to care about quest text anymore.

I mean, I *want* to care. If I sit on my hands and force myself to read the quest text in WAR, it’s usually pretty good and full of flavor and all that. The problem is that we not only see through the system that no matter how they dress up these quests in different coats of verbal paint, it’s the same 5-8 quest types, but that MMOs have trained us to scroll to the bottom, see our objectives, and click “accept” about as fast as we can. I remember the early days of World of Warcraft when the quest text would actually scroll gradually to reveal the quest before you could click “accept”. People HATED that. People invented mods to bypass the scroll, and eventually Blizzard scapped it entirely.

Here we are in WAR, and if you take time to analyze the quest boxes, they’re actually visually designed to keep you from reading much — if any — of the quest text. Don’t believe me? Take a look next time in game. The “flavor text”, the actual backstory and motivational factors behind the quest, are in a much lighter font than the solid-black objectives font. My eye doesn’t want to stay up top, because the “meat” of the quest is down at the bottom: what I have to do and what’s in it for me. It’s actually changed quite a bit from the earlier days of beta, from this:

To this:

Now, obviously the current quest text UI is more attractive and cleaner.  But due to the lighter font vs. darker font, my eyes are drawn away from the flavor text and right to the bare-bones objectives.  That shouldn’t be.  The flavor text is pretty amusing and it’s trying to give me purpose beyond just the rewards.

I imagine that this dilemma is the bane of all quest text writers.  I mean, it’s a LOT of work, obviously.  If I was plucked from obscurity today to work on a MMO, I’d probably be put into a room to write quest texts.  So I can appreciate how difficult it must be to write up hundreds and hundreds of short-short stories that are not only in tone and in lore with the Warhammer IP, but cover up bland quest mechanics with increasingly-convoluted reasons why I should kill ten foozles or loot six foozlites or escort Chief Foozle from his Foozle Fortress on top of Mt. Foozle to the Foozle Convention in Foozledam.

*slaps myself in the face*

Yet it’s pretty much a fact: most players don’t read the quest text.  And when the game subtly acknowledges this by designing the quest UI in a way to help you NOT read it, then I don’t know where we go from there.   Everquest 2 went the route of voice-overs for each of the quest givers, and Age of Conan at least attempted to give players choices (at least of dialogue) while interacting with quest-givers.  Guild Wars and LOTRO used cutscenes for the major quests to give a sense of purpose.  Heck, I’d settle for a couple still screenshots with a quick amusing voiceover as part of my mission briefing.

It’s just a shame, really.  It seems that the more visual games get, the harder it is to slow yourself down and read in them.  I doubt our kids will have that issue when they grow up in the gaming scene — quest text will eventually be a product of an era long since past.

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21 comments

  1. “Chief Foozle from his Foozle Fortress on top of Mt. Foozle to the Foozle Convention in Foozledam.”

    I would do that just for the chance at a “Foozle-groupie” title! That and the chance to do the tourist thing in Foozledam. I hear they legalised Elvish Parsley.

    (PS – I’m a she ;))


  2. What is this quest text that you speak of… All I know is that there are these cool people w/ green things over there head, and when I click them my map has happy red areas where I go kill stuff until some bell rings and I go back to the guy now w/ some brownish orange thingy over his head and he wants to give me free milk and cookies.


  3. Sad but true, and perhaps another advantage of being able to access the Tome outside of the game. How about “pop quiz” quests, where you are well-rewarded for correctly answering questions about why the (bleep) you have been doing all of that Foozle-ing?


  4. Actually I like the fact that the quest text is given in two different brightness tones.

    Most of the time I read the whole text, but when I play an alt I can just skip it if I want and just check whats “todo” as I already know the story behind the quests/chapters.


  5. Shame on anyone who misses out on Mythic’s excellent Quest text… here’s why.

    I thought I’d try a Dark Elf on one of the EU RP servers, and had not put any thought into my character, backstory, personality… It was just a quick look at the ‘Dark Side’.

    Mythic did all this work for me, through an elegant piece of text quest…

    To see what I mean, roll a Dark Elf and do one of the starting quests called ‘Shinies’ (I think it is a rank 3 or 4 quest)… It’s well worth the time spent getting to it (about 10-15 mins?), and you don’t have to be a role player to appreciate the genius of it!!

    Once you read ‘Shinies’, you’ll wonder what you’ve been missing skimming to the black text at the bottom of the quest window!!!


  6. It’s sad, people are constantly complaining about games not being fun, yet they intentionally skip over what probably took the bulk of the time in designing the game.

    Most people aren’t concerned about the different zones or pqs, they just want the fastest way to get to level 40.

    Me not excluded………


  7. lol I always tell my husband Genda “blah, blah, blah, lore…blah, blah, blah, lore…” let’s go kill something. 😉

    But I do have to wonder if it is the same on an RP server versus a “core” rule set server. Do RPers read the text and “go with the mood” or do they just click accept or reject based on the rewards too? interesting thing to ponder…


  8. I loved the voice acted quests in AoC, when they stopped once we left the starting zone I found the world suddenly that much more quiet and lifeless.


  9. I read the quest text, usually. It is pretty entertaining.


  10. In all honesty, Its been like this since as far back as I can remember in MMOs (which would be EQ) I read some quests when I started in EQ, but you soon learned it was more about grinding with a group and dungeon crawling.

    DAoC came by next and was pretty much the same thing, more grinding, but HEY! now you can grind solo! (daoc quests were junk, and most didnt give good exp for the time invested until you got to the higher lvls)

    Then WoW came and gave us more grinding, but OH LOOK! now you can do these quests which yield bunches of XP and are usually pretty quick to do, so its faster to Quest for xp than grind. But, yer just grinding quests now. Sooo, dont worry about reading them…since it takes so freekin long to get to 60/70/80 whatever we make you level to this year, you dont have time to read if you want to raid. (plus, most of WOW’s quests text weren’t that interesting IMO)

    Have I been reading WAR’s quest text? No.

    Should I be? Yes, Ive heard nothing but good things about the effort put in by Mythic.

    SO, starting tonight, when I do a quest, I will read every word of the text. Scouts Honor.

    Who’s with me?


  11. I don’t want cut scenes or voice-overs at every quest. I LIKE quest text and Mythic’s is pretty well-written and interesting. I love that I can go to the Tome and re-read the quest text if I lose track of why I am killing these particular foozles.

    I am the exception, I know, but I am not on a quest to get to level 40 as quickly as possible. Quite frankly, the only reason I even care about getting to level 40 at all is to get the “Fetch” command for my White Lion… 😉


  12. I’m with Dapoets on this one. The devs have set things up such that I can accept anything and only go back to read it later if I’m in the red circle and can’t figure out whether “NPC (0/1)” indicates someone I’m looking to kill or the corpse of the questgiver’s loved ones. If even the devs don’t think I should spend my time reading their own text, I’m not going to argue with them.


  13. Well …

    Generic quests – I agree.

    Public quests are the step in the right direction and something that everyone can be apart of (if they want).

    Basically, Warhammer is going in the right direction completely. They are taking out the texts and let you experience the quest with other people, instead of killing 10 things, you kill 100 things because after you kill 100 things something changes, then after that something changes again and you really feel apart.

    The only downside is obviously people, yet this is the quest of the future, and then reading a story regarding what you did makes sense, but more importantly as PQ’s evolve, you will understand why you need to do that PQ and how it will change the world around you… if only temporary.

    Anyway – we are headed in the right direction complete.

    -s


  14. crap – completely.


  15. In this game, I’d be sad to say that not only do most people not read the quest text, most don’t even quest ; ; I’m currently in a roleplaying guild and people STILL don’t do quests. Personally, I love quests. And I try to read all the text as well, but there’s just so blasted many of them to do I admit I often click accept thinking “I’ll open the ToK and read the text later”, which of course I don’t.

    It does lead to laughs though, especially on destro side. “Wait… why the hell am I throwing this rotting piece of meat into this fountain? The HELL is THAT thing coming out of it now?!” Pays to know what dasterdly deed you’re doing 😛

    Of the time I clicked a random item from a quest for an update and found myself surrounded by five naked dark elf women yelling about “Sweet, sweet pleasure” and then a daemon of Slanesh sat on my face. That was a bit unexpected.


  16. I must say I have read SOME of the quests. I do intend to go back through with an Alt but I want to be able to participate in the upper tier RvR so right now I am flying through mostly on scenarios. Once that character is set though, the downtime can be spent on an Alt doing only quests…reading each one for the fun along the way.

    I did want to make a point about the public quests. Not entirely an original idea with Warhammer – After EA took over Ultima Online they added a concept called “Champions” – which ran exactly like the public quests. Though a bit longer in operation it would start with easier mobs of a particular theme…followed by hard mobs…followed by harder mobs….then would spawn a champion who, when killed, gave special rewards (some of which would drop right into your pack instead of looting from a chest). They could be done by PUGs or organized guilds/parties and were a good concept then that I am glad to see here in War 🙂


  17. I looked at those a pics of the qyests a bunch of times and finnaly realized something…

    The quest rewards got nerfed!


  18. I always read the quest text. It’s part of the fun for me.
    I R oldschool Role player though.


  19. […] Greenskin funetik dikshun in a nutshell. I am still not back in the habit of reading quest text. This doesn’t help. […]


  20. I agree, quest text sucks. Something’s gotta give, I am putting all my faith in Bioware’s upcoming Star Wars MMO with its highly touted story system.

    I started to write a longer reply, but it turned into a blog of its own:

    http://word-of-shadow.blogspot.com/2008/11/bringing-quests-back-to-1990-level.html


  21. […] enjoyment a bit. Almost immediately I found I wasn’t reading the quest text, despite having every intention to. It was just too easy to slip into the accept/do/hand-in routine, and watch the levels build. I was […]



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