Friday, July 31, 2009

Memo to Blizzard's New Employee

Despite all the attention paid to PvP and raiding, questing remains the core of the leveling experience in Warcraft. So it was with particular interest that I noted Blizzard is in the market for a Quest Designer. The job announcement doesn't say whether this position is for Warcraft or Blizzard's next generation MMO. My understanding is that jobs vacancies in this field are extremely rare and typically go to insiders working their way up the system. I'm sure that these experts have their own ideas but I thought it would be fun to jot down some ideas this person might want to consider. Such a list is by definition subjective and I'm sure readers will have their own say in the comments.

(1) Make questing fit better with the story lines of the game. There are many factions and elements to Warcraft lore but often these elements feel attenuated to me. For example, I still don't understand what Venture Bay in Howling Fjord has to do with the Scourge. I'm sure it has some relationship but for the life of me I couldn't tell you what. Frequently, questing seems directed to pushing us to the next leveling zone rather than the next plot element. The result is that I level faster but I wind up at the end of the game with a jumbled and fractured picture of the lore. One possible approach would be to create questing tracks that players would have the option of following. Think of them as huge quest chains that span not just one zone but the entire leveling experience from 70-80. I don't see the need for more quests, just organizing them more coherently. For me, when I see people asking in trade where the best place to level at 72 is that's a failure. Leveling should flow more seamlessly from following a story line in the game.

(2) Move beyond the Holy Trinity. I am not referring to healer/tank/dps but to the holy trinity of quest rewards: gold, experience, reputation. It could be called the holy foursome because gear is now frequently included. My thinking is that the scope of quest rewards should be broader and more flexible. For example, I would like to see profession skill increases achievable as a quest reward. Particularly at the top levels of professions it can become quite costly in gold to get those final few points and it would be nice to have an option other than pestering trade with ubiquitous "paying 50g if I skill up" chat. At the lower levels of professions such as enchanting items frequently are now destroyed because there is no market for them; some type of quest chain that got you to level 200 would be awesome. I'm not suggesting that profession skill points via questing should come easily, but it seems to me integrating questing with profession skill increase would both provide more flexibility for increasing profession skill and make questing more rewarding. Another possibility that I have thought of is to offer a badge or two (Heroism, Valor, whatever) as a reward for completing X amount of daily quests in Icecrown in lieu of the gold. If I do 20 daily quests at level cap but would actually prefer a badge or a skill point than 250g I should have that choice. Regardless of the precise trade offs, the overall goal here is that questing should provide rewards that meet the needs of the players rather than the rote dumping of the Holy Trinity onto the player regardless of whether that is actually useful to them.

(3) Make every quest repeatable. Now that we have daily quests and now that Blizzard has the ability to turn off XP there is no reason not to make every quest repeatable. More times than I can count some non-game event has distracted me, or I have been half asleep, or simply in a rush with limited playing time only to realize that I wish I could do a quest over again simply to understand what it was I just did (other than kill ten rats). Alas, once a quest is done it's gone into the great beyond and if I want to do a quest over again my only choice is to level another character in that faction. When you have a questing experience and think to yourself gosh that was fun lets do it again and then realize that to do it again means leveling another toon to 70; that's a very sad panda moment for the player. Another advantage to this approach is that it would provide wonderful feedback on what quests players actually enjoy. If a leveling quest is being repeated by many players for the sheer thrill of it, that's a good sign the designer did something right.

(4) Make more immersing quest chains. Yes, I understand that immersion is subjective. The quests that I have loved the best are those of such as Betrayal in Zul'drak and Saving Sharpbeak in the old world. These quests are appealing to me for several reasons. First, there is an overarching purpose to the quest chain that produces a reward that is intrinsically worthwhile. Saving Sharpbeak, with the baby griffin flying off into the sunset, is a feel good event that I as a player am motivated to do regardless of the XP, money, or loot involved. Second, the execution of these quest chains is inventive and fun. I still think using an abomination as a type of Kamikaze suicide bomber to kill trolls is perhaps one of the most creative (although sick) ideas to come out of a quest designers head. It's the type of mechanic that grabs your attention. Another great example is the Druid Swift Flight Form quest chain.

I recognize that not everyone has the time to follow such quest chains though to their completion. But I think it's somewhat sad that at level 80 I can pick out only a handful of quest chains that really grabbed me and sucked me in. So while I get that these type of extended chains are not for everyone, more please.

(5) Less bugs. I see this as self-explanatory. Yet it really is a frustration. There is nothing more disheartening then being on a quest, especially a chain, and having it break half-way through. It's frankly turns the game into a huge waste of time. The saddest part is that I know of quests that GMs have confirmed for me were bugs and six months later, still bugged.

There are lots of little things I would like to see done, such as being able to track more than 25 quests. So the list above is not meant to be exhaustive. They are just big picture items that I think would make the game more enjoyable.

How about you; based upon your experience in WoW, what would you tell Blizzard's newest employee?


candy said...

I would ask them to please stop it with the vehicle quests and boss fights already!

(yes I am a curmudgeon who is not happy about jousting)

Great article-- going to twitter it shortly.

David said...

I think they need to revamp how quest item drops are doled out. It should be a ramping up of chance to drop:

kill 5 foozles: 50% to drop foozle dust

kill 10 foozles: 75% chance to drop foozle dust.

15th foozle and on: 100% chance to drop.

This would stop the frustration you get when you need to kill more of a type of monster, but they are all dead (because you or another quester killed them all!) and you are waiting for respawns. Nothing kills the immersion more than waiting for a monster to appear out of thin air so you can smash it down and hope it drops what you need, and then repeating that for 5-10 minutes or more.

And if the new daily quests in 3.2 involve even more jousting I just wont do them. I am counting down the number of jousting dailies I need to until I get Crusader title - 8 days/24 matches left to go.

Klepsacovic said...

1) Quests tend to fit with the storyline, but they aren't always told very well or they leave too much to you figuring it out. Venture Bay, if a faction can get control, would be another port to Northrend and sits right on the resource-rich zone of Grizzly Hills.

I like it when quests fit well with the zone. Kill ten X doesn't really fit because it's a universal. However fighting to save the troll gods, that was not something easily transplanted to other zones.

GreenmanTim said...

I like quests that make you do incongruous stuff, like fish Naxx or the Molten core. Or farm a rare drop. Since I do that anyway, why not have a quest incentive?

Jormundgard said...

I'd ask them to become an advocate for class-specific questlines. There is a consensus among the designers that these are not a good use of time, since only 10%-20% of the player base uses them. I would argue that this is a good thing, and that players need their own 10% to have a unique experience.

I'd ask them to stop asking the players to fund their next project, and use that money on the game we pay for, to hire more quest and content designers.

Dw-redux said...

Apart from your #3 im on board all the way!
For myself id like more epic questline chains that span many levels. I've talked about this in an earlier post, that they should have purple (or orange) questlines that lets the player know that this is the time to read the whole damned text and follow the breadcrumbs.

and @ Jormundgard: Oh hell yes, that must be the lousiest excuse ever made. Give more class quests.

Hagu said...

I totally agree with Candy. But that also fits into #5; vehicle quests were sooooo bugged in November; and still are much more likely to have problems. Certainly no significant quest should involve vehicles (looking at you AT) because so many of us avoid that junk.

Any attention to professions would be A Good Thing. But perhaps more quests that used some lower level gear; I now just skin+(mine/herb) till 80 and then take a day and get to 450, having a lower level non-gathering profession, except for a disenchanter, seems a waste atm.

Hagu said...

And I know its not immersive but I am AR enough to want to at least see a list of the quests I have completed in a zone; would also appreciate seeing at least the number of remaing quests if not the name.

Kedge said...

@hagu You can turn on achievement tracking where you can see how many quests are left in a particular zone.

We Fly Spitfires said...

I gotta admit that I'm not really interested in questing as a leveling mechanic. I just do it because it's an easy and convenient way to solo. Still, I think it's too easy and discourages people from grouping.

Carra said...

The most fun quest I've ever played must be the hunter epic bow quest in the old world. It started by getting two items from the bosses Onyxia and Major Domo. Then you had to kill four mini bosses on your own. These required some true skill. You had to kite one with your slowing arrow and shoot a poison arrow at him every x steps. Another needed the use of your wingclip: walk in, clip, continue shooting. Another needed the use of your frost traps. And the last one needed some AOE power. You had to actually use your unique skills to kill these bosses and they posed a nice challenge. Some of these bosses required quite a few tries.

But I can also see why Blizzard isn't keen on class specific quests. Only one in ten players gets to do that quest. Even less as you needed two items from the "end game" raids. Class specific solo quests that require skill and offer a great reward are something that would add a lot of fun to the game.

I think it comes down to increasing the difficulty. Which quests did you have to redo because you weren't skilled enough? Give us a shot at a quest and let us wait for x minutes to try again if we fail. Add a great reward and there we go: a great quest. Sure, only 20% of the players might be skilled enough to complete your quest but that's the whole point of it: add some quests that take some actual skill to complete.

Starman said...

I have to say I really liked this post. It really hits upon the core of what I think I'm looking for from some of the quests.

The concept of getting skill points in professions is one I hadn't thought of, but oh my god.. for all the times there are quests for professions, I think it should be an option to skill up doing a "leatherworking quest". I mean hell... you're learning something about leatherworking why not skill up on the quest.

Plus it might be a cool idea to do something like have quests to learn new weapon skills or some other skill related things too... great concept Larisa.

Starman said...

And now is when I beg profuse apologies as I just realized that Elnia wrote this particular post... doh!!! Sorry about that.

Firespirit said...

I think #5 is the biggest thing here lately. I think Blizz has used the "its a big game, things tend to happen" excuse WAY too often lately.

Thats why you have a PTR. Use it, love it, learn to use it MORE OFTEN and FOR LONGER PERIODS - perhaps reward players with some (not game breaking, but not inconsequential) game time as a reward - maybe a week of gametime for each PTR cycle played.

Aside from that, I would like to see more class quests - while lvling my paladin, I loved to do the class quests to get the key class abilities (sense undead, rez, etc...). Yes, only paladins see these, but it wrapped you around in the lore of the class that you played. Is that so bad?

Dorgol said...

Class Quests -

Most people refer to the Hunter / Priest Molten Core class quests. Or maybe the level 50 class quests (which usually went into Sunken Temple).

However, I would be just as happy to see a class questline that resulted in a skill. Think about the Rogue questline that allows them to learn to use Poisons. Or the Paladin questline that grants Sense Undead (and I think Redemption).

We are given 2 or more new skills with each expansion. And some of these skills are considerably different than anything we've done before (Mirror Image, Demonic Teleport, Divine Plea). I would LOVE to see these new skills granted via questing.

I remember in Diablo II a quest that granted us free stats. What about a questline that would grant a choice of +20 Agi or +20 Str or +20 Int? The difference between a Paladin that took 20 INT vs 20 STR would be a non-issue, but it would be a long remember questline because of the choice.

How about more quests with mini-pet rewards? Especially now that they don't take up inventory space. In vanilla there were 2 such quests for LBRS. In TBC there was 1 quests (could be solo'd). We have NOTHING in WotLK.

I don't like long attunements that require groups, but I do like the idea behind attunements. Give us another questline that grants a key like the Key to the Searing Gorge. Do you have to have the key to get into the Gorge? No. But is it cool to have? Yes.

I could probably go on, but this is getting kinda long. :)

Namthe said...

@David - the system you mention was already brought in with WotLK. See

Elnia said...

I think there have been some good suggestions here in the comments. Who knows, maybe someone from Blizzard will actually see them.

@Namthe. I corrected your snafu. No worries.

Hagu said...

@Kedge - Thx, That helps but I have two issues with it:

IIRC it is northrend only.

It only shows the # of quests till the acheivement, not the # quests in the zone. ( I still had several BT quests when I got the BT achievement. )

Anonymous said...

Great post.

Another suggestion: quests that send you into instances/raids. I'm not talking specifically about atonement quests, but how about a chain where at some point you need to kill an instance boss. Extra points if the boss is not the last part of the chain.

One example is a chain in SMV ( I'm sorry I can't remember the name) that sends you to shatterd halls and steamvaults - the one where the reward at the end is a blue weapon with +against demons

Staffan said...

I think they have gotten better at quest design in Wrath. The most memorable chains I've seen so far in the game are the Death Knight starting quest chain, and the quest chain that takes up like 75% of the stuff you do in Storm Peaks. It starts with the goblins at K3 asking you to rescue some of their guys who have been captured by the Sifreldar, and ends up with you infiltrating their village disguised as one of them, becoming one of their champions, fighting other champions on frigging dragonback, waking Thorim from his stupor, making things right between Thorim and the Sons of Hodir again, and culminating with a facedown between Thorim and Loken (which Loken wins with some help from Yogg-Saron).

They make good use of phasing in this and other quests, like helping the Argent Crusade conquer Crusader's Pinnacle and the Ebon Blade conquer the Shadow Vault, and there's also the Icecrown quest chain where you explore Arthas' background (culminating in Tirion Fordring destroying Arthas' heart and declaring him unredeemable).

That said, I'm totally on board with those who dislike vehicle quests. Some of them can be fun, but others are just dull, and they remove one of the things I feel are most important in the game: your identification with your character and his abilities. You spend all that time leveling up to 80, and learning to play your character, what tactics work where, and so on... and then you get a mission where those abilities aren't used, and you have to learn something completely new. Jousting at least has the dubious advantage that it's used multiple times, so it's something you can get better at (not that the tactics involved are particularly complicated).

Gothia said...

??? You obviously haven't quested in Azeroth in quite some time. The zones are empty and you would be lucky to scrape together a group to do an instance. Memo to writer: Maybe you should specify where these quests will be and really who quests after 80 = other than dailies or rep grinds?

How about Blizzard sink Azeroth in the next expansion because you destroyed the zone with the inception of Death Knights.

Dàchéng said...

Excellent post, Elnia.

I would love to see more immersive storylines, and quests that fit in with the game's lore better. Believe it or not, my favourite storyline is one of the earliest quest chains, the Defias Brotherhood quests. And I'm annoyed at Blizzard for removing the True Masters/Great Masquerade chain. Even though it's no longer needed to get into Onyxia's lair, that doesn't mean it isn't a great story!

Dorgol said...

@Gothia -

YOU might not quest after hitting the level cap (outside of dailies), but other people love questing.

I'm sitting at over 4 thousand quests done on my main character. According to my Achievement tracker, I haven't hit 1k daily quests yet. I also finished 3 zone achievements (Sholozar, Icecrown, Tundra) after hitting 80.

Tesh said...

I'd like to see quests that can be accomplished in different ways, like those in Quest for Glory games. That could also play into the "class-based" quests, giving every class a different way to accomplish the same goal.

Say, a Rogue would be able to Stealth in and Pick Lock a certain widget, and then Stealth out, gaining a bonus to the reward if they were never detected, while a Warrior would just go kill everything and pry the prize from the baddies' cold, dead hands. A Priest might manage to barter for the quest foozle by working with the "bad guys" or healing some of their injured noncombat units (storytelling hook!), and a Shaman might use their totems to help a small NPC raiding party sneak in the back way. In the end, each would have equivalent rewards, but the means to get there would be different and interesting, as well as a way to teach players about their class.

chartroose said...

More fun quests every once in awhile, like catching butterflies or baking souffles for tavern guests. I get tired of just killing, killing, killing all the time (and I feel especially bad about killing wolves -- it must be their death whine that gets to me).