Monday, August 29, 2011

More Boars? Really?

This evening I was asked to handle a local infestation of boars.  Of course killing boars in mmos is beyond cliche at this point so it seems appropriate that it was yet another quest to kill boars that prompted this post.

Because, you see, when I bravely ventured out to handle the fearsome boars, boars which I had been told were numerous and on the rampage, there was nary a boar to be found.   And I know they weren't hiding behind trees, nor were they employing some new boar-stealth technology, as frequent application of my trusty boar tracking skill told me there were simply no boars left.

Apparently previous adventurers had already handled the boar problem.

So why did the NPC send me out to kill more boars?  Was it all just some cruel joke?  Surely he knew that, as he had been sending adventurers out all day long on the same quest, the boar problem had already been dealt with.

Humor aside, this is of course a long-standing problem with quests of the kill-10-rats variety.   So long standing in fact that I'd guess it has made the rounds many times in the mmo blog-space.  And yet, the problem remains.

Now, I've seen games that have attempted to address the problem.  The most common "solution" seems to be to increase spawn rate as a function of the number of players in the area, but this is a weak solution in my opinion because it merely moves the disconnect from the beginning of the quest (go kill non-existent boars) to the end of the quest (here's a reward for the boar problem even though you didn't really make a dent in all the boars).

Other solutions I've seen include instancing (Oh, there's no more boar problem?  Ok, let me create a special private magical universe filled with boars so you'll still be able to help me with my boar problem.) and on-the-spot generation of mobs for the player to kill (What? there are no boars?  *makes strange gestures* Why don't you look again?  See?  Plenty of boars.)  Again, these are weak solutions because they don't address the main issue -- that there really wasn't a boar problem to begin with.

Now, I know a lot of players don't see this as a problem.   People for the most part don't care.  They just want to kill stuff for experience and loot.   And I can understand that point of view because I love killing stuff for experience and loot.  But if we don't care about the quest-givers, and if we don't care about whether or not they were lying to us about some sort of issue with boars terrorizing the countryside, then I would propose that we eliminate the quest-givers entirely for those sorts of quests.  If boars are a problem, then declare a general boar problem in the local town.  Post it up on a bulletin board that boars are kill-on-sight for the week and remove the need for people to find quest givers willing to falsify boar census numbers.  Perhaps individual boars are worth more experience for the week, and perhaps every 20 boars killed results in an extra bundle of experience as well as a choice of reward (magically transported to the player while out in the field or whatever method suits the lore of the day).

My point mostly boils down to this.  Quests and quest-givers are there for those who care about lore and storyline and immersion in general.  The ability to kill boars for gain is there for those who enjoy killing for gain -- and yes the two groups overlap.   But when quests become nothing more than a transparent artifice to reward players for killing boars, then they no longer serve any real function as story-telling devices and they can end up actually hurting immersion.

So, I'd like to see boar killing quests made even more transparent and automatic by removing the quests entirely.  And with regard to quests and quest-givers, I'd like to see something I've never seen before.  I'd like for mmos to generate actual problems and have NPCs suddenly and dynamically ask adventurers for help with those problems.  The problem can still be a problem with boars -- if only for nostalgia.  But if a quest giver asks me to deal with a specific and sudden infestation of boars, I'd love to finally be able to take up the quest knowing that it was an actual problem.  That there was a genuine invasion of boars in a nearby area.  That I specifically had been asked to go deal with the problem.  That once dealt with, the problem would go away.  And that only I would be rewarded for the effort.

Of course, if someone else kills the boars, I'm not saying I wouldn't take credit.  After all, the quest giver gave the quest to me and if I received help, its no concern of his.


  1. Quests and quest-givers are there for those who care about lore and storyline and immersion in general.

    Unfortunately, you are wrong. Quest are a very important loop that loosens up your gameplay. And they keep your mind busy.

    As long as you consider running back to town worthwhile and non-frustrating (you genuinely accept it as 'normal', 'god-given', 'the-way-it-is', you don't think you shouldn't have to do that), it adds to your experience. Lore and the simulation aren't as important as the pure abstract gameplay here.

  2. Hey Nils, thanks for the comment. But I don't think my essential point is so much wrong, as perhaps I got a bit lazy in my wording and missed the mark a bit.

    Because I completely agree with you that lore and the simulation aren't as important as the abstract gameplay. In fact, just because I call something immersion breaking doesn't mean I'm claiming that it's game breaking at all. I myself don't require immersion to have fun -- at least not all the time (or ever?).

    But the current pattern where NPCs send every adventurer off to do exactly the same thing, and when the problem they claim to be having is clearly a lie, that's most definitely immersion breaking (to me) because it causes me to start thinking about blogging about it rather than remaining immersed in the virtual world. ;)

    Perhaps my hasty suggestion as to a solution was exactly that, hasty. But I still maintain that one could keep the very important repeatable, gameplay-loosening activities that we all love and still bring some integrity back to the storyline.

    Honestly, I think part of the reason storyline is no longer important to most of us is because developers have mostly abandoned all pretense of actually having one. I for one would enjoy having what-we-have-now plus a more immersive virtual experience.

  3. Good post. The bulletin board wold be a better solution (kill 10 boards and claim your reward): you run aroudn the fields and if you see a boar you kill it. 10 boars later you go back to town and claim your reward.

    But... to be honest... that just scraps the surface. MMOS in general tend to be very repetitive and filledi with non-sense and gaps in both lore and stories.

    Let's take WoW as a basic example: how can we play a "daily" quest day after day for weeks, months, years? How's that I killed that specific npc 200 times last year... does he resurrect every time?

    I have to admit I never managed to deeply enjoy the lore of WoW. Because the game mechanics always killed it (that's my personal opinion, of course). Watching a queue of players waiting for a specific item/npc/mob respawn is pathetic (in terms of lore and immersione).

    The only way to enjoy the game was to move on and ignore the nonsense. And that basically means you focus on this:

    - click npc
    - skip text, click accept
    - kill 10 boars as fast as you can
    - click npc
    - skip text, claim reward

    I still ask myself: how could I do the same thing over and over and over... for years?

  4. P.s. Got a FaceBook/G+ profile?

  5. @Loque No kidding about this just scratching the surface. But as Nils repeatedly points out, WoW was (and is) incredibly successful so we can't deny that it tapped directly into something immensely enjoyable even if it was seemingly at the expense of everything we might have once thought were the most important features in an mmo.

    Oh, and I do have a FaceBook page and a G+ profile (and a Twitter account) but I haven't yet managed to get excited enough about FaceBook or Twitter to actually use them. As for my G+ profile, I don't believe there's anything there other than a link to here so there didn't seem to be any point in providing a link -- but I'm happy to put a link up to it.

    Sadly, while I may be an mmo and rpg veteran, I'm still a noob when it comes to social networking.