[MUD-Dev] Re: Do Quests need to be Fed-Ex

Sean Howard squidi at squidi.net
Wed Jan 28 04:27:03 CET 2004

From: <chanur at guildsite.com>

> You've read a bit more into my post than I was meaning to be
> there.

Sorry. Old habits die hard. :)

> It is important to me that not every quest be completely linear to
> one possible outcome, multiple paths to multiple possible outcomes
> make the decision making much more interesting.

Well... then it wouldn't be a FedEx quest anymore :) The term is
basically a derogatory name given to what is essentially a game
design pattern. When used too much and without regard, all patterns
become cliches. The reason why FedEx quests are bad is because they
are cliches and no longer the appropriate pattern for the situation.

Take SWG (I hate to keep using it as an example). There are mission
terminals which essentially deal out your own cliched quest. These
quests have little mini-stories with them, but I don't think I've
ever once read them. The waypoints give me all the required
information for me to work.

There is one city on one planet that is small enough that I can
actually make deliveries there and pick up new deliveries all within
the span of one or two minutes while the shuttle is still there (and
that was before the introduction of speedy vehicles). A little
planning, and I can make roughly 4k of money in about 4 minutes of
work. This is essentially what you are talking about. Though the
quests were generic and boring, I've found a context under which the
rewards are significantly greater, the required skills more intense,
and the process even sometimes enjoyable (the 4K run, as we call it,
is not a guarranteed success and can really get your adrenaline
pumping when the conditions are not the most favorable).

There is a similar situation where you can combine hunting missions
with destroy missions to make a lot of cash, but only on specific
planets and even in specific cities. Finding out these little
details are some of the more interesting aspects of playing the
game. It rewards the players who seek out the knowledge. It allows
players to min-max (which they will do anyway) without feeling like
they are abusing a system.

For instance, say you create a quest which gives you a sword to take
somewhere. You can see the sword for $500 or deliver it and get
$2000. The problem is, you can sell about 10 swords in the time it
takes to deliver one. Players will ALWAYS take the path which
requires the least amount of effort that yields the best results for
that effort. If improperly designed, players will find out which
quests yeild the biggest results, share that knowledge, and then
you've got two dozen people stalking spawning points.

> I must point out that there is already negative reinforcement in
> these games, death is a negative reinforcement.  Even in games as
> simple as Mario Brothers there is negative reinforcement.

In SMB3, for example, it is used as a learning device. Oh, that
didn't work. I'll try again. I've seen people go through SMB3 in
something like 3 minutes without dying. They were still having fun,
even when the threat of negative reinforcement was all but gone from
the gameplay.

> I believe negative must be in a game to make "winning" enjoyable.

You are, of course, assuming the point is to "win" (which implies
you can "lose"). Some games, like the Sims, have so little negative
reinforcement it might as well not even be there. In fact, outside
of killing your Sims (almost requires effort) and running out of
money (most people I know play with infinite money cheats), there is
nothing to lose or gain in that game. It is a game in which the
aesthetic is almost more important than the gameplay that drives it.

These games tend to be considered "sims" or "toys" because the lack
of final goal doesn't hamper the enjoyment of playing with it. I
could sit there and watch the Settlers build their huts all day (and
have). But this kind of infinite gameplay is what MMORPGs should be
looking towards more than traditional "win" and "level up"
designs. In fact, the whole end game thing is based around this

(This does not mean that I'm a simulationist, at least not in the
traditional sense. I believe that simulating player experiences is
more important than simulating environments).

> To remove all negative reinforcement you would have to remove all
> obstacles to "winning" which in turn makes for a very hollow
> victory.  Watching a movie is a form of entertainment with no
> negative reinforcement, but any game has some even if it is small.

Again, you assume that "winning" is the goal. Sometimes, just the
experience itself it a good enough reason to play. For instance, I
played on Club Caribe (direct descendant of Habitat, one of the
first MMOG).  There was no goal in that game. No negative
reinforcement. My entire purpose in that game was to locate a very
specific head which came with a demon tail (I saw pictures in a
Compute's Gazette article, so I know it existed :)

You can do a lot with MMOGs where the point is not
gamplay-accomplishment based. For instance, collecting things can be
an important non-negative driving force for some people. So could
building onto the game world by opening up their own night club or
creating a newspaper. Socializing and creating hide-n-seak or
scavenger hunt events. (It should be noted that I think The Sims
Online messed up here by trying to tie gameplay aspects to these
things, thus leading to things like prostitution and mafia strong
arming - and the metaphors of the Sims doesn't work as well in a
direct control environment).

> Will the power-gamer try to make the run in that amount of time?
> Of course. Will the casual gamer?  Most likely. So long as the
> amount of time needed to make the run is not more than 15-20
> minutes I cannot possibly fathom how this is more advantageous to
> the power-gamer.  Casual gamers are generally limited by available
> time, not by tactics.

That depends on whether there is equipment (possibly expensive
equipment) that can make the run easier or quicker. For instance, in
SWG (again, sorry), there are vehicles that range in speed and
price, all of them more quick than just walking. This would be a
case of the rich getting richer.

> I'm also trying to add interesting choices, do I deliver the ring
> or not?

Perhaps a more interesting choice would be WHO I deliver the ring
to. That is less min-max breakable. Put the decision less in
gameplay and more in the metaphor which drives the gameplay?

Sean Howard - www.squidi.net
Webcomic: The Starship Destiny
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