Adding Direction

After some nasty post-GDC sick days (weeks, really), I’m back and working pretty hard on the MMO. The pre-alpha server is still down, which is upsetting, but it will be back up soon with a new newbie experience. Hopefully it will help set the tone a little better.

The Newbie Experience, v1

You start out in a cave after your memory has been wiped. There’s a depressed prisoner with you who doesn’t seem to offer you much help. Skeletal guards keep you from leaving. You find a sword and slash your way through the caves, reaching strange room after strange room, piecing together what’s going on.

I already know t’s not the permanent newbie experience — you can’t really finalize the newbie experience until most of the game is done. That’s why my instinct was to skip it until later. But watching people play the game, I realized they weren’t really “getting it.” Part of that is because there isn’t enough content there to “get” — a problem I still have to work on — and part of it is that the game isn’t setting expectations well. As a result, I don’t think most people who’ve playtested so far were very excited to keep going. (Most didn’t make it to the later area where more skills are unlocked.) So before I inflict the game on any more new people, I’m fixing up the newbie experience.

The key feature of the newbie experience is that it’s linear (of course), but with lots of extra stuff to do. You can learn Alchemy by finding ingredients in various nooks and crannies — which lets you create an antidepressant potion that temporarily makes that morose NPC less glum. You can tame giant rats to fight alongside you, learn to cook some simple recipes, discover how to autopsy corpses, learn basic geology, and hopefully a few more things. But you don’t have to do much of any of it. You can stab things all the way to the door and leave. The point is to let you discover things, not force-feed them to you.

So far the newbie experience is coming along nicely, but it does feel a little bit like an adventure game — you do step A to unlock step B, then step C to unlock step D. But I’m not sure that’s such a bad thing, because the full game kind of feels that way anyway. The game will usually involve semi-systemic content: “Give apples to the shy clerk until his friendliness meter is full, so you can buy the clock parts you need for the time machine, so that you can learn chronomancy, so you can…”

From a certain point of view, any game’s an adventure game, granted, but I think this MMO is a little bit more down the adventure path than many.

However, it’s definitely not an actual adventure game. The most important reason? I’m not trying to capture the brain-teaser part of adventure games. You aren’t supposed to beat your head against the wall trying to figure out what to do next.

More Directed GUI Tools

That’s why I really need to have more direction for the game. Traditional quests are part of it, sure, but they’re the baby steps toward bigger goals, and I need to help you understand the bigger picture.

I’ve tried various systems, like shoving goal info into the skill panel: ”Reach the next level to unlock a new research recipe.” That sort of thing. But it still gives too narrow of a view, I think.

So I’m planning out a “guide” GUI that shows you bigger goals that you can accomplish based on your current skills and state. It also gives hints to help you get started.

For instance, it might say that with your current skill level in Lore, you qualify to learn Ice Magic… if you can convince Yabaz in the village of Hammi to teach you. Then it’d be up to you to go learn what the NPC wants, which might be very complex or very easy.

I’m still working on the design, though. I don’t want it to be overwhelming. The mid-game is broad and flat in structure, meaning that you soon have access to tons of different goals at once. If it just listed all of them, there’d be hundreds of entries like “you can ingratiate yourself with Lumak the Hunter to get 10% better deals in his shop.” This is stuff you want to know, maybe… but not in a gigantic list form. I need to find some ways to organize this stuff. (Organizing the GUI is the easier part, really — the tricky part is organizing it internally so that I don’t have to do tons of manual data entry!)

So I’m still brainstorming on that… it’s a ways away. The more immediate goal is this newbie experience. I’m not sure when it’ll be ready, but I’m shooting for the weekend.

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5 Responses to Adding Direction

  1. Just a quickie, these tidbits of information you’re talking about that give you direction, would it make sense if they were provided by NPCs? As in, replace the typical non-sense spam you get whilst walking round town with an interspersed system to information that is actually relevant to those people in proximity? Giving people a reason to be around population centers and giving a living feel to these places that changes as your character evolves. I guess it would make the textual delivery of this information difficult…

  2. Nevermind says:

    How about showing only one or a few goals, chosen randomly from this huge list? And maybe rotate them once in a while. After all, the player doesn’t need full list to evaluate all options, but merely a few suggestions what he might do next.

  3. Dave Rickey says:

    What is it with the GDC plague, anyway? I’ve never gone to it without spending the next week thinking death would be a kindness. No other convention gets me anywhere near as sick, or so consistently.

    –Dave

  4. Expert Novice says:

    That’s pretty much the system I had worked out as a solution. Kind of a “Hey, you know you can go do this cool thing, right?” So it would tell you about crafting and PvP and whatever instead of some BS google hunt involving the words “how do I have fun playing” and the name of your favorite MMO.

    It’s not hard, guys.

    I had pictured a little [!] in the corner of the screen that would double in size and flash once in a while if there was something new that the player didn’t know about / hadn’t tried. Subtle but noticeable. I’m trying to work out a better system, however. Something more lorey and less gamey, maybe using a mail system or something.

  5. Expert Novice says:

    Sorry but I have a HUGE Post-Script.

    *DISCLAIMER*
    I’m just going to call the things you can do “quests”. I know your game is not FedEx on wheels (*cough cough*WoW*cough* – sorry, had something incredibly lame but somehow popular in my throat.), but the term “quest” seems appropriate and applicable.

    Also, don’t make fun of me for this ridiculous brain-storming session. I can’t turn this baby off!

    *YOUR CHOICES AS I SEE THEM*
    As far as I can tell, you have four choices:
    + Sort quests into Kinds.
    + Sort quests into Locales.
    + Sort quests into Progressions.
    + Some hybrid of two or three of the above.

    *SORTING BY KINDS*
    *(the first choice)
    Catagories! Like “Learn a new skill”, “save/get money”, “misc”, etc.
    Save/get money would say “Do a favor for the shop keeper of that one town and save 10%”. Players wouldn’t have to sift through a bunch of tasks they are not interested in, or would at least be able to sift through a smaller subset to get the exact one they want.
    You would access this from the character menu or something.

    This is my least favorite system I’m going to mention.

    *SORTING BY LOCALES*
    *(begrudged advice)
    As painful as it is to admit, if you choose to sort by locale you might actually want to go with that damnable quest hub system. Ugh. But yeah, a central area where you can find out all the cool things you can try in the area would be convinient. But seriously, I’m not fan of hubs.

    *(an alternative)
    Alternatively, you could scatter the quests but again access a list of quests from the menu. Instead of being sorted by kind, however, you would just get a small list of locale available quests. It would tell you you have discovered quests with details, and undiscovered quests without details.

    So when you’re in north village it would say “return to that one guy to learn ice magic”, and “locate new quests in north village (3 undiscovered)”.

    *(either way)
    When you’ve finished with north village, it would replace your quests with “go to west village” or something. Again, pretty much just like WoW quests though. Ugh.

    This system would be nice because it would give you some goals that you don’t need to walk miles to even start. Quest hubs aren’t necisary as long as nudge the players and hint that this is a good place to play the game.

    *PROGRESSION SORTING*
    *(introduction)
    This is by far my favorite, so I saved it for last. And I’m going to talk about it for a very, very long time. I don’t really expect that anyone else will enjoy it though, lol. It’s a little complex but try to fully grasp it before you toss it to the curb, yeah?

    *(what’s it look like?)
    Each quest is a node on a mental map which goes up or down in a tree heirarchy. Each quest has one or more roots and one or more branches.

    If you didn’t get any of that, picture a Skill Tree but turned into a Quest Tree.

    You basically have one quest highlighted, which shows one level of root quests, and one level of branch quests. Only some of the quests are shown, with others being invisible, ?’s, or locks. Maybe a mixture depending on how much you want to show of specific quests.

    Once you’ve completed a quest, you can now select that quest to highlight it. The old highlighted quest becomes the root, and it’s branches and roots vanish. Then, all of the newly highlighted quest’s completed roots and available branches become visible.

    You can navigate back and forth on a whim, and players would slowly learn the shape of the game’s quests. Not only that, but it would be simultaniously providing content guidence to the players, and a nice mental map for you from which you could find quests that need more branches or could have new concepts attached for quest inspiration.

    *(examples)
    “Get lore skill” would branch into “get ice magic skill” and “get fire magic skill” or whatever. You could still have ice magic unlocked at level 5 lore and fire magic unlocked at level 6 lore, you just don’t reveal anything until it’s available.

    Alternatively, “get lore skill” would branch into “get lore skill to level 5″, which in turn would branch into “learn ice magic” and “get lore skill to level 6″.

    *(if you go with this system, consider the following…)
    For this system, you would definately want a chain/branch hybrid where some quests lead to one quest and others lead to many quests.

    The problem with chains is that where normally you would have [A]->[B]->[C]->[D]->[E]->[F]->[G], with branches you now have [A]->[B or C]->[[D or E] or [F or G]]. You never have more than two choices with branches, and you’ve gone from 7 length chains to 3 length chains.

    Why is chain length important? Difficulty of course! You need each layer to be harder than the last, and you should consider making players work out at least half of each layer before they are ready to progress. To the advanced stuff.

    That’s dandy, but how do we remedy this chain length shortness? I mean you’re not a quest producing factory. You’re not WoW, after all.

    Well, you can have multiple roots so you don’t have to learn lore to learn ice magic, maybe you just need snowball-making skill first as an alternative.

    (It felt really, really good to say Snowball-making skill. ;D )

    So some players can learn ice magic and fire magic through lore, but other players can learn ice magic through snowball-making. See? Now that would be interesting!

    See, now you can have [A]->[B or C]->[D]->[E or F]. This works well because now you’re using C twice, so you can have even more choices at the end of a quest without having to come up with all those extra quests. On top of that, the pattern has a ripple effect of conservation. No matter which way you take to get to C, you still have two choices, which means half of A and B are done through C.

    If you like, you can complicate this with multiple-dependencies. [A and C]->[E], [B and C]->[F] – so that the original choice matters but isn’t permanent if you progress the other choice as well. This means that B->C->F can be retraced to grant A->E. This removes the problem of devaluing skills because you’ve eaten up their progressed branches through other means.

    Plus, you can have mutually exclusive branches.

    *(insert random idea)
    Another thought that applies to all three choices, but suits this one best, is that you could increase the amount of content by restricting access to spells until you’ve done the prerequisit quests.

    *(can we get an overview-example please?)
    So basically to overview the chain/branch/multiroot system and the above spell quest system:
    Learn lore or snowball-making. Learn ice magic at north village. You learn ice bolt and ice armor automatically (to get you started). Go to water cave to learn ice wave or the mountain to learn ice spike. Once you’ve done either, defeat the yeti, or subdue him with Swedish fish candy. Return to north village to learn ice wall from the master and unlock tier 2 ice, or go to frozen lake to learn ice skating skills. And basically just keep going from there.

    *(challenges with this system)
    The big challenge of working this system in my mind, would be mainly graphical representation. I mean, that’s really all I’m talking about. Dependencies is pretty much doable with any system. Anyway, graphics wouldn’t be that bad, really. Grab some icons, space and center them and draw lines from them to the other nodes. Can’t get the icons? Good! It would be best to reuse things like spell icons for a spell’s quest. Done.

    *CLOSING THOUGHTS*
    *(random advice)
    In my opinion it’s key to not reveal all of the quests available in the game at any time, but only a few at a time, and save the rest for later on to give return value to areas. I think it’s important to make quests seem endless by restricting access and hiding quests until later on.

    *(What about storing this amount of data for every player??)
    So far as storing quest information, you’d probably want two booleans for every quest – discovered? and completed? – that might be expensive.

    If you went with the hub based aproach, I’d offer you to use a list of hubs with a list of skills you had at your last visit, but in your game that would probably be more expensive because you have so many skills lol. Still, all of those bits should be required anyway, right? I mean, you need to know if you’ve learned ice magic yet, right? Might be convinient to centralize the list even, saying that you’ve both completed the quest to learn ice magic and have learned ice magic. Would get tricky if you have two quests with the same prize, but then again why bother with the other quest anyway unless it leads to others; or if you have one quest with two possible outcomes, but then the prize should be different and permanent. Compensate with two other quests with one of those prizes each, if you like. Harder quests.

    Anyway, that’s pretty much all I wanted to say.