Hello! I'm Tom. I designed a game called Gunpoint, about rewiring things and punching people, and now I'm working on a new one called Heat Signature, about sneaking aboard randomly generated spaceships. Here's some more info on all the games I've worked on, here's the podcast I do, here are the videos I make on YouTube, here are some of the articles I wrote for PC Gamer, and here are two short stories I wrote for the Machine of Death collections.
The missions are rubbish in San Andreas. I’m sure there are good ones, it’s just that they are, on the whole, as I say, rubbish. They seem blissfully unaware that the AI is egregious, and repeatedly force you to rely on NPCs whose incompetence is so complete that it often seems like suicidal depression.
The quests in World Of Warcraft are rubbish. Again, some stand-outs, but 97.3% of them are utterly mindless, even if they are prefaced by some awkwardly strained attempt to dress the brain-killingly monotonous formula in some kind of fantasy trappings.
But those are easy targets – two games I’ve played a lot but have no great love for. Let’s stab closer to my heart: Eve’s agent missions are rubbish. I enjoyed one once, but in Eve it’s not even a case of similar or formulaic ones. You get the same mission, word-for-word, time and time again.
City Of Heroes has the best missions of any MMOG I’ve played. They are, nevertheless, rubbish.
Back in the days when the denominations of our time were ‘levels’, bad ones were things you hit and got stuck on – they were chips on a smooth surface. With MMOGs and GTA games, we occasionally run into good ones. And we have this sad little thrill of pleasure, and like the game more for it. We’re being- what’s the opposite of spoilt? Unspoilt? Things suck.
The First Rule Of A Positive Blog
I’m not allowed to complain about anything except as a precursor to saying what we should be doing instead. I only let myself bitch about Elite Force 2 and Jedi Academy because I was leading into describing the ideal Star Trek and Star Wars games. Additionally, I must keep the solution very short, specific about alternatives, and universally applicable. This is the checklist for good quests. Every quest must be a good one, since quests are 91.2% of what we do in these games.
1. Why The Hell Should I?
Guild Wars was a revelation for me. It’s not a MMOG, but if it was I couldn’t have said what I said about City Of Heroes. I loved the missions. I hungered for them, completed them with relish, happily retried if they proved too tough. Were they better missions? A little, not enough to account for this difference in attitude. I loved them because they said “Primary Quest” in green next to them. I was saving the world. Remember that? The thing we do, in all games? When you step down from “Because the world depends on it, man! Save us!” to “Because an irritating prick told you to,” or “For 10 copper pieces and a piece of cheese,” excuse us for pressing Alt+F4 and having a cup of tea if at first we don’t succeed.
In World Of Warcraft, you have absolutely no goal. It is a completely aimless game. You just trundle around talking to people to see if you can do favours for cheese, or a sword you can’t use. It’s not a deal-breaker if the quests are good, but whenever you’re on one you don’t like or find frustrating – which for me was all of them – you’re seconds from giving up. It’s just cheese. You don’t have to do it. Find someone else to do a favour for.
The lesson: tell me what to do. Give me a million sidequests and let me roam the world at will, but give me a categorical imperative, a meaning to my life, something to work towards. In WoW it could be as simple as highlighting one quest-giver in green and saying that’s your guy, make sure you do all his misions eventually.
2. I Do Not Care That Jeffrey Is Dead. Jeffrey Was A Moron Who Got What He Fucking Deserved.
If Jeffrey can’t fucking hack the mission, why doesn’t Jeffrey stay at fucking home and let someone with actual fucking cognitive abilities do the fucking mission? And if he won’t, when Jeffrey dies, it is not my fucking fault. I’m sick, sick to death – we are all sick to fucking death – of babysitting digital idiots. Sick to fucking death. Death. Sick. Fucking. Cut these missions. If they’re central to your game, kill yourself. We hate you.
But wait! In Guild Wars a quest-giver will frequently accompany you on the quest! Yes. It was brilliant. I loved all these missions, and I never got frustrated with them. It helped that the AI was good, the NPCs tough and effective, but the lion’s share of the difference was that I could resurrect them if they did die. If their good AI and high hitpoints failed them, it still wasn’t mission failed. A masterstroke. If you’re thinking this couldn’t be carried across to GTA, perhaps you’ve never died in GTA. In fact, none of us have. You can’t. You’re incapacitated, and you get revived in hospital. Why not give me that revive ability? I don’t even need defibrillators or a medkit, I could do CPR or even just help the guy up. The mission is only lost if I can’t do that, because I failed.
3. Don’t Make Me Repeat Myself.
If I’ve done a mission, Eve, City Of Heroes, it goes on my permanent record. This guy has done that. That information is as precious as what level I am, what items I own. Never, ever ask me to do it again. GTA – your new travel skip feature is a baby step in the right direction, but falls woefully short of eliminating the repetition that makes your missions such a chore. What you fail to realise is that the huge drag is not driving from the quest-giver to the quest, it’s driving back to the quest-giver to ‘get’ the quest again before you can retry it. If I die, let me drive from the hospital to the mission. Let the mission be as I left it. If I fail – and I strongly advise against missions with fail conditions – reset the location and start me just outside it. That is, if you’re not going to let me save. MMOGs have an excuse for that, you don’t. Not even console memory limitations – you’ll let me save, but not when it would actually save me some time. You also force me to spend ten thousand dollars on a nearby house just so I can save the game when I need to quit – which is usually because I’m so fucking sick of repeating myself.
That’s it, actually. Quests already have ideas, content, characters – they only need to avoid three things that make them dull and frustrating, and they’ve made it to goodness. We could be spoiled again. It’s all obvious stuff, but I and every angry forumite around aren’t going to shut up about it until they are recognised as rules, not suggestions to try on one or two.
Still to come: I have totally had some awesome ideas for interesting new types of quests that someone should try.
Graham: I agree! But then I would, wouldn't I?
"If IÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ve done a mission, Eve, City Of Heroes, it goes on my permanent record. This guy has done that. That information is as precious as what level I am, what items I own."
I particularly agree with that bit. Can't believe WoW didn't have a log of completed missions at launch, so I had to install a bloomin' UI modification thing to add one. Hey, thanks for belittling my accomplishments even *more*, Blizzard. Are they so irrelevant they're not even worth remembering on my *own* computer?
What's worse is that other single player games do the same thing a lot of the time. Don't they realise that the experiences a game provides are experiences while they're happening, but stories in hindsight? I'd like to be able to check up on those stories later - to re-live in my brain those lofty achievements of bygone days. This is why my mum keeps photograph albums, but many of my favourite experiences happened on the digital plane. Why don't more games keep ridiculously large amounts of statistics that I can pour over while browsing my millions of screenshots?
I think it's one of the reasons I love(d) Championship Manager. It was awesome to play a career of CM2 Italia and be able to watch the progress of players across time. Managing Juventus, releasing Vialli from his contract so he can go be the player-manager of some lower league team, and then five years later watching as he got the Italy national job while I missed it because I was foolish enough to put "Scottish" as my nationality when I started the game. Damn you to hell, Luca!
My actions shouldn't just have consequence. The consequences should merit remembering.
And quests suck too!
roBurky: Another reason 2D GTAs were better than the new ones: If a mission was failed, it stayed failed. At least until you ran out of lives or quit the game.
Tom Francis: Aye. Ridiculously the combat was also better - one hit kills, stray machinegun fire blowing up whole traffic jams. And why can't we slide over cars anymore?
Culture Vulture: For me, the question with both GTA and Eve is, just how can the developers flump something as important as the structure of missions, their allocation and recording, when the rest of the games are so well thought through?
Recently in Eve, I had a humdinger of a mission, blasting baddies, wrecking their base and freeing some slaves - just the kind of space captaincy for which I had signed onto CCP's dotted line.
So, the agents learn that I'm a combat ace, responsive to their needs, quick to complete and fastidious. What's next for me, I wonder? A dozen bloody fetch and carry missions of course, causing me to feel more bike messenger than Han Solo. Just what I needed after a rubbish day in the office. Grrrr.
Rossignol: The limitations of the missions in Eve is, I believe, symptomatic of CCP's lack of manpower. They're realised that by and large gamers are playing the game for player interaction and economics, and not for the 'theme park' provided by the devs themselves. Good thing too, since CCP have their hands full with stopping the world from falling apart and introducing content that makes things feel like they're growing. I think most people regard missions as just another career path to money. So they're rubbish and repetitive, but so is trading, mining or ratting. What is interesting is the will to cash and the occasional bursts of heart-stopping PvP.
Tom Francis: Yeah, Eve is least vulnerable to these criticisms because missions make up the smallest percentage of what you do, once you're properly into it. But I'm not, and I've been playing for almost a year. For me and any newer players, missions are the only action we have access to, so it's still a problem.
I actually think the combat is great in Eve, I'd love missions to join an NPC raiding party to take down a battleship, or hunt down an Interceptor using jamming stuff.
JohnMid: EVE does have those "events" now and again, but they do seem to be hijacked/monopolised by the hardcore pvp brigade.
The Culture Vulture: Further to the invincible hero thread of Kieron's, I really like the insurance/clone element of Eve, as well as the risk (to Isk) of Eve in terms of losing the ship equipment and those valuable augmentations to either NPCs and PVP.
Although missions are only a small element of the game, they can be all encompassing (at least they seem to be to me, six weeks in) in terms of getting some decent combat down me before I venture into PVP. I'm with Kieron, in that a bit of PVP-lite NPC activity would be an ever better primer, and notable by its absence
Tom Francis: Hey, my name is Tom! I wrote that stuff!
Jason L: Culture Vulture must be another Introversion wonk. They first posted a link to "the blog of Tom Francis (one of the writers and disk editor of PC Gamer UK)" - and I (we?) arrived on June fifth.
Then on August 14th they linked to Kieron Gillen's blog, posting: "Long standing Introversion fans will remember Kieron as the writer of the original PC Gamer review of Uplink, as well as the PC Format review and Eurogamer review of Darwinia...Recently he delivered a Keynote speech...titled 'How to use and abuse the gaming press', and Introversion Software is featured heavily as his case study."
So we've got two Darwinia reviewers, both conceptually linked to PCG[UK] and both linked via their blogs. I just thought you might be curious as to the reason for that little confusion.
Tom Francis: Aha, good detective work. I have another theory, though: I've just noticed that if you go to Kieron's site and follow a link out, your browser still reads Kieron Gillen's Workblog in the titlebar, and http://www.kierongil... ...len.com in the address bar. Essentially his site traps all subsequent ones in a full-size frame, making them appear to be his. By this devious criminal act of techno-sabotage, he appears to have written everything he deems worthwhile, appropriating it under his name to get all the credit. Suddenly, his fame makes sense! New Games Journalism, all those comics, his keynote speech, reviews of all Looking Glass and Ion Storm games, all fraudulent! The dastard!
The Culture Vulture: Hells bells...I've been here under false pretenses all of this time, I thought Pentadact was Kieron and Tom was, well, I'm not entirely sure. Which brings me to ask the question, who the hell is James?
To think a games reviewer is using browser hijacking to trick innocent blog readers - dastardly? Positively fiendish.
Jason L: All that [b]ctrl-v[/b]ing for the sake of an incorrect conclusion. I felt so helpful too. Dagnabbit. Maybe this is helpful.
Kieron Gillen = Kieron Gillen.
Tom = Tom Francis = Pentadact = the author of this site.
James = this site. Heavily paraphrased from memory: "I was going to give this one of those pretentious names like 'Unconnected Lucidity' or something, but then I decided that since a blog never has a fixed topic anyway, it may as well have a proper name. So welcome to James."
Tom Francis: Well said sir. That paraphrase is actually better than my original explaination - though the gist is accurate. I wrote a new little intro for James 2.0, but never bothered to make space for it in the design.
The Culture Vulture: Nice work though Jason, I felt a little like Professor Moriarty for a moment, hunted by your CTRL-V sherlocking.