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.