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Custom Quest evolved during development, from a minor quest system useful for our own needs in our own game production Quest Accepted, to something entirely more dynamic and customizable, now finally released, these are our thoughts on quest design and developing standalone subsystems.
Splitting what is a major production for a small indie team, into smaller installments such as a quest system was a good idea we thought, this way we can get some releases out there and fuel the development of our game. But building a system that works for yourself is one thing, building a unity plugin that will let other developers create quests, missions and objectives, you would never have thought of is something else entirely.
The first thing we had to realise was that when building a quest system, the task is not to design great quests, the task is to enable the users to create great quests.
That still meant we had to find out what good quest design is and what a quest really is.
Our task was to create a system where the user is free to create creative engaging and rewarding mission experiences for their players.
First off, we need to know what a quest really is.
A quest is the pursuit, search, expedition, task or assignment a person(s) does in order to find, gain or obtain something.
In games, quests and missions function in many different ways depending on the genre.
A single game can contain a multitude of different types of quests put together in just as many ways. In an MMO for instance quests are vehicles for the story and the player's progression. In many cases they are formulaic and simple, some can even be repeated, there are hundreds of them and everyone can do them. In other games quest are for single player campaigns only, here they shape each level giving the player a sense of purpose.
Quests can span the whole game or just be a minor optional task on the way, there are so many design philosophies and creative quest designs that we had to narrow it down and really cut to the core of what is needed for good quest design.
What all quests have in common is the task, the criteria for successful completion of the quest, and the reward, the goal of the quest, what the player gets out of doing what we ask of him.
Quests cover an incredible variety of tasks so it was important for us to base our decisions on thorough research. In our research, we found that there are three layers to quest design.
The type, the pattern and the superstructure.
Quest types exist within quest patterns and quest patterns exist within the quest superstructure.
We found that there are 8 basic types of quests these are the various tasks/criteria the player must do in order to complete the specific quest.
There are 12 quest patterns. These are ways designers can use their quests, connect multiple quests set them up in engaging ways or or teach players how to interact with and get the most out of the game world creating variety and engaging the player.
Enveloping the patterns is the quest superstructure, the overall structure of quests in the game, we found that there are two main ways of structuring your quests.
Historically quest have a quest giver, an NPC or object that informs the player about the quest, what they need to do, the story behind it and perhaps even what their reward will be should they complete the quest.
The core task each quest consists of, the criteria for completing part of or all of a single quest. These are the actions we want Custom Quest to be able to handle.
Tasks are one thing, and in many games, that might be plenty but we wanted custom quest to let the users create chains of quests, specialize them and set them up in ways that draw the player into the experience, there are many ways to go about this.
With quest superstructures we are venturing into general game design. The superstructure is how the player is allowed to complete quests in the game world. It's basically a question of whether the game is “open world” or a linear experience.
The development of custom quest has been the quest to allow game developers to create quests and missions that use these types. However, no matter how well we have researched, some one will come up with a new and creative way of doing quests.
The solution for us, was to make the system more customizable. Letting users convert their quest prefabs to quest scripts that automatically inherits the core functionality, so the user can freely add their own additional functionality on top of the existing core
Developing this way, splitting the production into sub systems that can function on their own and even be used by others is not something that should be taken lightly, but if you can build something lasting, something others can find value in using, then the final product will be all the better for it. Custom Quest started as a project we thought could be completed in a couple of months, it ended up taking 7.
In part this is because we realised that if we were going to release the system, we might as well do it right, that meant creating a system that was customizable and robust, a system that can be added to the users game and not the other way around, a system we could be proud of.
The experience of developing for other developers is quite different to developing a game. One that has made us much stronger as programmers and as a company, it forced us to think in new ways, in order to create a dynamic and customizable solution. Custom quest has evolved from and asset we could use in Quest Accepted, into a tool others can use to create a unique game experience. All in all, the experience has been a good one and Random Dragon is stronger for it, I would however recommend thinking about your plugin and extra time before you start developing.
www.pcgamesn.com -"We know you aren't stupid" - a quest design masterclass from CD Projekt RED
http://www.gamasutra.com/ - Game Design Essentials: 20 RPGs - http://www.gamasutra.com/view/feature/4066/game_design_essentials_20_rpgs.php?print=1
Extra credits - Quest Design I - Why Many MMOs Rely on Repetitive Grind Quests https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=otAkP5VjIv8&t=219s
Extra credits - Quest Design II - How to Create Interesting MMO and RPG Quests https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ur6GQp5mCYs
Center for Games and Playable Media - Situating Quests: Design Patterns for Quest and Level Design in Role-Playing Games - http://sokath.com/main/files/1/smith-icids11.pdf
Center for Games and Playable Media - RPG Design patterns https://rpgpatterns.soe.ucsc.edu/doku.php?id=patterns:questindex
Special thanks to Allan Schnoor, Kenneth Lodahl and Kristian Wulff for feedback, constructive criticism and background materials.