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What are the defining qualities of a good side-quest?

What are the defining qualities of a good side-quest?

February 10, 2017 | By Alissa McAloon

February 10, 2017 | By Alissa McAloon
More: Console/PC, Design

"We like to think of side quests not as poorer cousins but more as the side dishes, spices and herbs that add flavor to the main dish, and without which the whole dish wouldn't be as tasty."

- Quest designer Nikolas Kolm shares how he characterized side-quests while making the robust world of The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt.

Side quests have become somewhat of a staple across game genres, but that isn’t to say each game developer approaches their design the same way. Game Informer spoke with a handful of developers from Bioware, CD Projekt Red, Blizzard, and Ubisoft to discuss the different methods they use to create attractive side-quests and how those quests are plotted out within a game. 

The full write-up is filled with notable comments game developers can use to expand upon their own understanding of the utility of side-quests and serves as a reminder of how, depending on the game and the studio, optional missions can be everything from busy-work to subtle story building. 

Diablo III’s lead world designer Leonard Boyarsky, for instance, said that a wealth of side-quests give players the chance to become more invested in the game and flesh out new personalities for the characters they create.

“Consciously or not, as someone plays a game they’re actually writing their own characters,” said Boyarsky. “Side quests are a way for players to fully realize these characters and tailor them to what they imagine inside their minds.

Beyond just story, the article notes that side-quests can be a subtle way for game designers to somewhat control where players wander in open-world games. Mike Laidlaw, creative director for the Dragon Age series, notes that spacing out quests to ensure that there is never too many or too few things happening at once can also be a useful way to route players toward landmarks or hubs. 

“…Quests naturally push players along certain paths: get a quest at point A and players will likely travel to point B as part of it,” explained Laidlaw. “If you can map those likely paths and look for intersections – places where two such paths overlap – those create hidden hubs that players are quite likely to cross.

For a wealth of comments from other developers on the utility and future of side quests, be sure to check out the full feature over on Game Informer. 

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