World of Warcraft (PC)
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Welcome to QuestWorld

Picture a playground. There's a slide and monkeybars and a swing set and sandbox and other stuff to do. Then unleash a whole bunch of first graders on it and watch what happens as they try to "create their own fun." There are fistfights as everyone tries to get to the top of the slide and screaming when that one kid just won't get off the swings. It's just a whole lot of grief as everyone jostles with everyone else because the structure of the environment means that your fun comes at the expense of everyone else's. Sound familiar? It should -- it's the unfortunate reality of many MMOs.

According to Kaplan, that's exactly what Blizzard didn't want to have happen in World of Warcraft. "All of our systems are designed to avoid what we call 'player collision' -- when players fight over limited content or generate their own grief-oriented fun for lack of anything better to do. World of Warcraft is rules-oriented and goal-oriented." He quickly moved to clarify, "We don't put players on rails or anything -- players are entirely free to play World of Warcraft any way they want. What we've done, though, is created systems, guides, and rules that make it more fun and easier to play around our attractions rather than trying to figure out ways to grief other players."

A Griffin taxi ride over Ironforge
That's why the majority of player actions in the game will revolve around quests. Quests are pretty easy to find -- any NPC with an exclamation point over his or her head will have a starting quest for you. The difference in World of Warcraft is the variety, style, complexity, and sheer number of quests available in the game. "Our original plan called for 600 quests by the time we shipped," Kaplan said. "To date we've created about 1,400 and more get added every day."

The game's quest system is designed to shepherd players through the many attractions of World of Warcraft. "The majority of the quests in World of Warcraft are level specific and non-repeatable," Kaplan said. "That means that we don't have to create generic 'FedEx' quests that don't take into account your level, where you are in the game, or the world's storyline."

As an example, he walked me through the opening quests for an undead player in the newbie area. The undead player starts in a tomb, a newly independent member of the Forsaken, a splinter group of undead battling against Mindless Ones (undead in thrall to the Lich King, Arthas). The first few quests have the player exploring the relatively safe area around the undead city of Tirisifal Glade. The three quests he showed me were to kill several Mindless Ones who were wandering outside the walls, kill some Night Spiders infesting a Forsaken gold mine, and beating back a camp of human Scarlet Crusaders (insane humans who wish to wipe out all undead).


This is what I do when traffic gets bad on the 405...
The difference between this and similar quests in other games was the definite sense of progression. The undead general who offered the quests would acknowledge your growing skill and importance as you performed more tasks for him -- as would other characters who were offering quests. The feeling was that you were actually a part of the world and that what you were doing mattered. Now, most MMOs offer this in newbie areas, but World of Warcraft takes this design paradigm for the whole game.

"The quest designers broke each zone down into points of interest. We want to spread players out, avoid clustering players in places where they would get the best loot," Kaplan said. "When you follow the quests, they'll take you around the whole world, letting you see all kinds of neat stuff, and since the good loot comes from following the quests, it keeps players from clustering around spawn points."

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