ne of the key design questions facing World of Warcraft's development team is how to create a game where players can have fun "whether they have half an hour or all night to play." Enter the World of Warcraft quest system. Quests may be pretty standard fare for massively multiplayer RPGs, but the difference in World of Warcraft is the quality, accessibility and sheer quantity of quests that await adventurers. Jeff Kaplan, one of Blizzard's lead quest designers, takes a few minutes away from the game to walk us through World of Warcraft's quest system and how it will be different than other massively multiplayer games.
Insider: What different types of quests will we see in World of Warcraft?
Jeff Kaplan: The quest system in WOW has evolved tremendously. Initially, our quest types were very basic. There were simple bounties (go kill ten foozles) and collection quests (bring me ten foozle teeth). As the project progressed and our game systems became more complex, we were able to integrate the quest system into all of the other components of the design. This has allowed a lot more freedom and flexibility.
Given this increased freedom, we've been able to add quests that require area triggers. For example, the game will know if you visited a certain area - or we can put a timer in place for a quest. All of our spawn and event systems are tied into the quest system. This allows us to institute a "defend the objective" mission. There is one of these in the Pyrewood Village in the Undead area, where Deathstalker Faerleia - who is trying to destroy the Town Council - needs your help in ambushing the Council Members. When you accept the quest, the council walks in and you have to fight along side Faerleia.
The current quest system also allows us to create escort quests. For example, there could be a goblin inside a dungeon that is trapped and being held prisoner, and you have to escort him out safely. We can also create follow quests where the NPC trails along behind you. An example of this quest type is the turtle in Tanaris Desert who is lost and wants to find his way back to the Salt Flats in Thousand Needles, and it is up to you to escort him to safety. You can pick whatever path you want and the turtle will follow.
Anytime we get a new game system we look to integrate it instantly with the questing system. For example, throughout World of Warcraft there are chests that can be looted in different areas. We quickly adopted that for the quest system. For the Undead push [of the alpha], we created the pumpkin quest that tasks players with stealing pumpkins from a nearby farmer's field. The goal is to constantly come up with "What would be a cool idea? What's different? What hasn't been done before?"
We just recently added trade missions as a result of asking these questions. For example, I could put a quest-giver by Lake Lordamere, and have the NPC say, "When somebody hits level 50 in fishing, then a quest will become available for that person." The quest-giver then would say to you, "Hey, I see you are a good fisherman. I just lost my boots in the lake. Could you can pull them up for me?"
Insider: Can you talk a little bit about how the quests in World of Warcraft are different from other massively-multiplayer games?
Jeff Kaplan: As we began the process of designing World of Warcraft, one of the first things we realized was that we are competing with other MMOs that have been out for four or five years. The first day World of Warcraft is available, it won't be as though we are competing with Everquest or Dark Age of Camelot on the days that those games shipped. Those MMOs have been live and patching for years now. So we obviously have to have a lot of quest content in order to meet our goals of delivering a superior experience.
As far as what other games have done in the past, I don't want to point anybody out specifically, but we found that other games made questing too cryptic. Often, in other MMOs, when you wanted to engage in quests you spent the majority of your time on the spoiler sites. You never knew which NPC to talk to, and when you finally found that out, you seldom understood what he wanted exactly. It was such a difficult and arcane process, that in certain MMOs, only the 'hardcore' were actually questing. These players prided themselves on discovering new quests and completing them. The problem with this hardcore approach to questing, though, is:if you make it all a mystery that someone has to solve and then put on a spoiler site, you are designing a tremendous amount of content in the game for only a small group of people. It creates a cycle where the majority of players that want to finish quests are just following a series of steps exactly as they appear on the spoiler site without having any real idea of what they are doing or why.
We wanted our system to be challenging and to direct your gameplay experience, but not confusing. We put a lot of time into developing the quest log. The quest log has the immediate description of what the NPC quest-giver said, so you can always get the NPC text back. If a Night Elf in Auberdine sends you to the Peak of Mount Hyjal, you'll always remember what was said to you because you can press "L" at anytime or click on the little quest button on your interface and know exactly what you were sent to do. The log also includes a very brief summary of what the NPC wants, not in his idiom and accents, but in very plain language. For instance, "Go to the top of Mount Hyjal. Kill the Doomguard there. Return to the Night Elf with the Doomguard's amulet." We wanted to make this process as straightforward as possible, with the challenge being in the actual steps of the quest - not in figuring out how to obtain the task in the first place or where to go to complete it. If it's a hard quest, it's going to be difficult because the task is. Using the example above, Mount Hyjal doesn't take weeks of scouring the land to find, nor is the Doomguard boss hidden behind a smokescreen of obscure, random tasks.
Insider: Since quests are such an important part of playing World of Warcraft, will players get most of their experience from quests or from camping out and killing creatures?
Jeff Kaplan: Quests are definitely the path of least resistance for gaining levels. Right now the majority of our quests are non-repeatable. The reason we decided to do this is because we want to move people through the world and not have bottlenecks where the majority of players hang around while there are vast stretches of empty areas open to exploration.
We noticed in other MMOs, the quickest way to level up would be to find an area with an easy-to-kill monster with a fast respawn time. You find a good camp and you just farm it until the experience greens out [meaning you no longer get experience from the monsters]. We didn't want to do that.
Also, part of the way we want to entice people to accomplish quests in our game is through an experience reward. In an MMO, where everything boils down to time, the best reward you can give players is experience. Because the quests are non-repeatable, we can make the experience reward a very nice one. We don't have to worry about someone farming it over and over again and exploiting the quest. It's a one-time deal, so we can give that huge chunk of experience. It keeps people moving and it also makes it easier to level.
If you never want to play a quest and level up to level 60, you can do that, but you are not going to be most efficient by taking that route. The fastest method [to level] is to engage in questing.
This system is good for a number of reasons: it keeps people moving, it keeps players out of each other's hair, and it also keeps directing them toward areas that they might not have discovered otherwise and that might be level appropriate for them. So it is a win-win scenario in our opinion.
Insider: So quests are being used as a mechanism to encourage the exploration of the world?
Exactly. We approach it from that standpoint in our initial quest design meetings. We'll actually sit down and say, "Okay, so is anyone sending the player out to the Ziggurat in Hinterlands at all?" And if no one is, then we'll come up with a quest that specifically sends players out there. We want players to see every part of this gorgeous, epic world we've worked so hard to create.
We think it's fun to travel all over, and we put in breadcrumb quests to encourage players to do so. For example, when you hit level 10 in Durotar, suddenly there's an NPC that needs you to take something to the Barrens. So we're moving players out of Durotar who are potentially too high level to be there and who would be farming content that we need for the level one to nine characters. We're moving the higher level players to the Barrens, where they will find even more quests.
Insider: What about players who get homesick and want to come back to where they started? Will you have higher-level quests in the starting areas for players who wish to return there?
Jeff Kaplan: Absolutely. A big part of that will take place in the quests that originate or finish in the cities. The cities are major quest hubs. Eventually, when all the zones are up and running, there will be more quests than players can reasonably complete.
Insider: What role will quests play in revealing the story of the world?
Jeff Kaplan: Quests define the player experience on many levels. For instance, in Durotar, there is a quest called 'Vanquish the Betrayers', which is directly tied into the over-arcing story of Warcraft III: The Frozen Throne and leads into World of Warcraft. At the end of The Frozen Throne, in the Orc RPG campaign, Admiral Proudmoore invades Durotar. There is, once again, conflict between the Orcs and Humans and the Humans don't come out on top. 'Vanquish the Betrayers' is a follow-up where wave two of the Human forces are advancing on Durotar. The ongoing story of Warcraft is subtly woven into the quest system, and over time will coalesce more and more into a pattern that can be seen.
Another interesting way we are bringing a personal experience to players in World of Warcraft is life quests. We have not started to implement these yet. We're going to completely fill the world with the standard quests we have planned first, and then we'll create the life quests. Each of these special missions tells the story of its respective race and what their purpose in the world is. We set a lot of this up in the smaller quests. The Undead, for instance, are trying to develop a new plague, an important effort for their ultimate survival. Lady Sylvanus is seeking the formula to create a different version of the horrible disease from Warcraft III to combat Arthas, as well as destroy the humans. On the other hand, players get a taste during the Orc life quest of the demonic influence from their past - and must combat it.
Sure, there are random quests designed to build character levels, like the Drunken Dwarf in the Hills of Westfall. But the majority of quests that we put in will support an over-arcing theme. In the Human Alliance, right away, when you start the game, you are needed to help defend Northshire and defend Elwyn Forest because the Human armies are away fighting on distant battlegrounds. We have set up that theme right away - the world is at war, you play a role in it, and here is what's going on.
Insider: Are there going to be special event quests or quests that only occur once a month?
Jeff Kaplan: I don't think we will have quests that only show up once a month, but we will definitely have world events. There is one that will actually occur in the Barrens. The Alliance armies roll up onto the beach on Northwatch Keep, and they will attack the Tauren outpost, the Orc outpost, and the Crossroads. These are all small cities in the Barrens, which is a zone in-between the Orc and Tauren lands. If you decide to band together with the Horde and defend those towns, you will have certain quests and quest items available to you that otherwise would not be. You might have to get the head of the Alliance raiding party leader, and take that to the lieutenant in the Crossroads. This would yield a quest reward that you would only get if you took part in the world event.
These events will not be one-time only occurrences, but they will be infrequent. Players will know that they are happening because we will send out a server wide broadcast. We don't want them to be so predictable that groups camp out waiting for them to occur. Another way we'll get the word out once one of these events is taking place is though conversations with NPCs. We've already done that with smaller events by using town criers, for instance. A great example of this is the Abomination Quest in Duskwood, where the town crier will start screaming: "We are being attacked!" Everybody then knows there is a giant monstrosity headed straight for the town.
Insider: Will there be guild-specific quests?
Jeff Kaplan: There will definitely be content that requires large raiding parties. Party size is limited to five right now, which we think is a solid number because it makes each individual's role within the group critical. Having said this, we are working on the possibility of implementing 'supergroups' - large raig parties formed from smaller fellowships - so that several parties of five can get together to tackle larger quests.
You won't have to belong to a guild to embark on large raiding party quests. These scenarios are not restricted to guilds, but are designed so that they can only be accomplished if you have say 30 people or so. I tend to think of that as a guild quest in a way, but it is perfectly possible that 30 people, non-guilded, could do it as well.
Insider: You currently have a shaman-only quest line where shaman players can quest to gain totems that will then enable them to cast new spells. Will you be adding other class-specific quests to the game? And will each class-specific quest line offer new abilities as rewards for players?
Jeff Kaplan: Yes. Currently, we have the shaman quests and warlock quests implemented in the alpha. For shamans, since totemic casting is such a big part of who they are, it was natural to make that a part of their quest. But we didn't want to just make every class-specific quest give a player a new ability.
For warlocks, since they use demonic pets, we thought it would be a good idea to make pets the reward for their quests, so you can quest to get an Imp at level one, a Voidwalker at level ten, and then a Succubus at level twenty.
On the other side of the spectrum, warriors have no single ability we could think of that was central to the experience. In thinking about it, isn't it a warrior's weapon that so often defines them and sets them apart from other players of the same class? So for their class-specific quest, we decided that powerful weapons would be the chief reward.
Insider: Will the class quests for each race be unique? Or will they share quests?
Jeff Kaplan: You might start out with different class quests depending on your race but eventually, the class quests will be shared. For instance, to get the first shaman totem, if you play a Tauren, you will receive that quest in the Tauren starting location. However, if you play as an Orc shaman, you will receive the totem in Ogrimmar. But later, both races go to the same NPC to get their second totem.
Of course, it doesn't work to have all races going to the same place for their class-specific quests. In most cases it wouldn't make much sense to send Night Elf warriors to the Undead Undercity to receive a class-specific quest.
Insider: In what ways will higher level quests be different from the missions assigned earlier in the game?
Jeff Kaplan: They obviously will take more time to complete, and we're also trying to spread you out even further throughout the world by the time a player reaches higher levels. For example, take the level one through ten quests. You might be able to complete those within the zones where they originate. In fact, almost all of them you can complete within the zone. But by the time you are progressing through a level 50 quest, you literally will have to travel all over the world to complete it.
Insider: Is there anything else interesting about quests that we haven't talked about yet?
Jeff Kaplan: Nothing really high level, but I'd like to talk about an example of a quest that I think is a lot of fun in the game.
In this scene, there is a race about to occur between the goblins and the gnomes.
In Warcraft, the goblins and gnomes are the two races that are known for their skills in technology and engineering.
So both the goblins and gnomes are trying to make rocket cars to race each other. There is a whole host of quest givers, both on the gnome side and the goblin side. You can accept quests from the gnomes that require you to sabotage the goblins or quests for the goblins to sabotage the gnomes. You can engage in quests for the gnomes to buff up their cars to make them better, or quests for the goblins to make their car superior. At the same time, you can also bet on the races through the quest system. The way this whole scenario is designed, you can bet on the race, then try to fix it. If the race starts without any interference whatsoever, there is a 50-50 chance every time that one or the other will win. With this setup, there are quite a few ways that things could pan out differently. All the players in the area could jump on a bandwagon, fix the race significantly for one side or the other, and then bet on that side to win. If a competitive situation results, though, and players are taking different sides, it could become a complex affair where every quest might swing the race in one group's favor or the other's. Finally, watching these little rascals race one another is just hilarious all by itself.
Insider: Does the race just occur periodically?
Jeff Kaplan: Yes, the race starts at set times. I forget exactly how often, but I believe it is approximately every 30 minutes or so. Also, because of the nature of this scenario - the fact that you can do various quests and fix the outcome of the race - players will not receive spectacular rewards in terms of experience or powerful items. The rewards are more fun in nature. One of the items you can potentially receive is the party grenade, which when thrown into a group of players will cause them to randomly start emoting - dance, do the chicken, cheer, that sort of stuff.
Insider: Any other thoughts?
Jeff Kaplan: The only other thing I want to say is that we're trying to stuff the game with as many quests as we can. We're already way over our original target (600 was what we originally planned and we are now at 1350 I believe at last count). We realize that as quest designers on this project, we're like cruise directors in the World of Warcraft. People are totally free to do what they want when they are playing the game, but it seems that most people enjoy following wherever their quests may take them. It's our job to help players find the best places to hunt and to show them the most interesting parts of the world.