Making Quests: Part 1, Design

Quests are an integral part of the single player game experience. In some games, the entire purpose of playing the experience is to fulfill a quest. In many games, quests are filler and are there as a way for players to get accustomed to the game environment or just to give them something to do if they don’t feel like playing with other people.

What role will quests have in my game?

The first part of designing your quest system is to ask yourself “why do I want to have quests in my game? What purpose will the quests serve? How will users utilize quests and what am I hoping users will get out of quests?” These questions are not just nice to have in the back of your mind so you know you are on the right track. You need to come up with concrete answers to these questions and you need to make sure that your quest implementation follows the answers that you came up with.

Like I always do, I will be using my game TerraTanks as the example that we will be following. At the time of me writing this, I do not have a quest system in TerraTanks. I think that the game needs one. So now I will answer my own questions:

Q: Why do I want to have quests in my game?
A: There is a lot of down time in TerraTanks and relatively little to do during that downtime. I think that quests will be a big filler. If you don’t want to fight someone there is even less to do. People are slow to attack someone else because they fear retribution of someone that knows how to play better than them.

Q: What purpose will the quests serve?
A: The quests will give players something to do during slow periods. Quests will give players training and experience in game tasks. Quests will be an alternate route for advancing a player’s character.

Q: How will users utilize quests and what will they get out of quests?
A: Quests will be a non-integral part of play. There will be various benefits including player learning of how the world works and concrete in game rewards like resources or troops. Quests will give the player something to do when they don’t know what else to do.

What is a Quest?

A quest is a state machine where states are changed based on the correct user action. A good quest is significantly dressed up from this, but all quests boil down to this definition. Each quest has several states that it lives in that waits for user interaction to proceed to the next state. The states most often look like this:

  1. Quest created – The quest exists and is waiting for a user to accept it.
  2. Quest accepted – The user has accepted a quest. New triggers are usually placed in the game world.
  3. Quest progresses – Often a quest will have several stages with new triggers being activated. This step can be repeated indefinitely.
  4. Quest conclusion – Either the quest is failed or satisfied. The quest should die at this point or get reinstated back to state 1.

Further explanation

Quest is Created – The quest needs to be created without user input on the game. The quest is instantiated in state 1 and put somewhere for a player to find. Usually this means you place an NPC or a button that says “get quests here” for the player to find and interact with.

Quest is Accepted – The quest moves into the second state where the quest is made into a unique instance for the player who accepted it. Appropriate steps are taken to change the world to accommodate completing the quest. You need to decided if these changes are only going to be noticeable by the person on the quest or if they are noticeable by everyone in the game and if the quest is continuously available or just available on a first come first serve basis.

Quest Progresses – When you accept the quest, new triggers are placed into the game world. This could be an enemy that the quest identifies as something that needs to be killed or it could be a location that the player needs to go to or an item the player needs to hold. Part of the design will include how your system will handle quest progression. This will be covered in more detail in a future post.

What kind of quests can I do?

When coming up with quests you will find that many of them fall under the two stale catagories of:

  • Delivery quest
  • Hitman quest

Unfortunately there is not much you can do about this pig besides put lipstick on it. There are some benefits to these types of quests because they will teach the basics of your game. Once these basics are learned, though, the only thing that will keep players coming back for more are the in game benefits of completing a quest and good story writing. I suggest that you spend a lot of time working on the risk/reward balancing for quests as well as coming up with innovative ways to present the quest. Here are some suggestions on dressing up your quest:

  • Make the quest multi-step
  • Put time limits on the quest
  • Make penalties for not completing quests you are given (making the penalty too stiff is a jerk move. be careful with this one)
  • Instead of attack quests, make defense quests
  • Think of interesting rewards for quests. What if, instead of money, the player gets to learn a certain research for free or gets attack immunity from a certain faction for a short time. Be creative in the space of your own game.
  • Make a quest competitive. When one player gets a quest to make sure something survives, give the next player the quest to go and kill it. Or give several people the same quest to have control over a certain area when time runs out.

In the comments, please feel free to include where you would like this quest series to go.

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Jake is a games nut. He flips out and makes games without even thinking twice about it. He is good at rulesets, balancing (games, not on a beam you idiot), and knows things about coding. Like all mammals, Jake likes board and video games and makes both (like www.terratanks.com). Jake constantly fights his arch enemy Sarcastro and hopes knowledge of his weakness, visual design, never falls into the wrong hands.

Wednesday, September 24th, 2008 balancing, code, terratanks
  • Nox

    Great ideas! Especially the last part

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