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EverQuest Next: The Power of Interactive Quests

Updated Sat, Jul 13, 2013 by Dalmarus

EverQuest Next - The Power of Interactive Quests

The date of EverQuest Next’s public reveal by Sony Online Entertainment is quickly rushing towards us. During SOE Live, on August 2nd, at noon Pacific, the world of MMORPGs will be changed forever. If you’re not going to be able to make it to SOE Live this year, then listen very carefully to what I say next. You really want to be here when the announcement is made. I can’t say why and I can’t say what may be here (ALLEGEDLY!) but you want to keep your browser pointed to Ten Ton Hammer. As the date gets closer, I’ll be sure to keep everyone informed. (ZOMG, do I know secrets that would kill any normal mortal to contain!)

With that out of the way, I can move on to today’s topic. I’m hoping to see an EverQuest staple make a return to the MMORPG genre – interactive quests. Now, when I say interactive, I’m not referring to getting X item to click on once you’ve gotten mob Y beaten down to 30% or below; I’m referring to actually speaking with NPCs to get quests at all… assuming you were able to figure out what to say to them.

I realize having to engage in a scripted dialog with an NPC may seem insanely archaic by today’s standards, but there was a lot of purpose in having players carry on a conversation with an NPC. You had to speak to NPCs in order to figure out whether they even had a quest to offer. And if they did, you would need to continue the conversation to discover how you were supposed to go completing the task. It was like a puzzle that the player had to piece together, or a mystery to be solved. On the surface, the system may appear to be nothing more than another time-sink for which EverQuest was at times famous. Believe it or not, though, it served more than one very real purpose.

Typical quest dialog in EQ.

For starters, having to work through quests and interact with NPCs slowed players down. It avoided the human compulsion to quickly find out what needs to be done, close the quest text dialog without reading, and go rushing off to kill 10 rats without knowing why. In EQ, you would start a conversation by “hailing” an NPC. If the NPC’s response contained a word or phrase in brackets, you could use that word or phrase in a sentence and get a response (assuming you phrased your question correctly). Some quests were easier than others to figure out, but the system always served its purpose.

By engaging the NPC in a simplified conversation, players were immediately more immersed. Think about it: which school classes were more interesting for you, those that featured a teacher lecturing for 45 minutes at the front of the class, or one in which the instructor brought up a topic and had the class draw more information out of him by engaging in questioning and conversation? Especially in the late ‘90s, there were far easier ways for players to have been given quests. This engagement level was not created simply by accident.

Another purpose it served was to get the players to actually think about the quests they were doing. Sure, there were quite a few kill, messenger, and fetch quests, but it was the beginning of an era and those hadn’t gotten old yet. Even so, it took some effort and puzzle-solving to determine exactly what you were supposed to be doing and how to go about it. To be fair, this was also part of the reason the quest system as we knew it eventually had to be changed.

For all the time players spent trying to figure out how to solve a completely unknown number of quests, the development team spent even more time creating them. I’ve heard it said that even to this day there are some quests in EQ that have not been discovered or solved completely. That means work that was done 14 years ago has gone untouched. On one hand, the concept that a game could have new content that was never discovered after over a decade of play is incredibly awesome and intriguing. Imagine being the player that finally discovers and solves quest X137563, and being the first in the world to do so after all this time.

To be fair, the interactive quest conversation system of EverQuest was not without issues. There were times when no matter what you typed, you would get no response. It could get boring walking up to every single NPC you met (there were hundreds, even at launch) and hailing them to see if they had a quest for you to do. Remember, there was absolutely no visual indicator of who had a quest and who didn’t.

Hitting the auto-attack button while talking to this quest giver would result in your demise.

The most famous “problem” of all, at least in my humble opinion, had to be the “a” key-mapping. By default, the “a” key was used to start auto-attacking. This means that the very moment you hit that key, your character would start swinging whatever weapon they had currently equipped. This happened no matter what you had equipped, where you were, or what you had targeted. Or perhaps, I should say who you had targeted, because if there’s one thing every single EverQuest player of old has done, it’s forgetting to hit the enter key before typing and accidentally taking a fatal swing at a powerful NPC.

On the surface, this may not seem like such a big deal, but the most common way to correctly respond to an NPC that had given you a bracketed word after you hailed them (for which you had to target them first), was to use the word, “what”. Now imagine you’re a level 1 Warrior. One of the very first things every character did was go see their class guild master to be introduced and sent on your way to fame and glory. If you hit enter first after hailing your respective guild master, you would be able to answer whatever statement he made with “what [bracketed word]” and be on your way.

If you did not hit enter first, your character would move forward just a foot or so (because you hit “w” and the default key-mapping was set to use WSQE), then you would immediately reach out and attack your guild master. Right there in the middle of the hall, in front of the gods and everyone. Since you were level one, it of course only took one backhanded bitch slap to immediately kill you. Now it’s time to go retrieve your corpse. You can imagine the embarrassment and humiliation this caused. You can also imagine the rage it once caused me after having been gone from the game, starting a new character with my best friend, and then having to listen to him laughing hard enough to nearly bust his spleen as I immediately die when inadvertently slapping my guild master. I may have screeched, “Are you f***ing kidding me? ‘A’ is still attack?!?!”

Despite some potential issues, I think there’s a serious need for this type of interactivity to return to questing. Combining the best aspects of this system (and that does not include the “a” key issues) with some of today’s modern conveniences such as an indication that an NPC actually has a quest, I think today’s gamer would appreciate the added level of engrossment they could find in their gaming sessions. It would be just as engrossing if a game ever allowed players to sell loot to merchants and, rather than it disappear, it would actually be available for a week or so for other players to then purchase. Oh wait, EverQuest did that! You also had the satisfaction of prying the weapon a mob was beating you with from its cold dead corpse if you were victorious in battle… but those are topics for next week’s article!

While you wait for next week’s piece, catch up on any previous EverQuest Next articles you may have missed! If you’ve got questions, old-school aspects you’d like me to cover, or anything in between, shoot me an email or hit me up on Twitter!

I personally loved how the quest system worked; there wasn't emphasis on bread crumb quests or having quests serve as the main purpose of exploration. Nor was there even a quest log; players had to remember or write down the quests; it felt more like a roleplaying game as it wasn't holding your hand.

Some quests were well hidden and were passed along player to player (I'm thinking of the crushbone shoulderpads quest, etc) and the regards would be tangible for many levels (i.e. xp reward and maybe some items that could be sold or passed on to later quests). Nor did the game have those annoying floating ! above NPCs. The world felt more real and alive, more immersive.

Oh such good memories :)

Yes, and the Crushbone belts you turned in at Kaladim to the same guy. If you didn't travel there to get the quest you didn't know what those items were for and would wind up just selling them. They gave fair XP as well if you turned in a bunch at a time, then the XP ran out.

Questing in EQ had so much more a sense of accomplishment not only for completing the quest, but finding it in the first place.

Great work once again Dal. I love these articles, they provide me a brief moment of respite during these terrible days before we know enough about EQN.

I always liked their quest system better then any other game. There was a lot of mystery to it. Trying to solve it was not always that easy. Fun!

I think one of the most interesting things about quests in Everquest, was not that they were interractive (though that was one of the cool things about them) but rather that the name of the game was a white lie.

The game is not an ever progressing line of quest upon quest, leading you through a generic path that every player treads with every character, all the way to the end-game PVP arena they actually want you to play. (SWTOR, I'm looking at you)

The game had quests built around an area. It didn't have an area built around quests.

And this to me is why Everquest was so good. So all-encompassing.

The world was created and then players were set free to start from the already-placed towns. Rather than having towns created first, then a steady progression of areas to get to the endgame.

The quests, like the world itself, was more natural.

Ways to improve it? I'm not sure I'd go with the idea of giant exclaimation marks above heads. That's always seemed a bit forced to me. "Oh look, that guy doesn't have a quest, so lets completely ignore him." NPCs like that whilst good for character, just get lost in the rush of people charging at exclaimation marks.

Instead, maybe have a "Town Notice Board" at several points in a town. The board would by dynamic and have level-appropriate notices pinned to it when you inspect it. For instance, you could be a level 10, and head to Qeynos only to find a sign stating, "The Town guard is looking for heroes to fight back against the gnoll threat". It doesn't tell you what the quest is, it just tells you to go to various town guards and hail them.

Maybe when you hail them they don't reply with brackets, but do mutter something about those pesky gnolls.

In modern MMO terms, maybe have NPCs speech pop up in a box, even if they don't have a quest. The box can have a text field where you get to talk with the NPC in the window?

But yeah. I love venting my frustration in recent MMO's "on quest rails" design, and the merits of EQ's classic quests. I can't count how many gnoll teeth I handed in to Qeynos in my early days, but then as a Barbarian of Halas, I had a close connection to the better of the two cities.

>TenTonHammer says, "So about that [Quest]..."

>Fudce says, "What Quest?"

"The game had quests built around an area. It didn't have an area built around quests."
I couldn't have put it better myself. Great post Fudce!

The EQN reveal is at 11am not Noon Pacific. :)

Well said Fudce!

Another interesting topic that hit the nail on the head. Considering EverQuest had the word "quest" in it, you would think the game involved nothing but questing but that was hardly the case. There were tons of quests out there but the dev's never crammed them down your throat. I liked that you literally had to talk to each and every NPC you met because you never knew who could use your help. Somewhat annoying, true, but in games today it's so freaking annoying to quest. You literally run into a room with 100 NPC's and you immediately run to the only two with a "!" hovering over their head. You spam click through the dialogue, look at your quest journal, complete task, return and claim reward. Who are all these other NPC's in the room you ask? Who cares! If they don't have a quest for me that grants loot/exp or are an skill/spell/ability trainer I will never acknowledge their existence.

I honestly feel bad for the quest writers in today's MMO's because hardly no one reads the dialogue. Literal chicken scratch could be written, very few would notice because everyone is in such a rush to level. Gotta level... no time to read! I am by no means innocent of this infraction and I honestly do read sometimes purely out of guilt. Questing doesn't have to be this way. Today's MMO's revolve so much around the quest it sorta ruins their magic and excitement. Questing today is probably the most efficient way to level and it's why people do it. In EverQuest, if you wanted to level quickly, you just ground it out by killing mobs. Occasionally you would throw in a quest or camp a rare spawn but most of the time you just killed, killed, and killed some more. I'm hoping EQN offers a similar option because I'm sick of having the sole way of progression in a game is via questing alone.

Questing should really mean something. You should have to work your butt off to even be offered a quest. You should have to read or hear what's being said and actually communicate with the NPC to progress the quest. The quest should end with a huge chunk of gaming lore answered, a massive amount of exp, and one of the best items in the game for that level. I'd rather see only 50 quests in a game that were actually relevant than 1000 trash quests that nobody cares about. Honestly, I don't think quests should even be offered in the game unless you really stand out from the other adventurers in the game. You could slap in some of these mini-quests for a bonus (kill enough rabbits around a farmers farm they give you something for helping salvage their crop) but they shouldn't be announced. The player should be able to "find" these quests which make them more rewarding. When I complete a quest in today's MMO there is no sense of accomplishment... even the quest giver is tired of giving out the same rusty sword to his millionth "hero".

Excellent article. I too feel this hit the nail on the head. Great job!

Great Read!!

Im still guilty to this day of sometimes not paying enough attention at the start of a raid or group quest because I am reading the dialog that goes along with it.

I always liked the lore behind all of EQ. I understand that there are still 10,000 quests that launched in the original game that havent been discovered. Is this true? How would I know. I am not a dev of the game.
Even if it is half of that number or even a third, its amazing that they have been missed for all these years.
I think it speaks as a testiment to the game itself. EVERQuest.

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