EverQuest Next: The Power of Interactive Quests
The date of EverQuest Nexts 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 youre 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 cant say why and I cant say what may be here (ALLEGEDLY!) but you want to keep your browser pointed to Ten Ton Hammer. As the date gets closer, Ill 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 todays topic. Im hoping to see an EverQuest staple make a return to the MMORPG genre interactive quests. Now, when I say interactive, Im not referring to getting X item to click on once youve gotten mob Y beaten down to 30% or below; Im 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 todays 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.
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 NPCs 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 hadnt 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. Ive 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 didnt.
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 theres one thing every single EverQuest player of old has done, its 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 youre 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 its 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 theres 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 todays modern conveniences such as an indication that an NPC actually has a quest, I think todays 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 weeks article!
While you wait for next weeks piece, catch up on any previous EverQuest Next articles you may have missed! If youve got questions, old-school aspects youd like me to cover, or anything in between, shoot me an email or hit me up on Twitter!