An Insider's Look at Quest Design
by: Tony "RadarX" Jones
Quests, we all do them whether for the enjoyment of a good story or like ritalin just to take the edge off in level grinding. For the most part they consist of running something from point A to point B, or killing X number of creatures. What goes into making these tasks? How does it all fit together? Ten Ton Hammer got a chance to speak with Developer Ellery "Saerkin" Jones who not only has been with EverQuest 2 since it's launch but was responsible for much of the quest content in the new zone Darklight Woods.
Ten Ton Hammer: Thanks for taking a few minutes to answer some questions. I remember you being on the Quality Assurance team at launch. Can you tell us what if anything has changed between how quests are put in the game now versus back then?
Saerkin: A lot of little things have changed. We have the benefit of great programmers who like to help us out with better tools. Most improvements would be pretty transparent to players, but generally making more abilities part of our standard toolset, so that the designer doesn't need to rely on scripting as much.
To a player this translates to more complex and interesting quests ("kill 10 bears," "kill 10 bears and use this item in Tiger Lake", "kill a bear, pick up his body, drop it in Tiger Lake," "kill bears until you obtain the spirit of Bear-King-Joe, use said spirit to possess the bears outside Tiger Lake, and start a gang war between the bears and the tigers").
Something more straightforward that players might notice, however, would be changes to "hail response" system for NPCs. It's easy to recognize a real old NPC, as they will say the same thing every time they are hailed, no matter how many quests of theirs you have done (though many of these NPCs have since been upgraded to the newer system). Newer NPCs will offer many different responses based on anything from race, to level, to where you are on a quest. Basically, since launch, things have been made easier and easier for designers letting us make better and better content.
Ten Ton Hammer: Well, that explains why I get a shameful look and a "Hail Adventurer I...look I had a lot to drink that night ok?" Can you briefly walk us through the process of writing a quest? How does it get added?
Saerkin:A number of things must be done to make a quest. The order is up to the designer, but I'll walk you through the method I use (assuming I already know what the actual quest is--if I don't then there's a lot of running around in the area I know the quest will take place in trying to figure out what would be cool).
For a simple quest--kill 10 bears, let's say--I do things in a rather straight forward manner:
I create the quest file itself (this is what appears in your journal).
I create the quest giver character (which involves creating his appearance and uniform [read: "visible equipment"]).
I create the dialogue for the quest giver.
I edit the quest giver character to point to the right dialogue at the right times.
And finally I fix all the bugs that I managed to squeeze into even the most simple of quests.
For a simple quest that's all there is to it. For more complex quests I usually go through a more segmented process, making sure each individual "piece" of a quest works on its own then stringing them together with dialogue. Then finally going back and revisiting each portion and making sure it "works" the right way, and tweaking it when it doesn't.
For example, while making the first deity quest for the Cazic-Thule quest line I first made the quest. Then I added script support to the pigs, cows, troughs, and beds so they properly interact with you while on the quest. Then I created a volume in which you could drop "the body." Then I placed the harvest objects. Then I updated the pigs, cows, troughs, and beds so they worked with the next step. Then I created the dialogue, and put the necessary script on *that*. Then I plugged everything together and crossed my fingers. Then I fixed all the bugs that I created (including the one where I accidentally deleted all spawns from Thundering Steppes, whoops!).
Ten Ton Hammer: *chuckles* Very nice. It sounds pretty straight forward, but what other groups do you have to work with to design quests?
Saerkin: I worked with just about everyone to get my quests into Darklight Wood. Art helped tweak the zone where I requested it, created spell effects and particle effects to dress things up, and made a few variants to existing models (not to mention the Arasai, of course). Engineering helped me with tweaks to our tools to make creating quests a little bit easier, and of course provided all the "invisible" support that a patch of this magnitude entails.
The person I worked most with, however, is Steve Kramer (Saavedra). Steve did all the population work for Darklight Wood, so he and worked together a lot. We are "team newbie experience," I think.
Ten Ton Hammer: I'm sure working with Saavedra was a blast, he's always entertaining. Following along those lines, are there enough quests in the Darklight Woods zone for someone to level without having to grind?
Saerkin: I imagine if someone only killed the bare minimum of mobs require for each quest then no, they would not make it to 20 on quests alone. But between getting to know an area and killing mobs that attack you on your way and the experience that that rewards you in addition to quests and quest targets I believe Darklight Wood is a very "non-grindy" zone.
Ten Ton Hammer: Well some people just wear 38 pieces of flair so, sometimes the bare minimum is all you get. How many quests would you say are in Darklight Woods roughly? Are they available to any evil race or do you need to be a Neriak citizen?
Saerkin: There are 88 quests in Darklight Wood. That number does include simple "you're at point A, go to point B" quests, which don't really "count." However, it doesn't include any quests that originate in Neriak and take place in Darklight Wood, which will add a few. Most quests in Darklight Wood are available to all players. This is less true once you get inside Neriak though.
Ten Ton Hammer: Yeah Queen Cristanos talked about me being a Eunuch and...I think she gave me the finger. She was much nicer after I betrayed. I didn't notice much in the way of "cross zone" quests requiring visits to other places. Was this due to the low level of the content or do you find players are turned off by that?
Saerkin: In Darklight, the reason it ended up like that--if I had to guess--would be that the content range in that zone alone is so broad that filling it up became a rather large task on its own. I would've loved to add more "cross zone" quests in Darklight and Commonlands, but after looking at the number of quests I was going to be making for Darklight alone, I decided to focus solely on Darklight.
As far as players being "turned off" by cross zone content, I think players enjoy it so long as it isn't a tedious travel experience: "I'm studying plants in Nektulos, go get 15 of them," "wow these are interesting, go get some of the animals that feed on these plants," "incredible! Get some of the animals that feed on THESE animals." At a certain point, aside from the travel being a nuisance, you have to wonder why the NPC themselves didn't just set up their camp in Nektulos.
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