There are many parts of WildStar that are treading familiar ground in unusual ways, and quests are no exception to that. We know that the game will have quests, but those quests are compressed into 140-character, Twitter-style soundbites. They’re quick nuggets of information sending you to a place to do a thing, and that’s it. Needless to say, this has sparked some outrage from people absolutely certain that this is catering to ADD-afflicted jumpy maniacs concerned only with getting the most loot the fastest rather than people who actually care about playing a game.
For starters, I’m not sure these people actually know how ADD works, but that’s not the point. The point is that there’s a lot to like about the concept of the game’s tweet-quests. Obviously we don’t know how well the idea will work out in practice, but from what we do know, there’s plenty of reason to look forward to the different format.
I should note that those of you who caught my appearance on Nexus Weekly got a preview of some parts of this column, so congratulations for reading ahead. Listening ahead. Whichever. If you didn’t catch it, you can listen before or after. It’s up to you.
Quest text is usually stagnant and boring
Let’s get this out of the way first: quest text is bad. Really bad. And despite numerous efforts over the years to make it more entertaining to read, I think those efforts have made things worse.
Fundamentally, quest text needs to convey the objectives of the quest clearly and quickly. It invariably fails at the second goal because reading through two or three paragraphs isn’t the quickest format you can use. But it fails at the first goal, too, because in trying to fill up those two or three paragraphs, it’s usually mixing in a lot of superfluous non-information and random bits of backstory. Attempts to make it more engaging usually mean increasing the amount of fluff rather than increasing information density.
Some games have better quest text than others; TERA’s writing is frequently on-point and clever, while a lot of Star Trek Online’s quests are fairly dry orders from Starfleet (which is setting-appropriate, but still). But all of them have the fundaments buried underneath several layers of unnecessary fluff. The Secret World has a particularly bad version of this, where the pre-quest text not only takes the form of a cutscene that you can’t skim but also frequently never actually gives you a task, just alludes to one in a roundabout fashion.
I love lore, I love fine detail, and I love having the sense of a living world. But reading through quests doesn’t contribute to that; in some ways, it actually subtracts from it, since you have to wait through huge chunks of exposition for even the simplest tasks. It’s bulky and unnecessary, and it becomes an irritating game of picking through irrelevant details for the three or four bits of useful information.
Tweet-quests address these points nicely. There’s no fat on the actual quest, just the information you need, and then you can go. Instead of trying to make the text itself interesting, the game just cuts down on the amount of text needed, which actually makes more sense in the first place.
It’s also worth noting that writing with a short limit is a lot harder than writing a novel. Brevity is difficult, as evidenced by the number of columns I’ve written that wind up running over into absurd word counts.
Details where details belong
No one in the world needs to know much about killing 10 rats. Even if WildStar is the first MMO you’ve ever played, odds are good you can figure out what you need to do from simply the words “kill 10 rats.” And there’s plenty of space to also offer a cursory explanation for why those rats need to be killed within 140 characters because it does not need to be ornate.
This is not to say I don’t want to know more about the reason behind killing the rats. I love reading a dozen pages about why the rats are a problem. Give me a chance to find out that the rats were accidentally imported from a Granok ship and have been making a mess of farms up and down the southern border and I will eat that up. And I will do so after I have finished dealing with the more immediate issue, which is the fact that there are a lot of rats I need to kill.
By not shoehorning information into places it doesn’t need to be, you wind up with tighter and more straightforward explanations of quests as well as the potential for meatier information about the incidentals. There’s an entire path devoted just to analyzing things for more information, and the idea of getting a full history of a settlement is fascinating, but I don’t need that in a basic description of a simple quest.
Plus, let’s be honest — does anyone ask you to do something simple by giving you a breakdown of why they’re asking? “Kill 10 rats; they’re eating our crops” is plenty of explanation and reason right there.
A subtle shift of focus
De-emphasizing huge amounts of quest text has another effect that’s a wee bit more subtle. Instead of putting the onus on the game to provide complicated rationales, it gives that chore entirely to the player.
The quests are still there, they’re still content, they’re still important to the game. But they also aren’t giving you motivation or explanation; they’re not putting words in your character’s mouth or assuming some amount of loyalty or moral flexibility. You have tasks to achieve, and those aren’t even necessarily your primary tasks — your Scientist might be far more interested in analyzing the rats than killing them, and you can advance doing that just as easily.
It’s almost like the quests will be there if you want them and transparent if you don’t. So you can play the way you want. Crazy.