Saturday, 24 July 2010

Polls & Quest Permutations!

This week's blog is a little bit of a ramble I'm afraid, simply because all material I have covered in building this week cannot be revealed without giving spoilers. However, I can say that I have been continuing to write the story and cover coding around one side quest (now complete) and the main quest (work in progress).

The Polls

Before I ramble any more, I thought I would talk about the polls. The poll asking about how often I should blog came to an end last week and the results were significantly in favour that I should continue to blog weekly, scoring 73%. I am quite happy to do this, but I would encourage feedback from readers in the way of questions about the module that may help inspire certain topics from week to week. The second poll (currently still running) is asking for player's preferences when it comes to style of gameplay and finishes at the end of the week. If you haven't voted yet, please do. I will discuss the results of that one next week.

Quest Permutations!

My rambling topic this week is about the number of paths a quest can take and just how quickly the number of permutations can grow when allowing the player just a few different options to take along the way. For example, I have one side quest that can "start" in no less than 4 ways. Furthermore, the first two ways involve a potential split in direction. The same quest also involves a number of NPCs. Depending upon the order the PC encounters these NPCs also adjusts the conversations, with each node varying according to the way the quest started in the first place.

If you take every possible permutation the player could take to resolve the quest, then I think there are easily over 20 different ways, if not more! Of course, this could have easily been brought down to a couple of paths by restricting player options, including limiting access to certain areas and/or dealing with NPCs. However, as I wrote the quest, I tried to include all the various options I believed a player might want to take and that would be considered reasonable.

The bottom line is, however, I have learnt a lesson since writing this quest: Keep design tighter and involve only one or two NPCs per quest. This lesson may appear obvious to many already, but there is also a danger in the process of sticking rigidly to this design in that a builder could inadvertently railroad the player along a path of limited choice. Knowing how to balance this design is the trick to learn. Consider some of your own designs for a quest. What design limitations tools do you use to help keep the variables under control? Which options do you use here:-

1) Are some areas restricted or are they all available from the start?
2) Can quest NPCs be killed at any time or never be hurt?
3) Can locks be bypassed with certain skills or do they often require a certain key?

Personally, I try to limit restrictions in all these three areas, but have had to recognise I needed them in a couple of circumstances. However, I have only used them as a last resort and in a way that I hope will not impact of the majority of players. I would be interested in hearing the opinion of both builders and players with respect to game design:-

Builders: I would like to know how involved you make your quests? Do you cater for the less likely path and events or do you ensure players play by the rules you lay down and have only one path through the quest? (I am not just talking about different quest ends, but different quest paths to various ends.)

Players: I would like to know how involved you like your quests? Do you like simple and straightforward quests or more complex tasks? What has been your favourite quest (in any game) to date?

Basically, I want to here about your quests! If you are a builder, tell me about your preferred design technique. And if you are a player, tell me about your favourite quests.

10 comments:

Anonymous said...

Im both.

As a builder: Im very sincere in my belief that the modding toolsets, nwn2 or otherwise are being inefficiently used by myself and others. Quite frankly if you want to cater all choices, you should be building prefabs, and having a live DM.

Realistically this is much more desirable: spending a couple months on a project and then DMing it, rathern than years to get a commercial-like project. As for choices though, two paths are fine as long as they are different: the one path where you may talk a person into something vs killing them stealthfully inside a stronghold of their minions is a huge range of choice for a player.

I think a lot of solo modders are getting way too serious and trying to go over and above what commercial games do. And their projects never see the light of day. Your role is not to provide a prebuilt DM, its simply to tell a story and entertain. Show a single path with compelling people and beautiful areas and you will win more people than a barren, lego-cobbled dungeon with 8 ways to kill a goblin.

Lance Botelle (Bard of Althéa) said...

Hi Anon,

I agree with you 100%. :) Both in the DM point and the potential over-design by builders. (A trap I fell into on my first side-quest for this campaign.)

My earlier NWN material was designed around prefabs and I acted as the DM. Even with the current project, I hope to act as DM, although it has been designed to be played without one.

The problem is that where I hope to release this module as a SP/MP mod, those ideas behind the former design (DM game) creep into the latter (SP/MP game) - and I am finding I am having to learn to adapt my design style.

The problem I keep returning to is I find it difficult to escape from the idea that while a player may accept a given story path, that they would still prefer to play it "their way". And it is knowing how many "ways" to include for the various style of different players that I find difficult to settle on.

To a degree, I believe this level has been determined for me, because as you say, if I don't narrow the paths down a bit, then the module will never be released. The frustrating point is, however, I often feel as though I have not given enough choices. :( And I don't mean the "eight ways to kill a goblin" kind of choice, that did make me laugh (LOL!), but more of the type of choices that would suit various class approaches.

I am not going to think about that anymore now though, as it starts my head reeling again. Better to release something though, than nothing at all. ;)

Lance.

Anonymous said...

The anonymous poster is spot on: the most important thing in modding is to keep features under control. It's more important to have a few tightly scripted scenes rather than an expansive world where nothing happens.


A DM can make anything good, but I don't think most NWN2 are in the mood for including them. For the most part, the design ethos here is for SP(or MP compatible) adventures that a player can download and then play; no additional assembly required. It'd be great for having DMs on staff, so to speak, but that makes it even more difficult to make the mod last through time(there's a NWN1 mod I'd like to play, but you have to have a DM--out of luck for me).


As far as choices go, we *SHOULDN'T* cater to all choices. The faux-transvestite-lesbian-vampire-truckers can't be accounted for. There are character builds and motivations which cannot be accounted for by any number of pre-generated dialog options. I think that in the NWN2 design set up--with limited conversation options and such--we should try and make sure the most plausible and reasonable options, which also lead to our story's end, should be offered. In a sense, games are more about concealing linearity more so than anything else: give the impression to the player that their choices matter*, and then move forward with your story.


*Obviously do make their choices matter, but *everything* they do obviously can't be accounted for.

Lance Botelle (Bard of Althéa) said...

Hi Chaos Wielder,

So that's a 'no' to the "faux-transvestite-lesbian-vampire-truckers" path then? Just making sure. ;)

I needed a frank post like yours just to remind me not to go "beserk" on the level of detail. It's a failing of mine that I often find myself a slave to.

Hopefully now, I can take a step back from the design and start afresh with my approach and just stick to the more pertinent points. After all, there is no reason why a DM should not stilll intervene if there is one available at the time of playing.

Lance.

Shaughn said...

20 end points that may just be a bit much. A quest needs to be looked at and the most probable routes should be created then the less probable ones need to be dropped. With quest I think having common points that all branches wander back to can help. So you can branch off based on your initial choices and maybe learn something extra or some other type of bonus or penalty then end up at the common point then brach off again. Each group of branches may have some choices limited due to prior actions. This will prevent your quest choices from exponentially growing, increasing the probability the a player will encounter something you spent a lot of time working on and streamlines the quest while allowing choices.

As for restrictions they are needed. Locked doors, unaccessible areas are a part of gaming. We do it with every area we create, there is some boundry or point that the player just can't go past. When playing I think it is fun to find that door that is locked and I need to find some way to open it. Having that bad-ass rogue that can unlock everything takes away from that challange.

Lance Botelle (Bard of Althéa) said...

Hi Shaughn,

Just to clarify: It is over 20 paths to only about 3 end points. My problem is accounting for the paths to the end. ;)

You raise a great point about "locked doors". The problem I have is ensuring that PCs are not prohibited from bypassing a door if they have taken extra effort in either a) Ensuring a good lock pick skill b) Ensuring they have the Knock spell ready or c) They have great strength to break it down.

However, I do believe there should be some doors that require more than any of these class benefits and can still provide a great "block" tool for the builder if used judiciously.

Lance.

Kamal said...

Well, for one quest with 8 ways to do it, you could probably put in 3-4 single path quests in the same amount of coding time. Most likely only one or two ways are going to be apparent to the player anyway.

Some things can be simpler though. A quest to collect the item should only require you to have the item. It shouldn't matter how you got it. The item should be marked as pickpocketable if that's reasonable for the item and where it is.

Ultimately it's a trade off the builder has to decide on.

Lance Botelle (Bard of Althéa) said...

Hi Kamal,

I think part of th eproblem I had with one of the side quests was that it was a little more involved than normally expected for a side quest and also reacted to timed events. That compicated matters.

Thankfully, I have found some of the other side quests I am writing a little less involved and more manageable. They behave more in the manner you describe. :)

Lance

Anonymous said...

Generally, while I do try to give options to the player, they are there merely to appear that they can choose their path- the changes are either small or completely insignificant on the long run, so I still consider my module to be very linear.

It's also useful that the plot doesn't really leave enough space for the player to make meaningful choices, and there are until now no real sidequests, which would naturally be the most open ended ones.

Still, I still have to prevent myself for giving too many options sometimes- even small changes require much work to cover them all.

Lance Botelle (Bard of Althéa) said...

Hi Anon,

Interesting comments. :)

I think I may have to reconsider my approach again, because I did once work to "smaller" differences that were easier to manage. However, I then got sucked into the "your choices make real differences" statement and that approach is where it really hurt the variables! For, as you say, even the smallest changes require more work to cover them.

It's not that I don't agree with the sentiment about allowing players the choice, but that I have to accept that covering more than just one or two very few basic ones is simply not practicle. The term "real choices" is going to have to take on a much more subtle meaning than I was hoping for it to mean. ;)

Lance.