Today I look at a pair of blog entries from February 2012 which discus quest text.
These entries were presented by Cory Herndon who describes himself as a Narrative Designer who is in the trenches. And the primary subject hinges on a fact about MMO gamers, "Nobody reads all the quest text."
The narrative team at Carbine is going with a rather interesting approach, Twitter length quest text. The goal is to provide you with objective, story and character in the smallest space possible.
One thing said very early as Cory explains how they battle walls of text is that telling story in an MMO is not limited to onscreen text or exposition. This is an important thing that I have heard fans of older MMO's frequently state -- Show me, don't tell me. I love this quote from the first blog: "Art is the most effective narrative tool that narrative designers don't create"
He also speaks about "general voice over" versus "fully voiced." If you record specific word for word dialog and later decide something needs to be changed it means that you need to call the actor back into the studio to record the new dialog. This can be a real issue with quest design. Sometimes adjustments need to be made, from player feedback or what have you. So what it seems like they plan to do is hold back the full voice scenes for big important moments and provide this general dialog for the majority of quests and events. The example they give in the article shows a short quest with objectives coming across on screen, and suggesting the audio that transmits with it is less about the details and more about the source or the activity. "I have a mission." or "Your help is needed"
Provided in this first blog entry was a quest that was slowly whittled down from full on wall of text to a <140 character objective snippet. In the second entry he explains the process in more detail. This was an interesting read, mostly showing the above principles in action.
He finishes up with a quote I like, "the player is the storyteller's ultimate collaborator."
The idea of short quest text is interesting to me. There are certainly periods in MMO's where I'm getting thrown walls of text that I glance at...my eyes glaze over and I hit "OK" or "Accept" and then look at my map for where the quest objective graphic popped up. But there are times where I feel like skipping the quest dialog would have been a real shame. There were some great stories in City of Heroes, all told in the mission screens. The most memorable quests for me were the ones where the quest giver had the most personality in their mission logs. Same in World of Warcraft. It is a funny thing about games with hundreds of hours of content, those gems bubble up to the top and you forget about the other 99% of just average writing. I think players in this era of gaming expect fully voiced RPG's. I am playing Ni No Kuni on the PS3 and the lack of full voice acting rubs me the wrong way. Just 5 years ago I never would have thought twice about it, and 10 years ago any voice acting in a game was the sign of a tip top product. Obviously fully voicing an MMO is too expensive to sustain, just ask the folks at Star Wars: The Old Republic. So finding ways to lesson walls of text by instead providing context and making sure that the environments, NPC animations and short vignettes all line up to flesh out the framework provided in text to tell a rich story is a great plan.