TERA Dev Diary: Building Better Quests
By Dave Noonan, Lead Writer, En Masse Entertainment
It takes many hats to make a smart quest.
Sometimes we’re wearing game designer hats, tuning the gameplay and balancing the rewards. Or we’re wearing our author hats, crafting compelling dialogue, building fascinating characters, and weaving plotlines together. Then we put on our gamer hats and play those quests again and again. Often we find something that makes us go “Hmm…,” put our designer or author hats back on, and make a change…which leads to even more designing, writing, and playing.
Fighting a boss like Karascha is always exciting in TERA, and a quest can channel that excitement and propel future action.
As I write this, our team of writers—two rows of desks on the crazy end of the building—are working on the high-level zones in TERA™. It’s a big job. We have more than a thousand quests; some simple, some complex. We spend lots of time honing the writing, tuning the rewards, balancing the gameplay, and doing all the other things you expect from a full-fledged MMO.
That work can’t happen in a vacuum, though. The thing that keeps us awake at night as we craft all those quests is a simple question: what are the smart ways to connect this quest to the other quests in the game?
-MMOs can break a linear plot in some intriguing ways. -What if you did quest 3104 before you did quest 3103? How does that color the emotional response in quest 3105? -What if you played the first part of quest 2118, but then it was spring break and now you don’t remember how the quest started? -Is it more interesting to see the hints in quest 4220 about the villain’s machinations before you fight that villain, or is quest 4220 more interesting when the villain is already dead and you perceive those hints as confirmation that you did the right thing?
TERA uses quests—among other things—to drive exploration throughout its vast world of dreams.
Getting to the heart of the matter with the last example: can you design quest 4220 so it’s interesting—but legitimately different—whether it happens before or after you fought the villain?
That’s what we call a smart quest: a quest that’s designed with an awareness of its emotional, storytelling, and world-building surroundings. You can mandate some of that awareness with quest branching, elaborate prerequisites, and other tools of the trade. Those tools of the trade don’t make the quests smart, though. When you see a smart quest—a quest that knows its place in the world—it’s because someone thought through all the narrative, emotional, and gameplay implications beforehand.
In TERA, you'll have the chance to earn the acclaim of an entire nation—not to mention your fellow players.
With TERA, we’re creating quests that are smart because they know how they fit among all the other building blocks of the game experience—even if the players ignore some of the blocks, use others twice, and pick some up in an unusual order. As long as the player builds a structure that’s emotionally satisfying, the smart quests have done their job.