Verb Directions in Quest Design
So a few months ago I wrote a blog post about verb directions in game design and how player abilities are interacted with in direct terms. In other words, if a player goes to attack you with a sword, you can dodge it or redirect it or block it, etc. and all of those choices boil down to a set list of possibilities. I used the following graphic to represent those interactions:
Well today I want to pull back out a bit and look at this from a different angle. It strikes me that this concept seems fairly universal for all aspects of game design, surely these directional interactions must map to all forms of interaction, right? I mean all I’m describing is one object acting upon another object, and the second object responding. So my question then became: Could we see this in quest design?
My most recent blog post was about quest design in Mario v Armored Core and explored how these vastly different titles handle their quest structures. While writing that I identified several quest types which exist in those games, including things like “Go To Location” and “Collect An Object”. So now that I have some specific types of quests to analyze, could my verb directions chart be applied to them? Well, let’s work through this together! Come along!
So first, let’s spell out in text the graphic above, and write out the bullet point list of the types of interaction you can have between any two objects:
And now let’s list out all the possible quest types we discovered so far:
Go To A Location
Collect An Item
Kill A Monster
Win A Race
Defend A Target
I could probably be more thorough if I went and really sat with the quest design in World of Warcraft, or similar, but I feel like this is already going to cover a large enough portion of all possible quest designs that I can start here and go do that more involved breakdown later to confirm my assumptions here. So let’s just work through this list for now, and then we can all do our own research as home work.
Let’s go through each possible quest type and try to imagine each interaction. I’ll just do a long list here.
1. Go To A Location.
Ignore It - A location which simply lets you walk in, unobstructed
Redirect It - A location for which you are given bad information, so you end up attacking something else or sending your army to the wrong place, etc.
Block It - High walls or some other obstruction between you and the target location. Monsters could also work as a Block in this context.
Reflect It - As you approach a location, you are knocked away by some force, or otherwise sent back the way you came. The Lost Woods, for example.
Empower It - Your character(s) is strengthened on their way to the location
Weaken It - Your character(s) is weakened on their way to the location
Dodge It - The location disappears upon your arrival, as happens in stories like He-Man when castle greyskull “can’t be found”, that type of thing. Could also be a hidden military base which opens and closes, as you see in some spy movies.
Prevent It - Your goal is removed before you even try to go there, probably due to changes in information, accurate or not.
2. Collect An Item
Ignore It - An item simply lets you retrieve it, without alteration of any kind
Redirect It - A fake item, an illusion, or bad info. You retrieve the wrong thing.
Block It - The item is somewhere inaccessible, or held by a giant unkillable thing.
Reflect It - The item resists your touch or sends you flying as you pick it up.
Empower It - The item makes you stronger before or after collecting it
Weaken It - The item makes you stronger before or after collecting it
Dodge It - The item cannot be touched, maybe it turns invisible or phases out of this reality or something, all sorts of things you can do here
Prevent It - Again, your goal is just removed due to bad info or whatever.
3. Kill A Monster
Ignore It - Normal kill quest, unobstructed by trickery
Redirect It - The target is replaced by another target, either as a means of misdirection or as a prelude to the inevitable confrontation
Block It - The target is inaccessible or in some way unkillable, and you must find a way to alter its state before you can complete the task.
Reflect It - As you attack the monster, you are sent flying or appear elsewhere, or maybe this is the carnival mirror room showdown scene in every action movie.
Empower It - Your character is strengthened while attacking the target
Weaken It - Your character is weakened while attacking the target
Dodge It - The monster avoids your attacks or is invincible or something
Prevent It - Your goal is removed due to bad info, or the monster changes allegiance or that type of thing.
4. Win A Race
Ignore it - Normal race
Redirect it - You are racing multiple opponents, and it is unclear which is your direct adversary, which path you should take, or where the goal may be
Block it - The path for the race is blocked at some point
Reflect it - You are repelled from the track while trying to race, or the track itself is obscured in some way, making the path ambiguous.
Empower it - Your character is strengthened during the race
Weaken it - Your character is weekend during the race
Dodge it - You can’t actually interact with the finish line as expected
Prevent it - You aren’t allowed to enter the race
5. Defend A Target
Ignore it - Normal defense quest
Redirect it - You are given bad information and end up defending the wrong thing
Block it - You are prevented from reaching the location you must defend
Reflect it - You are ejected from the location you are intended to defend, or any damage you deal to attackers is dealt to the defense target.
Empower it - You must defend while strengthened in some way
Weaken it - You must defend while weakened in some way
Dodge it - When you show up for the defense mission, the target changes
Prevent it - Your goal is moved or you are prevented from participating in defense
So first off, it seems clear enough that this works just fine. Some of the specific ideas I wrote down for some of the more ambiguous alterations to a quest are not great, but there was always something to slot in for each quest type. Usually there was more than one way to interpret each alteration, which tells me that a team of designers could all start with “Win A Race - Reflect” as a prompt for their quest design, and each would come back with a different interpretation, meaning this could be a useful way to start the ideation process.
Second, not all of these are made equally. Empower and Weaken are effectively free quest designs, as it’s likely going to be trivial to apply a status effect to your player and asking them to complete a task with that status active. This means it’s likely quite easy to implement this quest type, so long as your game includes status effects of any kind. On the other end of this is the Reflect, which usually involves some form of misdirection, illusion, etc. That all can be rather difficult to program and coordinate with other departments, if not just a logistical nightmare for design (just ask your MMO dev team for a castle which can disappear from the landscape and watch their heads explode). It is also possible to scale up or down elements on each of these, there could certainly be types of empowerments that would be impossible to implement, or interpretations of Reflect which are trivial to include. So again, this would just be a place to start ideation, not necessarily a set of rules to carve into stone.
All the caveats aside, though, this pretty much encapsulates what goes on in my mind while coming up with a quest, except now it’s in a list of bullet points that are each easy to point to when my brain isn’t feeling super creative. I will definitely be using this going forward, feel free to do the same.
And as always, thanks for reading!