Placing boundaries on players.
Today I want to talk about something that’s been floating in my head for a while. It’s not some easily defined problem, rather an aspect of gaming that’s always bugged me. This post may come across as a bit of a rant, but stick with me here 🙂
I wanted to talk about questing in games. They go by other names; missions, assignments, objectives, but at the heart they’re essentially the same thing. Modern video games will ease you into their worlds with a tutorial level while feeding you pieces of narrative and offering glimpses of their own unique and (hopefully) beautiful world. You’ll see areas and tales waiting to be seen and experienced and you can’t wait for the harness to come off and be let free.
When this finally happens however, you’re instantly giving instructions or orders and pointed in a predetermined path. You’re shackled to the game’s quests, unable to progress down any path that isn’t designed for you. Don’t think for a moment that the game will ease up ever. Each time you follow orders and kill that kingpin or gather those herbs there’s another prompt waiting. Another finger pointing resolutely in a set direction. Even when the main story dips, expect most games to flood you with side quests, miscellaneous tasks and optional lines that we both know you’ll need to complete to stand a chance at survival.
Open world games, despite the name, tend to do even more hand holding and pointing than their linear counterparts. It’s as if developers are terrified of leaving you on your own for more than ten minutes, worried that unless there are twenty seven active quests in your journal you’ll cease to play. Whatever happened to developers focusing on the game world itself, rather than filling their creations with dozens of useless fetch quests and helpless inhabitants who need help doing anything more strenuous than lifting a kettle?
I’m aware that there needs to be quests, that to rid a game of them would result in aimless wandering and a poor experience, but I’m fed up by the unoriginal and uninspired methods almost every game takes these days. There are of course exceptions, and I urge gamers to look at the games which present the player with a deeper level of immersion than simply “Go here, do this.”
Legend of Zelda.
I’m not the biggest L.O.Z fan, but I love the way they handle quests. The game’s worlds – in particular Ocarina of Time’s – feel lived in and interaction with it’s NPC’s feels natural and fun. Their problems are often unique and the solution won’t be readily presented. Instead the game lets you explore the problem and think about how it could be solved. This method charmed me when I played the games, and is one of the main things I enjoy about them to date.
I’m currently playing this rough gem, and I’m enjoying the open style quests. The game gives you an ultimate target, but leaves you alone to enact your plans. It’s refreshing to be left alone for long periods of time, and something that Assassin’s Creed could learn from.
Questing in video games has become stale and predictable, with designers taking the lazy option instead of attempting to innovate in this most fundamental element of gaming. In a generation where consoles and P.Cs have advanced to such a degree of technology, designers would do well to focus on this older problem that plagues so many video games of today.