Redesigning Quests for a Better MUD

Note: This is a continuation from my last post. You may wish to read that one first.

So while I'm talking about things MUDs do wrong, here's another one: quests. Though quests in MUDs are more epic, and not so much like errands, they're still extremely flawed. First of all, any repeatable 'errand' needs to be removed, and quest points also.

What I propose instead is a simpler system similar to achievements and reputation found in most graphical MMOs. Instead of getting quests from quest givers, you can see a list of all available quests at any time.

For immersion's sake, if you wish to attach it to a town-hall signpost I understand - as long as it's available throughout the game, and not just in one localized spot. The point is to remove the inconvenience of travel. In a graphical MMO, traveling can mean something, since even passing through an area gives you a taste of the zone. But in a text-based environment that's just not the way it is; so eliminate wasteful traffic as much as possible.

Back to the 'questing' topic: Having a list of checklist of goals instead of repeatable quests gets rid of the problem of players only taking the most efficient quests over and over again, or of a particular quest becoming boring. Besides, there are only so many bandit leaders; shouldn't they all be dead by now?

There could be long and short goals, such as "talk to all the town mayors" with a sublist of each town who's constable you need to talk to. (Green for completed and red for incomplete maybe?) Smaller, simpler quests could be "Kill 10 bandits and the bandit leader" coupled with "Bring three bandit insignias to the Constable of Suchandsuch Town." Items which incite hidden goals might well be available; a map used by the bandits to plan an attack could well be found at their base, and upon looking at it players would gain an incomplete goal to tell the constable of the impending attack.

It would also be a good time to implement triggered events: Upon telling the constable, an event would start where bandits spawned all around town, along with town guards, and would fight. Of course they would require player interaction to die (as NPCs resolving their own disputes is both unheard of and unfun!) and you would gain an additional complete goal for participating in a successful defense. (How you would fail the defense, I don't know. Time limit, I guess?)

Completed goals would give you a set amount of points. Most should only give 1 point to avoid inflation and the confusion of having to count your zeroes. Instead of spending points to gain items, you simply gain access to better items as you gain more goal points. That is: items are free once you gain enough points, and bound to your character.

This also helps to regulate newbies. Even a player who is bad at combat can gain a simple set of items (better than the level 1 newbie gear) by completing non-combat goals. As they gain more goal-rewarded gear, they can start to complete the simpler combat goals without feeling too overwhelmed due to lack of experience. This will help them to get used to your MUDs combat, and then they can move onto the harder, more advanced combat goals.

NPC Dialogue

Lastly, I'll touch on dialogue: Making people type "talk to Geryn" or "say Geryn quest" is stupid. Not only stupid, but clunky and it lacks immersion. It would be much more professional to give a dialogue option. "Talk to Geryn" would prompt the following:

"Good day, adventurer! Darn bandits are out in the lots today..."
0) End Dialogue
1) "What bandits? I haven't seen any bandits."
2) "Where might they be? I'll go hunt some down for you!"
3) "Serves you right - learn to hold a sword and maybe you won't be so afraid!"
4) "Do you know where I might find the town hall?"

And then you would use 0-4 to 'chat' with NPC Geryn, with 0 (or leaving the room or talking to another NPC) taking your number keys out of dialogue-lock and returning them to whatever they do ordinarily.

Edit 8/25: I found a mud that uses this dialogue system, and I'm very proud of it. I still think they're too wordy, and their use of color is appalling, but one step at a time! It also uses the combat system from my last post.

A MUD for Graphic-kids

In designing a MUD to compete with most MMOGs, one would first have to consider that text is unnecessary. I won't make a non-text MUD to prove it, but I know it is true. The reason being that our brain converts text into symbols. Our brain doesn't break apart known words into letters, it takes the whole word into the brain and finds a matching image or emotion to place with it. 'Cat' isn't read C-A-T - our brain immediately turns the letter grouping into an image. It works as well as if we put a picture of a cat on the paper instead.

The good part about text is that we can express abstract concepts, such as 'brown-furred animal.' How would you go about trying to tell someone about a brown-furred animal if all you could use were images?You could use a bear... then someone might think you meant 'bear' instead. You could create an animal that doesn't exist, draw it, and give it brown fur. There are even more issues of that which I won't get into.

But MUDs don't use images. Besides text, they use ASCII art and maps, simple coloring, player interaction, and rate of text to stimulate player responses. The first are easy to interpret, but I may need to go over the last two.

Rate of Text - By definition (as I have coined the term for this blog, I'll be defining it also) rate of text is the grouping by which a MUD server chooses to send to a client, or a client chooses to send to a MUD. A high rate of text implies that the server or client is constantly sending messages regardless of message length. On RP MUDs, where players may wish to describe detailed actions (as the purpose is often prose and beauty of textual execution), the outgoing rate of text would be low. For players in the same room as you, incoming rate of text would also be low. It is difficult to judge how rate of text will affect a player's decisions, but I can predict that a high rate in both directions would be stressful; that a high outgoing rate but a low incoming rate would feel unresponsive; and a high incoming rate with a low outgoing rate may be "just right."

Player Interaction - Another aspect which is difficult to judge due to the fact that not all players are of the same quality. Logging on a MUD late at night you're more likely to meet the 'mellow' crowd, who's idle chitter-chatter may put some relaxing vibes into your gameplay. On the other hand, logging on right after school meets you up with all of the 'I want it all and I want it all RIGHT NOW!' children (though to a lesser degree since those kids gravitate towards graphical environments). Having those players zooming in and out of your area, snagging your quest mobs, rifling through your mob bodies, then zooming out of there before you can even say hello will definitely put an edge in your gameplay. Manipulating player interaction is not something I intend to cover in this discussion.

You may observe that my predictions for both of these concepts is rather close to how you might say they'de affect a graphical MMOG. Although there certainly isn't any scientific data recorded, my observations combined with many others show that player activities are very similar between MUDs and MMOGs, likely given the similarities between the environments themselves.

Using Color as Significance

My first suggestion to make a MUD for graphic kids is to use color in an obvious and unified way, similar to how WoW icons are used. Icons with weapons are attacks. Icons with shields typically require a shield equipped. Icons of a certain coloring reflect a certain school. (See: Warlock, Mage.) Color could easily be used the same way, even amongst different classes. Your offensive attacks might be light red (along with the damage you deal, since attacks and damage are associated), your incoming attacks might be dark red. For a mage who doesn't typically use physical attacks, their spells would be color coded the same way. Defensive magic and defensive physical tactic abilities would be light blue, and possibly defense breakers and curses/afflictions would take the magenta hues. The idea is there.

Once you've associated certain colors with certain abilities (red = offensive, cyan = protective, white = healing) you can color-code mob names according to what the mob can do. An enemy cleric who can heal and cast defensive magic gets a name of blue and dark grey letters, the colors of enemy healing and defense. Then you would be able to exclude some of the descriptive text from appraising or looking at a mob, or from it's stance description. No more "A shifty-eyed, rat-nosed man flashes a dagger between his fingers, trying to keep people from noticing." Now it's just "A shifty-eyed, rat-nosed man." I don't know what dark green means, but it must mean something about daggers or sneaking, I guess, because the symbolic/subliminal messaging says he's dangerous, and then whatever green means. Meanwhile, a friendly cleric mob who'll heal you would have a white name, and a mage mob who'll buff you would have a cyan name.

Give More Useful Information To The Player

Rate of text should be adjusted to a low volume, high speed transfer. The following four individual messages could be condensed:

MOB1 turns his attack to you!
MOB1 draws his sword back to swing!
MOB1 slashes at your arm!
MOB1 misses his attack against you.


Incoming attack from MOB1!
MOB1 misses you: [0]

A simple countdown only detracts from flavor (the imagery) but in this case, the flavor was already in the way of function (filtering useless material from his attention instead of devising a plan to deal with the mob), which means players were getting a lesser game play experience on behalf of the developers wanting the world to look pretty. Rose bushes are also pretty, but are kept trimmed to the garden, and never allowed to grow onto the walkway. These 'thorny' messages should be treated the same way. (There may be an issue where attacks are incoming from two mobs simultaneously - I say this is a wide-arcing flaw with DIKU-style combat, and can be addressed by a queueing system, or any other number of small changes or large-scale makeovers.)

Expect Less From the Player

Text outgoing from a client, to the server, should also be truncated as much as possible. Whenever able, a single keystroke (then 'enter') should suffice. The keys 1, 2, 3 and 4 come to mind. A simple system where you could assign them as server-side macros would work well. This way, even bad typists with quick minds can keep up with happy-hacking fingers. So pre-combat, you assign basic sword attack to 1, basic defend to 2, magical attack to 3, and 'flee combat' to 4... and you're all set. Clearly, more will be needed, though with 26 letters, 10 numbers, and an assortment of other keys on the board, I doubt you'll run out of quick-combat keys to use anytime soon.

Edit 8/25: I found a mud that uses this combat system, as well as the dialogue system from my next post.

I Wouldn't Read It, So Don't Waste Time Typing It!

The biggest problem I see would be room descriptions. It's almost necessary to have a description, and typically colors are used here to describe a texture/'feel' of the area. If we already have colors associated with spells, someone might interpret a dark-red colored room as very bad (which could be useful, say, for a 'detect trap' skill which turns room names dark red if they're harmful and require disarming).

To solve it, I simply ask for a purpose. That is, what is the point of a room description? To point out interesting and noteworthy things. The caveat comes when you can't point out everything; some exits and objects are hidden and meant to be discovered. Though, since most room builds I know get lazy, typically a lengthy room description means they're trying to hide something, so you should look closer. The solution for this is quite simple: make finding hidden objects a character skill, not a player duty. A low level 'find hidden exits' skill with add a few lines of description that might now show up to the average joe, simply pointing out that something is amiss or such. A high level 'find hidden exits' will flat out show the exit in the direction list.

Another way of cutting bloat from rooms would be to not go into more depth than you might in a book. It's always tempting to describe an open field as something exciting to behold (which the Immortals want, in order to make each room feel unique, like there's never a dead spot) but I think it's important that plain rooms remain plain. A field of nine rooms (3x3) doesn't need 9 unique descriptions. The middle might be unique and short because it's simply a field, and the rooms along one edge might all the same, describing the change in terrain from mountain to field, and on the other side field to forest. Three, max of five descriptions for your nine rooms right there. A few extra lines in one for the 'find hidden' users to sneak into a rabbit hole, and you're done with that nonsense.

Concentrate Similarities

Alternatively (or maybe concurrently) reduce the number of available rooms and repeatable mobs. A 9-room field with a rabbit in each room could be reduced to maybe a 3-room field with three rabbits in each. Or just one or two rabbits in each, and increase their respawn rate so that you can go through them as fast as you could when there were more. The point is, one room does not need to represent one square  measurement of land. One room on a MUD could represent everything visible from a standing point. Such as having one room for a long hallway, and then another room for a perpendicular hallway, or after a turn in the hall.

There are definitely more topics here to discuss, but this is enough to think on at once, so I'll let it be.

Part 2 is available.

You're Wasting Your Time.

Lately, a number of Blizzard employees have been burning their finger muscles trying to explain things about Cataclysm that have already been explained multiple times, in as many different ways as there are rocks on this planet.

Yet, they don't give up. I find it frightening, and I shake my head. I understand that some people need things laid out for them, but does GC & Co. realize that someone who didn't read your last post about design goals probably won't read this post, either?

To me, these hit-and-run whiners are the best practical jokers. They come in, cause grief, and get out before they have to suffer any consequences, getting to have a good laugh while the blues struggle to find yet another unique way to spell out their philosophy. If you love these guys as much as I do, you're welcome to investigate The Compleat Practical Joker, which is just a long list of gags, many as fresh as the forum-whiner stunt. I got it for $1 in the used section of a Barnes and Noble.

Don't Waste Money on High Quality Graphics

Recently I've played a bit of Alien Swarm, and I think that once you've played one level, you've played them all. That doesn't mean it's boring, oh no. I still find it frightfully fun. Between the four classes each seems to have its feature that sets it apart, making them fun to play for different moods. Plus, the fact that it's multiplayer means you're often left pushing yourself harder to make up for that one guy who just couldn't figure out that fire is hot and spikes are sharp.

My concern is that all the maps look the same. It appears as though they've tried to make them unique, and each level has its own interactive gimmick, but the textures just look the same when I rush by them, missing all the detail and hard work they put into them. This is not unlike another game I've been playing on and off since it was released, Diablo II.

Yes, Diablo II's maximum graphic resolution is 800x600, yet I don't care, for the exact reason I don't care about Alien Swarm's graphics; I don't see them for long enough for it to matter. I run from here to there, the monsters become corpses, and the only time I care to look at the low-res images of my inventory is in decided what to equip or vendor, and then I'm more concerned about the tooltip text.

So why would I ever look at graphics? Only to figure out if something is interactive. If I can talk to a person, I'm going to want to know what kind of person that is (vendor, quest giver, corpse, etc). If I can shoot an object, I'm going to want to fathom a guess at what will happen. (Will it explode, release poison gas, set free a swarm of gnats, free a trapped teammate, drop some loot?) If it's the ground I'm walking on, I will want to know if its going to hurt me, heal me, or just remain stably under my feet (or collapse!)

I also don't see why every character needs seventeen different attack animations, and an equal number of casting animations. Every single one is as ridiculous as any others, so one would work. Most of the time when I'm casting anyways, I'm not looking at my own character, I'm looking at what it is I'm attacking, or glancing around the screen while preparing my next move. Hardly ever do I care what color my hands are glowing or whether I shove my right hand or left hand forward. (I also don't care if I shout 'Hyah!' or 'Nuh!' at the end of my cast bar.)

The obvious disclaimer applies that if your game exists solely to be beautiful, or a large part of the game is spent on close-up examination of game-world objects, you should definitely go all out.

Depth in Video Games

The type of 'depth' we require in video games is typically not the type of depth that is featured prominently in real life. For good reason! Real life depth has silly things like atoms and chromosomes and DNA and a moon that's 390,000 kilometers away! In most video games, the sky is painted to the ceiling.

When developing a world with a goal (beat the end boss; acquire certain objects; gain first place in race) any resource (time, money, processing power) that is not spent on a goal-related feature is wasted effort.

Something that matters is worth putting time into. In a racing game, time spent fine tuning cars and courses is appreciated. In a battle game, developing and balancing new abilities is key.

Meanwhile, it makes no difference if the sky is painted or actually features celestial bodies billions of lightyears away. It will not change the most optimal course on a race track, it will not make a boss easier or harder to kill.

The only exception is gimmicks. Such as racing on a beach with high and low tide, or a lunar-based boss. Naturally, gimmicks are special occasions, so spending a large amount of resources on a gimmick is a waste.