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Josh Sawyer on Quest Staggering and why BG2 might have had it right


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after thinking about it, the best way to do the 'timed' aspect of chapter 2 of BG2 (getting money to rescue imoen) should be to simply have the game track how much money you have gained vs. how much you need.  if you get say double the amount needed before running off to save her then you have to deal with some consequences, triple the amount and things get pretty bad, so on and so forth.

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I think Josh is spot on with his comment.

 

Quests are a double edged sword.

 

On one hand they give you a sense of purpose, and you don't wander aimlessly, they create orientation to the gameworld while subtly directing you to your proper challenges (since we all hate Oblivion-esque Scaling Difficulty). On the other hand, quests also can cause a cacophony of directions that you feel you must integrate into your decisions.

 

The perfect medium-rare of game design, in my opinion, is giving a player options and some directions, but never preventing them from getting themselves horribly wasted while exploring or doing something utterly drastic. A player's failures psychologically give them a sense of accomplishment when they succeed during exploration. Then again, too much aimless exploration, and you get a sandbox game, which is ok, but we all agree PoE also needs a good story-- the "What can change the nature of a man?" moment.

 

Athkatla didn't have an overdose of quests, but combined with the log systems unwieldy BG1 interface, it gradually could confuse you.

 

I did look at PoE's quest log and liked it very much. A dedicated Obsidian dev sat through each one line summary and typed cool longer summaries for each quest detailing anything your PC might know.

 

As long as a player can wander off and stumble upon redundant areas, or redundant quests on his own, and non-linearity is the core principle of quest design, quantity isn't as important as quality. Of course we want as many as humanly possible-- that's obvious.

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To be honest, I think that people here are putting Baldurs Gate up on a very unrealistic pedastal.  Quest overload is a huge problem.  Once you accumulate a long list of quests, for example, they just all blur together and lose all urgency.  People end up just running around and doing the most efficient things (e.g. if you're here, do A B C; if there, D E F; it's a lot faster if you do Z first...)  If you put the game down for a week and come back you can't reconstruct what the heck you were doing.  I find it much more important to have quests that make internal sense - so that you do urgent ones NOW, for instance, and can work on longer-term ones at a more leisurely pace.  There is a happy place between "twenty quests at once" and "one at a time."  BG2 wouldn't have lost anything if the companion quests ended up having tiers, for instance, and if it had been designed that way I suspect that this would have been the thing people wanted back.

 

Now, having distinct choices is great - I'd just take three that had some sensible reason for happening and that advanced the plot over a dozen disconnected bits that didn't.

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Yeah, people are completely over-reaching on the problem being described. As if people are saying "*gasp*, if you have two quests at once, that's INSANE!"

 

It's about not having some crazy huge grocery list of things, and not having them all at the same time, either. What are the odds that, the second you walk into a city, there are 30 problems that people need help with. But then, as time progresses, there really aren't ever very many more problems that crop up? That doesn't even fit with the game world. More than likely, there'd be some stuff going on, and you'd go take care of some situations, and after some abstract amount of time had passed (doesn't even really matter how much, as it's more just about the idea that it's later now that you've spent time handling time-requiring situations), you'd run into other problems, etc.

 

The universe doesn't implode because you have too many quests. Just, non-ideal things occur, is all.

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Should we not start with some Ipelagos, or at least some Greater Ipelagos, before tackling a named Arch Ipelago? 6_u

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BG2's quest placement was all over the place. That much is obvious, even the BG2 developers retrospectively acknowledged it. First time you play, it sort of hits you in a good way though with all the choice. Then it gets slightly overwhelming until you switch off your completionist gene (which some people can't).

 

Dammit I've never done that quest with the red piece of cloth you get from the old dude in the graveyard. Ha ha ha.

 

All I'm saying is that BG2 is great because of it's imperfections with quest placement, but that doesn't mean PoE will get anywhere by copying them. No doubt it will have its own happy quirks and unintended surprises.

Edited by Monte Carlo
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sonsofgygax.JPG

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I liked how BG2 did it. Maybe it was a problem for people that didn't play BG1 first. In BG2 you could just follow quests you got or you could explore all areas and pick up all the quests and then do them in any order you liked. I never saw it as a problem. The bigger problem was that some of the quests were described as urgent but they all waited until you got there no matter how much time it took. I would rather see OE force players to do some quests at expense of others and the game world reflecting on player choice. Like if you go to Firecrag or Trademeet, the trolls permanently take over the castle or Trademeet falls to druids if you ignore it long enough and go do 2 other areas outside Athkatla and so on. It gives a great sense of that the world does not revolve only around the players as well as letting your second playthrough give you a different game experience.

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Only questionable part of Act 2 was that game urged you to rush save Imoen, while opening largest quest bag it had. 15k gold could be collected without leaving slums probably.

 

It can, you only need to really do the slaver quest to get it.

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Dammit I've never done that quest with the red piece of cloth you get from the old dude in the graveyard. Ha ha ha.

That's how you get the pantaloons, you fool!
"Show me a man who "plays fair" and I'll show you a very talented cheater."
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it would seem that more rpg games nowadays will throw a themed timed quest at you (come quick, we're about to die) and not actually have the game reflect this in any way.  you can walk away and return when you've gotten 10 levels and 50k gp of gear and walk through the quest doing better or the same as if you rushed to do the quest.  it is great to ride in and save everyone in the nick of time, but if the game just uses that as a narrative then the writing is lazy and disconnected.  balancing things to ensure a challenge when this happens makes things worse, as you will be expected to take your time doing themed timed quests (not actual timed quests) instead of getting into the story and reacting appropriately.

 

theming should match the mechanics, and the whole game shouldn't be just jumping from one timed quest to another, nor should there be no urgency to any quest in the game.

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^ That's one thing I've gotta give Mass Effect 2 credit for. (MINOR SPOILER ALERT)

 

When you get to the "Oh crap, the Collectors kidnapped the ship's crew!" point, how long you take to get them back actually matters. I don't know how many stages of difference there are, but I know if you take too long, they're all dead. If you're a bit faster, only SOME of them are dead, etc.

 

Granted, it wasn't simply measured by a ticking clock. It was measured by whatever you did before going to tackle the Collectors, with each side mission/"task" you dealt with representing the passage of some chunk of time.

 

Could've been done better, overall, but I'm glad it wasn't just "oh no, we'd better not hurry and just take our time, because nothing at all's going to happen! 8D"

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Should we not start with some Ipelagos, or at least some Greater Ipelagos, before tackling a named Arch Ipelago? 6_u

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^ That's one thing I've gotta give Mass Effect 2 credit for. (MINOR SPOILER ALERT)

 

When you get to the "Oh crap, the Collectors kidnapped the ship's crew!" point, how long you take to get them back actually matters. I don't know how many stages of difference there are, but I know if you take too long, they're all dead. If you're a bit faster, only SOME of them are dead, etc.

 

Granted, it wasn't simply measured by a ticking clock. It was measured by whatever you did before going to tackle the Collectors, with each side mission/"task" you dealt with representing the passage of some chunk of time.

 

Could've been done better, overall, but I'm glad it wasn't just "oh no, we'd better not hurry and just take our time, because nothing at all's going to happen! 8D"

SPOILER ALERT!!!

 

That was interesting. I also liked how you could lose party members. It was the perfect chance to get Miranda killed.:)

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"Good thing I don't heal my characters or they'd be really hurt." Is not something I should ever be thinking.

 

I use blue text when I'm being sarcastic.

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with a few notable exceptions, there were nothing wrong with bg2 quest density. given the number of maps, there were quite a goodly number o' side quests in the underdark. sooooo... brynlaw and those empty maps after the underdark were the problem? yeah, the post underdark maps were anemic, but that were due to much content ending up on the cutting room floor as the developers rushed to finish the game. 

 

...

 

ultimately is a whole lotta nothing that is being debated. stuff such as trademeet's crisis with the druids were actual initiated in athkatla. firkraag also were initiated in the city.would it have made a big difference if you had to go to the windspear hills to get the firkraag (sp?) quest? would that have made it superior and increased the whimsical sense o' exploration we recall some folks waxing poetic 'bout? between companion and stronghold quests, areas such as the umar hills and de'arnise hold had a considerable number o' quests. sure, given that the game were an rpg with considerable replay value, you might not have realized just how many quests were tied to de'arnise on your first play of bg2, but isn't that a good thing? 

 

yeah, brynlaw, the asylum, the sahaugin city and the post underdark maps were all kinda limited, focused and/or empty, but am thinking josh's initial point were kinda weak. the quest density in athkatla were never a problem for us, but even so, we find the notion that compelling exploration (HA!) to uncover some handful o' quests would have improved bg2 to be a minor and largely illusory enhancement.  were nothing wrong with athkatla quest density. perhaps there were an issue with quest density being unbalanced, but as noted elsewhere, some o' this were due to man-hour limitations... and the fact the asylum and sahaugin city didn't have much in the way o' tangential side quests did not surprise or bother us.

 

HA! Good Fun!

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I honestly think the best thing bout BG2 is the way they handled quests. Not just the how, but the when and what too.

Someone above mentioned the fact that most people just want to skip Irenicus' after the third play through, but that to me is actually a sign of success. The first dungeon was straightforward, direct, had a couple of side things you could choose to do or not to do (do I release the genie? What's this demon in an orb -wait, let's not release him), but above all it sets the main plot. Chapter 2 gives you a totally open world you can explore and even if you feel a little 'rushed' to save Imoen, the fact is that you've effectively got a moment of downtime to explore, after the main quest has been firmly established. I actually don't want to see side quests thrown at me in chapter 1, I want to get my bearings then explore. The fact that the game later lets you come back after significantly advancing the main plots is another great thing about the game.

The best thing about it though is that most of the quests aren't thrown in your face. That's got to be one of the biggest complaints I've seen here and elsewhere, quests being thrown at you and distracting you from the main quest. BG2 can be played start to finish without engaging in much more than the necessary quests, but there are over a hundred quests available to find. And to me that's the key, they're there to find.

 

Most of the mods I've installed for BG2 all come with additional quests. Sure, AI improvement mods are nice and some of the added characters (*cough* Xan *cough*) are fantastic, but things like the assassin's mod giving you a bunch of extra quests are the things that I am most attracted to, and every one of those mods are 'hidden' somewhere in the game world. The desire to want to go back and explore literally every nook and cranny is intense when you know that every nook and cranny might actually yield something, you don't get this feeling if the quests are thrown at you, or if you feel it's 'mandatory' to do some side-questing, or if the sidequest is somehow integral to the main plot and thus not really a side-quest or (and this is actually probably one of the worst culprits for destroying my interest in a game) games where the main plot is treated like 'just another side quest'.

Edited by Flayeriv
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Regarding the vast number of quests in BG2, I love that, I think that's a huge part of what gives it the replayability for which it is rightly lauded. There are so many optional quests that you feel like you can ignore some and not be hamstringing yourself XP-wise for later in the game.

 

But at the same time, completionists or "OCD players," will feel the need to complete every little quest, which can be tedious and lead to the player feeing "overstimulated" with the bombardment of quests they have accrued. Some people enjoy doing this, other's do not.

 

For instance, when I go into a town, and this doesn't just go for BG2, I'm gonna pick up every quest I can, unless it really conflicts with my morals. I don't pick up these quests necessarily because I enjoy doing every last one, but because I don't wanna go further into the game and find out that I missed out on something awesome, so often times I'm compelled to pursue them for reasons other than enjoyment.

 

So if I come out of a town with 20 quests, then pick up even more while I'm in the process of doing said quests, I wind up feeling as I said earlier, "overstimulated." Like I have to take a break from the game because I just can't deal with all those quests right now. This was a big problem I had in MMOs, where the quests just felt "grindy," even though I was the one that overburdened myself with quests. The thing that made this more stressful in the BG games, was that a lot quests had time limits.

 

At the same time, spacing them out quests can also be a burden, because many players don't want to have to search high and low for quests, or feel lie there's not enough in general. It seems like there are numerous balancing acts at play here regarding the topic, and I hope Obsidian handle's it well from both ends of he spectrum.

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artastrophe's custom BG2 portraits   --   preview

 

"Maybe they can make a loot item called "combat." Then, you could collect it, and turn it in to someone for an XP reward."

- Lephys

 

 

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I like the transparency of Mr. Sawyer, especially when it comes to game design (his intentions behind the project) or his idea of a good game. One can say that is something we can witness more often since the multiplication of Kick starter projects and indie companies. But his honesty (the fan in me would call it professional courtesy toward his backers) seem to play against him in regard of the not-so-rare threads in which his statements are criticized/nitpicked. (I would like to see just a little more objectivity in the titles of those thread by the way.)

 

 

I appreciate the middle way that Mr. Sawyer seem to be taking, i mean a bit of good from the IE game less the bad, you know the KS pitch. If one can argue against the successful realization of it (not me eh, i mean look at my name), one can say this is the most effective way to gain a consensus between the players. BG and BG2 are radically different area map designs some like the first more other would prefer the second. A "just between" seem to be a very reasonable choice for me. 

 

 

And finally my humble opinion : i love the fairly high number of quests in BG2 but what hurts the replayability (someone tell me how i can spell this freaking word) are their spacing in the story. Every plays it takes me a huge amount of time (in-game and hum "out-game") to complete the majority of quest in chapter 2 and 6, for the record a bit less of a year (in-game eh!) before liberating my tortured half-sister or getting back my soul. No i don't spam-rest ("newbie" remember). It breaks my sense of immersion.

I don't like that some secondaries quests are mandatory (the denalia quest) specially when there are so much more quests to do. I hate the chrono trigger quest for the npc (idk if you will understand me) in your team. I don't like (where there are so much quests)

that some npc come directly to you to spam you with quests.

 

I hope PoE will take the middle way : a just spacing of quest (i don't mind a huge number of quest of course!) through the chapters (to get the feeling of immersion), a bit of empties wilderness areas (to get the feeling of exploration), a bit of dense urban areas (to get the feeling of a crowed zone), a good amount of "right" density between BG1 and BG2 (to avoid the feeling of getting spammed or being the only to be able to resolve all the problems). 

 

I like being stimulated just right all the way along the story (that came out wrong please don't read that), i mean Horse hit the spot (wrong again, bear with me), i mean he got a point. I shut up now.

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Just another post to say (and because i don't like the number 13, i am not superstitious i just think bad things can happens to you when you don't observe certain rules hum) that i am even concerned about the spacing of the chrono-quest, automatic-quest, the mandatory type of secondaries quest. I don't dislike them but they have to be set up just right, this type of quest can easily break the sense of immersion or take the fun out of a game.

 

 

^ That's one thing I've gotta give Mass Effect 2 credit for. (MINOR SPOILER ALERT)

When you get to the "Oh crap, the Collectors kidnapped the ship's crew!" point, how long you take to get them back actually matters. I don't know how many stages of difference there are, but I know if you take too long, they're all dead. If you're a bit faster, only SOME of them are dead, etc.

Granted, it wasn't simply measured by a ticking clock. It was measured by whatever you did before going to tackle the Collectors, with each side mission/"task" you dealt with representing the passage of some chunk of time.

Could've been done better, overall, but I'm glad it wasn't just "oh no, we'd better not hurry and just take our time, because nothing at all's going to happen! 8D"

Like Lephys mentioned it is a great way to limit a quest not by a chronometer but by the completion or not of others quests. you get the feeling of emergency within the story without the pressure (i suck at control or coordination between my eyes and my hands) of playing fast.

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replayability (someone tell me how i can spell this freaking word) .

You've got the right spelling - but Oxford dictionary says it's not a word - must be one of those made-up terms that gamers use but the rest of the population don't. (Others use 'replay value' as a phrase).

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Regarding the vast number of quests in BG2, I love that, I think that's a huge part of what gives it the replayability for which it is rightly lauded. There are so many optional quests that you feel like you can ignore some and not be hamstringing yourself XP-wise for later in the game.

 

But at the same time, completionists or "OCD players," will feel the need to complete every little quest, which can be tedious and lead to the player feeing "overstimulated" with the bombardment of quests they have accrued. Some people enjoy doing this, other's do not.

 

For instance, when I go into a town, and this doesn't just go for BG2, I'm gonna pick up every quest I can, unless it really conflicts with my morals. I don't pick up these quests necessarily because I enjoy doing every last one, but because I don't wanna go further into the game and find out that I missed out on something awesome, so often times I'm compelled to pursue them for reasons other than enjoyment.

 

So if I come out of a town with 20 quests, then pick up even more while I'm in the process of doing said quests, I wind up feeling as I said earlier, "overstimulated." Like I have to take a break from the game because I just can't deal with all those quests right now. This was a big problem I had in MMOs, where the quests just felt "grindy," even though I was the one that overburdened myself with quests. The thing that made this more stressful in the BG games, was that a lot quests had time limits.

 

At the same time, spacing them out quests can also be a burden, because many players don't want to have to search high and low for quests, or feel lie there's not enough in general. It seems like there are numerous balancing acts at play here regarding the topic, and I hope Obsidian handle's it well from both ends of he spectrum.

 

 

I imagine, from a developers point-of-view, that this is just one of those things where they accept that they can't please all the people all the time.

 

I have played through BG2 more times than I care to remember, I've done the completionist thing but frankly I just got bored doing it. I've never been a completionist really, nor do I tend to rush to the end of the story, ignoring everything that might distract me. I'm probably what the developers might consider a 'typical' player so I'm probably quite easy to please.

 

I do know what you mean about being overstimulated though. Monstrous quest logs can do that to a gamer. BG2's quest log was especially tricky because it didn't hold your hand like many newer games now do.

 

How might a developer please both of us?

 

An arbitrary limit on how many quests to have active at any one time? That seems too... arbitrary, immersion breaking even.

 

One thought occurs that people in the game might insist on their quest being too important to wait. Nalia's Keep kind-of did this if she was in your party but not if you told her to meet you there. Other quests might give diminished rewards if there is a long delay between picking it up and completing it. Imagine if only two or one of the Dryads from Irenicus' Dungeon were rescued because you delayed getting the acorns to the Windspear Hills. What if Daleson was killed in Nalia's Keep and More Yuan-Ti roamed the halls because you took too long. Maybe you'd even be "waylaid by enemies" on your way there, perhaps a scouting party because they now hold the keep to such an extent that they send out scouting parties to the local areas. Perhaps Mazzy Fentan would just be another Shade in the Shade Lord's army.

 

Another good example (though this time in the main story) of this is in ME2 when the collectors capture the crew of the normandy. If you go straight away you can save them all. Delaying and completing one mission means that Kelly Chambers dies. Delaying for two missions means that all except Dr. Chakwas dies (iirc).

 

The things I suggested as what-ifs aren't anti-completionist but it forces your hand to focus on fewer quests at the same time. The ME2 example wasn't anti-completionist if you knew it was coming but it could damage a completionist playthrough if you weren't prepared to advance the story yet when it happened.

 

For me, the ME2 moment was great storytelling. It added urgency and made it feel like you were racing against time (you were). Far too often though, games try to give a sense of urgency without actually requiring any. Eventually the meta-gamer in us realises this and usually unless you're a very strong-willed roleplayer, means that we then proceed to amass items, XP etc. to prepare for the challenges the game has at whataver pace we like.

I personally feel like this lack of actual urgency is to cater to the completionist.

 

I'm not trying to set this up as a debate completionist vs others, it's just an observation that completionism flies in the face of urgency.

Crit happens

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replayability (someone tell me how i can spell this freaking word) .

You've got the right spelling - but Oxford dictionary says it's not a word - must be one of those made-up terms that gamers use but the rest of the population don't. (Others use 'replay value' as a phrase).

 

The Oxford dictionary didn't say anything was a word, until some human decided they were words and put them into a dictionary. :)

Should we not start with some Ipelagos, or at least some Greater Ipelagos, before tackling a named Arch Ipelago? 6_u

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Towards pacing, the only thing Baldur's Gate 2 needed was an ECL system. The deluge of quests in Act II were there as a means of acquiring gold to resume the principle plot (in addition to their own enjoyment). You do not need all of these quests to gather the requisite gold--not by far.  Due to the inner completionist within us all though, most everyone does all of the quests not merely for the enjoyment, but to avoid missing out on experience/power.

 

If Baldur's Gate 2 had an ECL system, players would have been passively shuffled towards the main plot after completing so many quests regardless of which quests they had pursued. From a narrative standpoint, it moderates extremes in player choice with respect to urgency while not explicitly forcing the player to do anything. From a development standpoint, this has a balancing effect by reducing the expected range of character levels arriving at the next plot portion regardless of if the player rush towards it or drags their feet.

 

ECL is where it's at. Learn it, use it, love it.

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"Evil Canary Lair" system? Do the evil canaries drive the player toward the next plot point?

 

(Sorry... in all seriousness, what is an ECL system?)

Should we not start with some Ipelagos, or at least some Greater Ipelagos, before tackling a named Arch Ipelago? 6_u

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