Game Analysis

Quest Design – Expanding on the Fetch Quest Structure

The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild

“All quests are fetch quests,” my friend said in response to my complaints about The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild. Even within the context of a post-apocalyptic world, Zelda’s NPCs always want something. People need a monster killed or a specific item gathered in exchange for a mystery item. I never gathered bundles of wood or collected fireflies for fun, I helped for the reward. We endure a lot of these trivial activities to enhance our effectiveness for later events. Without the reward, fetch quests feel like chores.

Quest design differs when developers mask the “fetch” aspect of a request. If stripped down the structure, most quests use the ABA formula: start a point A, move to point B, then return to point A. But to label all quests as “fetch quests” misses the larger point, which is the commonality in quest structure. Quests use the same structure of a fetch quest, but smart design branches from the initial goal.

 

Some quests don’t try to hide their “fetch” design

Quests in Breath of the Wild avoid any structural deviation and stay on its initial objective. One side quest revolves around Hudson, a construction worker. He builds Tarrey Town from the ground up, asking you to collect bundles of wood and search for new tenants with names ending in -son. When Hudson needs a shopkeeper, you search for someone who wants to open a store. When you recruit a new Tarrey Town citizen, Hudson then asks for wood bundles. The process repeats until he finishes the town construction.

More Visual Detail Does Not Improve How We Play

In Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End, I barrel down empty corridors, glancing at the ruins of ancient tombs and cities. These decorated hallways and detailed rooms disappear in a blink, but they connect me to the next section. Artists spent countless hours creating simple objects like doors, vases and carpets for these areas, yet it takes a second to run past.

To bring purpose to the connecting areas, developers try and slow players by littering collectibles throughout. The loot hunt might encourage exploration, but environment appearance still contributes little to the overall experience. While the patterns of carpets can match the embroidery of the curtains, these details change nothing about how Uncharted 4 plays or feels. As budgets increase alongside visual fidelity, prettier, empty connecting areas won’t stop players from pushing forward.

Applying Purpose and Improving Interaction in an Open World Game

When DICE revealed Mirror's Edge Catalyst, the shift from linear parkour to an open world didn't matter. I waited eight years to play another Mirror's Edge and nothing would stop me. As I slow my sprint through the City of Glass, I also stop to understand the purpose of an open world. While Catalyst recreates the awe of free-running parkour, I don't credit its huge city for discovering that feeling. The main character, Faith, still runs regardless of the world around her. Without tying her movement and mechanics to the landscape of rooftops, the space leaves a void between the focal points of a game.

Grand Theft Auto V (GTAV) haunts me with the dozens of lost hours spent driving. Whether you play a mission, go to a mission or explore away from a mission, you spend way too much time driving. With such a large open-world, cars speed up travel. Rockstar doesn't give you a better option for fast travel besides a paid taxi ride. And since many missions require some sort of vehicle to even trigger the event, why bother fast travelling with a taxi. Despite an elaborate heist story, GTAV's best use of city exploration and travel is to plop you in a car.

The Effects of Cosmetic Sales, Free Updates and Paid DLC

As players grind levels for loot boxes in Overwatch, I assume Blizzard works hard on their promise of free DLC. They fund free updates with revenue from selling randomized loot boxes of items already in the base game. Even after the retail sale, Blizzard wants players to spend even more by locking dozens of skins and emblems.

Some people may not qualify skins as content, but it does affect the value of a game. Item rarity takes from Overwatch's already thin launch package, and questions the effects of free DLC plans. Cosmetic marketplaces keep the community at the same version of game, yet it adds an item grind not found with paid DLC plans.

In Battlefield 4, players must pay for more content, but in Overwatch players can also invest time. The maps, weapons and vehicles in each Battlefield DLC also bundle camouflage variants, weapons skins and new emblems. The skins and emblems DICE considers as "extras" in each DLC, Blizzard positions as the main source for paid content. If players don't buy loot boxes, then they must invest time to level up, all the while performing at a high level. There are no experience boosts or quests rewards, it comes down to performance, time and luck.

Multiplayer User Retention and Skill Ceilings

For the first time in almost a decade, a new Halo sustains a healthy, active player base. Josh Holmes, 343 Industries studio head, says Halo 5: Guardians' player retention is the best since Halo 3. While each Halo iteration sells millions, both Halo: Reach and Halo 4saw its player population nose dive a few months after launch. Halo 5 lives post launch because of the one characteristic many multiplayer games lack: skill gaps.

Developers roll out regular, sometimes free, content updates for their games, but content alone won't satisfy your player base. Halo 4 released regular map packs with free Spartan Ops missions every week. Raptr, a once console gameplay tracker, conducted a case study on Halo 4 and the hours logged during Spartan Ops releases. Despite the free missions each week, they failed to stop the plummeting playtime. In December, a month after launch, Halo 4's weekly playtime dropped from 400,000 hours to just below 168,000 by the end of January. While a drop-off makes sense post holidays, a month later it plummeted again to just above 110,000 hours. Regardless of the combination of free content and paid DLC, the total hours played dropped faster than in Halo: Reach.

Competitive games like DOTA 2, League of Legends and Counter Strike: Global Offensive, sees stability and even growth in their population because of competitive skill gaps. High skill ceiling games separate average players from the best players, but it also encourages practice. No one wants to get worse at a game, and so they return to - at the very least - perform to their ability. There's an addictive quality in competing, and an even greater feeling when competing at a high level.

Competition breeds player investment, yet it won't matter if the game lacks in quality. I don't attribute much to review scores or aggregate score websites like Metacritic, but they do mean something. Positive reviews for Halo 4 and Halo: Reach at least indicates a positive reception at launch. I can't quantify the quality of either game or even Halo 4's post launch content. All I can say is: I played most of Halo 4's DLC and I enjoyed it, but I didn't play between content releases. To keep players invested, games require both a combination of exciting content and challenging mechanics.

Syndicate content