display | more...

Roleplaying games are essentially an excuse for playing make-believe while having a set of hard rules about who can say "but I have a force field!". To give them some credit, people who are serious often try to get into the role of their character. This makes it an excuse for improv... with a set of rules about force fields.

On computers, there's less role and more play, since in single player games there's nothing to interact with except a few dialogue scripts. Sure, sometimes they're incredibly long-winded, well-written, atmospheric, and add something to the experience. But they're dialogue scripts. They mostly exist to take the game above the level of hack and slash. This elevation of the game to a higher level is basically about providing other characters to interact with to make up for the lack of other people, thus making the game word seem more interesting.

But frankly who cares about that? There's only so many times anyone can see the same generic dialogue responses pop up before realising they've exhausted all four topics of conversation in Starttownsford. For real plot-moving conversation, the adventurer usually has to find quest givers. These characters represent the sort of people who have a basic inability to do anything for themselves, and simply stand around waiting for someone to come along at take up these pressing tasks as their own. Someone can't deal with their rat problem? Quest. Someone needs a note delivered? Quest. Hideous demon from the dawn of time threatens to unravel reality? Quest.

Yes, the lack of a sense of scale is astounding.

In my intermittent reading about games in general, I occasionally come across complaints about a type of quest, one which has been nicknamed "FedEx Quest" because... well, let's face it: It's parcel delivery.

Griselda the Itemsmith: Hi there, Jane Q. Adventurer! Please take this McGuffin to Gretchen the Customer!
Jane Q. Adventurer: I suppose it couldn't hurt...

There are many variations of this basic quest, which is usually a handy way to dump some experience points and gold onto a new character so she can survive the first few proper areas of the game:

Griselda the Itemsmith: Hi there, Jane Q. Adventurer! Please go and get me a McGuffin from the McGuffin Saleswoman so I can make a different McGuffin for you to deliver to someone else!
Jane Q. Adventurer: But she's right next d- Oh, what's the point?

Or, the slightly more exciting version:

Freya the Bountymonger: Hi there, Jane Q. Adventurer! Please bring me forty snagwiblet tails!
Jane Q. Adventurer: What's the point in having a separate field for first, middle and last names if the game always treats them as one string anyway?

Then there's the actual plot of the game:

Empress of Landinperil: Hi there, Jane Q. Adventurer! You must go and find the slightly ruined tower in the swamp of mud and explore it's impossibly vast interior, find Yazaxa the Demoness, slay her, recover the McGuffin, then take it to the Crypt of Lots of Undead, and use it to slay the wicked unliving sorceress. I'd go myself but I'm far too important and powerful to waste my time on piddling little quests to slay a demon queen from the underworld, her army of minons, and recover the McGuffin that will save the nation from hordes of the walking dead!
Jane Q. Adventurer: I've looked at the editor. You're fifty levels higher than me, armed with an arsenal of magical items, sitting on a million hit points, and packing all the spells in the game. I am level one, have eight hit points, a short sword, and some leather armour. Wouldn't you be better suited for this?
Empress of Landinperil: Good luck, Jane Q. Adventurer!
Jane Q. Adventurer: But I'm going to die!
Empress of Landinperil: Good luck, Jane Q. Adventurer!

People dislike this because for some reason they find running around delivering items to be unrealistic. Apparently it is not an interesting plot. Epic tales are not about delivering small objects to obscure locations! In which case, someone had better build a time machine, go back, and tell Tolkien that FedEx quests are boring and what should happen is that Frodo should have a conversation with Sauron. I can see that going well.

Frodo: So what I'm wondering is, what's your real motivation for all this? I mean, you must have some serious issues you feel like sharing with everyone, right? You're obviously acting out, crying for attention - Though we all get the black tower/huge iron gate thing, I don't think you need to go into that - but what's with the whole "crushing the peoples of Middle-Earth"?
Sauron: Look, just FUCK OFF! You're taking all the fun out of it!
Frodo: I'm sensing a lot of hostility here...

While it's interesting to have plot objectives be achieved through conversation, I have seen one proposal for a completely stupid alternative to lugging objects around the countryside: Why not talk to someone, and then... require the player to talk to someone else? Sure, very nice, points for style - except Jane Q. Adventurer is still carrying things around.

Jane Q. Adventurer: I'm still doing what?!

When you take the item; arrive at the house, cave, shack or hovel of the recipient; and initiate conversation to deliver the McGuffin, the game checks to see if it's there. When you have to talk to someone, find the next person to talk to, and initiate conversation, the game checks to see if you've hit the right points in the previous conversation. There's a flag somewhere for it. You're delivering that little number 1 next to TalkedToTheEnchantress and then probably setting another flag. It's the same as the game checking to see if the item is in your inventory.

FedEx quests are an excuse to run around and look at the scenery, maybe smack around some monsters, and then get sent somewhere else. Conversation delivery is the same thing, with the caveat that a quest involving talking to people better have some interesting dialogue at the start and end, especially if nothing interesting happens while getting from point A to point B. After all, the conversation flags can't really have neat abilities tied to them that you can use in the course of the journey (well, they could, but it's a bit odd). They're not items in the game world.

Jane Q. Adventurer: So I can't even sell them after the quest is over? What a rip-off.

The important thing is: Whether it's exploring Starttownsford, whomping monsters, or being entertained by the dialogue while she tries to pick up the key information for a quest... it doesn't matter what Jane Q. Adventurer is doing as long as she's having fun. Sending her to deliver something, in whatever way, is just a method of pointing her to the next bit of entertainment. It's not what you're doing, it's how you get there.

Jane Q. Adventurer: If I go over to Arcanum, then how I get there is by train! Landinperil is on its own.

Ah, that's not quite what I meant...

Jane Q. Adventurer: I don't care.

Log in or register to write something here or to contact authors.