Sunday, October 29, 2017

Side Quests

Part eighteen in a weekly(🚨) devlog.

Standard development disclaimers apply. This is pre-pre-Alpha content, everything is subject to change, features may not be present in the final version, there's a strong chance none of this will ever be released, etc. etc.

There shouldn't be any plot spoilers in these posts, but there will be occasional discussions related to characters, locations, mechanics, and other aspects of my potential upcoming Shadowrun campaign (tentatively titled "CalFree in Chains"). You may wish to skip them if you'd like to be completely surprised. 

I've plunged into hub development. This is a massive undertaking. The immediate goal is to transcribe about 150 pages of Google Docs into dozens of elaborate branching conversations. Just the copy-pasting alone is time-consuming, and on top of that I'm carefully setting up pre-requisites, actions, animations, and other stuff. And there are all the hub missions things as well, little mini-quests that you can advance within the hub. These are somewhat similar to the quests you accomplish on missions, but more complex, since the player will return to the hub over and over again throughout the game, and I need to maintain their current status for long-running goals.

This post will focus on these sorts of side-quests. This one will be more about the high-level design and philosophical goals; a later post may or may not get into the actual implementation.

What Is A Quest?

So, to start, let's define things. In my games, a side-quest is an optional mission that spans multiple scenes of the game. In the most common form, an ally in the hub will make a request of you; you will fulfill that request in the course of your required mission work; and you will later return to the ally for a reward.

I love sidequests. They are some of the "cheapest" content I can create, in terms of marginal development time. I don't need to create new maps for them, and can usually make use of existing NPCs as well. Also, since they're not required, I feel I have more latitude in how I design them. They may be unusual tonally - often they're more whimsical than the main plot. And I can make them unusually tricky or difficult, since players won't incur a penalty by failing to complete them.

I've been making these ever since Eclipse, when I had an ongoing quest line involving your player recording a music demo track for Kali. They have expanded over time, and players seem to enjoy them; one particular sidequest in Caldecott, which includes a scene where you need to recruit a QA tester for a video game you're creating, has been shared more than any other event in The Caldecott Caper.

That said, while players generally enjoy them, I have identified some issues with them that I wanted to fix in CFiC, as part of my "1/3 improved" initiative.


One recurring source of frustration has been the possibility of starting a quest that you do not finish. For example: in Corona, you could get a quest from The People's University that required taking a Sleaze program from the Native Californians (a human-supremacist organization). You could do this by taking a decker along during the Redding/Native Californian mission. However, a decker is not required on this mission. If you didn't bring one, then you'd have missed your one chance at acquiring the Sleaze, and could never finish the PU quest.

In the short term, I mitigated this by just hiding the quest if the player missed this step, so it wouldn't remain in their quest log forever. It's still annoying, though, and I'd get periodic questions from players wondering if the quest was broken.

In CFiC, I'm addressing this in a couple of ways. Some of the sidequests still can be fulfilled on-mission. However, these now have backups back at the hub. Details vary, but in general, if you fail to accomplish a goal while in a mission, you can still pay e.g. ¥500 back at the hub to advance the quest. (In Corona, this could have been explained as hiring another decker as a shadowrunner to finish the job for you.) This is still a choice for the player, and it's totally valid for them to save the nuyen and skip out on the quest; but, importantly, it's a choice for them, and not something they've just missed and failed.

In some other cases, I'm making quests more modular. Typically, a quest would require doing something like four separate tasks, and then getting a reward (karma and/or a large nuyen payout) once they are all complete. In CFiC, though, at least one quest will be an ongoing optional mission of yours with a modest reward for each milestone. You might miss one or more of the opportunities, but this won't end the entire quest, just a proportional fraction of the total reward.

Finally, at least one of the quests takes place entirely within the hub, which eliminates on-mission work altogether. Stages of the quest are gated by your progress through the game, so you can't finish everything at once; players will typically chip away at it a little every mission or two until it's complete.

Everything Is Connected

I've been taking a little more advantage of narrative cohesion in CFiC. That diminishes the whimsical dimension of the sidequests, which I do sort of miss, but I think it adds to the impact of the side-quests. The actions you take in the side-quests reinforce themes of the main story, and the themes of the main story lend additional weight and significance to your actions in the side-quests.

That was indirectly related to the brainstorm I mentioned in my post two weeks ago: I realized that some of the sidequests could be integrated into the climax of the game, which both elevated the climax (since it becomes an even-more-explicit culmination of your actions up to this point) and the sidequests (retroactively lending them more importance).

Interlocking systems: They're great!

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