Toldain Talks

Because reading me sure beats working!


Toldain started as an Everquest character. I've played him in EQ2, WoW, Vanguard, LOTRO, and Zork Online. And then EVE Online, where I'm 3 million years old, rather than my usual 3000. Currently I'm mostly playing DDO. But I still have fabulous red hair. In RL, I am a software developer who has worked on networked games, but not MMORPGS.

Monday, April 04, 2005

What's the Story?

I'm really impressed with the way that Everquest II employs writing in a way that gets players interested in reading it. In Everquest, the writing was always there, although most players didn't end up reading it all. There was a whole bunch of back story about the return of the Frogloks, and other lore. There was always the quest text. But that went into a chat window and typically scrolled away unread. Later, there was a whole window or two devoted to tracking lore, but somehow, that didn't get read much either.

There are two mechanisms in Everquest 2 that drive story and put writing in front of players. First comes the quests. These can be clicked through, but often they have entertaining audio tracks, and even without them, the text appears in word balloons, and is often entertaining. Of course, talking with ghosts can be tedious, as they tend to be long-winded and slow-talking, but that's just part of the fun.

Related to quests are instanced zones. These feature their own story line, which is often started outside the instanced zone, and have tie ins to the greater lore of the game. A great example of this is the quests in Qeynos Catacombs that ultimately lead you to Fippy Darkpaw in an instanced zone. It's not the original Fippy, it's a descendent from the Fippy in EQ1. In the old game, Fippy would spawn, say a few threatening things, attack and die quickly to either players or guards.

Now his descendent is hidden away, and involved in smuggling certain contraband into Qeynos. After doing a quest to gain access, you finally encounter Fippy in an instanced zone, and you can talk to him and do a quest that will give you, in addition to a nice quest reward, some clues as to what that contraband is, namely Blackburrow Stout.

There are probably a dozen quests in the game that intersect with this plot element in one way or another. You can carry some stout from a guy at the dock to his brother in Starcrest. You can get some stout for the gnome in the hidden cave in Blackburrow. You need to get stout for the Zek access quest. You need to go there for the Dwarven Work Boots heritage quest. All of them reinforce this plot element, and this gives us a much richer, more interconnected world. Which is more interesting.

The other mechanism which drives writing into the game is the quest books. The cataloging quests and the Lore and Legend quest require you to read a book or at least flip through the pages. This is moderately effective, though impatience has a way of taking root in theses cases. But the real fun is in the narrative book quests.

In these quests, you buy a book that has "pages missing". In order to recover the pages, you have to go and kill some mobs, at which point you have to read the next page. Reading the next page involves flipping through all the pages you've already read, but since all you have to do is read one new page, that seems to curb the impatience factor. Not to mention that the books are pretty entertaining.

There's one I highly recommend: An Old Cookbook, which is available in Freeport. If you are Qeynos-based, you can still do this, but you need to sneak into Freeport, and have a hide or an invisibility going. Under these conditions, the book seller will sell to you, and you can obtain the quest. This book was apparently written by a troll, and contains many preparation tips for, well, let's just say taking the standard troll diet to a new level.

But many others are entertaining too, and as literature that are part of the world of Norrath, can reference points of lore, history, and legend, thus bringing it to the players attention. At some point this knowledge of the world becomes useful, but in an age of internet spoiler sites, I don't think that's the primary purpose. Rather it enriches the world, and gives it a sense of interconnectedness, depth and age. In that sense the EQ2 team is following in the steps of Tolkien, who created languages, history, geneology and whole lost civilizations to enrich Middle Earth.


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