Friday, April 09, 2010

Shadows of the Betrayed

Shadows of the Betrayed, EQII's first tradeskill signature quest, was discovered on March 2nd, exactly two weeks after the launch of the "Sentinel's Fate" expansion.

This is the quest that I had obliquely referred to prior to the launch when I talked about "quest wrangling".  I had hoped to be able to add a tradeskill signature quest in for this expansion, as I had a wonderful set of tradeskill tools already made from some time previous, awaiting a worthy opportunity to use them as the reward.  (Tools were made by EQII character artist Jeff Jonas, and the particle effects added by EQII special effects artist Gary Daugherty.)

As there seemed to be interest on the last post as to how quests are created, I thought I'd outline this particular quest in more detail, and the steps that actually go into creating all the ins and outs of it.  (If you already make quests for a living, you will probably not find anything new in this post.)  The information on this post will be very similar to the presentation given at Fan Faire last year on how to make quests, it will just look at a different quest than the one we discussed at Fan Faire.

First, what did I know about this quest?

  • the reward was a primary-hand weapon themed for each crafting class;
  • it would be a signature quest, which is EQII's term for a more extensive questline or one that has some of the world's story or lore to tell;
  • I wanted it to involve some of the recent lore in the game, which tradeskillers hadn't had much chance to be directly involved with, and the most obvious candidate for this was the story of the Ethernauts;
  • I wanted it to take tradeskillers to some interesting places they might not otherwise see;
  • I wanted it to be a surprise, something that wouldn't be discovered during beta and already posted on walkthrough sites before it ever went live.  I wanted it to be a real "wow" moment when the first person on live servers discovered it.
So, first step: researching the lore.  Figuring out what exactly happened when, who would still know about it, and how it might tie into the present day.

The Ethernauts were the center of the lore of EQII's fifth expansion, The Shadow Odyssey.  Their collected stories described how the group of brave adventurers hundreds of years prior to the current age had discovered, and fought to close, a series of rifts between our world and "the void", a shadowy realm of nothingness lying parallel to our own world of Norrath.  From within the void, shadowy beings attempted to invade Norrath, and only the self-sacrifice of the Ethernauts managed to close the last rift and prevent further incursions.  The Ethernauts were prevented from completely sealing the void out of Norrath forever, however, when they were betrayed by one of their members.  The erudite mage Miragul had disguised himself and joined their party, abandoning them at the site of the last battle and stealing the staff with which they intended to seal the final rift.  The remaining Ethernauts were trapped in the void, fate unknown, while Miragul returned to Norrath to research his ill-gotten gains for his own purposes.  During The Shadow Odyssey, adventurers discovered the void rifts were once again appearing around Norrath, and they had the opportunity to try and obtain the missing staff, try to learn the fate of the Ethernauts, and attempt to close the void breaches this time for good.  In one of the zones of the expansion, adventurers actually see the Ethernauts and have a chance to talk to them briefly.  The Ethernauts go on to attack the ultimate big baddy of the expansion while the players take on her ally, and the last the players see of the Ethernauts is them being sucked back into the void again.

When the Ethernauts' stories were initially being planned out prior to The Shadow Odyssey expansion, each one was assigned an adventure class, and also a tradeskill class.  Although their adventure classes were referred to in some cases, there wasn't much need to mention the tradeskills of most of them, other than the obvious tinkerer who helped to get the airship flying, and the carpenter who built the ship.  However, the foundations were there.  Nine great heroes with tradeskills, and nine waiting tradeskill tools seemed like a perfect match; and so each reward was matched up and named for the appropriate Ethernaut member who would have used it.

The next step was to decide where the quest would start, and how it would involve the Ethernauts.  Not an easy task, since they've been MIA, fate unknown, for hundreds of years.  Clearly, the quest needed to encounter the void at some point, since that's where the Ethernauts were last seen.  Fortuitously, the erudites in the Sentinel's Fate expansion have been inquisitively probing the void as they try to study the causes of their failed attempt to rebuilt the ulteran wizard spire network that existed in the time of the original EQLive.  Perhaps during the erudites' probings into the void and other dimensions, they might come across a relic that would lead players towards the Ethernauts?

So far, the quest outline looked like this:
  • quest starts with the discovery of an Ethernaut-related relic in the void, which the erudites would then ask the player to help investigate.  
  • quest takes players into the void at some point
  • quest rewards tradeskill tool named for appropriate Ethernaut
A very short quest so far!  My previous post about quest wrangling, linked above, was written as I sat at home on a Saturday morning trying to work out a series of steps that would logically fill out that quest outline to get the players from point A to B to C in a reasonably logical manner.  Many problem questions arose, including:
  • if the Ethernauts vanished into the void, how would their tools remain to be given to the player?
  • if the Ethernauts are MIA, how could players talk to them or learn anything about them?
After much internal debate and several discussions with a puzzled cat, I ended up with a quest outline that looked something like this:
  1. quest starts with the discovery of an Ethernaut-related relic in the void, which the erudites ask the player to help investigate.  
  2. investigation of the relic reveals a dwarven rune;  player therefore finds a dwarf to ask about the rune
  3. dwarf expert on runes thinks the relic may be related to the Ethernauts, and examination of the relic reveals extensive void exposure
  4. player tries to learn more about the Ethernauts, who were last seen in the Palace of the Ancient One (a raid zone, but which also has a tradeskill quest version that crafters can visit)
  5. player learns from other "adventurers" in the void (really NPCs) that the Ethernauts were last seen lost in the void, status unclear
  6. with the help of a mystic, players manage to contact one of the Ethernauts in some sort of spiritual bubble
  7. Ethernaut contacted reveals their tradeskill classes and that they each had a specialty, but that their crafting notes were also stolen when Miragul stole the staff.
  8. player has to retrieve the stolen notes from Miragul
  9. stolen notes enable players to craft their class-specific tool
  10. quest rewards tradeskill tool named for appropriate Ethernaut
With this basic outline ready, I could transfer it point by point into a quest file.  Each line of the list would become a stage in the quest for which the player obtains an update.  Quest updates can occur on many different "events", including talking to someone, killing something, harvesting something, otherwise obtaining an item, crafting an item, entering an area, clicking something, and more.  For each quest stage, therefore, my next job was to identify what exact action would trigger each quest update:
  1. examining the relic and discover dwarven rune
  2. dialog with dwarf about the rune
  3. examine relic again and discover void damage
  4. enter tradeskill version of the Palace of the Ancient One
  5. dialog with NPCs inside tradeskill version of the Palace of the Ancient One
  6. dialog with mystic on how to contact Ethernauts
  7. dialog with Ethernaut
  8. obtain recipe book from Miragul's zone
  9. craft item
  10. return to starter NPC and turn in quest for reward
All the dialog based updates on this list demonstrates this will be a fairly dialog-heavy quest; which makes sense, as it's supposed to be tied in to the lore, and besides which I don't ask tradeskillers to go around killing things since they might be any adventure level.  

The next step for me was to figure out all the characters and items I would need to make in order to allow the list of updates above:
  1. the questgiver (I ended up reusing Tahar, an erudite researcher crafters had helped already)
  2. the relic that the erudites find
  3. the dwarf you ask about the runes
  4. the NPCs inside the Palace of the Ancient One who describe the fate of the Ethernauts and hint at asking a mystic for help.
  5. the mystic (I ended up reusing a mystic who had been part of a previous tradeskill quest)
  6. the Ethernaut they speak to
  7. NPCs in Miragul's lair
  8. the recipe book you take from the lair
  9. the item that the recipe book crafts
  10. the 9 final reward items
In addition to these, there were also some new zones needed.  The Palace of the Ancient One could just have new NPCs added into the existing zone, but the spiritual pocket where you contact the Ethernaut was still needed, and so was a less lethal version of Miragul's Lair that crafters would be able to get through somehow.

Once the characters were created, their dialog was created.  And once the characters and items were created, they had to be placed in their correct location in the world, and have their various dialog or clicky items attached as appropriate.

Once everything was basically in place, it was time to run through it and make sure the quest was updating at each stage as expected.  That's far from the end of it, however.  The quest was basically functional, but not pretty, and not necessarily doable by all yet.  The biggest concern was getting players into Miragul's lair, which is a zone in Everfrost.  Everfrost is a level 40-50 adventure zone, but in EQII tradeskill level and adventure level are tracked entirely separately, so I had to assume that a tradeskiller doing this quest might be as low as level 5 adventurer, even though they might be a max level tradeskiller.  Fortunately, the entrance to Miragul's lair was not too far from areas that were safe for a lower level character to access, but I still had to walk carefully there and back with a level 5 character and change some of the wolves to be neutral to players, rather than kill on sight.

Once I was confident players of any adventure level could actually get to Miragul's lair, the next thing to do was populate that zone.  The geometry was a copy of the original zone where Miragul is found, but I didn't need the entire expanse of that zone for one tradeskill update.  So, I blocked off some doors so that only the first three rooms were accessible in the quest version.  Next, I copied the characters from the adventure version of the zone so that both versions of the zone would look very similar, but made them scale to the player's level + a generous few more levels, so that regardless of their adventure level, the NPCs would always look way too hard and scary.  The idea was to make the zone look terrifyingly hard, and also to ensure that tradeskillers entering were under no doubts that they had to find a non-combat way around.  I've done this a few different ways in the tradeskill epic quest - in Drafling Tower you lay down smoke bombs that put the enemies to sleep, in the Craftsman Errands portion you lay traps to trap the big scary rats, in the Outfitter Errands portion you sew yourself an illusion that fools the necessary people, and in the Scholar Errands portion you throw books at angry librarians to stun them temporarily while you sneak around them.  For Miragul's lair, I decided to do something a little different; I decided that you'd be able to obtain a letter proving that you had permission to enter the library, and presenting the letter to the first guard would change the zone's population from kill-on-sight to non-threatening.  But, to make it interesting, I put a timer on the quest: spend too long looking for the Ethernauts' notes that you need, and the guards once again hate you and will attack en masse.

I then tackled the problem of how to actually offer the quest.  I knew I wanted it to be a little hidden, and a surprise to the first players to encounter it.  After some consideration, I thought it would be unusual and surprising to actually have the questgiver, Tahar, send you an in-game mail.  We have the ability to send in-game mail that appears to come from NPCs (although of course you cannot answer back), but it's not something that we've used in many places.  However, I think it makes the world, and the NPCs, feel more like real people if they're dropping letters into your mailbox, and this seemed like a great opportunity.  I decided that when you finished the last quest in Tahar's questline, he would send you an in-game mail with a delay timer on it so that you wouldn't actually receive it for 2 more weeks.  When it does get delivered, you find a polite request from him, thanking you for your previous help and asking if you are willing to help investigate a strange relic that they have recovered during their studies -- since it appears to be a crafted item, he feels that perhaps you might have the expertise to learn more about it.  Attached to the mail is a damaged relic, and inspecting the relic offers you the signature quest.  And so it begins.

Once all this was in place, the bulk of the quest was complete.  I could go through step by step and complete it from start to finish.  That isn't enough though; the next step is to start thinking about how people can break things.
  • what if the mail didn't arrive for some reason?  (For example, if during the two week wait period the player used the clear mailbox command, which would also delete the delayed delivery mail from the questgiver Tahar; or if the player transferred servers in the mean time.)  I had to put a timed flag on the player that would keep track of when they finished Tahar's last quest, which would not be removed for 2 weeks.  As long as the player still had this flag, Tahar would just thank them for their previous assistance; but once the flag was removed, if they hailed Tahar he would ask if they had received his letter, and if they said no, then he would resend it (this time with no delay).
  • what if the player deleted the relic after getting the quest, not realizing it would be required later?  I arranged for Tahar to give them a hard time if they went back saying they'd lost it, and for the item to be available for re-purchase on the Shady Swashbuckler merchant.
  • what if the player changed tradeskill class in the middle of the quest?  Depending on what point they did this, they might just have to wait until they'd re-leveled up before they could finish the quest, since they wouldn't be able to scribe the Ethernauts' recipe book below a certain level, but they'd be able to finish it once they leveled up again and they would get the appropriate reward for whatever class they were when they completed it.
  • what if the player changed tradeskill class after completing the quest, and could no longer use their reward?  Once again, Shady Swashbuckler provided an answer, allowing the player to purchase the new tool.
  • what if the player failed to find the notebook in Miragul's lair before the timer ran out?  I had to add a dialog option to the first guard that allowed them to apologize and beg for extra time, and allow them to try again (though he's not extremely polite about it).
  • what if the player got the notebook but then deleted it before completing the next step of the quest?  I had to change the Miragul's zone to allow them to enter at any point up until they definitely no longer needed the notebook from within.
  • what if the player died while doing the crafting stage?  (And this was quite possible, as I intentionally put some lethal penalties for failure on the recipe, to keep things interesting.  Fail to correctly counter a warning event, and boom!  You're dead on the floor.)  I ensured that the rare kaborite required as a primary component would be returned if the recipe failed, in case of player death.
And so on and so on ... trying to second-guess the bizarre and silly ways in which people can manage to break quests is a challenge in itself, and one that our QA department are good at testing for, but I do at least try to think of everything I can before sending it off to QA to try and break.

After all this, the end result was EQII's first tradeskill signature quest, and some very happy and surprised tradeskillers when the letter from the questgiver arrived.  EQ2Traders has a full quest write up put together by Mysteran of the Antonia Bayle server, one of the earliest players to receive and complete the quest.  It's worth reading through the write up if you haven't done the quest already; not only is it well-written and detailed, but it demonstrates the enthusiastic reaction that the quest received.  Despite what is sometimes said, MMO players do enjoy a good story and they are genuinely interested in feeling involved in the world and its lore if we designers do a good enough job of making them feel a real part of it.  This was a fairly short quest as I was working against severe time restraints; it took probably 1/5 or even less of the time that the tradeskill epic quest did.  Still, I'm pretty pleased with the outcome, and I believe that those who have done the quest are also.  =)


  1. I absolutely loved this questline (and, indeed, all of the trade content in the current expansion, which I posted about here).

    One minor quibble is that I somehow managed to be unaware that completing the Ancient One mission would require 108 crafting combines. This does not technically break the signature quest, but it can break the unsuspecting player's fingers, if they didn't happen to know that and figured they might as well try to solo it while they're in the zone anyway. ;) It ended semi-well (about 30 PP worth of sellable stuff and almost a level worth of crafting exp) but I'm not sure I would have opted to try the thing if I'd known that it would take 2 hours.

  2. This was an absolutely wonderful event for tradeskillers/adventurers. At this point 4 of my 9 Master Crafters have completed it and soon two more will be awaiting their letter from Tahar. Thank you so much to all the time and effort you put into the the creation of this signature quest. And of course thanks to all those that helped with bringing it to "life" in game.

    Trista on AB