When I came up with the whole “Secrets of Game Design” idea, it was really just a way to vent in a silly way about Adam making me change verb tense in all the game design documents. To be fair he doesn’t actually make me change them, he does it himself when he reviews the docs if I don’t do it when writing them. It was also a way for me to set up the joke about things happening to the “player” as opposed to the player’s “character” in the second Secrets post which I really just didn’t follow through with. It was a pretty lame post. Lacking "umph" you could say. So for this one I’ll actually be somewhat serious.
When playing a game, just like when watching the theatre, I am willing to let a lot of things go, but there is a line; a line where you are forced to see the props behind the curtain. They “break the fourth wall” to continue with the theatre analogies.
For example in “World of Warcraft” you will often get quests to kill some number of baddies. Then after doing that, you’ll get a follow-up quest to kill the leader baddie. The leader baddie is usually far in the back of where the regular baddies are. If you went really gung-ho when killing the baddies for the first quest you might have killed the leader baddie already. When you get the second quest you have to then pretend you didn’t kill him. You have to just play-along with the storyline and go kill him again. That’s fine. I can do that. I can see the painted backdrop and flat plywood trees on the stage and still say, “Okay, I see where you are going with this. I’ll use my imagination. It’s a forest.”
But I have run into two newbie quests that screw this up in the closed beta expansion of a game that I don’t believe I am allowed to publicly talk about yet... ahem...
In the first quest line you have to kill some number of baddies. Then you get a quest to kill the 4 baddie bosses. Then you get the final quest to release the captured apprentices. The problem is that the captured apprentices are in the same general rooms as each of the bosses. You were already in those rooms and saw the apprentices tied down to the sacrificial alters. Granted in the storyline of the quests you need some magic pixie dust or something to waken them so they can escape. Okay, maybe they were two heavy for your group to carry out, tied down with magical chains, or something the first time you were there. I’ll give the quest designers that much leeway.
The problem is that they are in the rooms with each boss meaning you have to fight the bosses again. Following the story progression though, the bosses are already dead! I understand that baddies respawn so they can be alive and ready for the next set of eager adventures. I can pretend not to notice that they are alive and well the next time I go there. But the quest storyline itself should not put me in that situation. Even if they are thinking like an advanced game designer who wants to make sure that more people are available to group up because they have to keep going into the baddie area with each successive quest, they could have finessed it better.
The second quest is even more glaring (though now as I reread this as posting it, it actually pretty much the same). In the first part of the quest series you have to kill some number of baddies. Then in the second stage you are asked to investigate the cave they are in further to find what could be causing these baddies to act like ummm baddies. This turns out to be a red glowing crystal thing. Once you find this and tell the quest guy about it he wants you to kill this 2 headed dog thing that is somehow tied in with it all. I kinda forget the details here. The problem is the red crystal thing you had to find in the second stage is directly behind where the dog spawns. There is no way you could have gotten to the red crystal thing without already having killed the dog.
This isn’t the same as the example in the 2nd paragraph, because in that example you could have done the first part without kill the boss. In this example, as I've said, you can’t get to the red crystal without killing the 2-headed dog. By following their quest line I am forced to break that fourth wall. By all rights when the guy tells me about the 2-headed dog I should be able to respond, “Oh him? Yeah, I pwn’d him already. Give me the prize.”
You could then go on to sing, “I am the one, the only one. I am the God of kingdom come, GIVE ME THE PRIZE.” But only if you are a big Highlander / Queen fan.