>Do Quests in computer games really need to be so dull?
At least in most games. The underlying principle is the same as with TV series and Movies:
- It is an industry. Millions of people work there and need to be employed continuously. They have to continuously produce new entertainment material or the people become unemployed and the companies are broke. It is impossible to produce innovative, high-quality, novel material all the time; it is, however, easily possible to mass-produce basically the same material with minor variations - that being a core reason why most Movies, TV series and video games seem to be so similar.
- Roughly, there are two kinds of consumers. Let's call them the Dumbs and the Smarts. D's are content with consuming forever the same basic product with minor variations on the same theme. They watch TV for 8h a day for decades and are happy with it. S's soon notice that all this are but tiny endless variations of the same basic themes and start to look for more interesting things.
- D's are many millions of consumers, maybe a majority of the population, and they absorb those dull products without ever being satiated or bored, so it keeps being produced endlessly.
- Straying from that reliable consumer base and trying to do smarter, novel, more interesting things is financially risky, as the consumer base is much smaller and reliable, so it's done rarely, and the vast majority of the produced content is of the dull type.
If you want non-dumb content you must wait a long time until here and there something is produced, or stray away from electronic entertainment to read books instead, there is practically endless material that is non-dumb and interesting.
Wait for some outstanding products - or make them yourself.
>It is linear, and boring. The player does chores and is rewarded with a predefined plotline that progresses.
It's boring for YOU, but thrilling for millions of (paying) others and therefore it keeps being made. It's just highly profitable.
In porn guys cannot help it: They seek out pictures of novel women all the time because of the Coolidge Effect. Men need variation to keep being aroused, and therefore a porn industry exists. In this, men are endlessly driven to do the same category of action with minor variations eternally.
Video games are achievement porn - that's why they are desired by men, not women. In real life achievement is as difficult to get as sex, so guys use porn and video games - because women/sex and achievement triggers their reward center in the brain. All men are equally driven to porn, because it is a primitive instinct, but not all men are equally driven to dull video games, because the desire for achievement/success/power/social status is more complex. The dumb men are easily satisfied with endless variations of the same category of action, leading to "grinding", exemplary being World of Warcraft or Diablo - long ours are spent doing the same boring thing over and over to get artificial achievement in the form of leveling up, getting better gear etc. Supported by psychological scientists producers make this extra addictive by throwing in random, low-probability rewards (special loot etc.) - in human as well as animal behavioral psychology it is established that addiction behavior is maximally reinforced by delivering rewards only sometimes, at random - the basis for gambling or video game addiction is identical.
This principle has grown into a multi-billion industry, mostly not AAA-games, but "primitive" Freemium games who are just barely sophisticated enough to keep the dumb interested, but maximally exploit the addiction-inducing components to make big financial profits - usually running not on (expensive and comparatively rare) gaming PCs, but smartphones and tablets. The many millions of victims will just not stop playing, just not stop paying with "micro-transactions" - just like the crowd that watched TV 8h+ per day for decades in the past (average US TV consumption per day is close to 9h) - they are eternally content and satisfied with endless meaningless variations on the same theme.
Smarter guys, just as with Movies and TV series, soon recognize the dull principle and abandon those games, at least searching for more interesting alternatives.
(Women are immune to video game addiction, because their reward center is not activated by achievement through direct competition, but by presenting themselves to and learning about and manipulating _real_ people socially - nothing in video games involves physical self-presentation or real social manipulation, so women find games stupid and boring and therefore women were immune to the lures of computer entertainment - this changed with the advent of social media, as it allows women to present their bodies (selfies...) and eavesdrop on real social interactions of other real people and manipulate them, which is for women as addictive as video games are for guys.)
>Are computer games doomed to always be this way?
99% or so of it is, because of the broad, reliable consumer base that are content with it being that way; as long as they pay for it things stay that way.
The other 1% is where the magic happens.
Interesting Movies and Games exist, but they are rare; mostly they are made by niche producers for a niche audience. Thief is already quite specialized, fanmissions/TDM even more.
Generally, because it reflects the state of human nature, most of everything is crap, but the tiny rest is very much worth looking into.
While the variation of possibilities are endless, the variation in underlying CATEGORIES is very limited.
New ideas that are not just variations of an old idea are very hard to invent.
problem/goal ----> obstacle(s)/complication(s) ----> solution/reward
That seems to be pretty much all of it.
Note that real life is not different from this. As Karl Popper said: "All life is finding problem solutions."
The main difference I see between games and real life is options diversity - in games options are highly limited, usually dull/boring after one has figured out the game mechanics and so we abandon the game;
in real life, the issue is the precise opposite, we have literally endless amounts of options and complexity and are overwhelmed by it, therefore flee reality into video games.
>Something new... Something more out-of-the-box... Something more surprising... Something more fun!
I would guess that you are well-above average IQ, and I would also say that this is true for the average person keeping up an interest in TFM/TDM.
What you are looking for, for this very reason, is to experience new categories of experience, new "clever" variations that are not just dull variations of the same old category.
Such true innovation are among the rarest of things, so you will have to wait longer times to be rewarded.
But new ideas and creativity can be helped along by exposure to more already existing ideas, the products of other minds - the longer our brains are exposed to a problem and the more raw material for associations we have (our brains are association machines through pattern recognition and memory), the higher the probability for a truly novel solution being found: Often, almost usually, the critical new association for a novel problem solution comes from information from a completely different area of expertise - the more different stuff a brain knows, the more associations it can form, the more patterns it can recognize, the more productive it can be in terms of creativity or novel problem solutions - practically, if you want have a high probability for a clever new quest/story/game mechanism idea, think about it hard for some time, then do and learn or experience something else, like going fishing/shopping/wandering/built a house/whatever - the more raw material you have for associations, the better for your unconscious to work out an idea and present to you consciously - just come back and think about your original problem again from time to time, so your unconscious keeps working on the task).
A few (mediocre) ideas from me:
- Quest giver: "Steal for me the family heirloom toilet seat from my evil brother and I will reward you with 1000 gold." One may do it. Proceed. Or - NOPE. Turn the thing 180°. I'm not that interested in old toilet seats which have sentimental value for this guy, I am interested in 1000 gold. Steal from the quest giver those 1000 shinies, don't get involved with yucky toilet seats. The _really_ relevant information for a thief is that those 1000 gold pieces are in possession the quest giver, after all.
- Keep the problem solution as unspecific as possible. Say, the task is to steal a golden vase from a manor. Provide no additional information, everything else has to be figured out by the player on his own, his techniques, scouting and analysis of the target compound, where to get needed equipment and what exactly for which task etc. Multiple possible, parallel routes: classical sneaking in (very hard); multiple entry routes, most of them requiring another sets of achieved tasks to open up, for example making a driver move his carriage under a window to climb up on it in the window above, or for a business to deliver boxes that block a guards view or to climb up on or to smuggle oneself into the manor by hiding in those boxes that are delivered into the manor as supplies; or finding a way to put sedatives into the guards food or even the whole manor's inhabitant's food, but the sedatives need to be stolen from an apothecary which in itself is another set of task with its own complexities; or having to find out on how to manufacture gas arrows (for a difficult heist) from a (secret?) library, then not just collecting, but actively finding the needed materials and ingredients (= not just finding gear, but kind of researching, planning and constructing it oneself).
- "White collar crimes" - do not sneak in to sneak out valuables, instead sneak in to manipulate the bookkeeping, or change the delivery addresses of valuable boxes that are to be shipped (like in T2). The suspension comes not from stealing here, but from having to keep up ghosting, or one's manipulations could arouse suspicions.
- Use of the same map with small variations for a day/preparation mission and a later-on nightly heist-execution-mission. Scout out at day, maybe inspect some locks or copy some keys, or draw some maps, or move/deliver some boxes or deliver alcohol to the guards barracks etc. and act as a non-thief, then revisit basically the same map at night and do the heist with help of the intelligence you gathered/the manipulations you made the day before.
- The most general quest possible, almost a non-quest: Just explore the city and steal things to pay the bills. No more specific details, find story elements, figure out everything else completely on your own.
- Surprising and dramatic change in expected events - from a cozy heist to escaping a major trap, being hunted and having to escape.
- Infiltrate/exfiltrate not only oneself, but having to find/make up ways to exfiltrate a valuable, yet bulky piece of loot to a safe location.
- Surreptitiously enter the city's locksmith and obtain most keys (impressions/copies) of most locks in the city - prerequisite for a main mission or just as a additional possibility.
- Distraction heist; lay fire to some building, make the guards deal with other threats, deliver hookers, ...
Everything can be made more interesting by a sophisticated background story, social/relationship/emotional elements that activate our instincts (sex, eavesdropping, revenge, betrayal, bullying, cheating, sabotage, rape, murder, torture, ...) - a powerful, detailed, emotional background usually adds a lot of fascination and immersion. Just stealing gets bland quickly, setting up emotional reasons in a skilled way makes us want to steal or play the mission for just another reason more. Maybe built up a strong emotional motive to not hurt anybody in a mission or to stay undetected.
Convey real-life knowledge/education in a mission somehow. Maybe like having a book with real-life workings/history of locks in a library or in a thief's den, or "real", at least plausible recipes for sleep potions based on real-world Atropa or something like that, or a real black powder recipe with some alchemist building cannons etc. - such things can add a nice degree of depth to a mission.
Humor. Depict certain human weaknesses passively by just placing items; maybe a hemorrhoid pillow on a chair, a secret "porn" stack, add laxative to food and activate a running routine to the next loo which then is being barred from the inside,... I'm sure you can come up with better ideas than the lame ones I can here right now. Remember that humor is, psychologically, about someone losing social status as the general rule.
Meta theme on the thief theme - observe/help out/clear the way/steal from/manipulate other thieves, or a thieve's guilt. Maybe observe other thieves to rob a mansion, then set them up for capture with the guards, while securing and exfiltrating their loot for oneself.
T1's beginning seems underutilized to me. Have some old master thief get the player as an apprentice. The master introduces the player to more and more advanced thief skills and tools and sends him out to more and more difficult missions to learn and prove himself. Could be further sophisticated, maybe into an old debt or revenge with another master thief and the player had to free or revenge his master etc.
Catastrophe exploit for financial gain. City evacuated for flooding, fire, epidemic, war, earthquake, undead uprising. May be combined with finding a mighty weapon, like machine-gun like "staff of explode undead" - after you have snuck past 100 zombies, ghosts and haunts you find the stuff at the end and have not to sneak back to your base, but blast your way home in the last 2% of time of the mission, as a violent release of all the suspense and fear before. May be a nice variation for once and should be already be well supported by the D3 engine of TDM.
Set up some moral dilemmas that can be solved in different ways.
- I feel traps/alarms are underutilized so far as well. A simple trip wire, that is, a piece of string that pulls a metal pot from a shelf and making an alarming noise would suffice and to be expected in even poorer dwellings.
- In more expensive abodes there could be pressure plates on the ground, possibly obscured by a rag.
- In places like thief's hideouts could be traps in form of pit traps.
- As humorous example may suffice a bucket with water balanced on a partially opened door, functioning as alarm (or perhaps gift of sudden free hat).
- In the real world, the "secret inside a secret" was often used (for example by the clergy) to secure valuables - in a hidden/locked place there were some (minor) valuables as distraction; but inside the hiding place was another hiding place for the really valuable stuff - secret room in secret room, secret safe (2nd backwall) in (secret) safe etc.
- Counter-/Blackmail can be a nice mission theme; removing or planting evidence. After all, it can be more profitable and reliable than just stealing, while employing the same stealthiness.
- Love/jealousy. Maybe a little tacky, it could possibly mixed into a quest - love and sex can be stolen, too.
- Dealing with the complexities of inheritance. It's hard stealing a huge piece of land (lots of shovels and trucking would be involved) - but an inheritance can be ... accelerated as well as stolen.
- Sabotaging a business competitor could be done in lots of ways and connected to stories and quests. Monopolies are money.
- Employ of a thief to smuggle a bomb into a major political event, maybe a crowning or church meeting.
- Outright dark themes - torture, gory magical sacrifices and blood magic, ruthless actors or protection from that. The more emotionally stirring and threat-inducing, even terrorizing, the better.
- Missions in dense fog or smoke, at least partially. This yields a sense of being unseen and being immediately safe from being spotted but at the same time a sense of threat from not being able to see far oneself, which can be very captivating and immersive in itself, also increasing importance on noise clues for navigating successfully. This can also be used for great effect against the "cheating" of players by increasing screen brightness too much for simpler (yet less pleasurable, those players cheat themselves) difficulty level. Very dense snow or rain may serve the same purpose and prove to be very atmospheric.
- A quest where leaving roofs/rafters means immediate failure. Maybe an assassination mission - get to a royal party on the thieve's highway, once there navigate the rafters over the ballroom to rope-arrow down in spots to steal, or maybe drip poison from the rafters down into a mug/goblet of a target noble.
- Safe cracking through observation of the safe combination - sneak into room, hide, wait for owner to operate safe, use looking glass to spy combination. Could be combined with an alarm that triggers when a wrong combination is tried to make more sense.
- A bit silly, but the player could camouflage himself as potted plant or bush, and move around when a guard (lighted area) is not looking in his direction; makes sense, as long as there are many other potted plants or bushes.
- Steal not gold and gems, but alcohol. Alcohol was once very valuable. Steal it by rerouting factory piping or hoses secretly into your lair or into "tanker carriages" to transport away. A few tons of fine liquor are uncommon, yet very profitable loot.
- Be a thief in employ of an army/general doing a siege. Sneak into a fortress to plant a bomb, open the gates, poison their well etc. - or the other way around, have a thief sneak out to send information to or call for assistance from other nobles.
- Detective work. Clear some innocent from being found guilty. Collect evidence in a stealthy way, eavesdrop. Maybe the looking glass could even find use as magnifier to compare finger prints (though those would be comparatively high-tech).
- Rise the undead yourself. Why not, let the guards have their fun with them, we'll be busy taking away the loot in the meantime.
- Set up the rescue of some person from the gallows or guillotine - remove key guards, open gates, sabotage bows/arrows of placed archers, place mines, set up an escape carriage, replace/camouflage as the hangman, apply smoke and flash bombs at the scene in the right moment and execute not the guy/female, but escape with them tp safety.
- Ennoble yourself - sneak into the castle, render the princess unconscious and implant your inseminate. May be impolite, but being royal and having royal offspring may prove highly advantageous.
Edited by Outlooker, 10 August 2017 - 04:53 AM.