One of my ongoing efforts is to make quest givers not feel like quest givers.
Your typical quest giver is a guy standing around outside a dungeon waiting for an adventurer such as yourself. He can tell you all about a great treasure in the dungeon! Or he will give you a nice sword if you obtain some item from within, like his wallet, or maybe his car keys.
Leading me to wonder why he didn’t go himself. And how long he’s been standing around. Does he sleep? Does he ever go for a pee? Is there a sandwich cart that comes around?
In real life, of course, people rarely offer you jobs out of the blue. (And then it’s in Malmö or Singapore or something.) Generally it works the other way around: you find out that someone has a sword for sale, and you go and ask what they want for it.
The Witcher finessed this nicely. People in that world post “Witcher Wanted” ads near pubs. They are waiting for someone to come to their home to offer them Witcher services, for which they’re prepared to pay.
Fortunately, we have something rare in video games: our characters did not just wake up with full blown amnesia, living in a populated world, where they grew up. They know their fellow Wellies and their fellow Wellies know them.
So we can take the curse off quest giving.
For example, in the Miss Thigh Highs playthrough, you need to learn something about, let us say, washing machines. You know the washing machine repairman, Alfonso Maytag; he has fixed your washing machine, after all. At the pub they say he’s out by the Tor, a local hill.
In a regular video game, you’d meet him out by the Tor, and he’d say, “My friend Freddie has been captured by cultists. Please rescue him and I shall give you this book on Washing Machine Maintenance!”
In our game, he’d say, “My friend Freddie has been captured by cultists!” and your player character, who was in primary school with Freddie, will say, “Oh, my God! Can I help?” Obviously you’re not going to waste time chatting about washing machines while poor Freddie is in danger. After you complete the quest, though, equally obviously, Mr. Maytag will happily let you xerox the manual to your Hi-Capacity 27” Front Load Washer.
From a gameplay point of view, these two setups are exactly the same. Find the quest giver. Learn of the adventure. Complete the quest. Get the payoff.
But from a narrative point of view, one feels more natural and human. That’s important to me. The more real our people feel, the more the player engages with them emotionally.
Video game worlds contain a tiny number of salient objects. Stories allow our minds to weave a whole world in the spaces between them. But we'll only do it if we're engaged emotionally.
Figuring out what makes the quest feel natural instead of gamey is a lot of the effort I put into writing encounters. By comparison, character dialog is easy once I know what relationship the characters have to each other.
Rest of the update here.