Reading – The Lost Art

First off, I’d like to say I blame WoW for this. As a player who played it for three years, I know what I’m talking about. WoW caters to entry-level players, and not reading quest text in WoW was par for the course – in fact, there’s an option to make it display instantly so you can close it right away, and most did. There’s one quest that even mocks this trend, by saying in the quest text “Blah blah you’re not even reading this anyway”. As an Old School(tm) Quester, back in the days of Everquest, you had to read the text carefully. Those devs were devious in their writing, and the hint for the quest was likely buried deep in the words spewed by the NPC. (They relished in this, they told me several times) This said, I miss the days when people would at least try to figure things out for themselves. I took the week off last week and got a good bit of playtime in on the Lord of the Rings expansion. The quests are well written, simple, and literally lead you around the land, telling a story, with multiple quests usually having you kill in the exact same area. There was only one item in days of questing I couldn’t find from reading the text (which was a paragraph or two at most). From the advice channel, you’d think you needed Indiana Jones to find the target. And even worse, you’d see the same question mere seconds after the last one was asked, and you know that person had to be in the zone at the time.

I wonder if they drive around town shouting out of the window “Hey, where is the Taco Bell?” to passers-by.

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Jaded old gamer, and father of gamers, who's been around long enough. Still, he's always up for giving the Next Big Thing a whirl.

23 thoughts on “Reading – The Lost Art”

  1. I was going to reply with something really witty and funny, but I got bored halfway through reading the post and decided to just click “Submit.”

  2. A combination of bad editing, and horrid fonts (mmmm fantasy fonts) make quest text headache inducing. Yes, you can mod many of these games to eliminate the problem, but why not have an baked-in option to control quest fonts.

    Don’t blame me for not reading it.

  3. The quest text in LotRO is pretty good, they even summarise the main points and the end for those who don’t like reading.

    As for my experiences in Moria, there have only been two quests thus far which were hard to follow. One is the quest to locate the bat cave (which usually receives the answer ‘Gotham City’ when asked where it is), the other was the first Riddle quest. I read the quest text, solved the riddle, then started looking for a geographical feature which matched the answer, none of which were correct. Instead, it was a random room in the far end of the zone. Hooray for overthinking.

  4. To be fair, even as someone who enjoyed reading the quest text I still had to turn on the instant show. I’ve always considered that to be something of a must, at least as an option, for games with lots of text since everyone reads at different speeds.

    Personally, I view it as being largely a design problem, mixed with a culture problem. It’s slightly problematic to have a game where the maximum rewards are reserved for the one who completes the most quests the fastest, and then to turn around and expect the player to voluntarily slow down. Especially to ask them to slow and down and bask in how great you are since most of these have absolutely no effect or bearing on the player and their character anyways.

  5. Am I to understand that LotrO *doesn’t* feature icons on the mini-map and above NPC’s heads to tell people where to go? Or were you just challenging yourself by not using them?

    I may actually get this game if it’s the former.

    I hate the “icon driven” questing in today’s MMO’s. I wish developers would realize that many other features of WoW made it a hit (Warcraft franchise, solo content, being ‘the first’ in terms of looks and stability), not the skippy-skippy-clicky trigger-happy quest nature.

  6. Games have definitely become progressively easier to appeal to a wider audience.

    The “pixel hunt” that drove so many people crazy in early adventure games have mostly been replaced by “sparkles” on quest objects. NPCs walk around with punctuation over their head so you know to talk to them. Destinations on maps are highlighted or colored. Etc., etc.

    But I think there’s more to the problem of quest text than just that people are too lazy to read it and too stupid to understand it. Yes, that’s the basic problem for a lot of people, but quest text seems to me to also be a very awkward game mechanic.

    Reading quest text requires you to break — and essentially pause — the immersive game experience. You’re fighting your way through a dungeon and see a dead dwarf with punctuation on his head. You click on him and a text box pops up telling about his sad demise and giving you a quest to take his favorite hankerchief back to his family. You’re supposed to stop paying attention to the 3D world around your character and savor the quest text before accepting it. But that breaks the flow of the game at best and can get your character killed if the questgiver is in a dangerous area.

    I love to read and I love (good, well-written) lore, but I find I tend to skim quest text quickly and move on. In WoW I turned on the quick quest text option, not because I don’t care, but because I want to grab that quest from the dead dwarf fast before some patrol comes along and kills my idle character. It’s hard to find time to stop and read in a constantly active world without a pause button.

    I think a really good example of this is in WAR, where there really are a lot of quests full of details and interesting lore, and where achievements constantly are unlocking more back-story through the Tome of Knowledge. Brilliant idea. But I read a lot of bloggers who loved the idea of the Tome of Knowledge but admitted that they never had time in the game to actually stop and read many of the ToK entries. I found that myself and wished I could get access to the ToK outside of the game when I actually had the time to read.

    What would be a better game mechanic? Beats me :)

  7. The Lord of the Rings Online™ has NPC icons. It does not have Warhammer’s map painting.

    The Lord of the Rings Online™ broke much of my reading. After the fifteenth person explained why he wanted me to kill boars and/or wolves, I stopped caring. Really, you want me to kill birds so you can stuff pillows with their feathers? I’m a hero!

  8. If you don’t read the quest text in LoTRO, you are missing out on a lot of the charm of the game. The prose is much tighter than in an average MMO, and the stories that emerge from the quest chains are often (though not always as Zubon points out) engaging.

    I find the quest text in most other MMOs to be pretty painful now that I’ve gotten used to LoTRO. The quest text in WoW, for example, went from seeming OK to utterly amateurish (though to be fair I haven’t tried WotLK yet, all accounts are that it’s much improved). And (apart from the Greenskin quests, which tend to be amusing), I just can’t bring myself to wade through the wall of mediocre prose in most WAR quests. I’m sure pre-LoTRO I would have thought it was just fine.

    As an aside, the writing in the WAR ToK is generally excellent. I wish the quest text in most zones lived up to that standard. I have actually spent hours unlocking things to get new entries.

  9. I like quest text. It’s part of the reason I play City Of Heroes. The lack of good quest text in the endgames of World of Warcraft, Everquest II, Tabula Rasa, and a half-dozen other games actively drives me away.

    But most quest and mission text is junk. Not even the amount of junk that Sturgeon’s law predicts. Much more. It’s tossed together in a few minutes by a bottom tier programmer in most cases, and the closest we get to characterization is incomprehensible babbling.

    I’ve got a full blog post on the matter brewing, but the simple truth is that the only character involved is the Yellow Exclamation Mark, in his many masks. We’re reading a book that takes dozens, if not hundreds of hours, to read, has one voice, and honestly not that many interesting parts.

    That’s not something most people are willing to waste their time on.

    You’re also not merely asking people to waste their own time. You’re talking a genre that overwhelmingly focuses on team play. I’m not willing to do that to any good team.

    These are the sort of people that can’t follow basic directions, though.

  10. Sorry, it’s not just WoW. Database sites like Wowhead make it guaranteed that people will take the easy road even if you hide vital information inside the quest text. And are you really suprised that people don’t read quest text when they are enjoying interactive audiovisual entertainment and we know not nearly everyone likes to read books either?

  11. Oz writes: blah, blah, blah … Taco Bell


    (Sorry, I had to…my GPS map arrow wasn’t working. :-)

  12. I’m with Zubon, I really don’t need to know why you want me to go kill X of Y. I did appreciate the summary version in LOTRO. I recall laughing to myself and thinking, “Okay, they get that I do not care why!”

    However, I will have to say that I read the Destiny Quests in AOC. Why? Because I knew it was a story tailored to me – uhm my class actually. But hell, that little bit of tailoring was more than most quests so it got my attention. That small bit of tailoring combined with cut scenes presented a linked story that motivated me to give a hoot, so I read all of the DS quests word-by-word – no speed scanning.

  13. I suspect the people reading quest text and valuing good writing are also the people who have Immersion as one of the motivating factors for playing a game – the feeling of being inside another world or becoming somebody not yourself.

    I bought Titan Quest on Steam since it was on offer during Thanksgiving weekend. (So I haven’t played a lot of outdated games.) Was very pleasantly surprised to find out how much effort went into the NPC conversations and quest text. The writing stayed reasonably faithful to its ancient Greek roots, spinning in the fantastical as needed, and even made some attempts at rhymes, alliteration and Homeric-style epithets. The voice acting was very good as well. Knocked the socks off any MMO quest text.

    And all of it was strictly speaking, unnecessary. It’s a Diablo clone! You’re supposed to run around and hack away at things and gain levels and skills and phat epic lewt! Why in the world was I standing around, listening to a Storyteller NPC declaim the myths of Hercules, Troy and Artemis for?

    T’was just the sheer quality that stopped me in my tracks and got me to immerse most satisfactorily.

    Age of Conan also did a good job with the Destiny quests, voice-acting and all. It only works the first time around when it’s all unique though. I admit to skipping through things when making alts, when you realize it’s all the same, there’s no meaning or consequence in any dialog choice, and the fastest way to get to the end was just to punch 1 over and over.

    I read LOTRO quest text and enjoy it, but I can’t help but feel that the lack of quest objective pointers is just a cunning timesink to make me run around aimlessly or stop to look up a third-party site. I -would- like a general in-this-area optional pointer or highlight.

    Perhaps something in the Guild Wars vein, where you select one quest, and a pointer arrow showing you the general direction/area comes up. City of Heroes, too, offers a pointer towards the door of your current mission.

    If my memory serves me, WAR lacks a minimap radar pointer, and splatters all quest objectives as red blotches on the map as a default. This means I have to keep turning the map on and off as a reference, and find the one red spot I’m currently working on, and the combination of map flipping, course correction and seeing all the tiers laid out kills immersion, along with just-average quest text writing.

    I do like the ability to click on the red blotch in the minimap and pull up the quest in the tome though. Mostly because I’ve forgotten what I need to do to get X . Was I supposed to kill them, click a quest item in my inventory, or look for a glowie? Dunno. Just skimmed the quest text in the beginning, can always check it later, and now it’s later, when I’m actually in the area. :P

  14. In the spirit of this post I only read the first and last sentence (and anything emboldened). Blizzard employees should definitely know where Taco Bell is.

  15. If you don’t read the quest text in LoTRO, you are missing out on a lot of the charm of the game

    And yet, they decided to use the smallest font possible in the game to write that said text of LOTRO. Have a monitor larger than 1280×1024, be prepared to break out old man reading glasses (or women…lets not leave out the ladies).
    This takes away 100% of the joy of reading that text.

    No thanks.

  16. I guess that depends on the actual size of the monitor, right Openedge? I never had an issue with the LotRO text at 1900×1200, but that’s on a 24″ monitor.

  17. I agree on the horrible fonts. LOTRO especially uses a poor font for it’s interfaces and text, it’s more of a font for titles. However that’s not why I don’t read. (LOTRO fixed the size problem though AFAIK).

    I mainly read text in LOTRO and WAR because they’re written pretty well, and only in WoW if it’s a long interesting chain. Even then, I prefer the characters to act out and speak in /say, though that causes other problems when several people want to complete a quest.

    I don’t mind burying the object, what I do really hate though is hidden treasure hunt quests to go find something, usually it’s some small thing or person you will only find by mousing over it, in some obscure corner. I always end up cancelling those, since it’s not testing perspicacity (the clues only narrow it down to half a zone sometimes) but just patience that you can run around a zone for so long until you find it. I think those types of quests were the reason all these help sites started.

  18. I think this is an issue that feeds from a lot of other related things and it all comes down to the perceived “lowering of the bar” for which WoW and other more or less modern MMOs are vilified or praised, depending on who you talk to.

    Think I’ll post some musings about this.

  19. *agrees with Sara*
    I read too quickly to wait for the slow reveal. I read too much to be satisfied with inane writing, poor composition or idiotic ideas. Good lore or interesting writing are very interesting to me, but I also agree with Saylah; window dressing on “kill ten rats” just doesn’t do much for me.

  20. @Scott
    I can read that fine…on my 1280×1024 monitor at work, then I take that to my 24″ 1920×1200 screen, and the fonts then become a blur thanks to no text aliasing.
    The fonts have a sparkle as well with larger monitors with high DPI.
    White text on black backgrounds also cause a shine in the eyes, which when you look away quickly leaves a minor retina burn (should be black on white not unlike “Novel” text)

    Finally, I am 45 years old, and yes, text starts to get to be an issue depending on how it is displayed. Try to read stuff like that for two or more hours, and yes, it becomes an issue.

    Lineage 2 also suffers from teeny font syndrome.

    So, the fact the font does not resize as the monitor gets larger is a problem.
    Most other games do this, Turbine does not in any of their games.

    Full UI control is what needs to be done to let others make the changes they need for the best experience.

  21. I purposely wrote the post as a solid block for humor value, and I’m glad several picked up on it =)

    Taco Bell indeed!

    For those who have been driven away by quest text, I encourage you to give Eregion a chance – the stories are not as long, and they really do flow together to make a nice, cohesive, story. Assuming I run out of movies to watch while travelling on business, I think I’m going to re-read the LOTR books just because of the game.

  22. I’m one of those (ex) WoW players who was guilty of almost never reading quest text. I’d rather go to WoWHead, Thottbot or Alla-kawhassit rather than ever read WoW quest text! The reason was, I had, and have, zero interest in WoW lore. Their quests are usually the standard FedEx model, and really… I guess I just wasn’t interested.

    This led to some pretty funny (well to me) things happening sometimes. Before TBC, I remember finishing the Marshall Windsor questchain for the first time, and going ‘Hey what are all these dragons doing here (in the Stormwind throneroom)’. ~_o This led to horrified gasps and people giving me a crash-course on what was going on. As far as I knew, I’d just done all this stuff ‘so I could go kill Ony’.

    But here’s where I don’t fit the ‘short attention span, hates lore, won’t ever read quest text, just wants instant gratification mold. I am an avid reader, and I come from a MUD background. I played one particular one for over 8 years, and now that I’ve quit WoW with the WoTLK xpac, I’m back to looking at MUDs. In MUDs I not only read the quest text, I demand interesting quests. I want to have to think, to look at what NPCs say, to interact with them, to scour the rooms, etc. I don’t want stuff handed to me. Sure, I can use hints from time to time, but I want to solve the puzzles… the quests. So how did this love of puzzle-solving, language and whatnot translate to never reading quest text in WoW?

    I think the observation that quest-text in WoW (and in graphical MMOs) breaks the immersion is a good one. After doing lots of graphical shiny stuff, to click on the dorf and have a wall-of-text crit me in the face definitely breaks the immersion of a 3d graphical world. But the alternative of him talking? Probably just too tedious for words. In fact, not only do I not read quest text in WoW, I have never watched a single cut scene. I’m simply not interested. Cut-scenes as I understand it, are supposed to be a kind of visual reward for having gotten to a certain point. For me, they’re just a ‘get it over with and get me back to my game already’. In the end perhaps it’s because quest-text as it is really isn’t very integrated with the way a MMOs play right now.

    Quest text isn’t tedious in MUDs because it’s a seamless part of the text world (or should be). Perhaps if there were some graphical way to make MMO quests that seamless? How? :( Unfortunately I have no clue.

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