WoW’s (former?) head dev Jeff Kaplan gave a nice little chat at the GDC. You can find it easily elsewhere in the world wide net. But I’d like to call attention to the following snippets, on quest texts and the medium:
Kaplan explained the age-old internet phrase, relating it to WoW quests that are simply too wordy.
“World of Warcraft quest designers are limited to 511 characters,” he said. “That’s all that will fit into the data entry. And all you programmers know why it’s not 512.”
Some quest designers ask for more space, Kaplan said, saying, “Why are there only 511 characters? We gotta have more, let’s blow that out.”
But Kaplan would prefer to see WoW quests go in the other direction.
“I actually wish that the number was smaller. I think it’s great to limit people in how much pure text they can force on the player. Because honestly… if you ever want a case study, just watch kids play it, and they’re just mashing the button. They don’t want to read anything.”
And this other little choice gem:
Kaplan prepared the crowd for a rant at this point.
I’m as guilty of this as anyone else. We’re so fortunate and privileged to work in a medium that is not only an art, but a revolutionary interactive form of entertainment. It’s unfortunate to see so many games try to be what they’re not, including our game at times. Of course we should embrace the concept of story… art, literature, film, song, they’ve all embraced story as well. But they all tell it in their own unique way.
I feel like we need to deliver our story in a way that is uniquely video game. We need to engage our audience by letting them be the hero or the villain or the victim. [Art, film, literature], they’re tools. But we need to engage our players in sort of an inspiring experience, and the sooner we accept that we are not Shakespeare, Scorsese, Tolstoy or the Beatles, the better off we are.
“If it makes us feel better, Shakespeare couldn’t 3D model his way out of a paper bag,” concluded Kaplan.
“Basically, and I’m speaking to the Blizzard guys in the back: we need to stop writing a fucking book in our game, because nobody wants to read it.”
Dear Mr. Jeff Kaplan (Jeff K.? lawls, etc.), if you’re reading this, my humble comment: It’s not about 511 characters or more, and it’s not that people don’t want to read your quest texts because they’re too long. People skip your texts because the quality of the texts stinks. A good writer can work wonders with 511 characters. What I would suggest to you, sir, is not to lower the limit, or raise it. The solution is pretty obvious: Hire better writers. There are tons of good writers out there that produce excellent stuff and are dying to get some work. When you outsource the writing to a programmer, marketing guy, cousin or whatever you’re only doing a disservice to the game.