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Guide: MCS Guide to Quest Writing

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Estimated reading time: 4 min

Although Role-Playing Games are associated with novels and such because of a focus on story, writing quests in RPGs is considerably different from other forms of creative writing. 

While prose fiction (short stories, novels) allows the author to create tone and establish character with descriptions, RPGs typically just do so through artwork. This is a blessing in many cases, but also puts a premium on spoken dialogue.

This doc will help to guide you in creating quests and dialogue for a Mega Cat Studios RPG.

Matching Voice and Brand

Every game will have its own personality and tone. It is important for all elements of a quest – dialogue, rewards, characters – to match this tone. Additionally, Mega Cat studios has certain brand attributes that should be kept in mind. Our brand is largely about humor and fun for fun’s sake.

This doesn’t mean that writing or quests can’t be serious or even dark/gritty – it just means that they should be spun in a way to have a more light-hearted element. For example, it’s possible to have a violent game about corruption also be hilarious and fun by making all the characters food people.

The Purpose of a Quest

The basic purpose of a side quest in an RPG is to give the player something to do. Side quests should provide game content to increase playtime. This definition makes side quests feel a bit soulless, so it is important to consider the other goals of inserting a side quest into the game:

  • Deepen the lore of the game world. Expose more about the inner workings of:
    • The world’s history 
    • The world’s geography
    • Local events (in relation to the NPC’s town or area)
    • In-world personas and objects (celebrities, famous bands, a new brand of soda, etc)
  • Deepen/reveal the personality of the player characters
    • Side quests are a great way spot for dialogue and activity, two great ways to convey a playable character’s personality, motivations, and voice
  • Integrate with game mechanics
    • Highlight a game system by incorporating that system into the side quest
      • E.g., don’t have a simple “kill 5 enemies” quest, but instead have a “kill 5 enemies with your hype meter over 75” quest
    • Foreshadow a boss strategy by introducing it with a weaker enemy type
      • The local hoodlum is weak to Vanity attacks, and as it turns out the boss of this area is too
    • Reward a player with a unique weapon or even ability
      • They can be dependent on the player’s choices within the quest, which are also integrated with the game’s karma system

Parts of a Quest

Generally, quests should contain some arrangement of the following

  • Inciting incident/Quest giver
    • This doesn’t necessarily have to be an NPC. The player could witness some event, or perhaps notices an inanimate object, either of which could spark a quest
  • Task/objective
  • Complication/difficulty
    • Player has to make a choice
    • Player encounters a new NPC that makes him question their original objective
  • Resolution/reward

Dialogue Tips

Side quests typically involve a significant amount of dialogue. As such, we want to make the dialogue interesting for the player. The player should want to talk to the NPC for the dialogue itself, and not just to complete the quest and get a reward. 

To accomplish this:

  • Give NPCs a bit of personality/motivation/voice
  • Cut out introductory phrases like “Well,” – this is typically a sign that the conversation has become a bit stilted
  • Humor. It’s a big part of our brand, and it is quick and easy to implement in dialogue
  • Keep the amount of dialogue in mind. While RPG players are generally used to reading a lot, it is possible for quests to become tedious if they are too verbose

Working as Part of a Team

Additionally, games are not made (or written) in a vacuum. The story, dialogue, and characters will all be related to other game elements, like systems, combat, enemies, etc. As such, having an awareness of these systems is critical.

Refer to the Onboarding Doc for each game to get an understanding of the game’s world and the systems involved. Reach out to another team member (like the project manager or editor) for clarification when needed.

Also, it is important to be professional. Respect your teammates by being timely with communication, and mature about feedback/ideas. 

Avoid Tropes

  • Avoid stereotypes at all times. This includes racial stereotypes, but also character tropes in general. For example, the “elderly and wise martial arts teacher” has been done to death. Be creative and mix it up.
  • One exercise for adding depth or flavor to a character is either drilling down or drilling up a level
    • For example, if an NPC wants you to clear out the monsters from the local coal power plant, you should eventually reveal why he wants this. Why does he care so much about the plant? 
      • Maybe he met his wife there, and she is deceased now, and the plant is all he has left of her
      • Maybe he is the plant’s old owner, or his family owned it for generations, but it shut down when he was the owner of it. He needs to re-open it so he doesn’t feel like he has failed his family. However he needs to realize that his  parents and grandparents would want him to grow/adapt, not just cling to something that was harmful to the community
      • All of these add some character and sympathy to the NPC by taking something general and drilling down to make it more personal
    • The opposite would be drilling up, to make a character’s motivations or concerns more global or epic in scope. For example, a character is determined to be the world’s best baker. How is this motivation tied to anything grander or outside their own personal desires?

Formal Elements/Structure

    • Send all work as a Google Doc with editing access enabled. This will help us to take notes, leave feedback, etc.
    • Put all Text in Times New Roman 12 pt.
      • Headers for individual quests can be 14/18, or in bold, etc
    • Basic format for lines of dialogue is:
      • Speaker: Text
      • You don’t need to put the dialogue in quotation marks
    • Put any type of scene-setting or stage direction in brackets and in bold, like so:
  • [The Soil Merchant is standing by some garbage cans]
      • Soil Merchant: Hmm, too much grease in this one…
  • [He walks to a different garbage can]
      • Soil Merchant: Ah, plenty of spoiled food here. Excellent.
      • Felix: Excuse me, are you dumpster diving?
  • [jumping up and turning to Felix]
    • Soil Merchant: Dumpster diving? That’s for amateurs. I consider myself more of a dirt diviner.
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