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The importance of side content

Discussion in 'General RPG Discussion' started by Lhynn, Feb 20, 2021.

  1. Lhynn Arcane

    Lhynn
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    Lately i have been thinking of side-quests, and how much they can and should matter in your journey in any RPG. Because of their optional nature developers tend to throw everything worth doing into the main quest, while leaving all the side content feeling light, shallow and unrewarding.

    But i pose that side quests are even more important than the main quest. That they shouldn't be treated as filler, but that they should provide character development and expand on the possibilities of any given playthrough.

    A part of this was prompted because lately i have been reading a lot of wuxia, and i have noticed that the main characters tend to be nothing without that side content. Without it they would be your run of the mill adventurer, unremarkable. These side-quests, little deviations of the plot, they are what makes them special. Its where they acquire powerful techniques, powerful artifacts, a way to improve their inherent capabilities, companions that can completely alter events in the main quest, or simply deliver important insights into the past and nature of the character.
    These are the opportunities that allow them to stand above others, that give them agency while everyone else is shackled by the rules of society and different power structures.

    I was trying to think of RPGs with good side-quests and i came to the conclusion that the very reason we consider them great is that their side content is top notch.

    I believe an obvious example of this is Baldurs Gate 2, with rich side content that influences how the game plays out, if not on a narrative level, at the very least on a mechanical one thanks to the powerful artifacts and the amazing experience you get from them.

    I think how strong an RPG is can be determined by the quality of its optional content. And thats the reason that to this day fallout 1/2 are pretty much the quintessential RPGs for many of us. Because of the degree of freedom they offer, making around 95% of the content entirely optional while also delivering on the quality department.

    I believe the biggest problem with PoE wasnt the dull writing, the boring companions, the lifeless world or the dumb main quest, but it was, in fact, how they massively under-delivered in the quality of the side content. From the facebook fortress game, to the quest where you help a kid ghost or the one where you... oh fuck, i cant even remember the details of this shit.

    Stuff like oblivion has some redeemable quest-lines, like the dark brotherhood arc. And this alone places this game above in terms of quality when compared to Obsidians latest efforts. Which is saying something of how far these guys have fallen, that even the potato face generator can be said to be above it.


    Anyway, my two cents. What do you people think, how important are side-quests? Do you have a favorite one? Can you think of good examples of games doing side-content well?
     
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  2. Bester ⚰️☠️⚱️ Patron Vatnik

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    When I play an RPG, I try to really immerse myself into the role of my character and when some passerby asks for help, it often sounds fake and the only reasonable thing to answer is "what the fuck? do it yourself. Besides, I'm busy retrieving my soul and whatnot, it gets precedence over whatever minor bullshit you've got going on".

    In that context, side quests should only occupy a small portion of the game. UNLESS... unless, the main story is placed on the back burner for some reason, and encourages you to do side quests.
    I enjoyed most of BG2's side quests, because there was this atmosphere of "we're on an adventure anyway (while we collect the 20k gold), so why not!". And at the same time, I despise most of BG3's side quests, because there's a pressing urgency of removing an illithid tadpole from your head.

    Once you get out of the Underdark in BG2, the side questing doesn't feel the same at all...

    In short, the main story should allow for side quests. In many games it doesn't, and it ruins the entirety of the side content.
     
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  3. gerey Arcane Zionist Agent

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    Hence why games should contextualize side-quests so they make more sense in the general framework of the setting.

    It's really not that hard even - the PC in most RPGs is some flavor of adventurer (so, a mercenary for hire), so it's shouldn't be that hard to switch from "helping random fag on the streets" to getting contracted by a variety of possible clients to do stuff for them. It's also equally bad to have the PC be everyone's armchair psychologist and help them work through their daddy issues.

    Mass Effect is a good example of having a reasonably solid framework to naturally weave side-content into the game and then fucking it up thoroughly. Instead of Shepard being a gayer 40k Inquisitor you're stuck holding the hand of your crewmembers as they cry on your shoulder or helping every random retard you encounter on the streets.

    Also, I'm of the opinion that RPGs in general should strive to avoid weaving the narrative around a sense of urgency if they're not willing to go the extra mile and make the time constraints actually matter and have consequences for the player.
     
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  4. laclongquan Arcane

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    Nuh~ What make a character unique and full of personality, wuxia or elsewhere, is the tiny bit of writings in everything that define them, not main quest or side content. Side quests are easier to do that than main ones, but a shit writer (group) can ruin characters anywhere they go, or not go.

    Same thing with Baldur's Gate 1 for example. What define your MC's personality is not just the side quests they do along the way, but also the choice they make in inter-chapter dream scenes and elsewhere.

    In BG2, side content are too much (a great thing in other considerations) thus it water down the chance to make MC's unique like in BG1. Like, the only thing that make MC's more personal is the desperate gathering money to give the thief guild (or vampire) to chase after Imoen. Other things are side quest and companions' content. It's not bad, precisely, but it's less personal than in BG1.
     
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  5. laclongquan Arcane

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    I am not saying the side content is unimportant. It is important. But there's a trade off between MQ (which is mostly around main char) and side content (which can be split between MC and companions) and the ratio can water down MC's footsprint of importance.

    PST make a perfect balance between MQ and side contents, mostly because they pay attention to MC's footsprint in side content too. You can find signs of Nameless One in other mentions, other quests.

    By comparison, BG1 is a bit water down compared to PST and BG2 is waaaaaaay water down. Like canoe beer.

    The way to correct is would be more mentions of MC's mother or Gorion. Much more. Like double or triple it.
     
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  6. CryptRat Prestigious Gentleman Arcane Developer

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    Optional content sure is great.

    Ideally a game has an investigation-focused main quest without any checkpoint and several layers of optional content.

    The virtue of non-linearity must not be underestimated. The structure of Death Knights of Krynn (or Pool of Radiance), whose difference with Champions of Krynn is only that you can approach an important part of the content in any order is so much more enjoyable. What's really mandatory or not does not even matter much then.

    Any kind of optional content is cool. Side quests, more elaborate ways to solve a side quest, good optional dungeons and optional encounters, places that you can access only via a hidden key, a completely optional layer of possible interaction with environment via spells and skills, maybe non-obvious interaction with forges and such, places you can access only via a puzzle, places you reach by discovering the second way hidden in the puzzle, places that you can miss and the player will finally discover when you're passing through a way for the fifth time, other places hidden by perception checks that the character will eventually discover when the party is passing through a way for the fifth time (but it can be the same place), places you can access only via a puzzle that you don't know is there (hint you deciphered said you must sit in front of the waterfall and spell the right magic words), cool encounters against naturally non-hostile NPCs, potentially in some particular games content unlocked via completionist approach or some logical succession of choices of resolutions of quests (but in many games that won't work).

    On a related note quests, NPCs giving quests and quest logs can often get boring, and they're very far from the only way to give a strong narrative vibe to your game, games like Star Trail, Lurking II : A madness or even games with quite few NPCs such as Dragon Wars have a strong narrative without relying to quest log design, and these games all have a big sense of adventure due to that, what you want is strong narrative in your dungeons, not spending your time in towns chatting with farmers.

    Clearly the structure of Fallout, Helherron, Lurking II : A madness or the amount of hidden content of Voidspire Tactics or Serpent in the Staglands are really cool, that's where these games shine.
     
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  7. Maxie Arcane

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    I've postulated in another thread that in order for optional content to have any merit, it should actively affect the critical path - by succeeding, critical path should become easier to clear, but by failing, the critical path should become harder to clear

    Completing side content for extra money or experience is a no-brainer, but there's no real consequence if you don't complete it, or you fail to complete it - with side content not necessarily being lethal but affecting the critical path were you to fail, it ceases being padding and becomes additional challenge
     
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  8. Falksi Arcane

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    Lost Odyssey does side quests excellently.

    Most expand on the main quest, and add genuine depth to the story & backstory, but if you skip them you would still be able to enjoy the main game too.

    That's my fave setup. Side-quests should give the player more to think about, and more angles to view the main quest & main story from.
     
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  9. gurugeorge Arcane

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    Side-quests definitely can give you an opportunity to develop your character via dialogue choices, and well-designed side-quests that are cleverly woven around your travels during a main story are a joy. But "10 rat arse" side quests or trivial fetch quests should be strictly limited to the first few levels; by the time you're getting upwards of lvl 5 or so, and further into a story arc, those types of quests are often just annoying filler. There's a momentum or funneling effect where the deeper you get into a story, the more you're interested in bringing it to a close, and even well-written side-quests become more and more irritating.
     
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  10. typical user Arbiter

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    Just don't make them shallow errands. If some dumb idiot skips them it's fine, he bought the game and whether or not he explores it is his own deal. Too many devs are concerned for their audience to consume 100% of the product.
     
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  11. V_K Arcane

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    The best side content is that which you can't distinguish from main content.
    Like for example in Amberstar, where seemingly unrelated tasks connect in unexpected ways and lead you to the pieces of mcguffin. Or, conversely, in Star Trail where seemingly important quests may turn out fake-outs and dead ends. Or in Geneforge, where there are so many intertwined paths through the game that the lines between mandatory and optional becomes extremely blurred. West of Loathing has an interesting approach too, where you have a clearly demarcated main quest you need to complete the game, but it's several major side quests - which are never clearly stated and are only found through exploration - that determine the ending you get.

    Also, this. Very much this. Exploration-driven narrative >>> quest-driven narrative. Also helps blur the lines between side and main content more.
     
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  12. Sweeper Arcane Zionist Agent

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    I regard both quests and side quests as an excuse to engage in combat. If the combat is good, I don't need quests of any kind and I'm perfectly happy just getting experience, new abilities, loot and killing shit.
    If the combat is really good, all the quests and dialogue and fucking loading screens can actually become a barrier of sorts towards engaging in combat.
    We need more CRPGs, with excellent combat mechanics, that not only feature no quests or side quests, but feature no dialogue whatsoever and focus exclusively on combat.
     
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  13. Darth Canoli Magister

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    I mostly agree but it depends on your party background, if you lead a group of punks, it makes sense people send them in fool's errands, if they're heroes of sort, asking them to buy a dozen of eggs in the nearest market is just weird.

    Vikings did it right, The River of Time too.
    Wizardry 8 scarce side quests were also completely in line with the story.

    Fallout and Arcanum also did it fairly right because you're nobody, well, in Fallout, you realize you're a nobody as soon as you step out of the shelter and in Arcanum, the whole choosen one thing is pretty dumb but you still start as a nobody so it makes sense to get side jobs while you investigate.

    ToEE's Hommlet, on the other hand, is absolutely retarded, there is no reason to care about most of the quest the starting village has to offer.
     
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  14. InSight Learned Possibly Retarded

    InSight
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    I agree, aside the mundane task such as killing rats



    Role-playing games are games in which players assume the roles of fictional characters and
    collaboratively create stories. Players determine the actions of their characters based on their characterization, and the
    actions succeed or fail according to a system of rules and guidelines. Within the rules, players can improvise freely; their
    choices shape the direction and outcome of the games.

    from the Encyclopadia Britannica



    Good Side quests and the freedom of the order which you take them and the variation of their outcome (aside complete or not complete as in kill 10 rats) are a way in which CRPG emulate the core aspect RPG of influencing the outcome of the stories. Even if in the games final, they simple add an additional scene, text, image description ( it is still a variation on the stories end)



    fallout’s narration of the town’s fate (although squeals can undo such results, removing your efforts/effects on the game world if your actions were not akin/intone/according with the game developer. And that is a limit of CRPG)



    Compared to other genres what side-quest amount? Perhaps a weapon or item in FPS in the result ignored in the ending scene. You could ignore them and no variation would result.

    And how many of them are?



    Based on the above side quests are very important.(also in emphasizing/highlighting/portraying more of game world/setting.)
     
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  15. Ravielsk Educated

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    Realistically a game should not have anything that can be called "side content". It implies that a chunk of the game is less or not worth actually experiencing which is why this concept of "side content" does not exist outside of videogames. There is no such thing as side movie scenes, there are cut or bonus scenes but there are no scenes that are consciously made as secondary content. There are no side chapters for books nor are there side tracks for music CDs. Only contemporary video games have this need to have a specific sub-group of "side content" because the main content has been watered down over the years that making a game that last for more than a couple of hours is effectively impossible now, both financially and design wise.
    You cannot really make a RPG with any amount of roleplaying when you are not allowed to have character stats and builds as creating or embodying a role is half of what role playing is all about. And scripting out a story with nothing but "if --> then" statements is equally as limiting, since that only allows for very simplistic causality that both takes a lot of time to make and is easily broken by simple experimentation.

    This is in part why games like Dark Souls have been successful since everything in that game matters and nothing is really "secondary". Every stat point matters, every piece of gear is useful and every monster has a purpose both in terms of the narrative and gameplay. This is also why to this day most games are inferior to Gothic as there the side content is no less important or less flashed out than the main quest. The side quests of Gothic are woven into the main quest both mechanically and narratively. You are not doing random chores because you want to fill up some abstract bar of XP but because you are trying to join a camp(a faction) and to do that you need to prove yourself but since you are too weak you are relegated to doing basic chores. This way your character level exists both in game mechanics and in the narrative. It also justifies otherwise stupid RPG tropes such as exploration and farming as you are not just doing it to get some abstract levels but to gather resources to exchange for gear, which you need for more dangerous assignments. One elements informs the other, it all fits neatly together instead of being compartmentalized into "main" and "side" content.
     
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  16. Serious_Business Best Poster on the Codex

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    Yeah, I agree. I've said this before but I think this whole concept should be trashed. Or more precisely, the concept of a main quest, a main structure, should be done away with. Everything should be equalized ; no main or side content, but just content. In itself, the idea presents a hierarchical structure that is often reproduced by habit ; it presents contradictions with the narrative ambitions of most games. But the problem isn't narrative dissonance, it's how resources are distributed. Main quests obviously take more time and money to make ; but this is obviously a problem, the rest of the content suffers in different ways. The structure needs to be reconsidered. This means reconsidering the idea player freedom - in the end, it tends to be attached to optional content ; but isn't all the entire fucking game "optional content"? I don't want to be metaphysical here, but yes, it's a bad old idea ; the idea of "a story" is bad, games aren't stories ; what they do from a narrative standpoint is present many stories, not one. God is dead, so are your main quests. Urrrghhhh
     
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  17. V_K Arcane

    V_K
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    People rationalizing bad formulaic quest design as being "realistic" or "justified" never cease to amaze me.
     
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  18. JarlFrank I like Thief THIS much Patron

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    Morrowind did it right. It even had the main quest start out with Caius Cosades telling you to do some jobs for the locals and get acquainted with the guilds, because that way you can establish some contacts and gather some experience, both of which are important for an Imperial agent.
     
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  19. Ravielsk Educated

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    I am not rationalizing it or justifying it, I am explaining how Gothic used the same old formulate in the correct way. Because especially in G1 that formulaic structure is almost entirely dropped after the second chapter. After that side-quests are either directly related to the main plot or are so minor that they barely register. You start the game as everyone's bitch and the quest selection reflects that, once you become the boss the quests again adjust to reflect your standing in the world and the urgency of the main quest. Which in stark contrast with modern RPGs that never break away from the formula and keep showering you with tons a mundane filler quests to meet a quota.
    If you want to get into the nitty gritty of it all than the main problem games have is that they persist in trying to tell "stories" by employing narrative delivery methods from other media. So they take the three act structure of a movie and try to replicate it in a game which is both wasteful(as just the animation work is more demanding than any movie) and counter productive because the player can both intentionally and unintentionally ruin any sort of pacing or mood the authors may have been going after. In using narrative structures from static media(books, movies, theater) in a dynamic medium will always deliver less than optimal results. Player freedom is only a problem when you are trying to tell a story where the player is supposed to follow a specific script to a specific end goal.
    But suppose that you would make a game not built around one "script" but instead made a game around the idea of producing it own script. A theoretical game that is even through simple random numbers generator simulating a internally consistent world that has certain needs and means to meet those needs and problems where the player could either let the world unravel at its own pace or choose to act and throw his wrench into the whole thing.
    Basically what I am imagining is an a game where underneath the whole game there is a simulation layer akin a strategy game like Settlers or CK2(depending on what the game would be going for). So the conflicts and their solutions would be organically generated as results of the actual world state and not because its scripted that way. So theoretically if town was short on wood you would find there quests to deliver X amount of wood and the choice of how to deliver that wood would be up to you. But if the woods were blocked off by some enemies the villagers could not defeat themselves then instead of deliver X wood the quests would shift to "kill beast in the woods". Random generation could then decide what the beast is supposed to be and based on that the difficulty and reward would scale and from there you could continue to generate dynamically a unique narrative for each player.
     
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  20. V_K Arcane

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    Which is precisely what a rationalization is. There is no correct way to use a bad design.
     
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  21. CappenVarra phase-based phantasmist Patron

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    a main quest you must follow by numbers = storyfaggotry or railroading or worse

    the best RPG scenarios are sandboxes where you can go where-ever and do whatever and there is plenty of interesting options to choose from, but it's expected that you have to reach certain goals to progress and won't be able to do everything

    main content vs side content is a false choice that only exists due to faulty design

    if it's a game about following the path the developer chose for you, it's failing a very basic RPG criterion of it being a game where you choose which path to take to reach the goals you chose

    cRPGs are still criminally behind P&P in this, since all the big bucks are apparently being spent to make video novels where you left-click a bit to see the next scene in the movie

    one day, justice will prevail and the guilty will be punished according to a very biased 1D30 random table
     
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  22. Wysardry Augur Patron

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    Books and movies do often have sub plots in addition to the main plot though. They also have more characters than just the protagonist and antagonist.

    Also, non-linear interactive game design shouldn't be based on linear passive forms of entertainment except in a very general sense.

    In an RPG, the player character(s) steer the story in the direction they want to go. If every player experienced the exact same story, they might as well have watched a movie or read a book instead.
     
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  23. Pocgels Novice

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    According to the achievements on Steam, 47% of people who own Pillars of eternity completed act 1, while only about 14% of players actually finished the game on any difficulty.
    For Skyrim (original release) it's 30% of people who completed the main quest. And it's 10% on the special edition.
    Mass effect 3 had an ending everyone hated, especially the 25% of people who even saw it. (Though only about half the people who own the game seem to have even launched it)

    The point is, many people, probably at least half, even on very story-driven games, won't see the ending and therefore either don't care about the main quest at all or simply weren't interested enough by it to ensure they saw it through. Players generally want to adventure, explore, and make people happy by picking the nice dialogue options.
     
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  24. Lhynn Arcane

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    Why are you bringing casuals into this? Who gives a shit about them.
     
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  25. sser Arcane Cuck Developer

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    I think side content is actually super important, if not moreso than the main story itself. I'm also a big believer in the theory that content which only a small % of your players will see is actually a huge value return. Basically, imagine you have a bunch of content. Some of it everyone will see, some of it only 10% will see. However, if that 10% is spread across the userbase so x-players see some content and y-player other, everyone getting a little slice no one else is seeing, then it gives everyone the sense of a unique experience -- especially if the players talk to one another, which is typically what they do these days as product consumption has become almost communal at times.
     
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