Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Time and Eve's Missions

"There is one kind of robber whom the law does not strike at, and who steals what is most precious to men: time."

- Napoleon Bonaparte

While Napoleon Bonaparte came from an era before internet spaceships, many pod pilots can relate to the French general’s thoughts about time. While scammed isk can be re-earned and contracts put out on the scammer, time is precious in Eve Online and can never be regained. I’m not just thinking about the skill system in which your skills are learned in real time. I’m thinking about mission running where players receive bonuses if they finish a mission quickly and take faction hits if they fail to complete a mission within a set period of time. And as with other things in Eve, the timer is not based on game time. The clock is ticking even if you log out of the game. That mechanic gives server crashes and the daily maintenance a greater importance in the grand scheme of things if a player is depending on that quickness bonus.

I’ve played a few other MMOs (World of Warcraft, Warhammer Online, Runes of Magic and of course still play EverQuest 2) and given the trend of games to put in quest hubs for PvE content, I really don’t see other MMOs putting in time limits as a standard feature for quests. Think about it. How many players just want to go into a village, collect every quest possible (without reading any annoying quest text), and then go out into the countryside killing and pillaging? Or should I ask, how many players in a standard fantasy MMO want to follow one storyline at a time?

Now, I’m not saying that other games don’t use timed quests as a mechanic. Using EverQuest 2 as an example, I’ve done quests involving griffin eggs that I’ve had to deliver to griffin masters before they hatch in order to use flight paths in the Thundering Steppes and Nekulos Forest and done hundreds of timed tradeskill writs. In Warhammer Online, the public quest system uses timers in which to complete each segment of the quest in order to advance to the next. But I don’t recall taking faction hits for failing to finish a quest. The worst that happens is that you have to start the quest over.

While CCP’s carrot and stick approach to mission running is important, time plays another factor. Unlike other games, Eve’s missions can take a long time to run. Over the past weekend, I finished a tier 1 mission arc and the last two missions took me two hours each to finish when you include the time I took to salvage the ships I killed. And for me, the time I took to salvage the ships was worthwhile. The parts I received were worth over 1 million isk. With Eve, I’m finding that engaging in long periods of adventure does not require taking more than one mission at a time.

I shouldn’t denigrate the quest hub system too much. World of Warcraft led the way in giving players who only have 30 minutes or so to play content in the form of quick quests to perform so they could feel like they accomplished something. Part of the reason that players like quest hubs is that they don’t like having to run back and forth all the time. They want to stay out in the wilds adventuring. Considering that a lot of nights I only have an hour or less to play, I really appreciate not having to waste half my time running back and forth to quest givers. But I also feel that a system that encourages picking up and completing a quest to kill ten rats in town when I’m supposed to be delivering an important message to town B breaks the immersion and story-telling of a game. Doing something like that just doesn’t make sense. Perhaps I’m just too linear in my thinking but not disciplined enough to follow quest lines one at a time since developers have made doing multiple quest lines simultaneously so convenient.

I’m finding that while I started playing Eve to play the economic game, I’m enjoying myself doing the PvE content also. When I’m doing a mission arc, I only want to do one at a time. I really like following stories and the mission arcs give me just enough story in the description to make the story entertaining as well. A discovery I’m finding surprising considering Eve’s reputation for PvP combat in 0.0 space, but CCP’s developers seem to excel in time management. I may not be able to run missions during the week, but with CCP’s carrot and stick approach to missions, I’m not going to wind up with a journal full of uncompleted quests either.

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