To fully understand our work, I believe it is important to explain the difference between story design and quest design at CDPR. The story design department operates mostly from a macro perspective of game storyline – what should be the main focus in game, what characters would be most interesting to introduce in game, what regions should the action take place in, who should be our main antagonist, etc.
They set the very foundations for the game that we all build upon. Quest designers, on the other hand, operate at the micro level of the storyline, thinking what solutions could and what solutions couldn’t be implemented in game, what could work in quests and how to implement them in a way that will appeal to the players – they are the people responsible for implementing both main and side-storyline content in game engine. The key to success is the close cooperation between those two departments, as they design and create the structure for the whole game together.
In the pre-production period at the beginning of the project, the story team prepares the outline of the main storyline. This documentation consists of information about backstory, characters, factions, places and the connections between all of them. Finally, the story team works on a plan of general events that should take place in game. The exact number of quests that should be in main and side- storylines is planned between story and quest departments, and, based on this, the structure for the game is prepared. After this happens, the storyline is divided into the smaller fragments that we call “quests”. Then, the story team provides the quest team with ideas and most important elements for each main storyline quest.
Based on these documents, the quest team starts working on more detailed scenarios. Each designer chooses quests he/she wants to work on, and then designs the quest in detail. This includes thinking about what dialogue is necessary to implement, what cutscenes will be needed, and what gameplay elements will be implemented in a quest. At this point we also list the assets that will be required to implement a quest. During this step, quest designers cooperate with story designers, as quite often some changes must be introduced to the original storyline outline to “mend” plot holes that might have been undetectable on the macro level. Last, but not least, both quest and story designers have the opportunity to design side-quests all by themselves, although ultimately these scenarios must be planned in detail by quest designers as well.
After the pre-production period ends, quest designers work on implementing all those quest scenarios in the game engine: they create quest structures, spawn NPCs on levels, implement quest events and quest related combat encounters, prepare objectives for players, connect cutscenes and assets from other departments to the game, and write dialogue placeholders, which are later on re-written by the story team designers. Dialogue placeholders compose of key elements that each dialogue must convey in order to keep the quest logic intact, so the quest designers must always check the rewritten dialogues later to be sure that it is in line with their intentions. There is a lot of co-operation and feedback between the teams.
As stated in the title, the Devil is in the details. This idiom explains exactly why the work of a quest designer on a quest doesn’t end until the very premiere of the game (or even after, if patches are being prepared) – there is always some tweaking to be done, bugs to be fixed, things that may be improved upon. Quest design work is a constant striving for perfection, and, being gamers ourselves, we genuinely believe that details do matter for the player’s overall experience.Tweet