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In a lengthy post filled with pictures and screenshots of serious-looking development tools, one of the developers behind Wolcen: Lords of Mayhem describes the current state and the future plans for the game's quest system. Here are some of the important parts:
Hi everyone ! My name is Hadrien and I am Gameplay and Rendering programmer here at Wolcen Studio, but you may know me as Nyhlus on the game’s Discord and our Steam forums. I have worked on Wolcen : Lords of Mayhem for over a year now, and I’ve created several features that changed the way you play, like the rotating Passive Skills Tree (PST) or the Resource Opposition System (ROS). Yeah, I’m the guy putting acronyms everywhere. And today’s feature is not really different, because I call it the NQM and it will change your whole experience of Wolcen in the future : the New Quest Manager.
You probably feel like me on this : Wolcen current quests are not that cool. They are too short and not very interesting, and that’s not what we want you to experience. We want the open-world to be challenging, rewarding and immersive, and this usually comes with solid quests that bring you hours of fun gameplay without repeating themselves too much. Such quests surely are a challenge to script, but we also needed a robust system that would be easy to maintain and to debug, because quests bugs can be really annoying and quite hard to fix. So a few months ago I started the development of the NQM, along with my colleagues from the Environments department who started to work on the new version of the open-world, and together we tried to design a system that would be super-powerful and easy to setup at the same time.
The implementation on my side was a bit tricky and needed a lot of strictness, because the world state had to be precisely saved and loaded depending on your progression inside each available quest, and data management needed to be handled carefully but I made it through with a lot of testing. Creating the system also required a global rework of the quests User Interface, so as to show different windows for rewards, tracking objectives and accepting / declining quests. This has been achieved by my colleague Lucas, the UI-Master of Wolcen.
The result is a few thousand lines of code that allow us to track quests progression, launch tons of different actions and animate the whole world so that you feel like you’re part of something real. Without being too technical, let’s just say the system sees quests as a list of steps, themselves containing a set of goals that need to be reached in order for the quest to be achieved. A step can be seen as a quest checkpoint since it represents where the game will save your progression (intra-step goals progression won’t be saved), whereas global progression in the game is coded through a forward-links architecture that tell which one unlocks which other and what are all the quests that must be achieved to reach the next story milestone. By knowing your exact progression inside an act but also in the various secondary questlines, we’re able to instantiate the world when loading the game at the exact state in which you left it during your last play.
As for the quest itself, the whole game-interaction trick is done through a dedicated events system that can be fired, linked or read by the other game systems in real time and that allow us to script the behavior of the world. When initializing a quest, we setup triggers for all pending events and wait for you to perform key actions. Then the ProcessEvent function (1.2k lines long) parses and dispatches all things we need to do in order to react to your actions. Events may or may not be triggered and cover a wide variety of situations, and the implementation of the whole events-system surely was the trickiest part of the NQM development.
The NQM was born and with time we understood that there’s nothing we can’t do with this system, at least there’s no existing feature of the game that we can’t link to quests. For instance, we created events to start and pause sequences, which are sequential actions recordings that have direct access to most game systems (entities, visual effects, camera movements, sounds and so on) and allow to script entire scenes. More practically, we can move the camera when you enter an area without preventing you to play, or we can animate the objects around you when you perform a key action. Pretty cool, right ?
We want the playthrough to be immersive and dynamic, with always something happening on screen, and we believe sequences will help in that direction. Of course, never-ending action also mean tough fights, and we plan on improving the game a lot in that way, with scenarized areas of the open-world and coherent enemies, and a lot of hidden secondary quests that lead you to interesting places and rare rewards. On my end, the coding part of the NQM is almost over, although I may have to add goals or events in the future. But the scripting part has just began, and I also have to handle all the dialog writing since I’m the one in charge of this for now, while we don’t have a proper writer. So it’s needless to say that creating a strong first act for Wolcen represent a lot of work and will take time.
Moreover, new game mechanics and features are often needed when creating a new quest. For instance, I am currently creating destroyable spawners and bigger “nodes” that will spread them on the ground and that will be a key feature of act 1 quests. I simulate its life cycle with a series of states in order to link animations and visual effects to gameplay, with an implementation based on a simple state machine pattern. A good example for this application is the spawning egg that start with a birth action (the egg become activated when an active player enter its global vicinity), then starts growing and scaling up. When in growing state, you can attack the egg to stop it before it hatches, in which case it will go straight to decaying phase. But if you don’t and after reaching maturity, the egg will hatch and spawn its contained enemy in the world, then will slowly decay and finally disappear.
All those states have their own animations and visual effects and this system will allow us to create a dynamic world where you always need to fight evil or it will spread even more. The bigger nodes will spread a goo-like thing on the ground that moves further with time and that spawns new smaller eggs, themselves containing enemies. And the characteristics of a node (density of eggs, damage resistance but also rewards amount) will change depending on its current propagation state, meaning that it could be harder but also more rewarding to let the goo spread before destroying the spawner.
I can’t say more about their purpose in the main story, but those challenging entities will surely help us create some memorable situations. Anyway, that’s just an example of the new mechanics we have to develop before releasing the new version of the world and the first act.