Ghost of Tsushima is one of the only open worlds in recent memory that has nailed the player experience where the open-world content can distract players from the protagonist's main questline. A lot of side quests that the game has to offer aren't hollow fetch quests; they often provide players with rich narrative content. Whether it be finding a former student gone astray, hunting a murderer or investigating disappearances, just to name a few!
I want to explore how the developers at Suckerpunch Productions crafted a living world. Let's dissect one a great example from the game that effectively hooks in players. The Mythic Tale: The Spirit Of Yarikawa's Vengeance.
Quest Design of The Spirit Of Yarikawa's Vengeance
Jin finds a musician sitting on a road where several bodies have been found in the ruins of Yarikawa. He learns about an ancient spirit that is taking requests to brutally kill the enemies of the Yarikawa villagers. The samurai must track down and take care of the vengeful spirit!
Here's the quest mapped out into a flow diagram:
Repeating elements such as searching for the white smoke are used as a means to propel the story forward, slowly understanding the heinous acts this spirit is doing until it gets to a breaking point where you as the player has to fight the spirit.
*Credit to TheNinjaGuyDon for the Walkthrough Video*
What Can Designers Learn From This Quest?
1. Provide Open-Ended Quest Goals Over Completing a Checklist
A common trend that is often seen within side quests from other games is the idea of "completing a checklist". Whether it be doing a sequence of events in chronological order or fetching a certain number of items. For example, collect 5 feathers to complete the quest.
Even though this quest follows a linear progression, the devs at Suckerpunch packaged it in a way where the players feel like they are slowly unravelling a mystery. This is done by drip-feeding new goals as the player progresses. For example, once the player has investigated something they may gather a clue that will lead them to something else. This approach keeps players intrigued rather than laying out all the goals they need to hit before the quest starts. By presenting everything upfront in an expositional dump, players will see how the mission will be resolved. Something more open-ended like "investigate the spirit that is killing people" will provide some mystery and intrigue.
2. Remix Existing Game Systems/Assets To Create Distinction
During AAA game development, it can often be the case that Side Quests aren't given a large budget to create custom content in comparison to Main Quests. This can cause side-quests to start to feel like they are very repetitive due to a formulaic quest structure. However, Suckerpunch developers have effectively tried to remix the existing systems found in the game and try and present unique scenarios or story beats.
For example, many times in Ghost of Tsushima, you follow someone to get to a point of interest, overlook a Mongol hideout, etc. However, in this quest, the designers flipped the idea where you have to follow someone carefully because they may be untrustworthy. This simple premise switch creates a different player experience, where the player may feel on edge because the NPC may lead them to an ambush. With regards to the system, no custom code was needed but the designers utilized it in a unique way that created a distinct experience.
3. Design Quests That Are Specific to Characters Motivation and Goals
The best quests in the game often involve a moment where Jin has to struggle and fight for his internal goals. One of which is saving the island of Tsushima and its people from external threats.
What makes this quest interesting is that not all the people Jin is trying to save care about him. In the case of this quest, the people of Yarikawa want him dead for the bloody history that his family had in the past. Jin has to confront that notion, and overall this quest creates a distinction from others by exploring a different side of what it means to protect people.
4. Provide Meaningful Rewards
Rewards for the quests are cleverly interwoven in the Mythic Tales. During the start of each Mythic Tale, an animated exposition about a myth is shared, often showcasing the powerful reward the player will receive if they complete the quest. Providing meaningful rewards that empower the player in some way gives them the added motivation to see the quest to the end!
Thanks for reading!
Sukhraj Johal - Game & Level Designer