I finished the ‘Pillars’ section of Val’sharah late last night, and if you want to know what I thought of it, there will be a lot of reflection via @MMOGames tomorrow. However, it was always the intention this morning to write a followup to Sunday’s post, and to point out to Activision Blizzard that when you’re planning Epic New Adventures in Azeroth there is no need to disable stuff for dataminers before testing internally. All this talk of secret orbs plus rooms of steam death for hidden mounts plus bosses to give people in the data mining community something ‘new’ and ‘cool’to do with their time…
There’s no need to put any mechanics in game to create clever stuff.
Why not just hide it in plain sight?
Someone asked me how I’d hide an Epic Quest Chain in game, what process could design a ‘secret’ that would be more fun to solve than having to work out which doodad on Wowhead triggered a spell effect. As I’m Alliance biased I’ll create a storyline for them, but I’d be happy to conjure a Horde one too if required.
Let us begin therefore with a grey item:
This would be a 1% drop from any max level mobs in the world, completely unannounced initially and with no relevance. There would be no other indicators as to what it did, or indeed who Master Aston was, only that his sword had appeared in the World and that you owned it. However, equipping it would trigger a marker on the player’s account, and assuming that the player kept the item in their backpacks for 30 days? You would be eligible for inclusion in the quest chain that followed. Exactly 30 days later, a hotfix would be added to the game, triggering a letter sent to the player as follows:
Please excuse the random nature of this communication, but it has taken some time for me to track you to this address. I was only able to do so because of the latent energies emanating from my master’s weapon, and now I have located you it is of paramount importance that I retrieve this item before he returns from his latest Crusade. However, due to a set of circumstances that I am unable to discuss via parchment it will not be immediately possible for me to meet you in person to arrange the retrieval of Lord Aston’s sword.
I would ask that you make yourself known to Desmond, the new apprentice librarian at Stormwind Keep, who has offered to act as go-between in this matter. As will become apparent, any overt communication would be potentially fraught with danger for us both. Your discretion in this matter is appreciated.
So, you go to Desmond, discovering he has a reputation bar above his head. However, there is no indication as to how you make him trust you enough, simply some vague suggestions. He likes a good coffee, Stormwind cheeses, and in his spare time enjoys tinkering with Gnomish technology. He has a collection of mechanical oddities, and so players can use ordinary items already in game (and crucially not added especially) as reputation boosters. These could be added to loot tables they weren’t in before to drop in larger numbers too, thus decreasing the time it took for players to get the ‘rep.’ However, crucially, you couldn’t bribe Desmond overnight. I would take a couple of weeks of visiting, chatting and gaining his trust to get him to play go-between.
Finally, once you get Desmond to trust you, there’s a new quest. Yes, he knows about Aston’s sword, and the truth behind it, that the Alliance forces with Gnomish assistance have seen the power of Artefact weaponry and are attempting to fashion items that only respond to the soul of the wielder. There were several prototypes, but all had proved so dangerous to the owners that they had ended up causing their untimely demises, and with the deaths the interest of the Legion had been alerted. The energy these items generated was so powerful it had begun to warp the fabric of the Twisting Nether itself, and now there’s a Dreadlord looking for all these particular items as well as a special SI-7 force. However, as they are grey quality? They could be anywhere.
Then you’re charged with the task of hunting them all down: some are drops in areas where the research teams were working, others have become lodged in the fabric between life and death and will require you to kill yourself to locate them. On your journeys you’ll also find remains of the owners of the items, memories of the people who gave their lives in this experiment. One particular item will stand out: a shirt, found stuck to the wall of a cave around the outline of the unfortunate dwarf who was wearing it:
Once you equip this shirt, you get a five minute debuff which allows you to wield the weapons you have recovered, and to discover that there’s a fight going in in the Nether between those who have lost their lives and the Demons looking for a way to capture the weapons. Returning to Desmond, he reveals himself as a covert SI-7 operative and asks you to help the team go into the Nether to confront the demons, and perhaps save the lives of those trapped inside.
However, once you do so, you find that everyone involved in this fight has been consumed by something far more insidious: an Old God, banished to the nether by the Legion because of the danger it presented to their cause, which in turn can be destroyed with the combined power of those grey items you alone gathered. With Desmond’s knowledge of tinkering the weapons form the power source for a bomb which you alone can carry wearing the shirt. You have five minutes to get into the nether, plant the weapon, and watch the Old God come to collect the power sources, unaware that you have infused everything with the power of the Light. Once he consumes the bomb?
Nobody gets to know your heroism. It’s not celebrated, and everyone involved in the project is sworn to secrecy, because the power is too dangerous to be ever used again. Your reward is to keep the shirt, which changed from grey to orange whilst you were in the Nether but never noticed. There’s also the chance that at some point in the future you might get asked to help these people again. If they do ask, make sure you’re up to the challenge:
Then, 48 hours later, you’ll get a bag of amazeballs rewards from Desmond (who now only refers to himself as T for Tinkerer) in the mail that you can show off to your mates, except they don’t matter. All that really counts is the shirt, plus the knowledge you didn’t need 40 friends to do this or to spend six weeks camping the game day and night. You just did it yourself, quietly and without fuss.
That’s the way to make epic ‘hidden’ content.