Mission Flow (Design)
As Firefall prepped for its launch in China, we used it as an opportunity to reexamine the open-world missions and find ways to optimize the experience. What we came up with was called the “Golden Path,” a revamp of the missions to create a more linear story and a higher quality mission experience.
The original mission system chained together multiple tasks to create what we called an arc. The location of each step of an arc was selected by the server’s mission director to ensure that each player, or squad, had a dedicated play-space. Once the player arrived at the designated play-space, the target monsters or interactables would spawn for the player to complete the task.
This was an attempt to make missions feel fresh if replayed- because they wouldn’t take place in the same place twice, and it reduced the chances that other players would poach the monsters that mission tasked the player to kill. However, this system came with two major downsides.
One, it took the world out of the story. Instead of having a mission that culminated with the player infiltrating an enemy base to take out their leader, you simply found that leader by a random rock, or if you’re lucky, in a random cave. This greatly hurt the immersion, and made the world feel less lived in.
Two, travel time was an absolute bitch. By randomly selecting one open space out of a few dozen options, there was no guarantee that each mission task would be nearby. In fact, there were many times where a mission task would send you to one side of the zone and then the next would send you to the opposite side. This was an obvious frustration for players.
With the Golden Path, I spearheaded the effort to make mission POIs matter. I worked with world builders to create areas that were dedicated to the various monster factions and to ensure those areas complimented the mission stories. Now, if you were fighting bandits, you’d find them amongst shacks and hideouts. If you were fighting alien bugs, you’d find them in giant, subterranean nests.
I also designed the mission flow for a large percentage of the missions. As seen in the slider-image below, this allowed us to move from the randomly selected play-spaces to more directed and efficient experience. Except for very rare circumstances, every mission step was walking distance from the previous one. The majority of travel time was allocated to the first and final steps of missions.