No. Not the sort of thing that fills up space in the Yellow Pages. This is about guarding some NPC going from one place to another.

At The Escapist this week, Russ Pitts discusses what is probably the least-liked “quest” in games: escort duty. And I have to agree with his main reasons: horrible AI and poor pathing.

When the NPC isn’t walking into walls or becoming stuck on obstacles, he stands in just the right place to be instantly slaughtered. That’s when he’s not running into combat armed with nothing more than a rusty dagger.

This job is always a trial. If you go too far ahead to clear things out first, the NPC may become lost. If you stay too close to your “subject”, the monsters are sure to kill him.

Even designers aren’t happy about putting these irritating errands in their games. According to the article, it’s done as a “change of pace” from the usual “kill those monsters” jobs.

If that’s the best developers can come up with to “freshen the game”, it’s no wonder that RPGs especially are in such a rut. That’s not to say escort duty is necessarily bad. But the implemenation is so poor, designers are better off leaving such situations out of their games until they can come up with better ways of handling them.

One of the few times this was an easy – if dull – job, was in Tribunal, the first expansion to Morrowind. First I had to clean out the sewers, no easy task.

Then I had to go back in, escorting a priest who would purify a shrine. Since everything was dead by now, that just meant a looong walk there and back with this idiot following behind me. Fortunately, he didn’t get stuck on anything.

But that’s rare. More often, you’re rescuing someone from a hellhole and have to see them safely at least to the exit. Or you have to take them through a critter-infested wilderness from Point A to Point B.

Personally, what scares me about this, is something Russ mentions near the end of the piece. He describes an errand in EverQuest II devised by Tracy Seamster where you find a dog and ask it where it’s been hiding (didn’t know you can talk to dogs in that game ;).

Okay, maybe as an inversion of the usual mission, that could work once. However, then we have this tidbit: “Molyneux’s presentation at GDC 2007 featured a dog very similar to Seamster’s that would lead you to objectives, alert you to the presence of enemies and serve as an emotional trigger in various circumstances.”

Ouch! Bad enough to have to escort someone in the first place. At least you have the feeling of being in the lead. To reverse that and have the player following some mutt around all the time…well, that really reduces your pride. Let’s just dump escort entirely. It’s time designers moved on and really started thinking creatively about all those little “sidequests” they dream up because the main line is always so dull.miniscorp

Escort Missions Suck on The Escapist