Attending Jess Lebow's panel at AGDC, I was reminded of just how difficult it is to write quests for MMOs.
Jess spoke of the differences in approach that designers and writers take to quest writing.
Typical designers often just want to get the instructions across to the player, like so:
"Take Spike's club to the Ulbroth foothills. Ask an attendant of the Great Gates where Ulbroth Graveyard is. Go to the Graveyard and search for Spike's gravestone, then right-click Spike's club to activate it at his gravestone."
Typical writers often just want to tell the player a story, like so:
"The great ogre, Spike, once wielded this very club. He smashed more giants than any other ogre at the battle of Ulbroth, where the ogres fought the giants for control over the Ulbroth foothills. This battle meant everything to both factions, for Ulbroth is a land rich in both iron ore and peasants waiting to be turned into slaves..." (writer hits text character limit)
My experience indicates that a third kind of quest writer exists - the 'hardcore' quest writer.
These 'hardcore' quest writers intentionally omit key details from their quests because they want players to figure out the quest for themselves, like so:
"All that is left of the great ogre, Spike, is this club. Some legends speak of him fighting giants."
And, I must admit, depending on the complexity of the game you're writing for, sometimes a puzzling quest is a welcome diversion.
So what's the ultimate goal? Ideally, quest writers must balance all three of these needs (instructions, story, and puzzle) within the context of the game they're working on. They have to give the player enough of a clue to figure out how to resolve the quest, tell enough of a story to keep up the player's emotional interest, and generate enough of a puzzle to keep the player's mind engaged... and do it all within the text character limit constraints of the game.
It's not easy.