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Transcendent's Tomb

Submitted weekly. The tomb contains reviews, references, alternative concepts and polling to torture the truth from the minions of MMORPGs.

Author: Hhussk

MMO Death: Freedom of Stupidity

Posted by Hhussk Thursday June 3 2010 at 8:49AM
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Preclusion

One aspect of MMORPG play that governs the industry is their view of how death should be handled. In other words, when you die, do you stay dead. Or do you come back?

The truth of the matter is that the decline of MMO gaming is not simply one of economics. No, it's encompassing a range of features that has grindingly lowered the expectations of the player. For example, when a game claims to a sandbox, like Darkfall, but ends up with all their characters having the same skills, you lose interest because there is no diversity.

Likewise, not dying, or not fearing your death, causes you to do stupid things without worry about repercussion. Basically, it's freedom of stupidity.

 

The Death Market Concept

You'll notice in most MMOs, death is simply as follows: You die, you get resurrected ("rezzed", as it is known in many games). In some games, you can die and get resurrected in the same battle. In others, you whisk your ghost to a graveyard (World of Warcraft, for example).

Sound dumb? It is.

Knowing how to use the death mechanics, you could take on a much more powerful monster, cut him to half his hit points before you die, then rez yourself and fight down his other half. A carefully laid out strategy now allows you to use your death to an advantage.

And so we come to the crux of the problem: why are death mechanics so prevalent?

Well, for one, MMO companies fear you'll quit. It's true, there are large segments of our playing society that want to be able to come back to life. They just lost their favorite character...what's the point of playing any longer? But on top of that, there's another reason, and that basically is: because these are the mechanics that have been established long ago.

And so we are stuck in some form of cultural game phenomena, where death isn't remotely like death should be, and furthermore, it's hardly a challenge to overcome.

 

Ideas About Death

What can we do about it? What's a good system of death mechanics?

It's actually easy, and surprisingly odd that no one (or few) follow this mantra. When you die, you should stay dead, perhaps even be buried. Perhaps for a long time. In all honestly, being unable to play the game definately deters you from using death as an advantage (yet it still doesn't stop you from doing stupid things).

Yes, a priest could attempt to resurrect you, but let's look at how religion is supposed to work. Was your character religious? A fervent follower of the god/goddess this Priest worships? Does your character have "favor" with a divine entity?

You see how this can entail or encourage a brand new aspect of the game? Now you may actually have to bow to the will of the gods. In some games, you might actually want to attend religious services, or go seek the blessing of a Priest.

 

After Effects

What do you think some of the results of implementing a more discourging death mechanic would be?

1. Would people be more careful about picking their fights? Probably, because dependent on how healing is implemented, they'll be more concerned about survival. Indirectly, this contributes to group mentality, but doesn't force the issue.

2. Would PVP be deadlier, more risky, and more rewarding? Absolutely, and on top of that, player-killers now have to worry about being ambushed by angry retaliation. This indirectly creates a sandbox implementation towards law and justice.

3. Would an aspect of RP be more indirectly effective in the game? More than likely, because although players would go to church, or pray, or seek blessings, for game purposes it would have same impact of a priest giving a sermon, holding a ceremony, etc. Plus, now we have more occassions for players to confront each other before going to blows.

4. Would there be fewer griefers in game? I believe so. At first, you might think that this means all out chaos. Not true; I've witnessed a game where death is rigorous. The players are careful about angering each other. Every now and then a griefer comes through; once the population is aware, they band together and hunt the bugger down.

 

Summary

In conclusion, the point of a more rigorous death mechanic is simple: give the players a greater challenge. You can strike a necessary fear into the heart of a subscriber without ruining gameplay; it's the same feeling you get when you're brand new and don't know what can happen.

But in the same instance, it also protects you from player-killers and lawlessness...because now, instead of there being no real repercussions from death, you have a venue, in game, to remove them from your sight.

So, in lieu of all the reasons provided, take one final consideration about the MMORPG and the mechanics of death you have been experiencing over the years. Ask yourself this important question: What really makes the adventure worth talking about?

Was it the instantanous, no threat, repetitive hack/slash/heal/revive? Or was it the fact that your risked your life? 

The Look at Movement Powers and Full Scale PVP within City of Heroes

Posted by Hhussk Monday July 20 2009 at 11:21AM
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Premise: Movement Powers, such as Super Speed, Super Jump, and Teleportation adversely affect how player vs. player combat, which also encompasses zone combat, works in the City of Heroes/City of Villains MMORPG.


The Infrequency of the Travel Powers in Comic Books

The concepts of Super Heroes and Super Villains come from comic books, which City of Heroes/City of Villains (hereto referred as “CoX”) has based itself. One major difference between CoX and most comic book universes is that a majority of the population has the power, Super Speed, whereas it is considered a major power for Marvel (Quicksilver, Spitfire, Whizzer), DC (The Flash, Kid Flash), and other companies. The question begs to differ: Why did comic book conceptualists keep such a low frequency of super speed among their characters? I believe, based on the observations from CoX PVP, we can determine why.

Teleportation is another power infrequent among heroes and villains. In Marvel comics, there are only a few that actively use it as a power, being their MAJOR ability (Nightcrawler, The Vanisher). In CoX, this is contradictory, but dependent on the variables surrounding the ability. Before the release of Issue 13 (i13), teleportation was commonly used in PVP combat, due to its ability to aid in a variation of the “kite” technique, where you jump towards your opponent and attack while jumping away. In the teleportation variant, you reach your opponent, use your greatest attack, and teleport out. As of right now, post-i13, teleportation is less common due to the fact that you are unable to teleport away because of a mechanic that keeps you there for a few seconds (This will be discussed later).

Super Leap, once again, follows the mold of being an exception ability rarely witnessed in comic books. At this point, the debate over leaping is left to speculation, because there are some heroes (such as The Hulk) and villains that used it.

Another power which is observable is Invisibility and it’s disparity between its appearance in the comic books and the population of CoX. There is an argument, however, that invisibility, or some form of stealth, is becoming increasingly more prevalent in the comic books; it can be suggested that the increase of technology is making invisibility more achievable by even non-powered heroes through the means of cloaking devices and so on. But regardless, while there are more, only one hero comes to mind as “invisible” and that was “The Invisible Girl” of Marvel comics. In CoX, however, many heroes use the stealth powers; meanwhile, a complete archetype of villains (The Stalker) relies on it.

In reality, the one, most predominant, power among heroes was Flight. While not every character sported the ability, it was successfully seen in characters from Superman to Iron Man. An “off the cuff” account would be: Green Lantern, Jean Grey, Angel, Storm, Hawkgirl, Starfire, and Wonder Woman (although, originally, she relied solely on an invisible jet). And those names are only from characters on TV cartoons. Furthermore, some characters use Flight as their major ability. Although there are no factual numbers on the amount of flying heroes, it would be possible to directly observe that more heroes fly than run at super speeds, teleport, or use a super jump.

What’s left? Well, that would be characters such as Spider-man and Batman. This would entail wall-crawling or clinging, grappling hook, taking a super-group jet to the location, riding a motorcycle, or using some other super vehicle. It appears that the key to movement in the comic books was to make the travel “power” a fundamental asset to the hero or villain. With characters that lacked transport, their role was often allocated to a group that could collectively overcome the disadvantage.


The Frequency of Travel Powers in Player vs. Player (PVP) and Zone Player vs. Player (ZPVP) Combat

The following Travel Powers dominate CoX:
• Flight
• Concealment (*)
• Leaping
• Speed
• Teleportation

The campaign world of CoX revolves around these five powers because of the importance of reaching a task-based destination (usually called Player vs. Environment, or PvE) and all forms of PVP. The Concealment power pool is of special mention because, although it does not change your method of travel, it does increase your ability to reach the destination without being challenged.

In the CoX PVP and ZPVP (which will be now be broadly referenced as “PVP”) environment, nearly every character (referred to as a “toon”) has the Super Speed power; this can be observed directly by watching a PVP battle or going to a PVP zone. Often, Super Speed (also referred to as “SS) is used in combination with the Super Jump power, which creates an extremely fast, high-and-low reaching character.

Flying, or the Fly power, surprisingly, is one of the lesser chosen powers in ZPVP. If taken, it will mostly be chosen with other existing travel powers. For example, even though a person wouldn’t think jumping is needed when you fly, the Jumping power pool has the powers Combat Jump (which gives more maneuverability and some protection from immobilization effects) and Acrobatics (which gives limited protection from hold and knockback effect).

As well, a strong majority of the players use invisibility, or some variant of stealth, for their characters in PVP. One of the most predominant methods for avoiding the “Concealment” power pool, where Stealth and Invisibility reside, is to use a +Stealth “process”. This process is something that can be bought and/or created through the CoX invention process, and will grant the user a degree of invisibility when activating the power linked to it. For most players, the linked power will be Super Speed.

Teleportation, the power, waxes and wanes dependent on the current mechanics surrounding it. As was stated previously, the Issue 13 release has changed teleportation enough that it is less desired as characters and less seen on the battlefield.

The Leaping power set is probably of equal, if not more, prevalence than any other pool set. This cannot be verified, though, without actual numbers from NCsoft. The basis of this belief is due its ability to operate (and provide functionality) simultaneously with all other travel powers, while having two very desirable powers that are heavily needed to survive (Combat Jump and Acrobatics, described above).

While it is a debatable point, it can be observed that the travel powers have led to the creation of the artificial response mechanic (ARM), namely “Travel Suppression” (TS) in PVP. Because of the relevance of movement to using techniques such as kiting, and escape, this sparks less of a debate.

The notion of suppressing travel only came through the observations of developers who saw players “strafe” and “kite” their attacks in one fluid motion, being unassailable due to the speed of the action. The result was to “force”, through TS, an artificial mechanic that keeps the player in the confrontation as long as possible. (It should be noted that the timer for suppression is completely arbitrary; right now your ability to run or fly away is a few seconds, but they could easily raise it to one minute.)


The Disparity between the Comic Book Universe and CoX Travel Powers

Seeing that there is a strong difference between how travel powers are appearing and being used in CoX, in comparison to Comic Book Heroes, can reflectively been shown by how they were implemented.

In the superhero MMORPG genre, CoX was the first; their solution was to allow every character access to every form of travel. In essence, this became the norm. So, where we look at “The Flash” and see a superhero whose sole primary power was his incredible speed, CoX has made it an option to everyone. Likewise, with Invisibility, Teleportation, and Flight, once again, it becomes an available option to every character whereas it usually remains the primary function of a hero or villain in the comics. As a matter of fact, the limitation you have is that you can only choose four power sets among the ten Power Pool sets.

As a result, it is not uncommon for multiple travel powers to appear in PVP. As well, it has already been shown how Stealth can be circumvented with the Invention Creation System, and therefore, it is theoretically possible that a person could choose Fly, Super Speed, Super Jump, and Teleportation, with the addition of a +Stealth process to give them some level of ability to be undetected.
But once again, comic books took a different approach. Teleportation and Super Speed were certainly major powers and it was rare that character did anything but variations of using those powers. (For example, The Flash could vibrate himself at super speeds, allowing gunfire to pass through him; Nightcrawler would perform a multi-teleport, striking numerous characters in an area of effect.)

The basis of super flight was also treated specially, even though it is commonplace to think of it as a power typical of a hero or villain. If you look at many of the comic book heroes, you’ll see that the maneuverability of the flier is only significant when flying is his major power. In those cases, we have the Angel (a mutant with wings) and the Falcon (an avian telepath endowed with technological wings granting him flight). Counter-examples would be Superman (who can fly super fast, but never avoids direct damage) and Iron Man (who can fly extremely fast, but is protected by armor). These counter-examples only prove that the heroes are fast, but since it is not their major power, their flying is not based on maneuverability.

The conclusion of these events, specifically in how travel powers are implemented in CoX, is that they represent key importance in success for all forms of PVP. The level of their importance changes with each issue release and patch, dependent on how affected the power becomes. (It has already been discussed that teleportation has been used less because of an artificial travel suppression mechanic.)

 

A Description of Outcomes of PVP and ZPVP Due To Travel Powers in CoX

What has been observed is a constantly changing environment in all forms of PVP. Because of the prevalence of travel powers, some other powers have become less effective.

Melee attacks, as a whole, are less effective unless supported with super speed (and usually Super Jump). Without super speed, a ranged attacker will consistently have an advantage of dealing damage and getting away from a close range fighter. The advantage is with the ranged attack at this moment.

Invisibility, or Stealth, has the obvious advantage of determining the battlefield in ZPVP. CoX has one archetype (AT) completely developed as a stealth template (The “Stalker”) and, coupled with Super Speed, he is easily capable of closing in on an opponent and striking, only to get away. Subjectively, it appears that is his sole purpose, but it should also be noted that the developers of CoX are currently using Travel Suppression as a mechanism to keep the Stalker “attackable”, visible, and in the confrontation for a few more seconds at this time (however, there are other powers the stalker can use to be completely intangible to attack for example, Phase Shift, which makes you intangible, and Hibernate, which encases you in a block of ice, untouchable).

Teleportation has been more affected that any other travel power. One extremely common power in the Teleportation pool was “Teleport Foe”. It has the ability to target an enemy at long range and bring them to your feet. At the post-i13 release, any foe who is teleported has a moment of intangibility with which they can use to run off (3/4th of a second at this time). As well, players that used to teleport out of combat, now find that their power does not function for a number of seconds after they are hit.

Flight may be underrated, but this may also be because there are so many powers in the past that removed the ability to stay aloft (some powers have a “-fly” effect in them). After i13, powers that immobilized or held characters are less effective because of their short durations, the fact that passive powers no longer toggled off when held, and that the hover power will normally keep you flying even when immobilized or held.

But one of the reasons flying is used fairly infrequently could be because a flier cannot catch up to a person running at super speed. Subsequently, since travelling at super speeds is extremely common in all forms of PVP, fliers lack the ability to chase characters running from battle. It should be noted that character cannot fly at super speeds (The two do not work together).

As stated before, some attacks are less effective. At the same time, though, other attacks are nearly completely ineffective. For example, among one hero archetype, there is a power known as “Time Bomb”, which resides in a secondary power set known as “Devices”. The time bomb takes 8 seconds to set and will go off after 15 seconds. The problem with this power is that it is easy to be killed in the 8 second preparation and extremely unlikely that the bomb will even be near a battle when it actually explodes with its extreme damage. Needless to say, Time Bomb is not a PVP chosen power and the occasions where it has been chosen are rare.

The viability of choosing a power for PVP is, therefore, based not only on its damage. The animation time, or prep time, of the attack is extremely important. (It should be noted that NCsoft has lately been working with the powers to establish a link between the amount of damage done and the prep time.)

But what seems of most importance to choosing a power is how easily it can connect based on travel powers. Since their prevalence, all powers that require range to continuously work (such as the Radiation Infection power, which requires you to stay within 70 feet of your target) are often, but not completely, ignored. Maintaining a specific range is very difficult, and therefore more immediate powers that “Fire and Forget” are chosen.

 

Further Use of Artificial Mechanics and Implementation of Travel Powers In The Future

The Artificial Response Mechanic “Travel Suppression” is the system that is used by CoX to handle balance to the pervasive use of travel powers as a means to attack and escape combat. It is not believed that travel powers were originally meant to be used as a means of combat; instead, they were only meant as a method of arriving at the fight destinations.

Although this is speculation: what ensued appears to be less than intended. Early on in their release, characters were performing “drive-by” attacks through the forms of travel and removing themselves from commitment of combat before any actual confrontation took place.

Travel Suppression, although artificial, is designed to counteract such an action. Through the use of arbitrary timers which can be raised or lowered, you are forced to move at walking speed levels if you are attacked or attack. While it can objectively be argued whether this system is working, it is noteworthy that all forms of PVP are going through changes at this time, which keep the characters in a state of change. It is not uncommon for the developers to allow “respecification” tokens, where a character can change his power choices, after they make they make such changes.

It is anticipated that CoX will remain in a state of change with all forms of PVP for a long time. While it is not extremely uncommon in MMORPGS to establish patches and minor changes, major overhauls are not often as frequent. Where they have occurred, other trends have been established (i.e. The “Trammel” event in Ultima Online and the “NGE” event in Star Wars Galaxies).

Therefore, the conclusion is that PVP will have many changes to come, because it has been changing from the moment of its inception. Yet, it will be extremely difficult, or even dangerous, to change the system dramatically, because of the implementation of travel powers as an optional choice for any character in the spectrum. The backbone of the system becomes dependent on dealing with those powers as a majority; for them to go away now, or be revised into a completely new system, would likely cause a collapse in the loyal subscribership.


Recommendations for Travel Power Implementation in Next Generation Superhero MMO PVP

The City of Heroes/City of Villains MMO model is a great example to how a superhero setting can be implemented. Yet, what we notice is that travel powers dramatically affect PVP outcomes in CoX and have caused it to undergo constant changes. This includes changes so significant that players often resort to re-choosing or rebuilding their powers.

An option for a next generation superhero MMO might be to incorporate travel powers into actual full-scale powers within the normal framework of choices. For example, as noted above, Super Speed and Teleportation have a natural course of effects which could be used to cause damage and provide utilitarian uses. Invisibility and stealth are likewise the tools of defense and elusivity. This also applies to Flight and Leaping.

This recommendation would reduce the necessity (but not necessarily the appearance) of travel powers in PVP; instead they would serve the primary purpose of being a trademark characteristic of the intended hero or villain. This becomes more attuned to how comic book implementations have curtailed the overuse and advantageous use of travel powers in their pages.


Another recommendation could be the use of Natural Response Mechanics (NRMs) as opposed to artifical ones (ARMs) like Travel Suppression. For example, a natural response to super speed, flight, and so on would be the lessening of accuracy. In this model, the faster you go, the more difficult it is for you to accurately target. The outcome, then, becomes natural: If you want to fight well, you slow down. Subsequently, an indirect response later becomes less people choosing the power, but not entirely discarding it as an option.

The goal, therefore, is not to devastate any single power; it is to make it equally as important as the others.

Yet another option for a future superhero MMO would be more interactivity within the environment. As is clear, melee-based attacks have a natural disadvantage among fast-running, high-flying, and teleporting-to-escape, opponents. As a matter of fact, even when both characters have the same modes of travel, the ranged attacker has advantage over the melee user.

An interactive environment allows characters new strategies; what if the fire hydrant can be smashed and the pool of water turned to ice? Now the speedster can slip and fall. What if you can push a building over on top of the flier? What if you can pull a lamppost out of the ground and swat the jumper like a fly?


Summary

In conclusion, it is clear that Travel Powers have a predominance to mold the shape of PVP, and can significantly alter the importance of other powers in combat. It is also important to see that wide-scale use of Travel Powers seem to delegate the need for consistent changes, refiguring, and revising of PVP.

To future development, it becomes of primary importance to determine what percentage of fliers, jumpers, teleporters, and speedsters designers would like to see among their populations. Is it necessary for each person to have a form of “super” travel? How does your travel system compare to other MMOs, both from your, and all other, genres?

Careful implementation of these powers, by paying attention to how they were treated throughout comic book history, is advisable, due to the scenarios writers foresaw in their evolution. Likewise, a natural implementation of these mechanics may indirectly help influence choices and outcomes. What we are observing is not ironic; many well-circulating documents (i.e. comic books) have addressed these powers before.
 

Who are YOU to Demand?

Posted by Hhussk Thursday March 26 2009 at 9:54AM
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Ask yourself why a company should listen to your feedback.

Lately, the calls for activism and the making of demands against MMOs having been increasing. As well, threads have been created about certain individuals getting banned from other online forums because of their commentaries. One comment I am seeing people get banned for is "What makes you think this [MMO] isn't going to fail like all the rest?"

Does this really inform anyone about the game? Or is it actually a snapshot of a hot-headed, shoot-from-the-hip, MMO player who may or may not even be subscribed to the service? What makes matters worse is when individuals begin insisting on audience, calling for action, and over-inflating their anger to encompass far-reaching ego trips...as if to say they are holding their subscription hostage until their bids are met. Here is one example. This thread is called "A Total Lack of Transparency".

http://www.mmorpg.com/discussion2.cfm/thread/228705/page/1

Demand information.

Demand integrity.

Demand equity in words and actions.

Demand respect.

And above all demand transparency. It is very easy to provide and the height of spiteful arrogance to deny.

Eh...?

Who are you to make demands of a MMO company? Answer the following questions before you reply to my question:

  1. Are you "currently" playing the game?
  2. Are you "currently" investing capital (money) in the company, supporting their endeavor to run a Massive Multi-player Online RolePlaying Game?
  3. Is any of the content in the game generated by you? In other words, did you create the lore, program the graphics, develop the core engine et al.?

So... Are you playing the game? And if so, do you believe your paltry $15.00 a month grants the ability to make demands? If you do, then you are mistaken. By law, you are only entitled to your $15.00 back. You are also entitled to cancel your subscription at any time. These are your basic rights.

But make demands? I don't think so. You have no right to make demands. How about going to the game company's forum and nicely stating that this game is likely to fail? Think you are immune to punishment?

Not at all. The people who own the product have the right to kick you out of their game and off their forums any time they choose. They don't even need a reason, actually. All they are required to do is give you your subscription fee back for the number of days you are not receiving service.

It's called the GOD CLAUSE, and you should be aware of it. It has existed for a long, long time, but certainly this community started seeing it in the days of Dungeons & Dragons, paper and pencil, RPG games. The GOD CLAUSE goes something like this:

When its my ball, it's my rules. If I don't like you, you're gone.

Kind of final and tyrannical, is it not? Well, that's the point. A company is not a democracy. It is only required to answer to its owners and/or investors. If you're paying a monthly fee to the game, you are neither. You're a customer. And if "SUPER MMO" wants to change from a fantasy setting overnight to happy bunnies, that's their perogative. Likewise, if "MASTER RPG MMO" decides that your style of roleplaying doesn't fit with their game, then can kick you out. They actually don't need a reason and all they are required to do is give you your monthly fee back.

Your only true voice is your dollar.  If you want a company to listen to you, hate and calls of activism are going to have the reverse effect. Examples of actions that cause true change:

  1. Cancelling your Subscription.
  2. Providing constructive criticism through feedback or a thread.
  3. Providing examples of bugs/problems on a periodic basis. Just be careful not to throw it in their face.
  4. Speaking with players in game to join a concensus.

If you want to go a step further, by stock in the company. OWN some of it. But demands? You are in no position to make demands. Such notions are infantile and show a lack of understanding of business.

 

 

Before you complain about Darkfall...[Must Read].

Posted by Hhussk Friday February 27 2009 at 8:38AM
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Well, the threads today are posting lots of complatins and, not surprisingly, they remind me of comments made after other previous MMO releases.

So, here's some suggestions, brain food if you will, for those of you complaining.

1. Your "voice" is your money. If you are unsatisfied, stop paying.

2. If you're thinking that your account "Gives you rights", then you're wrong. You clearly think the MMO is ran like a democracy. Unfortunately, it is not...it's ran like a Corporation. Money speaks.

3. Take responsibility for your actions. If you subscribed to this game on day one, you got what you deserved: A brand new MMO that has bugs and downtime. You should have expected this.

4. If you say "Worst MMO of all time", then you're overreacting and haven't followed MMOs from release. I suggest you check the history of WOW, AOC, and all the rest. My point here is that Darkfall Online is an evolving process. (I'm remembering how people railed on Vanguard in its early weeks, but now it's in a lot better shape)

 

Me personally, I'm going to play Darfall Online when it becomes stable. This may mean I'll be waiting for 2, 4, or even up to 6 more months. Heck, I might never end up playing the game! But most importantly, I want to thank all you "testers" out there for donating your time (and cash) to keep Aventurine running. Hopefully it will all work out, but in case it doesn't...I didn't lose a dime.

Next time, be more patient.

Why the Troll serves no purpose.

Posted by Hhussk Thursday February 26 2009 at 10:49AM
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Over the course of MMO experiences, you can come to forums to see how games are evolving and developing. From time to time, you will be able to pick up some insight, make friends (or enemies), learn what other people think about a game, and otherwise clue yourself in to the environment.

But forums have problems, some technical and some based on the community. One community-based problem, is the fanboi: He's the guy who will defend a game to the end. I personally do not feel a fanboi is a great threat since he is a) Someone who is willing to put his dollars where his mouth is, and b) Will spend more time playing the game than talking it up (assuming he truly is a fanboi).

And the other hand, the similar problem arises in the community, but from the polar opposite of the spectrum. This other problem, which I feel is a greater poison to the forum community, is the troll.

I'll be brief. The troll serves less of a purpose, and here is why:

1. The troll tries to encourage people not to play a game. Now, seriously, what's the point of trying to get people to abandon an MMO? Wouldn't it be more simple to let people decide for themselves? After all, part of human nature is that we all like different things. It's clear that a game may have elements you like; if you basically express the parts you don't like...that doesn't necessarily make you a troll. But when you outright attack the game using generalities and no data...that makes you a troll.

2. The troll makes most of his comments based from a lack of experience. The troll may have not even played the game. Lately, I have been noticing a common trait about trolls. They don't care facts. A troll will come into a forum and start bashing a game that may not even be released, just based on unsubstantiated rumor. My point is that this serves no one. It's quite common to see confusing messages and slow evolution in game development...the industry has no perfect business model. But to complain or bash a game just because they've pushed back release or development in certain areas is not prudent. An MMO company often makes determinations not because they want to, but because they feel it's necessary.

3. The troll is critical of everything the MMO company does. He tries to make the company an enemy to gamers. I've seen this a lot. When a company has crappy customer service, the trolls come out in droves. There's nothing wrong with pointing out the problems a company has, but to become critical of every mistake they make is counter-productive. We have to understand in this community that a company is an entity (It's starts as a child and evolves). The only method we should use to judge them is based on how they mature. For example, I'm knowledgeable that Blizzard had a large amount of servers problems early on with the World of Warcraft release, but as we see, they've developed a somewhat adequate model of server maintenence which appears to work.

4. The troll spends unecessary time attacking the game. What bothers me most is how the trolls feel they are in the majority. Nothing could be further from the truth. If a fanboi is a true fan, then he is likely playing the game instead of using a forum. Think about it a second and you'll agree. Most of the time, forums and customer services are used when questions based off of complaints or lack of understanding are asked. Have you ever called customer service to say "Nice Job"? Not likely. What's more likely is this: When you like the game, you'll be playing it.

In summary, I would just like to suggest the following ettiquette:

1. If you don't like the game, state why and be specific. Use data to back up your claim.

2. If you don't like the game, state why and use an  actual experience to back up your claim.

3. Stay away from generalities, or general claims, they serve very little purpose.

4. Try to suggest what a company or game can do to get your support and subscribership  (constructive criticism). Suggesting they quit and disband is not constructive, btw.

5. Try to understand that a company has to evolve to survive. For example, one of their goals has to be "make money". If it can't make money, it won't exist much longer.

6. Overall, and most importantly, try to understand that the real goal is to promote MMOs, not ruin them. It's easy to complain about a game, but what would work better is if we have a hand in helping it evolve.

The Darkfall Movement - The h8ter and the Fanboi

Posted by Hhussk Thursday December 11 2008 at 12:34PM
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My interest in Darkfall has only started about 9 months ago, but others have been following it much longer. Over these months, I've been watching a war between 2 distinct groups with casual bystanders caught in their midst.

Let me catagorize myself: I'm looking forward to playing Darkfall in the future. I doubt I will join immediately, or during the European releaes in January. More than likely, I will take part in the U.S. release, if one occurs. My opinion is that the game seems to have a great concept. And while I enjoy good graphics, I have never cared about graphics enough to play a game. When Age of Conan came out, I waited and waited, hearing all the graphic accolades, but ultimately decided the game wasn't for me. With Darkfall, I will follow a similar path: If I don't like what I am seeing, I'll quit. Or perhaps, I'll never play.

But what dismays me the most is how there is a love/hate relationship with the game. Regardless of what you say, you'll be thrown in the "h8ter" or the "fanboi" club. It doesn't matter where you really stand. And please note, that this happens to varying degrees to all upcoming games. The difference, though, is that Darkfall has developed a following of love and hate over many years.

So, that is why I wanted to tell you about the Heider's Balance Theory.

Basically, it goes a little something like this, with modifications based on different mediums.

my friend’s friend is my friend
my friend’s enemy is my enemy
my enemy’s friend is my enemy
my enemy’s enemy is my friend

So...what does it all mean?

Simple, the reasons you actually hate Darkfall are not likely to be genuine. Since you haven't played it, you have no idea if you really hate it. Chances are:

  1. You view Darkfall as an "enemy" to a game you like.
  2. Someone you do not like, likes Darkfall.
  3. Someone you like, hates Darkfall

And since you haven't played it, the reasons you like Darkfall are:

  1. A friend of yours likes it.
  2. A enemy of yours hates it.
  3. You view Darkfal as "friendly" to the type of games you like.

This sociological theory was established in 1958 and basically says that under most conditions, we will migrate to a "balanced" state, where half will like someone or something, and half will not.

In summary, you may think you really hate Darkfall. If you have to TELL people that you hate it, more than likely, you're just consumed by Heider's Balance Theory. People who dislike things tend to migrate away from them. On the other hand, you may think you really like Darkfall. You could, just as well, be caught in Heider's Balance Theory simply because you don't really know what you like about it, but just want to argue.

Overall, no one really knows anything. How this movement has sparked such strong comments for and against the game, beats the hell out of me.

Creating Enemies...

Posted by Hhussk Wednesday December 10 2008 at 8:58AM
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Left for dead, my guts splattered across the stone-cobbled streets. My belongings...scattered about me and turned inside out. I was penniless and broken, barely alive.

I had been robbed, beaten, nearly killed...

...my one gleaming hope was the face of my attacker. the visage of a reddish tattoo along his cheekbone as I pulled his hood away.

Today was a good day. I found someone who's life I could now make a living hell...


Introduction

Having an enemy is almost impossible in some games...and this is why they will never truly shine in the eye of a PvPer. In addition, if you are interested in Role-Playing, there is nothing better in the universe than having an "Arch-Nemisis" to stalk and ruin. Even in your offtime, you'll be plotting to uncover a weakness or a moment to strike. You may even have the capability of laying an elaborate trap to ensare your foe.

Gaming Developers play a close tightwalk: they want lots of interaction, but don't want to lose customers. In the end, if it garners less subscriptions, than its bad, which is purely understandable to anyone running a business. 

What I'm detailing in this article is how "open PvP" can easily be emeshed with Role-Playing, to create a game that people thrive in and love. It won't always be about winning or losing...the "meat" of the game will be about plotting and control. It will be about having enemies that you don't, or can't, always kill immediately.


About Dueling and Immersion

Take a look at any game. Do you have to establish a "duel" to fight someone else? Are you even able to fight other people? Are you limited to only fighting AI-controlled creatures? That's not immersion! That's button-mashing repetition. In a game of immersion, you don't know when the attack is coming. You don't know if the "duel" you've been challenged to is a trick.

Imagine being challenged to a duel at sundown, at the outskirts of a city. You are a great swordsman; no thief would ever challenge you in an outright fight. But, you go anyway, deciding to teach the people that you mean business. As you arrive at the site, you're shot down by archers. Trickery!

Was it evil, deceitful? Was it cheating? Absolutely! Now life isn't as simple as a "dual"...it's more complicated. You never know what's coming...

...and not knowing what to expect creates immersion.

Overall, there is no problem with dueling and arenas to resolve battles. But in the realm of role-playihg and immersion, some people aren't designed to duel. Magicians might duel with other magicians in a magical challenge...maybe. Thieves might have a one-on-one with other members of their thieves guild. But no swordsmans would "duel" a magician or thief. That's practically ridiculous.

And therefore, the concept of "dueling" as it is now implemented in many games is purely a control mechanism for PvP. It destroy immersion, but creates an outlet for battling other players.


Immersion

 

To create immersion, you have to let ALL types of characters have their arsenal or methods to dispose of an enemy. A thief needs to be able to stealth, skullduggery, shadows, nighttime, and a place of his choosing where the guards are bribed. A magician needs a time when everything is perfectly aligned in magic, where his spells are at their perfect efficiencies, and where his protective magics are at their ready. These types of settings are not in an arena!

What about a diplomat? Perhaps this character has never even held a sword; how does he challenge a swordsman as an enemy? Clearly, the answer is with laws and political influence. A political type character would be foolish to challenge a sword veteran one on one. The first thing he could do is have the swordsman framed for a crime...and then have him hauled in on charges. Once the swordsman is thrown in the dungeon, the diplomat could shove some gold into a corrupt guard's hand, and have his enemy killed while in shackles.

The key to immersion is to let creative methods of trickey and deceit work. The key to being an excellent enemy is to use creative methods to overcome your opponent.

This just can't be done in the current "arena" type settings.


Summary

Overall, immersion of this nature starts with open PvP, but it has to be balanced with guards and proactive protective measures. That's why we have cities, for example. So that people feel safe. 

But obviously, the key is, you're never entirely safe anywhere.

To be an enemy, the game has to be willing to let you steal from other people. It has to give you the opportunity to rob their corpse of loot, or even their belongings when they lay dead. It has to make you accountable for what you say. For example, if you keep spamming comments like, "I'll sell you 100gold for 10.00 dollars!", then there is no reason why a barbarian shouldn't be able to come up to you and shove a sword in your belly.

What you say, not just what you do, should be accountable for creating enemies. And people should have many different avenues to exact their vengence.

Ultimate PvP...

Posted by Hhussk Thursday June 12 2008 at 10:04AM
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PvP (Player vs. Player) is a draw to many players and could be a draw to nearly everyone if implemented correctly.

But there are varied problems which make it fail. These problems span from MMO to MMO and can incorporated into the following terms:

Ganking:  Many players hate ganking. Ganking occurs when you come into a zone, instance, or area and are immediately killed. It is almost as if you were barely able to open your eyes before you die. This occurs most often on FFA ("Free For All") servers. Because of ganking, many players will stay away from FFA. Others adapt by stripping down or by surrounding themselves with friends. Sometimes the fun in this is trying to figure out how to kill the gankers.

Graverobbing:  This occurs less and less. In some games, when you die, your items because "treasure" and lootable by others. The industry has been trending against graverobbing because it causes their subscriber numbers to decrease. Basically, people won't play if they lose their l33t gear.

GraveCamping: Also known by other terms, this occurs when your opponent waits at your gravesite or respawning point. When you get resurrected or raised, they kill you again.

FoTM: Flavor of the Month builds represent a problem in the aspect of patches and upgrades. Today's "Warrior" may be the ultimate killing build. He can hack and slash and mow down his opponents before he falls. But what happens after patch 2.0? Well, now the "Sorcerer" has his spells upgraded. They completely overwhelm the warrior now. So basically, what you have is people moving from build to build to build. This usually removes people who enjoy Roleplaying from the RP equation. They prefer a more even playing field.

Exploits: An exploit is a technique or tool of some sort that operates in a manner that completely unbalances the game towards the favor of the exploiter. In PvP terms, exploiting basically makes skill pointless. This is a bane.

Obviously, there can be more problems attributed in a poorly made PvP MMO...

So what are the solutions?

Basically, PvP is being streamlined at this time. In other words, we think of it only in terms of fighting. Why is this so bad? Simple. Fighting is what fighters do. Thieves steal, Assassin's murder, Wizards cast spells, Clerics pray, Druids plant trees and so on... So, the problem you run into is that every class has to learn to fight to PvP.

Fighting

Perhaps you've been trained to think this is necessary, but it is not. I assure you that a Diplomat class could be just as effective a PvPer than a Barbarian. Let's take this scenario, and I will show you an example.

Example 1: Barbarian vs. Diplomat

Rogg the barbarian has learned Ionysus the Diplomat has insulted his clan. Therefore, Ionysus must die. Hiding in the alleys, Rogg waits for Ionysus to pass by...this should be a simple murder by chopping off his head. No diplomat can stand against the mighty barbarian!

But Ionysus never appears.

Hidden in his chambers, the diplomat Ionysus speaks with his runners, learning of the barbarian's advances. When Rogg charged into the city, he was notified. When Rogg hid in the alleyways, he was forewarned. Clearly the barbarian is a fool if he believes a diplomat will try to match him in swords.

Having enough, Ionysus hails the captain of the guards and tells him to have Rogg picked up for "public disturbances". Hopefully the captain will have no problems and throw the barbarian in stocks. Once the trial begins...well, a judge can easily be bribed to execute an uncivilized beast...

 

Stealth

Perhaps you've been trained to think invisibility and stealth are the key elements to PvP. Once again, I assure you that a mage can be as effective as an assassin or thief.

Example 2: Thief vs. Mage

Sliver the Thief, cutthroat master, has decided to put some of his poisons and blades in the back of WolfMane the Wizard. WolfMane has been known to carry lots of cash as well as magical trinkets. This could be Sliver's big score in the guild. Remaining silent, Sliver carefully adheres to the shadows. His presence is undected. WolfMane is merely steps away and the night will cloak his attack.

Unsliding his envenomed dagger, Sliver prepares to strike right between the shoulder blades. He leaps...but then falls short. Something continues to pull his muscles to the ground...

"A nice defensive spell...Gravity Field," mutters WolfMane, "I can't attack you, of course, but you clearly did not know that. There is a way to circumvent the magic, but I doubt that matters now, eh?"

Weaving his hands in a complex manner, a strange figure emerges from the ground...a figure composed of rock and mud. WolfMane had summoned an elemental.

"As I said, I cannot attack you, poor street urchin...but my friend here should be able to..."

Sliver gasped for breath. His muscles groaned as he tried to lift himself off the ground. If he could just reach the mage, his poison would kill him in seconds. His desperate struggles met futility as his skull collapsed under the weight of stone...

 

Having provided some examples, I would like to point out what truly makes PvP exciting.

Strengths but weaknesses. Its fine to have ultimate attacks and defenses, but each should have a way to be beaten. A strong defense should have equally taxing features. A superior attack, should have a way to be beaten. This level of balance means that the situation and opponent dictates what works best...not the same attack or defense...over and over.

Anonymity. By hiding things such as levels, statistics, classes, and active effects, you are nullifying knowledge. Remember that knowledge is power. So, when you attack the person in the mage's robes, is he truly a mage? Or is he a thief in disguise? Because if he isn't a mage, your magic-nullifying attack will be pointless.  As well, people are more careful when attacking an unknown. You're more inclined to have backup plans, associates, etc., in case you are wrong.

Relative Advantages: What makes a city so important? The relative safety it provides...known as "laws". Obviously, thieves, diplomats and other classes can bend laws from time to time, but the concept remains. Your character should have a place he or she can go that gives him/her the edge. For example, Druids and Rangers (barbarians, I suppose) would certainly reign supreme in the forest settings. Thieves, Diplomats, and law-abiders in the city. Paladins, Mercs, and Fighters would thrive on a battlefield or in a duel. The key element is your character being able to walk or set him/herself up in environmental conditions that give him the edge.

Community: This might be a suprise to other PvPers, but the community is important. If you know who "Rogg the barbarian" is, perhaps you'll stay clear of him. Likewise, if a "new face" appears in the area, you may study him or her until you know more. Likewise, players of a community tend to stand together when a newcomer arrives and tries to hack n slash his way through the natives. Communities thrive because they are communities.

Allow Retainment Measures. While item stealing should be allowed, it should also be circumventable. In other words, things like soul-bonding or something should be possible. These types of measures help the economy as well. By soul-bonding, I am not referring to the WOW version. This form of bonding is a magical countermeasure that allows you to call upon your item, or have it return to a place of your keeping if you should lose it. Player Houses, vaults and storage places off the body also help.

I'm also interested in any suggestions and willing to debate :)

"Living" Quests - The Alternative

Posted by Hhussk Monday June 9 2008 at 11:07AM
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Ever get tired of other people ruining your quests?

I'm not really suprised. Unless the MMO you are playing involves "instancing" (which I discussed last week), you are likely to run into multiple solo and group adventurers trying to "kill the boss" or loot the area.

We've already identified that instancing has some value: It takes some load off the server, especially when the MMO has high graphics(e.g. Age of Conan) and gives the player exclusive access to quest-based content(e.g. World of Warcraft and some others). But what if instancing wasn't necessary? What if the server-load wasn't an issue? For example, let's assume your MMO had adequate graphics and could handle your subscribers? Does that mean you still need to create instances so that they can have exclusive quest access?

 

Not necessarily.

There is a method I have been conceptualizing that would likely provide an exciting alternative to instancing for exclusive content. Basically, the premise is to create an adventure that has a life cycle: Birth, Youth, Maturity, and Death. By adhering to this cycle, the adventures (or quests) rise up in a spontaneous manner...They create adventures.

 

The "Living" Quest, or Instance

Example 1:

Among your travels, you are onset by orcs. Surviving the encounter, you rummage through their belongings and acquire a treasure map. Across the map (in orcish scripts) you specifically see a route that you can follow...perhaps these creatures accumulated treasure and decided to store it. Quickly and quietly, you gather your tools and contact some of your associates. You leave for the mountains as quickly as you can, preparing to reap the benefits of your secret knowledge.

The travel is winding and difficult, but your team arrives at the cavemouth. Your tracker quickly spots orcish footsteps and verifies that this must be the place. Within a day or two of work, your team survives the quest by raiding the orcish holdup, bypassing their traps, and otherwise destroying the enemies.

Note these following phases of the life cycle, which I will discuss later:

Birth Phase: Character gets a treasure map from loot. A Cavemouth springs into existance.

Youth Phase: Orcish raider beset travelers along a certain route and accumlate wealth in their cave.

Maturity Phase: The Orcish raiders gain levels, better weapons and more recruits.

Death Phase: The cave is fully raided and cleaned out. The orcs are destroyed. The cave collapses.

 

Example 2:

In the city, rumours have been persisting of a Thieves' Guild, long since banned and outlawed. More and more, people are complaining of pickpockets, late-night thefts...the store-owers are crying out for official intervention, but the social elite are not even acknowledging this rise of skulduggery.

You would ignore these whispers, except for the fact that you are a citizen of this locale...you own a house in this city! Lately, you have noticed shady figures casing your HOUSE. When you approach them, they run off. One night, you go inside and realize someone has tried to jimmy the lock to your door.

Enough is enough, you gather some of your associates, and head to the lower quarters, shaking down the beggers and cutpurses. One of your friends manages to "bribe" some information from a street urchin...

Following the clues, your party begins to slowly uncover the Theives' Guild, revealing certain corrupt city officials in the process. Eventually, their hold is overthrown and they are dispersed...

 

Note the following phases of this life cycle:

Birth Phase: Rumours spring up randomly. Beggers and shady characters begin to amass in the city. A small theives' guild is established in a remote location deep in the city.

Youth Phase: More rumours. Players are followed, sometimes pickpocketed. Player houses are cased. The thieves' guild gets more recruits.

Maturity Phase: Stores are broken into and inventories are emptied--Store items are harder to acquire. The thieves' guild is stronger now and acquired a powerful Theif Lord. Player's houses might be broken into...perhaps the smaller insignificant items, such as a painting or a piece of art is stolen.

Death Phase: A team of players find the location of the thieves' guild and infiltrate it. The guild is dispersed, looted, and banned once again.

 

Why a life cycle?

Basically a life cycle adhere's to key elements of roleplaying adventures:

Exclusivity - For one, it creates a layer of exclusivity. If the adventure exists spontaneously and randomly, then it can't be camped. Circumstances dictate where such an adventure might occur. And even though there might be a chance that other people find the same quests and attempt to raid it at the same time, it is extremely likely that these competing forces will contribute to the overall quest experience. For example, while you managed to acquire a treasure map, perhaps a miner stumbled upon the cave mouth. Now you and he are in a race...

Timed Requirements - Now you have to work for you treasure. Sitting around is not the stuff of adventurers. As well, you have choices. The longer you wait, the stronger and more difficult the quest becomes.

Level Ranges - Because a living quest has phases of maturity, it can appeal to a broader range of players. The early phases of growth would server the younger level players, while the mature phases would be of interest to the larger level players. A multitude of quests would ensure that some would has a "young" phase for 10-20, while another might have a "young" phase for 40-50 level characters.

Death and Destruction - To keep an instance unique, it may someday have to die on its own. What if no one ever defeats the thieves' guild example above? In those cases, the policy is to have a living quest mature to the point that it collapses on its own.

Mystery and Player Mitigation - Randomness and uniqueness of setting, levels of maturity, and intervention of the daily lives of players ensure a more mysterious quest. The players can be affected, even when they are busy doing something else. This creates a fluid environment and a quest that may never entirely be the same.

 

All in all, I'm very interested in seeing something along these lines developed. There are a multitude of ways to create living instances and quests for the benefit of players who DO NOT LIKE to go into the same cave to beat the same boss, over and over.

Impressions?

 

Instancing and the MMO

Posted by Hhussk Tuesday June 3 2008 at 8:52AM
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Since watching the Age of Conan threads, I've been keen to the debates over instancing...whether they can make or break a MMORPG. There are clearly many opinions over the matter.

Fundamentally, instancing should be defined. There are two levels of instancing:

1) When a player or group moves into an area that is exclusively theirs to work in, this is a fully exclusive instance. This occurs in quests mostly. World of Warcraft, for example, uses this concept.

2) When a player moves into an area that is inclusive to some, but not all the other players, this is an inclusive instance. This occurs mostly as "zone" instancing. For example, City of Heroes/City of Villians is a game where, after a number of people are in a zone, a duplicate zone is created, hopefully with less lag, for the other players to use.

Instancing can also be permissive or forced. Basically, a permissive instance is one where you are allowed to choose the instance. For example, Guild Wars lets you choose your instance of a city. Forced instances basically remove that choice.

Here's the argument:

     Does instancing contribute to an outstanding MMO and are there ways to make it more immersive?

My opinion is that instancing contradicts immersion. Even when instancing is used on a limited basis, it removes you from others. You could be standing in the Fighter's Guild of "instance 1", waiting to duel, while your opponent is waiting at "instance 2". This gets even worse when you are trying to group or adventure with your friends. Imagine telling your buddies, "Gather at the ancient rock bearing Cthulu's likeness". Will they be able to meet you? Or do you need to tell them, "Gather at the ancient rock [at instance 2] bearing Cthulu's likeness."

Bear in mind that there is a reason to have instancing. It helps the server load. Too many people in one instance mean lag for all in the instance. This is the balancing issue and this is why I believe instancing is necessary.

So, how can instancing be used effectively?

     Use Roleplaying and in game techniques. It's the most immersive way to handle the game.

1) How would you handle an overfilled city?  I would have the guards shut the gates. If a player inquires as to why, the guards would respond that the officials are having problems with theives and "foreigners". In my game, I would allow the city a limited number of residents, called "citizens", which could travel into the city because of their status.

2) Wouldn't that method anger many of the players? Certainly. Until they found out that they could quest, bribe an official, try to get another citizen's status removed, have another person thrown out of the city, or they could simply move to another city, become a citizen, and slowly fill that place up. The goal is to create options that allow them to eventually acheive their goal. Most people never thought that entering a city could be an adventure...but yet, it can.

3) How would you handle overfilled zones? Lower spawning rates. In developmental terms, if you keep spawning rates high, then there is an obvious reason for lots of people to be there. However, if you drop the spawning rates, people will adventure to other areas. In terms of reality, if every hunter is out in the woods killing bears, the bears would become extinct. Eventually there would be no more left. And to be honest, if you're in an overfilled forest and there are no monsters to fight, you probably don't have to worry about the lag.

4) Wouldn't an upopulated zone ruin the overall gaming? It would if there was nothing else to do. However, it would end the grind. Spawn rates are the key and they would have to be lowered or raised based on the traffic. If you head to the plains to hunt some creature, and there is another hunter there clearing the area, you have choices...you either leave that hunter alone, hunting elsewhere....oppose that hunter and resolve the issue [an rp solution'....or work with that hunter and resolve the issue [another rp solution].

5) How would you handle quests? Much differently. In this aspect, I can see why instances are useful. I'm not entirely against instancing in quests. However, I might be tempted to treat a quest as a living entity. In other words, let's suggest that a graveyard starts off unpopulated. Down the timeline, some ghouls and zombies start appearing. Later on, one of the ghouls begins to take power. Later still, this ghoul transforms into a Lich and instructs his minions to build an undead city where he can increase his influence. In this example, the players can enter the scenario at any time...they don't just walk into a preset module. I can easily imagine low level fighters clearing the graves...but later on high level warriors leading a charge on the undead keep. What happens if left untouched for too long? The Lich orders an assault on the nearest city and players are attacked.

Overall, I'm just trying to attack the "immersiveness" problem that comes with instancing. Personally, I despise instancing. Yet, I understand why it is used. What I feel resolves both problems at the same time is using in-game roleplaying responses.

So, next time you're about to walk into a city...preparing for the "wait....load" screen, imagine seeing two guards barring your path, telling you that "they don't want your kind" around. And then imagine that you quickly draw steel at their insult. If you beat them, who will stand in your way....

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