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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

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.


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...



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 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.



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 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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