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The State of MMO's

MMO's are currently always in development, but the discussion around them is a maelstrom. I want to sort out some of the ideas and give some of my own. This industry definitely needs improvement.

Author: lifesbrink Becoming Lazy

Posted by lifesbrink Tuesday May 29 2012 at 2:37AM
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This site is getting to the point where the articles are not worth reading anymore.  Every day, it is the same tired parade, fluff about new MMO's that are guaranteed to be mediocre (eh), obvious articles trying to be obvious (uh), or even just general fanboyism.  Over and over again, they go over the same old stuff, features, maybe some interviews from mainstream developers, or just bantering about the possibilities in a new game.  Yet, this is all old hat.

The genre is stagnating.  Everyone knows it, the administration here can't truly deny it, and the discussion of it on the forums is endless.  Yet continually, the site promotes everything to do with the mainstream, which refuses to make any real changes or take real risks, and completely ignores any articles that bother to challenge this.

Because of this, developers can easily see this site as support for their pointless descent into games that are just like the ones that came before.  How many devs actually read the forums here?  Hmf, likely very few.

At least it is refreshing to see people on this site covering more than the mainstream garbage, like this guy. If any of you out there happen to come across those on this site that challenge this norm and have decent blogs, let me know, I would like to read more interesting developments of games that challenge the status quo!

The Heist: The Surprise

Posted by lifesbrink Wednesday May 2 2012 at 11:35PM
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Part 1 is here.

Khisanth, her name taken from a famous dragon of fiction, was sometimes a thorn in my side.  As a rule, dragons don't fight each other.  We tend to be a rare race, and moreso, we are hunted viciously if we show our hides, so mostly dragons deal in the shadows and deception to ensure survival.  

These manipulative tactics lead to some underhanded dealing with each other, though.  Although we do not fight, some dragons like to deceive each other, usually for treasure, other times to swipe a task leading to Young, Adult or Elder status, as we all start out hatchlings.  Only serious crimes ever lead to fights between dragons and the penalty of losing is permadeath, a "perk" only dragons have in this world.  You might call it balance for the enormous power we can have.

Khisanth started out around the same time as me, and although she has proved to be helpful in the past, she commonly has a habit of trailing me and generally being a nuisance.  She has taken treasures I have sought, only to innocently deny she had anything to do with it.  Fairly clever, very annoying.

"You know, Virinax, from this vantage point, I would say you are plotting something involving that artifact."

I know it is pointless to lie on this one, so I decide to play it straight to find out what she wants.

"I am planning on taking the artifact in the trading process, it would be stolen anyway, so no real harm done," I note.

"Except you happen to be doublecrossing a certain pirate guild, and I doubt they would be too happy about that"  I will admit, her response is a bit shocking.

"How would you know anything about them or what they want?" I respond.

She giggles, "I have my ways...though I have to admit, having your girlfriend do your voice is adorable!"

"Khi, that is not funny!  I am running a serious business here!  What do you want anyway?

She giggles again, "I want in on the fun of course!"

I think for a moment before responding "And the artifact?"

Her response does not surprise me in the least "How about we roll for it?"

"Well, I would have a very good chance of success with or without you, so why should I even have you along?"

At this point, a fairy floats down next to me.  Why is it girls always have to pick anything pretty?  She dances in front of me. "You have twice the chance of living, in case anything goes wrong, and I promise to do nothing but help, and if I win the roll, I will still help you with another task as consolation."

"Alright, but on this condition:  I want to be the one to grab the artifact, I am a better flyer, and I don't want you forgetting the deal.  Time is ticking, and I want to get this started.

"Sure!" she responds with more enthusiasm than I predicted.

"Alright, you are aware of what is going to be happening down there, right?"  It is 4:24.  Six minutes.  

Her fairy figure nods.

"When the main force of Tonis and Four Gears is drawn away, I want to be down there amidst the buildings, ready to dispel any magical fields the guard of the artifact might have, and then shift to dragonform and freeze them with my breath.  I was planning on sending an elemental out to the ship to freeze it, but if you want to sit on the opposite cliff, you can shift to human and drop any kind of magic field on the ship before it gets to close.  The ship needs to be disabled, and the Raiders will stop at nothing to get that artifact, however, the ship is their strongest attack versus us as dragons.  Especially the cannons, but their ship has general protection spells on it that would allow them to use ranged attacks.  Four Gears itself won't send out any airships until it has them manned, which can take valuable minutes."

"I have just the spells to fix that ship!  I can use an inertia bubble on them to keep the ship from getting close, and then a time stop.  That lasts about 5-10 seconds, although the mage on board will likely get out of it first.  He won't be able to free the others any more than a second or two earlier, so that should allow you more than enough time," she responds with emphatic emoting.  Always fond of emotes, this one is.

"Alright, that should be fine," I reply.  "Whatever you do, don't come down to help if I run into trouble at the harbor.  Two lost dragons would be a heavy blow to our community.  What form are you going to take over to the other cliff?  Fairy is not going to be a good idea."


"Er, alright, just try to fly around like you are an NPC, and less like a player," I note. "Meet me at the rock circle in the forest south of the city.  Use fairy form so I know it is you.  I will be back in human form.  Keep me updated with details so I know what is going on, too.  We can roll on the artifact there, and work on getting back to whoever's lair quickly and safely"

She nods again.  The time is 4:30, and it  is time to go.  I see the fleet coming in to the harbor already, so I know this will be interesting.

"Good luck, Khisanth"

"Good luck!" she practically squeaks, and promptly turns into a stork.  Sigh, a stork.

I hop off the cliff and start gliding the thousand or so feet down to the harbor.  With luck, I spot an NPC group of gulls headed to the main town area, and fall in with them.  Too bad I never bothered to learn the form of a gull.

They reach the town and I deviate off course to fly down to the roof of a building nearest the harbor.  It has awnings, which I plan on using to jump down on to reach ground level.  It also has a fenced in yard that is currently empty.  I have checked this place often, it is NPC-owned, and rarely populated with players.  The building is next to a main street, though, which runs from the harbor to the center of the city, which is shaped like a giant gear.  

Currently, there is a group of players milling about next to the building where the city meets the harbor.  Out at the docks are massive ships and a fairly large army, headed by several lords.  Ferric is absent from the group with his usual bronze-colored armor.  The fleet is a little further out, almost to the docks themselves, of which one space is open for the transport ship.

Looking at the players, I see a fairly diverse group that  could be a threat, as a group anyway.  My natural armor and magic resistance helps a lot here, but dragonfear will have to suffice until I can mist them.  I hate to spend any time or energy misting any of them, but these chances I can not take right now.  If any of them get past the paralyzing fear or the mist, I doubt they will do much to bother me.

The fleet stops now and a lone ship from the group sails in and stops at the dock.  In moments, the docking door comes down on the dock, followed by a phalanx of wizards.

Khisanth's voice cuts in, "I see a ship coming in from the North, Vir".

"Cast an identification spell on it, I want to know what class it is," I tell her.

Moments pass.  A second group of wizards followed by a floating pink orb come down onto the dock.  I imagine there is some conversation now to ensure all of the deal is being made fairly.

"Dreadlark, Class C, it has a magical tag on it, too."

"That is our friend," I reply.  "I tagged that ship, for the elemental to find easily.  The deal is being made as we speak."

"Alright, let me know when to fire."

Waiting.  The conversation is carrying on, and I imagine the spy in the group on the docks is getting nervous.  I get nervous every time I meet with the Arc Raiders to discuss business, as I know that dragons are on their hunting list.

Finally the deal is struck, and the floating orb passes ownership to one of the lords. Curiously, one of the wizards is staying behind as the others get back on board their ship.  I have to wonder to myself what was traded to them for this orb.

Simultaneously, two things happen.  A regiment of NPC soldiers detaches from the main group and comes down to the main city area next to my building, with a pre-recorded message:  "Everyone, please vacate this area and go about your business.  If you are not authorized to be here when the guard comes through, they will attack you."  After the message, the soldiers then proceed to patrol up the street towards the heart of the city and the keep, presumably repeating the message every 5-10 seconds.

At the same time, shouting is heard from the other end of the docks, along with cannon fire.  As predicted, much of the Four Gears army pours into the ships, and within moments they are headed out towards the new fleet of Raiders coming in, firing at the Tonis fleet and moving slowly backwards, drawing them away.  The wizard on the docks has encased the guard and orb in a bubble, likely to avoid any incoming cannon shots.

This is my cue to get ready.  Shiting to my female mage form, I hop down to the awning and then the alley between the smithing house I was on and some other dwelling.  I quickly summon my elemental and then cloak it.  I open the gate to the back and find of all things, what looks like a newbie rogue, crouched behind the fence.  Her outline is shadowed, so I am guessing she is practicing stealth.  This should be fun.

"Khi, get ready to stop that ship as soon as it starts into the bay." I am hoping she keeps her end of the bargain.  I type a message to the rogue. "Hi!  Watching the fun, too?"

Her character nods. "Yeah!!  I want to know what that orb is, and I wanted to practice my stealth, too!!  Don't give me away by standing too close!  What do you think it is that they are carrying?"  Enthusiastic girl.

I type back. "Probably something immensely powerful to defend the city with.  This city has always been concentrated on defense and expansion, so I doubt it is anything to do with war or offense."  The fleets are now at the edge of the bay, near the cliff where I was sitting earlier.  At the docks, the guard is moving slowly back, likely because they are still bubbled.  The wizard seems intent on keeping it channeled.  Good.  Things are going well.  I stay crouched next to the fence as well.

"Vir, the ship is moving in" asks Khisanth.

Here we go, now or never. "Yeah, go ahead and stop them, I am going in," I reply, and as I speak I quickly use both dispel magic and then silence (for good measure) on the bubbled area of the guard, before hitting my revert ability.  The bubble disperses while I change back to my dragon form.  My rogue friend is paralyzed by the fear and I imagine whoever is behind the character is likely shocked as well.

I quickly jump the fence before anyone has anytime to act and sweep the guard's portion of the dock with my breath while tromping in.

"The ship is now frozen in time, you have less than 10 seconds!" Khisanth practically shouts.

I jump over the guard to the wizard and the lord's orb.  I use my steal ability to transfer game ownership, and then grab it before flying upwards.  I see another contingent of players, likely a combination of Four Gears and random people coming down the city's main street at me.  My direction is clear, back to the bay and spiral upwards to the cliff and then southward to the forest.

I make my way out and activate my shield with whatever magic I have left.  The effect is draining, but it should absorb enough damage for me to be ok and not drop my precious cargo.  Looking behind me, I see the wizard breaking free of my breath attack (wonderful) and of all things, having the audacity to start a flying spell to chase me.

"Khisanth, I am being tailed by that wizard on the docks!  He is flying at me and I am not sure why, but just in case, you want to fly over here and hit dragonform when you reach the cliff?" I yell.

"I am on my way!" she yells back.  Amazing how we both get into it even when we have mics to speak into that work perfectly well.

The wizard is actually gaining on me, and his wand starts to glow, the intensity getting brighter by the second.  I have no doubt he is charging some spell, but I have no idea which, and I have no intention to find out.  I pick up my speed, though this drains my shield faster as well, something that is worrisome.  As I reach the cliff, the fleets of Tonis and Four Gears coming back from their battle below in the sea, I hear a roar behind me.  Khisanth.

I drop to the cliff for a moment and look back to see her collide with the wizard in midair, knocking him offbalance and dropping his charge attack.  It disrupts his flying spell as well, and he drops to the ocean like a stone.

"Keep going, Vir, there are more wizards coming up from the ships.  I will hold them back for the moment so you can get away!" she says excitedly.

Without needing to be told twice, I leap off the cliff and glide towards the forest below.  This region of forest has particularly dense foliage, so I drop in a clearing and start my way walking under a canopy that should hide me for the moment so I can recharge.

I let go of the orb and let it float while I start a recharge ritual.  It cancels all my active spells, but regenerates my energy at a rapid rate.  Anyone using magic learns to do this early on, and it works wonders.  After a few seconds I pause the ritual and cast a detect lifeforms spell.  The spell leaves me with nothing, so I go back to recharging.

While my energy comes back, I turn to look at this artifact, curious to see what it might be by sight.  The orb itself is a protection spell, as I imagined.  Underneath its pink, glowing shell, is a secondary orb, more solid on the bottom, and the top half covered with what looks like metallic vines intertwined, like a flimsy barrier.  Looking closer, I peer through the metal vines and realize with a shock what is inside.

"Khisanth, are you ok?"

"Yes," she replies.  "I drew them away along the coast, took out a bunch, and after a certain point the rest pulled back, as if they realized something.  They might have you on track, you know."

"That doesn't matter," I said.  "We have a bigger problem right now.  This is not an artifact that we's a human child"

(Currently, I am in the process of figuring out my direction for the next part of this story, so it will be some be continued!)

The Heist: The Setup

Posted by lifesbrink Tuesday May 1 2012 at 8:51PM
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Lithely, I fly through the air, my hawk's wings spread out, gliding, flapping for height control, and gliding some more.  I concentrate on ensuring I am flying like a normal bird.  Although it is rare that anyone on the ground would even notice me, there are always those players that would delight in the chance to kill a bird they thought was a player.  

So I wanted to ensure I was just a normal, NPC...bird.  There are enough of them that are A.I. scheduled to go from place to place, usually in the appearance of hunting animals or going home to a nest.  The thought of their nests actually makes me smile, as a hawk, I have stolen my fair share of eggs to feast on.  Variety of food in this world is usually rewarded.

Of course, my normal form is much more menacing, and usually terrifying.  I am a Dragon, silver in appearance, shivermist in breath, approaching Elder in age.  Of course, that is rather an odd thought, given in game terms, I will have played for 2 years.  There are perks in becoming Elder, but also requirements.  2 years is the minimum game time, and besides that, there are numerous other elements to deal with, such as physical abilities gained, lore studied, animals eaten, and my favorite:  number of special tasks performed.

Tasks are like quests, but more generalized.  There are specific actions you take for the Dragon Conclave, a secretive group that players who are not dragons will never chance to see.  Performing these heroic feats befit for a dragon completes part of the rites that enable your Elder form.  Heroic can be evil, neutral, or good, so long as you do them, thus giving variety to players.  Myself, I have stuck mainly to helping humanoid players.

Today will complete a task, or so I hope.  One of the feats you can perform is to steal, pillage or create an artifact.  Artifacts are magical and sometimes extremely powerful items that can be used for a variety of purposes.  Most humanoids desire them, and almost all of them are held by larger groups, usually guilds and cities.  Today's artifact is being sold from one city to another, and the artifact is traveling by ship.

One of the cities, Tonis, is in the business of creating artifacts.  Tonis is a city of primarily magic-users and researchers.  Beautiful place, too.  They are selling the artifact to Four Gears, a coastal city that was built in Steampunk style.  Also a neat looking place.  I love what some of the bigger groups in this game can do to create a city of both beauty and commerce. 

I alight furtively inside a bush on a cliff overlooking the bay where Four Gears is located.  Perfect hiding spot, just as I thought.  This cliff sweeps up outside of the city, providing half of a ring of solid rock around the bay, and is a lovely spot to hang out and ponder life.  Many players have used it for such, and a few weddings have been held up here.  It is darker out, but the sun is slowly creeping up from beyond the horizon of the ocean.  The real time is 4:02 pm, but the ingame time is 7:05 am.  At a 13 hour to 24 hour ratio, time is slower, but not by much.  I have about 30 real minutes to finalize my plans, for I am making use of circumstances to help my pillaging.

This is where intrigue enters in.  There is also a Pirate's Guild, the Arc Raiders, that is privy to the deal that is going on here.  Of course, in any game world, nothing is ever really secret.  A deal like this started as an idea among Tonis' council, and likely a message was sent to Ferric, the lord of Four Gears, and from there plans were started.  But the Arc Raiders happen to have insiders on Ferric's council, and thus, more nefarious plans were formed.

Tonis, like any smart city, would send a fleet with their artifact for protection.  Four Gears, always strategizing, also would have an army available to meet them at the harbor, to ensure the artifact was safely back in the city.  Suicide for the Arc Raiders, right?  But I know better.  Especially given I know their plans from being in their guild.

Shapechanging is a vital skill for dragons.  It allows for escapes, manipulation, fun, and environmental compatibility.  Dragons are too big for a lot of places, really.  So I picked a human form that would allow me to corroborate with various groups, given that guild membership of any kind is not tagged, but known.  Games with names over everyone's heads make fun plans hard to pull off when you know who everyone is all the time.  When shapeshifting, I pick a name that I will be known as, and I have a set form.  For extra amusement, my human form is female, and to ensure deception, I let my girlfriend do the talking in deals with people. The Arc Raiders think I am a girl working for them off and on.  Run by males, their own ego is their downfall.

The Raiders are not planning on attacking both sides, but instead will wait for the artifact to be taken off the ship first, so they can steal it.  Their main force will harry the fleet  and draw them from the bay while a secondary ship will come in to take the artifact.  Now right away, one would think, but what about Four Gears and its army?  The same informant in the city for the Raiders also "act" as a spy for the city, claiming to give information on the Raiders' activities.  However, the spy is feeding Four Gears the wrong information.

The city will think it is being attacked by the Raiders and another guild together, so their plans are to take the main force of their army into Four Gears' own ships and take out the pirates with the combined forces.  Both cities will think the pirates have underestimated their forces and pursue them to wipe them out.  This will leave the artifact guarded by a small force initially, which gives the Raiders a small window of attack.  Good for them their other ship is incredibly fast.

Good for me that one ship poses no threat whatsoever.  Especially because I know everyone on board and their plans.

4:08.  Time to start on tactics.  My own plan is to swoop in and neutralize the guarding force of the artifact first.  Shivermist, my aforementioned breath ability, has a certain amount it can be used for before it recharges.  I get a breath bar for that.  It has a wide Area of Effect and generally freezes in place anyone who is caught in it for about 1 minute.  A lot of time.  

Of course, the guarding force will likely have magical protection, so I am going to have to cast a general dispel over the area to wipe that buff.  Then, before the guard has time to react, I need to strike with my breath, after changing back into a dragon, of course.  That also leaves me vulnerable.  The change takes up to about 8 seconds.  Sometimes, I wish I had worked more on reducing the time on that.

The Raiders come next.  Their ship will come in fast, and their cannons have impossibly long range and power.  Enough to take me out without too much effort.  That is what my elemental is for.

Elementals come in many flavors.  I like ice a lot, and they have a wonderful kamikaze technique that causes them to explode, causing instant freeze in a large area, but only lasting 10 seconds.  I left a signature magic tag on the ship, and after I freeze the guards, I will send the elemental straight for the tagged ship, cloaking it first so they don't see it until it explodes.  The ice effect will render the ship dead in its tracks for 10 precious seconds, allowing me to fly away (hopefully) unscathed before anyone can act.

My remaining magic power will allow me to shield, just in case anything does attack.  A flying dragon is fast, but I would rather not take chances with other magic, arrows, spears, bombs or any other swift nasties.  No arrow to the wing for me.

I check the time again.  4:16.  I have been studying the positions of the groups and buildings in the harbor below.  I think I have a pretty good idea of layout and what I can use to my advantage.  Everything seems favorable, and I have good spirits on this.  This will also be the first time I have shown my dragon form to the world at large, and I have a feeling this is going to be crazy on the forums if I succeed.  

An incoming message pops up on my screen, asking if I want to accept or not, and then my I feel my jaw drop.  Not her.  Not now...!  Khisanth.

I hit accept, hoping this isn't what I think it is and in a second hear that familiar British accent.

"Now what are the chances of a dragon just happening to enjoy a sunrise on the cliffs when we are about to witness one of the most spectacular betrayals this continent has seen yet?"

She knows.

Continue to Part 2

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