Most likely, one of your first thoughts when you hear the word exploit is that it's a trick that takes advantage of some bug for personal gain. That thought is often followed by images of a banhammer. It makes sense; you are gamers, after all. Now, whether you regard exploits with admiration or with unbridled loathing is a matter of personal opinion. But does it have to be one or the other, or can it be both? It depends on the actual use of the word itself.
Thanks to a recent foray into Lower Udas Temple, exploits have been at the forefront of my mind lately. I have noticed that we actually use both definitions of the word for a variety of situations in Aion, yet we also ascribe the negative connotation to many of them. But is this warranted -- couldn't some actions simply be ingenious examples of problem-solving, or must they all be considered ban-worthy abuse? If the former, where do you draw the line?
What is an exploit?
Let's start off by more precisely defining exploit as it relates to gaming. Most folks don't really use the "heroic deed" definition when talking about exploits in Aion. Instead, they are referring to what I mentioned earlier -- taking advantage of a bug for personal gain. The bug is not intended to be in game, and the perpetrator usually gets something for nearly nothing by using it unfairly. Exploiting is all about taking the easy way and not working for things through legitimate means.
On the other hand, I propose that what some people cry foul on and label an exploit is really just folks using their smarts to their advantage. Here I must point out that having an advantage is not the same as taking advantage. I'll illustrate.
Take Debilkarum in Lower Udas, for instance. It has long been known that Clerics can head in and fight this instance end boss on their own. Throw another caster in the mix, or even a chanter for buffs and heals, and it's even better. Why can they get away with this? Because two of Debil's nasty hits are triggered only by melee combat. So is it an exploit to simply avoid melee with this boss? I pondered the thought and concluded that it's simply an ingenious tactic -- and not just because I play a Cleric.
See, Debilkarum was crafted to have that mechanic. At some point, a player discovered the mechanic and word spread, and now people regularly use it. Was it an inadvertent bug that NCsoft moved to fix once the devs caught wind of it? Not that I am aware of. It may not be how the devs first envisioned the fight, but they built that possibility right into the boss. So it is not taking advantage of a bug for personal gain because it isn't a bug in the first place.
Would you consider leashing adds to fight only a particular mob an exploit? Or kiting? Of course not! Both give an advantage to the player, but leashing is a purposeful mechanic coded into the game, and kiting is a viable tactic. Someone at some point discovered these and word spread until the practice became commonplace in games (unless you are talking about Age of Conan where mobs don't leash until you zone!).
Secondly, that Debilkarum fight is not what I would consider an exploit because it doesn't give something for little or nothing. I have done the fight myself, and it takes plenty of time and work to pull off. And trust me, there is room for error and failure; just click the wrong skill and run up and slap the boss a couple of times, then see how long you last.
You dirty cheat
Now let's look at a Debilkarum fight that I would unabashedly call an exploit. Don't think by describing it I am condoning or encouraging it, but since it was broadcast live on my last Aion livestream (which was attended by GMs, by the way), it's not as if it's any big secret. In fact, I truly hope that by my bringing it to light, it actually gets fixed!
While working through Lower Udas with a PUG (a not especially successful one I might add), I skipped many mobs to get to Debil himself. Often, groups will pull him into the treasure vault to avoid clearing the main room of other mobs, thereby preventing feared group members from pulling in more adds (strategy, not exploit!). But instead of this tactic, one member suggests fighting on the lava pit. Huh? Admitting I'd never heard of it, I gave it a try. And I felt so dirty as soon as I realized how it worked.
You see, we stood there and fired magic and ranged at Debilkarum's back, and the poor boss never even moved! He didn't react, he didn't attack -- he just stood there and took the spanking from these little gnats behind him. That, my friends, is taking advantage of a bug! Is there any time that devs would purposefully program a boss to stand there mindlessly and allow Daevas to whittle down its health? No.
And talk about getting something for nothing. There was no risk for the reward. The entire fight was circumvented, but the eternal-grade rewards were still granted. I actually rooted for no loot because of the unfair fight.
Some of you might question why I remained in the group and participated (I actually stopped firing after realizing what was going on), but at first I was really simply in shock! I couldn't believe the tactic that was being used; I kept thinking Debil would turn and rage on us any second. And at least now devs have a visual record of the proceedings to make whatever adjustments they deem necessary.
I'm all for using tactics to get a leg up in a fight and ultimately win. After all, figuring out how to beat something is part of the rush of instances, and we all employ tricks -- from positioning to specific skill combos -- in order to conquer a dungeon. But that's not the same as circumventing the fights completely. Using your mind to discover a new way of doing something is admirable; misusing bugs to get what you want without legitimately earning it is not.
The next time you hear someone spouting off about an exploit, think about it: Is it really an exploit in the abusive sense, or is someone just *gasp* using his brain in-game? If someone is earning an advantage with ingeniuty, applaud. But if he's knowingly taking advantage of a bug, go ahead and wish a speedy whack of the banhammer of justice on his head!
Soaring through the Aionosphere, MJ Guthrie touches down weekly to bring you Wings Over Atreia. Featuring tips, guides, and general snippets of life in Aion, the column is better than Tutty-on-a-stick, ackackackackackack! Have a suggestion to share? No need to bribe a Shugo -- just send mail to firstname.lastname@example.org.